Get the inside scoop on the best places around the state to find a quality turkey this season. (March 2010)
Starting with a successful opening day, my 2009 turkey season got off to a great start. In fact, in less than two weeks, I filled my three-turkey limit. I readily admit, however, that not all of my 38 spring turkey seasons in California have been as productive. To help guarantee your year is a good one and now that the 2010 spring season is upon us, it's time for our annual turkey-hunting forecast.
Photo by John Higley
Formerly with the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG), retired biologist John Massie spent plenty of time during his career trapping and transplanting wild turkeys. A member of the San Diego chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation since 1992, Massie is one guy well worth listening to when it comes to talking turkey.
"I kept track of the hen to poult ratio in 2009 and have classified hundreds of birds," Massie said. "The brood size averaged four young per hen this year, and that's very good for this area. Two weeks of unusually warm weather in January set off the breeding season very early around here, so there should be lots of older class jakes in the mix in 2010 along with plenty of holdover adult toms."
Current CDFG regional biologist Randy Botta echoed Massie's findings.
"Production in this region was up a bit, so the prospects for 2010 are good," he said. "The best hunting will be on private land, but hunters can also try public areas like the Palomar and Descanso ranger districts on the Cleveland National Forest. As usual, the Laguna Recreation Area offers archery hunting only for interested hunters.
"Although I didn't see any evidence that the turkeys are still expanding their range, I don't think they've lost ground either. So hunters should still be able to find them in the usual places this year."
For further information, the numbers for the CDFG branch in the region are (858) 467-4201 and (858) 467-4202.
Moving north to Kern County, Don Geivet, resources manager for the sprawling Tejon Ranch, painted a bright picture with regard to turkey hunting there.
"I'd say production on the ranch in 2009 was adequate if not exceptional," he said. "In 2010, we expect all our guided hunters to score on adult gobblers just like they did last year. Once again, we will also offer several junior hunts in conjunction with the department of fish and game.
"Our turkeys are the Merriam's variety. They were introduced from South Dakota in 1989, and they've done quite well here ever since."
For information on the Tejon, you can visit the Web site at www.hunttejon.com, or call (661) 663-4210.
Coast Range to the Sierra Nevada
Last year, Camp 5 Outfitters took 25 hunters turkey hunting, and they were all successful. Doug Roth, who is head of the operation, thinks Camp 5 will duplicate that feat again in 2010.
"The turkeys reproduced very well last spring," Roth said. "The weather was mild, so the poults that escaped predation are all young adults now. I saw more broods than usual on a ranch we hunt in southern Monterey County, and our main ground in San Luis Obispo County was loaded. Of course, we prefer to take only mature gobblers in the spring, and I think there are plenty of them to go around. In all, we have around 50,000 acres to hunt in this area."
For information on Camp 5 hunts for turkeys, wild pigs and deer, call (805) 238-3634 or (805) 610-0031.
Meanwhile, Eldon Bergman, who has been guiding turkey hunters in San Luis Obispo County for decades, had similar observations.
"There are turkeys scattered all through this country," he said. "The other day I saw a group of 31 hens and poults in a creek bed near my house. Last spring, one of my hunters missed a tom, but everyone else got a bird. I don't see any reason why 2010 can't be just as good."
To contact Bergman, call (805) 238-5504.
Another familiar name in California Game & Fish is Terry Knight, fellow outdoor writer and veteran turkey hunter from Lakeport in Lake County. As usual, Knight was enthusiastic about the hunting potential in the surrounding area.
"I keep saying that the turkeys are expanding their range in Lake County, and I have no doubt they are," Knight said. "Due to ideal nesting conditions last spring, the quail did great and the turkeys did too. The hens I've seen had an average of six or seven poults going into fall, and that's exceptional. We always hear about the effects of predation on young turkeys, but the hens can deal with some of the threats. Last summer, I watched one of them chase a tom cat across a field to protect her brood, which I thought was surprisingly aggressive."
Knight also mentioned sightings of several gobbler groups, indicating that spring music should be abundant.
In 2009, he got good reports from the Cache Creek Natural Area (Lake County), the Knoxville Wildlife Area (Napa County) and the Jackson State Forest near Fort Bragg. Apparently, the Spenceville Wildlife Area (Yuba and Nevada counties) was tough because of hunting pressure, but there are still birds there. Turkeys are also present on the Daugherty Hill Wildlife Area (Yuba County) and the Oroville Wildlife Area. For more info on those three places, contact the CDFG at (916) 358-2839.
The Cache Creek Natural Area is a 70,000-acre mix of state and federal land. For information on this property, contact the Bureau of Land Management at (707) 468-4000 or visit blm.gov/ca/cachecreek.html. Additional info on Cache Creek and the Knoxville Wildlife Area can be obtained by contacting the CDFG at (707) 944-5500.
Meanwhile, across the Sacramento Valley to the east, my pal Aaron Brooks of Mt. Aukum in El Dorado County is always on the lookout for turkeys in his region. Happily, he's seen plenty of them since last spring.
"Nesting conditions around here were really good last spring," Brooks said. "In midsummer I saw a number of hens with six to eight poults apiece and one busy mother with 10. That's incredible. I'm not saying that every hen was as successful, but the overall trend looked real good. I think production in 2009 was better than 2008, which was a little down.
"Opening week was slower than usual last spring," he said. "But things picked up after that. I got three nice longbeards myself, and filmed 16 more successful hunts with friends. In all, I was out for 27 days during the 37-day season."
Brooks thinks there will be plenty of turkeys to go around in El Dorado, Sacramento, Placer and Amador counties in 2010.
Ryan Mathis, regional biologist for the National Wild Turkey Federation, also had a glowing report.
"Production this year was awesome in most of the places I visited," he said. "I saw lots of birds, and heard good reports from contacts in Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Sonoma, Yuba and Placer counties. Public land where I've seen turkeys includes the Mendocino and Six Rivers national forests."
Mathis tells folks who want to hunt public land to look for places with a mixture of oaks, pines and meadows where the toms can go to strut their stuff for the hens. That's the type of habitat turkeys really like, and at least some of the CDFG, BLM and national forest lands in the foothills should fit the bill.
Two of the most reliable resources for northern California turkey information are retired senior biologist for the CDFG Tom Stone and hunting guide Parrey Cremeans, who guides turkey and pig hunters in several locations in Shasta and Tehama counties.
After talking things over, all three of us concluded that the hatch in 2009 was at least as good as 2008, which, in this region, was gangbusters. How many young poults did predators kill? I can't say, but predation aside, there are plenty of turkeys, both young and old, to meet the hunting needs in 2010.
One morning I drove around the local area and saw three separate flocks of turkeys. One was a bachelor group of eight or 10 mature toms in an irrigated pasture, and the other groups, each consisting of 20 or more hens and poults, were feeding along a ditch in the middle of a field.
In his travels, Stone, who, during his fish and game days, was involved in most of the trapping and transplanting of wild turkeys in the region, does not miss an opportunity to count turkeys. Recently, he opined that the prospects for 2010 are very good.
"I can't say there was an explosion of turkeys or anything," he remarked, "but every place I expected them to be, they were. Their numbers are high and holding, and I think they're going to stay that way."
Meanwhile, Parrey Cremeans spotted several groups of turkeys on land he hunts, and he expects good hunting during the spring season.
"It was really dry out there," Cremeans said, "but the stock ponds held water all summer and there was plenty of food for the turkeys, including lots of grasshoppers, so they're doing fine. I guide a few turkey hunters every year, and I'm really looking forward to opening day."
To contact Cremeans, call (530) 515-5682 or visit his Web site: www.justforhunting.com.
The potential in two other northern counties seems as good or better than average. In southern Trinity County, for example, Jim Schaasfma of Arrow Five Outfitters, reports seeing hens with large broods where he never saw turkeys before, and that's a promising sign. Farther north, Siskiyou County is best described as a sleeper when it comes to turkey hunting. However, my pal, Neil Rucker, who lives there, would like to keep it that way. He discovered turkey hunting a few years ago and quickly became addicted to it.
"Now that I'm thinking about turkeys more, I'm finding them in a variety of places, including the foothills of the Klamath National Forest where I hunt," Rucker said. "Don't tell anybody, but we've got a lot of turkeys up here!"
Looking back at all the reports, and the total lack of discouraging words, it appears that California turkey hunters are in for another productive season in spring 2010. As usual, the top 10 best counties, in no particular order, should be Amador, Butte, Shasta, Tehama, Mendocino, San Diego, Yolo, Placer, Sonoma and El Dorado.
For some ideas of where to hunt on public land in your area, contact the nearest branch office of the California Department of Fish and Game. The phone numbers are listed in the hunting regulations booklet. You can also get some where-to information from the department's Guide to Hunting Wild Turkeys in California and the California Hunting Digest (spring upland game edition). Both publications can be downloaded from the CDFG's Web site at www.dfg.ca.gov, or you can call (916) 322-8911 and request a copy by mail.
The general spring season will start on March 27 and run through May 2. The limit, as always, is one bearded turkey per day, three per season. As in years past, archery hunters will be able to hunt for an additional two weeks (May 3 to May 16), and qualified junior hunters will be allowed to do the same. Check the regulations to make sure there have been no changes that might affect you.
Of course, we cannot predict the weather or the timing of various breeding activities, both of which are closely related, and crucial, for hunting success. No matter what, the first order of the day is to find the birds wherever you hunt on public or private ground. Accomplish that, and you'll be well on the road to some of the most exciting hunting the Golden State has to offer.