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Thursday, March 29, 2012
It was a timely storm for wildlife

PREVIEW: Countdown to gobble time
Turkey season preview

opening day flock
OPENING DAY FLOCK OF TURKEY — This is what turkey hunters will be dreaming about for the next couple of weeks. These two big gobblers are sticking pretty close to the boss hen and there are a mix of jakes and jennies in this group of turkeys that was photographed near Atascadero in San Luis Obispo County. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC

Opening day of the spring turkey season is just a matter of two weeks away when hunters will be out in full camo, hopefully knock-down ammo and an on target shotgun as the season kicks off on March 31. It has been a weird early spring with some rain, some hot weather and better than ideal hunting conditions being reported for most areas that hold Rio Grande, Merriam's and hybrid turkey populations.

Even though there have been some very warm days with few clouds most reports from guides, outfitters, hog hunters and turkey hunters out scouting are that most of the birds are still in winter flocks with very little in the way of dispersal being witnessed as of early March, but all that could change before opening day.

John Massie, a valued source of information for Western Outdoor News when it comes to turkeys had the following to report for northern San Diego County, "Turkey surveys have shown large winter flocks pretty much intact, though the appearance of single and twosomes of big gobblers off alone indicates that the more secretive hens may have already left those jakes and jennies in the winter flock. As a result of the largely sunny February (only two storms) leaving us 2 inches short of normal rain fall, as measured at Lindberg Field where 10 inches is the seasonal normal, we could see an early onset of spring dispersal! That could mean the first peak of gobbling could occur before the season opens. The season would then open with a henned-up condition with only a little starlight gobbling and few or very little day time gobbling. With the rain up in the Pacific Northwest that could help keep the winter flocks together a little longer. The total numbers of birds being seen in the winter flocks is significant though. Apart from the potential of bad timing the San Diego flock seems to be doing well."

It's always good for this hunting editor to hear about new hunting opportunities that open up for Western Outdoor News readers and such was the scenario last week when master guide Chad Wiebe, owner of OakStone Outfitters, called to talk about a couple of new hunting ranches he has just leased for turkey hunting. WON met up with Wiebe at Santa Rosa Island back in 2010 when he was heading up guiding operations for MUM's Roosevelt elk and trophy mule deer program on this island that has since been silenced by the National Park Service.

"Jim right now we have more turkeys on our ranches than we have hunters and our leases cover well over 7,000 acres of prime turkey habitat. We are looking for hunters to shoot an adult gobbler, as our management program doesn't call for the harvesting of jakes. Last year we were 100 per cent successful on toms sporting near 10-inch beards or better and we expect that to hold over through this season, as our ranches are holding a lot of 2 and 3 year old birds due to successful nesting the past couple of wet winters."

As of press time Wiebe said, "The birds are finally starting to disperse and we are seeing hens heading off to find ideal nesting spots near available water and toms are getting pretty vocal. I am not sure how the nesting will be this year due to a drier winter, but I think that there are plenty of carry-over birds out there to make for a great season. The properties we hunt to the west of Paso Robles are seeing improved turkey populations on a annual basis."

It was almost a duplicate report from Santa Lucia Outfitters based along the central coast. According to guide Jim Martinez his pre-season scouting is looking very promising with lots of adult birds being mixed with jakes and jennies from last year's super hatch for ranches hunted between Atascadero and on up towards Bradley.

"I would have to believe that this region of California will offer up very good turkey hunting, at least on private ranches, but I think it might be a bit tougher for those hunting public land in the Los Padres National Forest. We are coming off a very good year for the turkeys and there should be good numbers of long-beards out there. The big question is how well will they gobble this spring," says Martinez.

Martinez suggested that novice turkey hunters need to show a lot of patience when they don't hear any gobbles from a roost or when the entire turkey country goes silent after fly-down. Adding, you know there are birds out there in the wilds, but knowing the terrain, habitat and having been able to pattern the movement of small flocks through the valley floor and up into the oak studded hillsides is just a matter of putting in lots of time.

WON checked in with Roger Miller of Miller Bros Expeditions just prior to press time for this column and he had the following information on ranch property he hunts around Parkfield. "The valley didn't get much more than a .20 of an inch of rain out of the last two storms that blew through. Things are pretty dry and even the green winter grass is starting to turn brownish. We need a couple more inches of rain in March to turn things around. As for turkeys they are doing just fine but the cold night, dropping to below freezing, have kept the birds pretty much in their winter flocks. I am starting to hear more gobbling every day when out guiding hog hunters and I think that the spring season could be good providing hunters are able to patiently wait out the movement of birds with possibly little gobbling happening.

Outfitter Mike Barry will be hunting Merriam's turkey along the western slopes of the High Sierra on private ranches. Barry told Western Outdoor News that the birds are still flocked up and doing a lot of gobbling, but added that not much in the way of dispersal has taken place. When on guided hog hunts there is a lot of turkey sign, but we really haven't seen the birds out in the open yet and maybe that's just a timing thing. Traditionally Merriam's turkeys hold off on breeding until conditions are improved with an abundance of ground cover and available water.

The California Department of Fish and Game has published a very neat booklet on turkey hunting in California titled "California Turkey Hunter's Guide." This informative book covers everything you need to know about the species of turkey found across the state and how to hunt them. There are 42 pages filled with some pretty good photos, not real detailed maps but itdoes talk about habitat, food sources and tips. The book is available on line at or a 2007 revised edition is available for sale.

Hunters should be concerned about rattlesnakes starting to become very active during the spring turkey season and extreme caution should be used when walking through knee high grass or stepping over downed timber.

Editor's Note...Last spring this hunter nearly stepped on a 3.5-foot long Pacific rattlesnake while heading to a deadfall to make a few calls. Fortunately it was a cold morning and the rattler seemed non aggressive. The snake was dispatched by ranch hand Clinton Miller of Miller Bros Expeditions based out of Parkfield.

Another helpful hint for shooting a big gobbler on opening weekend comes from Hunter's Specialties Pro Staffer Dieter Kaboth who really knows turkeys.

"I would strongly suggest that hunters out on pre-scouting trips into turkey country not do much calling. Calling prior to opening day only gets the birds rattled and they just might move out of the area and roost in a different canyon or hill top. Locate a tom and then back off after you have established a pattern on that tom or flock of hens. Pushing birds before the season opens is not a good idea at all. Another item that needs to be addressed is once the birds are on the ground and you may have to switch to a "spot and stalk" technique. Remember that even if you are sneaking through an oak forest and you cannot see the birds very well, alert toms and hens can see your feet walking under the canopy of oak branches from their ground level view. Also when stalking a gobbler through sage or California live oaks make sure to hunt with your eyes before stepping into any kind of opening, as you could end up busting a tom or hen that hasn't been vocal at all," said Kaboth.
Editor's Note: This editor does not profess know everything about turkey hunting nor am I a wildlife biologist, but I would think that with the hot weather recently, mature hens would have dispersed and that toms will be in full strut with little gobbling once they are on the ground.

wild turkeys
WHILE DRIVING IN  Jimmy's World (JQ Smith) along Highway 76 near Lake Henshaw we came upon these Wild Turkeys! Jimmy said we were  "pre-scouting." What seemed to be an ordinary drive through the mountains was suddenly changed when I looked out the window of his van. I yelled "Jimmy, stop" and jumped out to take this photo.

Limits and other regs for turkey season
The daily limit during the spring season that  begins March 31 and   continues through May 6 is one bearded bird per day and three toms for the season. No hens can be shot during the spring season and a legal bird has to have a beard showing through its breast feathers.

Shooting hours are from one half hour before dawn until 4 p.m., which is quite early during daylight savings time but does protect the birds from being harassed when they head off to roost. No shot larger than size # 2 may be used in the harvest of a wild turkey.

Turkey hunters are also required to have a valid Upland Game Bird Stamp when hunting. This stamp can be purchased along with a license at an agent's place of business or on-line.

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