Turkey hunters, guides and outfitters were a little concerned about the future of turkey hunting along the central coast earlier this year, but those concerns seem to not be as critical as those voiced after the spring turkey season. The drought did have a tremendous impact on the vegetation in this region along with a significant effect on most all wild game. While the spring nesting for turkey and quail was not near as productive when compared to the wet years of 2005-06, there was a very good carryover of adult toms and hens and paired up adult valley quail seem to be holding their own.
CENTRAL COAST TURKEYS DOING FINE — While the drought has affected lots
of wild critters the turkey population in the central coast region is
holding its own. This flock of hens and jennies was photographed on the
Nick Ranch just to the east of the rural town of Pozo. WON PHOTO BY JIM
Western Outdoor News was invited up to check out the coastal region by Chad Wiebe, master guide of Oak Stone Outfitters based out of Bradley (Paso Robles) and spend a morning hunting for a fall gobbler.
To the east of Hwy. 101 the terrain is extremely dry and void of much in the way of any vegetation, although there was a little greening up showing along some of the roads and in those north facing canyons that are in the shade most of the day. Major highway construction on Hwy. 46, just outside of Jack's Cafe, made for a long delay as new blacktop was being spread and traffic was backed up for miles. Hopefully this gateway road to some fine hunting country will fully open soon but the prediction for completion isn't until 2017.
"Jim, you need to come up here and check out some of the ranch properties and see for yourself what's happening in this area. We got somewhere between .5 and 1.5 inches of rain over a week ago and already things are greening up. We need another shot of rain quickly to ensure that this newly sprouted grass, clover and other native vegetation will continue to grow. The storm that was expected this week is kind of petering out, but we'll take any amount of moisture right now," said Wiebe.
The stark hillsides driving into Wiebe's taxidermy studio in Bradley was a strong indicator of the lack of rain with nothing for ground cover, the ground squirrels weren't out and there wasn't the normal amount of dove setting on barbed wire fences along the road that are usually in this valley most all year long.
Wiebe was in the back of his studio along with Casey Nick, a young local boy who was in training under Wiebe to become a California licensed hunting guide by the end of the year. Young Casey was raised on a 1500 acre ranch just outside the rural town of Pozo and loves to hunt turkey. This very knowledgeable young man would be taking me out as a guest on his family's ranch in the morning.
At dinner Wiebe talked about hunting, just coming off a very successful Tule elk season, a very productive blacktail buck season. The number of hogs his clients have been shooting on some of this bigger ranch leases, the local turkey population and the fact that there are not enough ground squirrels out to make for even a marginal "ground grizzly" hunt was most of the conversation.
Wiebe had told WON in mid-summer that he might have to reduce the number of gobblers he plans to harvest during the spring season of 2015, but since then he has had an opportunity to make comp counts of flocks of turkey on this leased hunting ranches. He is much more optimistic about having plenty of long beards to successfully hunt this coming spring.
"Just about every ranch we lease has or will offer up a good spring turkey season in 2015. Right now we have a number of properties that are holding flocks of over 100 birds and the ranch you will hunt in the morning is supporting a winter population of toms, hens, jennies and jakes that number is excess of 125 birds. One reason that we will continue to hunt gobblers is that by adding new ranches every year we can manage our birds and not be forced to returning to the same property more than a couple of times during the long season. This makes for much improved hunting odds and improved chances of a turkey hunter harvesting a gobbler sporting a 10 to 12 inch beard," added Wiebe.
FALL SEASON GOBBLER — This gobbler was shot by WON hunting editor Jim
Niemiec while on a pre-Thanksgiving hunt with Oak Stone Outfitters. The
big tom was in a flock of about 40 birds and had to be waited out for a
clear shot. Pictured with the gobbler is Casey Nick who is an interim
guide working with master guide Chad Wiebe. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC
It would be an hour's drive from the bunk house to the Nick Ranch which necessitated a 3:30 a.m. departure to get to the ranch early enough to walk into a spot where Casey had roosted a flock of some 50 birds earlier in the week.
"Jim, I am not sure where these birds will head to after fly down, as they can head off in three different directions. We'll just have to play it by ear and be ready to make a move if needed," said the confident avid hunter.
In the dark, without the aid of flashlight, we moved to a spot overlooking the convergence of 3 small canyon draws. After settling in the first gobble echoed through the mix of oaks and digger pines nearly 30 minutes before fly down. I don't know if the gobble was because we moved into that spot or that it was just reacting to something else, like a car driving down the county road just a few hundred yards to the west. But everything settled down until just prior to fly down when there was an eruption of gobbles, not only coming from one side of us, but also directly in front of us and off to the left as well. Things were looking very promising as we were surrounded by gobbles!
As is the case on any turkey hunt there is no guarantee as to where the birds will go after fly down and such was the case that morning. As soon as the birds hit the ground they were very vocal and chasing each other around and around. The boss hen moved in our direction followed by a young tom sporting a 9 inch beard that looked more like a pencil than a paint brush, and another young hen. They walked right up to us, stopped at about 15 yards and the boss hen putted loudly three or four times before turning away and heading up canyon. As the shooter, I was not in position to take a shot and likely would have passed anyway due to the fact it was just a 2 year old tom.
The flock of some 40 mixed birds that were working down the hillside followed that hen moving around the hill above us and out of site. It was time to adjust my shooting position which mandated that I slowly stomach crawl for some 50 yards to top the hill and hopefully a gobbler will be shootable from a prone position.
The situation was nearly perfect with the hen leading all the rest of the turkey across an open meadow well within effective shot gun range for my Benelli model M2 12 ga. loaded with Federal Premium Turkey Loads of # 5 shot. Having to wait for the right time for a gobbler to clear the rest of the flock had my heart racing, but finally one of the toms came clear and hit the ground in a dust of feathers from a shot taken at just inside 30 yards. It was a fat 2 or 3 year old tom, that sported a 9.5 inch beard weighing just over 20 lbs., which will be enjoyed on Thanksgiving day.
After the hunt we toured the Nick Ranch and commented on the new growth of grass and clover starting to green up the property. During the drought the Nick family, who homesteaded the ranch back in the early 1900's, did a lot of work on stock ponds, dams and creeks in hopes of catching as much rain fall as possible this coming winter. The ranch looked good with lots of prime deer and quail habitat to go along with the healthy turkey population.
According to Casey, for some reason the Nick Ranch holds hens all year long and toms come from adjoining properties to breed during the spring nesting season and then return each fall to regroup, and this has been going on for many years. This ranch is mainly a working cattle ranch, raising 100 percent grass fed beef, which is a USDA organic brand. Back in the early days the ranch raised turkeys for the commercial market and there is still evidence of the old pens and the original homesteaded wood home sits just above deer camp. Obviously this region offers up ideal turkey habitat as indicated by the number of turkeys, which was infused by transplanting of
Rio Grande turkeys by the efforts of National Wild Turkey Federation and CDFW years ago.
It is not too early to think about booking a spring turkey hunt. For information on a spring turkey hunt with Oak Stone Outfitters log on to their web site at firstname.lastname@example.org. While some outfitters might be cutting back or booking only return turkey hunters for next season, Wiebe plans to expand his turkey hunting opportunities with the addition of Casey as his third experienced guide.