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Start your ‘turkey grand slam’ at Indian Rock Ranch
Now that the general turkey season has ended (Junior and archery season will run through May 16), hunters can now reflect on what was a pretty darn good spring turkey season. Mother Nature dealt us some strange weather over the past six weeks, bringing a mix of rain, cold temperatures, some wind and a few hot days in between. Along the Central Coast it was a very strong season for those hunting with guides on large cattle ranches and vineyards, while San Diego County offered up its traditional tough hunting, the northern part of the state faced weather related hunt days and dispersal was late along the western slopes of the High Sierra foothills and up into national forests.

Western Outdoor News was invited up for a late-season turkey hunt by master guide Ron Gayer, of Indian Rock Ranch, (661) 809-1613, or Cold springtime temps, off and on rain showers and just a few nice days pushed the first peak of turkey breeding season back a couple of weeks for this region and thus the entire season had much different hunting conditions this year.

TROPHY INDIAN ROCK RANCH MERRIAM’S — Turkey hunting at this High Sierra ranch, located near Glennville, traditionally offers good success during the spring season. Avid turkey hunter David Halbrook harvested this adult Merriam’s turkey that responded to calling and a decoy setup. When hunting Indian Rock Ranch, a hunter could be successful on shooting a Merriam’s, Rio/Merriam’s hybrid or Rio Grande gobbler on any given day. PHOTO COURTESY OF INDIAN ROCK RANCH

“It’s been a good season, but each day was different and the birds were not always that predictable on this ranch, located at 3,500 feet. While we could pattern the birds pretty good, as to where the main roosts were and the travel routes, it was not that easy to keep them vocal. It’s always more exciting when a hunter can hear gobbles from a nearby roost and then its high adrenaline time when a tom is on the move toward a blind with decoys out in front. IF, a tom or even a jake doesn’t gobble, it makes for a very long and often frustrating day of hunting,” said Gayer.

The bulk of the native turkeys in California are of the Rio Grande species, dating back many years. The National Wild Turkey Federation teamed up with the California Department of Fish and Game in the late ’60s and along with the cooperation of some key ranches, there were Merriam’s and Eastern turkey transplanted from the Midwest on to those private ranches throughout California. During those initial transplants, agreements were made with ranch owners not to hunt those introduced turkeys until a population of huntable numbers of turkeys was reached and that natural reproduction had been established.

The Tejon Ranch, (661) 724-1218, was very instrumental in trying to establish a wild turkey population and there were many efforts made to introduce Merriam’s turkey on the huge ranch during the late sixties and into the seventies. Finally, as numerous attempts failed to establish a huntable population of turkeys, a big transplant of wild turkey took hold and thus established a stronghold for Merriam’s here in California. The Tejon already had a solid hunting program in place and good game management allowed the turkey population to grow. Many an avid turkey hunter from across America books a Merriam’s turkey hunt on the Tejon Ranch to start or complete a “turkey grand slam” of this highly coveted species.

Today, Indian Rock Ranch offers one of the best options for shooting both a Rio Grande and Merriam’s turkey in California. The ranch, located in an area where turkeys were released, offers ideal habitat for turkeys. Turkeys that were introduced along the western range settled onto ranches that offered up protection and suitable breeding terrain.

“This working cattle ranch is located at the right elevation, there is plenty of water, good roosts of tall oaks and pine, good ground cover with a mix of wild oats and wheat, mixed in with some rye grass and we deal with predators, as do most big ranches with well managed wildlife programs. Both the Rio and Merriam’s have adapted well to this ranch, as our bird numbers continue to grow. This ranch offers up probably the best opportunity for a turkey hunter to take multiple species of turkeys over a few days spent hunting. Our largest population of turkey on the ranch are Rios, there is also a good mix of Rio/Merriam’s hybrids and there are some true full-blooded Merriam’s on the ranch. Each year we see all three species harvested and there are some really trophy-class gobblers in the mix,” says Gayer.

WON’s hunt with Gayer started off with thundershowers and an early morning temp in the high 40s…not what you would call ideal spring turkey hunting conditions. With the knee-high grasses soaked, Gayer opted to hold off the morning hunt until the birds hopefully became more active and vocal. The hunt trailer at Indian Rock Ranch offers all the amenities needed for a good hunt camp and the veranda looks over a lush green pasture and adjoining rolling hills of ancient oaks and lots of ground critters, and it was a great place to kick back and talk hunting!

The plan was to scout the ranch, pattern some of the gobblers and then set up for a late afternoon hunt, before spending the late evening roosting a flock of birds. Gayer has tent blinds set up near some feed plots, next to travel routes and near some of the more established roosts. This knowledgeable guide doesn’t like to leave blinds set up overnight, due to the interest of cattle who can demolish a portable blind. It took about an hour for us to fix up a blind and settle in for the afternoon, which unfortunately didn’t offer much in the way of gobbles.

In defense of a beautiful ranch and accomplished turkey guide, this hunting editor opted not to shoot a jake that was sporting a 4-inch beard. Had that young tom been a Merriam’s, showing white tail feathers, it would have been an easy shot at 30 yards with my Benelli M2 loaded with Federal Premium #5 FS Steel shot.

Both Indian Rock Ranch and Tejon Ranch had a successful turkey hunting season with many a long-beard harvested. Based on the carry over of adult gobblers, a huge number of jakes and ideal nesting conditions along the foothills of the Western slopes of the High Sierra, native Rio Grande and Merriam’s turkey should have a very strong nesting season that will ensure many good spring turkey hunts ahead.

Editor’s note: Indian Rock Ranch also holds a huntable number of mule deer. This ranch is located within hunt zone D-8 and offers a limited number of trophy deer hunts each season. According to guide Ron Gayer, there are some dandy 4x4’s that travel around and through the ranch.

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