Proper gear, patience are necessary for turkey hunting

By: George deVilbiss/Special to Gold Country News Service
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There are many wild turkeys throughout California. It’s a prolific bird, and the population is thriving. It’s a bird that inhabits wild, wooded areas and increasingly is being found in many of the valley’s urban areas.

The major problem with turkey hunting, however, is that its habitat range is below the snow line. For the most part, that is mostly private property. Especially around housing areas, turkeys are considered a nuisance because of the mess they leave behind.

Except for the spring breeding time, turkeys are found in fairly large flocks. When they aren’t brooding on a nest of eggs on the ground, they spend their nights roosting in trees. If you’ve never seen one fly, you’ve missed one of nature’s most awesome sights.

But the turkey is a wary bird. If you think you’re going to go into the field in street clothes, you’ll rarely get a turkey within a mile of you. Hunting these wild birds takes specialized gear and a world of patience.

Gear: You need to blend into the environment. One of the easiest ways, where you can fidget a little and still be approached by a bird, is with a blind. There are fairly inexpensive blinds and various sizes, and some can be set up in a few minutes.

If you don’t have or use a blind, you’ll need camouflage from your head to your toes, including either a face mask or camo paint. Your shotgun should have a camo cover. Depending on the terrain, something like a gillie suit would work well.

A couple of decoys also work wonders. The spring hunt is when the tom looks for hens to breed, so at least one hen decoy with a tom or even a jake decoy nearby would be a good idea. If you can get a tom to take a look, he’ll want to fight the tom or jake that’s appearing to show attention to the hen.

There are a variety of turkey calls, and some are easier to use than others. If you call wrong, the tom will turn tail and make tracks. Pick up an instructional CD that describes different calls.

Patience: A turkey won’t announce his arrival so you need to be patient and on guard at all times. If you aren’t using a blind, that means sitting still. No fidgeting. Anything that looks, sounds and appears unnatural will scare off this wary bird.

Where to go: There are numerous wildlife areas, but all require reservations. There are hunting clubs that allow access for a wide-ranging fee, and some private landowners may allow you access if you go knocking on doors.

The season opens Saturday, March 26, and runs through May 1. Any bird with a beard showing through the breast feathers is legal. The beard is predominant in males.

The spring hunt is one of the most liberal seasons the state offers. The daily bag limit is one turkey with a seasonal limit of three total. No hens are allowed because it’s breeding time, and they’ll be sitting on a batch of eggs.

Shooting hours are from 30 minutes before sunrise to 4 p.m.

If you think you’re going to get out in the field once the sun has come up and walk out of the field with a bird, think again. These big birds roost in trees.

If you already have an area to hunt, walk it and find the area where the flock is roosting, easily evidenced by lost feathers and droppings on the ground.
When the season opens, get to the area no less than an hour before dawn. Don’t set up directly under their tree. Set up your blind, and set out your decoys.

By the time light begins to show on the horizon and the birds begin wanting to come down from the tree, the area you disturbed setting up has settled down.

Begin calling when the birds are active. Learn the hen calls, and a tom should come running.

Contact George deVilbiss at