California Upland Bird Hunting is some of the best in the United States. When most people think of California, they think of the sunny beaches and bustling cities. But being one of the largest states in the West, California is home to many different species of wildlife, especially upland game birds. In fact, the state boasts one of the widest varieties of upland birds in the entire country!
A true hidden gem for bird hunting, California does an excellent job managing its small game and provides plenty of opportunities for these amazing animals. If you play your cards right, there are even areas around the state that are home to various species that you can hunt all in the same day. Let’s take a look at all of the different upland birds that call California home, and when you can expect to hunt them.
Species of Upland Birds in California
As we mentioned, there are many different species of upland birds in California, although not all of them can be hunted at any given time. Each species will have specific areas that are open to hunting, as well as specific season dates!
Keep in mind that turkey are not on this list. Turkey is considered an upland bird and you can find a full guide to hunting turkey in California here.
California (Valley) Quail
Starting off the list is a bird that gets its name from the state, and is also California’s state bird. These quail can be found all over the state, and can live in a wide variety of terrain from forests and mountains down to deserts and coastal regions. These birds are very tough and can survive just about anywhere, but do extremely well after good rain seasons. Hunting quail in the rain can produce great results. They love to travel in coveys and make for an exciting target during hunting season.
California Quail Season and Limits
Quail hunting in California is broken up into three different zones, each covering a large section of the state. In zones 1 and 2, California quail season starts October 17th and runs until January 31st. In zone 2, it begins September 26th and goes until January 31st. The daily bag limit is 10 birds with a possession limit of 30.
Gambel’s quail look very similar to California quail, with the major differences being that they lack the same scaling pattern and have brighter head feathers. These quail prefer to outrun their predators, and will only fly when needed. They love to live in the deserts of Southeastern California, and can survive in harsh desert environments in which they live. These birds are easily some of the most challenging quail to hunt!
Gambel’s Quail Season and Limits
The Gambel’s quail hunting seasons are identical to those of California quail, with zones 1 and 3 starting on October 17th and zone 2 beginning September 26th. All zones end their season on January 31st, and the daily bag limit is the same at 10 birds per day with a possession limit of 30.
Mountain quail are a rare species of quail that are the largest and usually the hardest to find. They are very elusive and love to live in thick forests and brush on mountain hillsides. I recommend wearing your blaze orange while hunting their thick brush habitats. these birds are the only species of quail to actually migrate from their homes in higher elevations down to lower elevations during the winter. Mountain quail need a lot of water, and as such can usually be found around water sources and have a rough time during drought periods.
Mountain Quail Season and Limits
Mountain quail can only be found in zone 1 of the California quail zones, and have a season that runs from September 12th to October 16th. The daily bag limit is 10 birds, and there is a 30 bird possession limit.
Pheasants were introduced into California many decades ago, and today small populations live across the state. Their numbers are dwindling, and you cannot expect the same kind of action that you would get in other states, but you do have a chance at a true, wild pheasant here. Pheasants are beautiful birds and make for a fun and challenging California Upland Bird Hunting species, and if you are lucky enough to bag one, you will have quite the trophy.
Pheasant Season and Limits
Bag limits for pheasant are relatively strict, and currently there are only 2 birds per day on the first two days of the season with a 3 bird limit on the days after. The possession limit is 6 to 9 depending on time of year. The season runs from November 14th to December 27th.
Chukar is another introduced species, although they have done much better in California than the pheasants. These birds found a great home in the high desert regions of the state and are very good at evading predators (including hunters). These little birds are perfect for the hunter who loves a little bit of challenge. Look for the biggest populations of chukar in the southeastern corner of the state at altitudes of 3,000 feet or more.
Chukar Season and Limits
Chukar season in California runs from October 17th to January 31st, making them a great addition to the quail season. There is a limit of 6 birds per day, and possession limit of 18.
There are three different species of grouse that can be found in California, Blue grouse, Ruffed grouse, and sage grouse. Of these, blue grouse and ruffed grouse are the only two that can be currently hunted, and even then there are specific counties and rules associated with them. Due to smaller populations that are prone to weather conditions, these birds are closely watched, monitored, and hunted. Make sure you do your homework before heading out to hunt grouse in California!
Grouse Season and Limits
The seasons for both blue and ruffed grouse run from September 12th to October 12th. Both of these species have daily bag limits of 2 birds, with a possession limit of 6. Sage grouse can occasionally be hunted by permit only depending on the year and population numbers, and this must be done through a draw.
Doves are one of the most popular and easiest animals in California to hunt, and easily one of the most plentiful. There are many varieties of dove in the state, with the mourning dove and the white-winged dove being the two most common. They are found all over the state, from the mountains in the north all the way down to the Mexican border. There is also the invasive Eurasian collared dove, which can be hunted all year long with no bag limits!
Dove Season and Limits
Dove season for mourning doves and white-winged doves begins on September 1st and runs to September 15th. The bag limit is 15 birds per day. As we mentioned, the Eurasian collared dove can be hunted at any time of year and has no bag limits. Dove can be particularly hard to shoot while in flight, it takes experience and a great shot to hunt these birds.
Last but certainly not least, California is home to a small population of ptarmigan. These birds live high in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and were introduced to California many years ago. Ptarmigan love the high altitude of the Sierras, and you must be willing to hike above 10,000 feet in order to get to where most of these birds can be found. Only then will you stand a chance at seeing and hunting one of these rare birds.
Ptarmigan Season and Limits
Ptarmigan season is relatively short, and runs from September 12th to September 20th. They also have one of the smallest bag limits, with a limit of 2 birds per season.
License and Other Upland Bird Rules
In order to hunt upland birds in California, a resident hunter must have a proper hunting license and have passed a mandatory Hunter Safety course before purchasing the license. In order to legally hunt upland birds, they will also need to purchase a separate Upland Game stamp in addition to their hunting license.
Nonresidents must abide by the same rules, and have an California hunting license that can be obtained by providing a previous out of state hunting license that is no more than two years old or proof of a current hunter safety course. Non Residents must also purchase the Upland Game stamp as well. With these two documents in hand, you are ready to start enjoying all of the wonderful upland bird hunting that California has to offer!
Find more details about hunting upland bird in California by visiting the California Department of Fish and Wildlife page.
Tips for Hunting Upland Birds in California
Here are a few helpful tips for hunting upland bird that may give you an advantage on your next hunt.
TIP #1: Hunting with dogs sometimes make easy work of upland bird species. Networking with other hunters that may have bird dogs is a great way to fill those limits. If you can’t hunt with dogs, then that’s okay. Pairing with other hunter allows you to cover more ground than if hunting alone. It’s important to practice safe strategies and never shoot parallel to the ground. Keeping to your zone is paramount.
TIP #2: Hunt dawn and dusk. Hunting early morning and last light can be killer times to find bird. This is when birds are the most active in California because they are feeding.
TIP #3: Hunting open fields near waterways. Birds need water just like every other animal. In addition, there is more natural food for birds in these areas.
TIP #4: Use google earth to locate ideal hunting locations. This is a great idea, no matter what species you are hunting in California. This is also one of my tips for hunting deer as well.
Even when it comes to hunting, California is going to be more well known for its great turkey or deer hunting. Upland birds in this state may never get the spotlight that they truly deserve, but this might be a good thing. As long as California remains a hidden gem for bird hunting, you can go out and enjoy it as much as you can!