The great state of California has a large population of people and tourists, but many hunters may be unaware that there are also giant numbers of turkeys to hunt as well. In fact, California can be considered one of the best states in the country to hunt turkeys!
For those that are interested in pursuing big turkeys in the Golden State, you have come to the right place. Let’s take a look into the different kinds of turkeys you can find, what seasons and tags you need to know about, and how to properly hunt these beautiful birds when you go hunting!
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Species of Turkey in California
While most turkeys all look the same, there are actually five different subspecies found in North America. Of these five, four of them have been released in California at one time or another but there are two main subspecies that are most prevalent and can be readily hunted.
Rio Grande Turkeys
In California, the Rio Grande subspecies is the most widespread turkey in the state. These birds love to live in the mixed oak and pine woodlands of the Coast ranges, Sierra Nevada, and the Cascade foothills. They can usually be found from sea level up to 3,000 feet in elevation, but on occasion can venture into the 5 to 6,000 feet range. These turkeys have also been known to crossbreed with other subspecies on occasion, producing hybrids that can also be hunted.
Merriam’s turkey is the other major subspecies found in California, and lives in the northeastern portion of the state. These birds primarily live in pine forests and like to live at elevations of above 3,000 feet. Merriam’s turkeys differ from the Rio Grande in the terrain they like to live in and the colors of certain feathers.
California Turkey Seasons and Tags
California turkey populations are excellent, so the state offers some great hunting seasons and multiple tags per hunter. There is both a spring and fall season, with the spring season usually starting at the end of March and running to the middle of May. The fall season generally starts in the middle of November and runs to the middle of December.
California gives hunters multiple tags for turkeys, and any hunter can bag up to three turkeys during the spring season, and can then take an additional two turkeys during the fall season. There are few places in the country that give out this many turkey tags, and most hunters can easily fill most if not all of their tags.
Find out more about California turkey hunting regulations.
Choose Your Weapon
In California, you can hunt turkeys with a few different weapons. These include shotguns, muzzleloaders, and archery equipment. While all are legal to use, by far the two most popular are shotguns and bows, so we will focus on those two specifically.
Scouting turkey is not as difficult as say scouting deer. A simple early morning trip is oftentimes enough to find out if an area is viable or not. Typically I use trail cameras in areas that I will not have time adequately scout.
Shotguns are the most popular weapons to hunt turkeys with, no matter what state you are in. Thanks to modern technology and the increases in the effectiveness of shotguns, you can easily use both 12 and 20 gauge to kill a big turkey. With the right turkey loads and shotgun chokes, you could even use a 410 shotgun to hunt with. Many companies offer specialty turkey loads for shotguns, specifically designed to kill turkeys. Shotguns provide great coverage for hitting smaller targets like turkeys, making them the most popular choice.
Bows and Crossbows
If you choose to hunt with a bow, whether it is a compound, traditional, or crossbow, you must be able to comfortably shoot it from a kneeling or sitting position. This is because most turkey hunts are done this way. Hunting turkeys with archery equipment can be a little challenging as they are very small targets when compared to other game animals like deer. But the good thing is that you can use the same bow and arrow setup that you use for deer to also hunt turkeys with. A lot of practice will be beneficial before hunting turkeys with a bow and arrow!
Turkey Hunting Gear
In addition to a hunting license, tag, and weapon, you are going to need some additional gear in order to hunt turkeys in California. Consider bringing plenty of camos, as turkeys have exceptional eyesight. This also means wearing things like gloves and a facemask in order to hide your skin from standing out.
Don’t forget to bring extra arrows or shells for the shotgun, and a quality knife for after the kill. Turkey hunters always have plenty of extra gear, which is usually all stored in a “turkey vest.”
This can be used to store the facemask, gloves, additional ammunition, turkey calls, and anything else that you might want to bring along.
Although ground blinds are not preferred most of the time while hunting California turkey, they can be advantageous in bad weather. Having an affordable ground blind on hand can keep a hunt enjoyable.
Turkey Calling and Calls
In order to properly hunt turkeys, many hunters will rely on the use of turkey calls to help bring the birds within shooting distance. Turkeys are extremely vocal animals and will make many different vocalizations no matter what time of year it is. There are many different types of turkey calls that you can use to produce these sounds, including:
Most beginners will want to start out with something like a box call or a pot and striker call. These calls take a lot less practice and skill to become efficient with and make great basic turkey sounds. All of the calls, however, can produce the basic turkey sounds like clucks, purrs, and yelps. These are the sounds that you can use to call nearby turkeys to not only locate them but also to attract them to your location. This is especially effective in the springtime when the turkeys are in their breeding season.
Must Know Turkey Hunting Tactics for Success
When hunting wild turkey in California it’s important to have some tact in order to gain an edge. Every little tip can create an opportunity to bag a turkey if used correctly.
These are just a few tips that can really put you in a position to take more shots at turkey and put some meat on the table.
Ask yourself if you are using any or all of these turkey hunting tips. If not, try em out, what do you have to lose?
Scout Turkey Like Big Game
Turkey is the largest of California’s upland bird game. They’re not the smartest creatures, but they are cautious. Approach turkey like you would deer.
- Tukeys have a small brain about the size of a bead. This means you don’t have to get super fancy with your hunting.
- When to scout? Same as deer I like to start scouting turkey about 2 weeks before the season starts. The extra time really helps me understand their patterns.
- Use GPS or phone apps. Using one or both of these can tell us about terrain, game paths, watering holes, ravines, and potential roosting locations. Take advantage of free resources like this.
- Map public vs private. Having a map to distinguish between public and private land is critical. Apps such as OnX can help with that.
- Keep a log. This is really one of the best tips that I can give you in this article. Keeping a log not only allows you to remember what you scouted but also to remember where geographically significant areas are.
Be Proficient with Your Weapon
This often goes overlooked when hunting any species. Oftentimes people just go into the woods not knowing what their weapons are capable of. This is a huge mistake and will result in missed shots or worse, wounded animals that are never found.
Here are a few things to try when getting to know your weapon.
- Know your pattern at 25 yards, 35 yards, and 50 yards. Obviously, I am speaking about shotguns here. Regardless, know what your bow or crossbow does at any distance that you plan to take a shot at.
- Practice shooting in different positions to see what is comfortable with your weapon. I never tried this until a friend recommended it after a hunt one day. I can honestly say that shooting from different positions is a must know skill.
- Practice making headshots up to 50 yards prior to hunting. When turkey hunting we are aiming for the head right? Why are we not practicing making long range headshots. If you are, good on you, if not then you should start. This tip is a game changer once perfected.
Turkey Can See Very Well
Their eyes are bigger than their brains. This is super weird to think about but it’s true. Turkey can see very well so we hunters have to conceal ourselves. Camo from head to toe can’t be stressed enough.
1`. Camo. Your outfit doesn’t need to cost a lot of money but you really should make an attempt to blend in. This comes back to scouting your hunting area. Match your camo to whatever brush you may be sitting next to.
2. Sit Still. This may seem like an obvious tip but trust me it’s harder than it looks. When practicing shooting from different positions as stated above, I like to hold a said position for a long period of time before taking the shot. This helps me train my body for the real thing.
Use A Proper Choke
This is another game changer tip. Using the wrong choke is going to make shooting turkey harder than it has to be.
- What is a choke? A choke is a tool that goes in the barrel of your shotgun to create different spread patterns. I find that different chokes mixed with different load out changes the pattern at times. Practice practice practice.
- What is the best choke for turkey hunting? Well, I wish that question was easy to answer. The most important factor when choosing the proper choke is your gun. This is really a discussion for another article, but you can find a wide variety of shotgun chokes perfect for turkey here.
Where to Shoot Your Turkey
This seems like a straightforward question, but that’s because it is. There are two places you want to shoot a turkey.
What Shotgun Load Is Best for Turkey?
I don’t mean to sound like a broken record but the load used for turkey hunting really depends on how far you will have to shoot. For me, I like a 3-inch magnum shot for my 12 gauge.
I can usually get a good shot off at 40 yards on most gobblers.
Because we are talking about hunting in California, never use lead while hunting turkey. Lead is never allowed when hunting California’s game species.
Talk to other hunters and pick their brains about the best load for turkey. There are plenty of forums where guys will go back and forth all day about how one is better than the other. The truth is that if you’re taking the shot, you should be confident that you will make the kill.
Any other thought just means you were not prepared.
Using the right Turkey Call
Calling turkey is one of the hardest skills to learn. For some people, they have a natural ability to call a turkey. Friends of mine newer to hunting turkey than I am, seem to have picked up calling a lot faster than I ever did.
There are three main types of turkey calls.
- Mouth Calls. Mouth calls are extremely effective if used correctly. Personally, I do not use mouth calls but they have one advantage over the rest of these, they require little to no movement by you.
Less movement = Better ods, plain and simple.
You can find a decent variety of mouth calls for turkey here. Because I don’t use them personally, I will not make a recommendation on the best ones.
- Box Calls. These turkey calls some would say are a little old school. They are simple box with a lid that sounds identical to turkey. These are my personal favorite type of turkey calls simply because it is what I was taught.
If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and that is where I am with box calls. Works
for me so I have no need to try anything else.
You can find a wide variety of box calls for turkey here.
- Slate Calls. These calls seem to be the go to for beginners and let me tell you, they work. Slate calls in the hands of a skilled hunter with a keen ear are downright deadly.
They are the easiest to learn and use in my opinion, unless you are a stubborn man set in your ways, like me.
Calling Strategies that Work
It’s important to have a strategy when calling turkey. Knowing their patterns, when they call and when they don’t is crucial. Here are a few simple tips to follow when calling turkey.
- When the turkey area comes at you don’t call.
- When they are talking you talk.
- Call em hard when in the roost.
- Watch and learn when they are talking.
Use Turkey Decoys
Turkey decoys are the name of the game. This is a great way to shoot a big ol jake especially when hunting in California for wild turkey. Don’t be tricked though, expensive super realistic decoys are not necessary. A simple decoy is all that is needed.
Here are a few tips when using decoys to hunt turkey.
- Don’t overdo the decoy.
- Use one hen and a jake or tom.
- Make other turkeys jealous.
- Use the jake and toms in the early season.
- Late season use a hen or two.
I can’t stress this tip enough. So many times my buddies tell me they came up empty on their hunt. The first question I have is, how long were you out there?
I’m telling you when you feel like going home, don’t. Patience pays when turkey hunting. Follow these rules next time you are out there and see if it helps.
- Wait them out, don’t give up.
- They may be sneaking in on you and you don’t even know it.
- Just cause you don’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not there
Turkey Hunting in California Final Thoughts
Turkeys might not be the stars of the show when it comes to hunting in California, but maybe they should be. With so much great habitat and endless numbers of birds, there are few places in the country that give a hunter the type of excellent hunting that you can find here!