It’s Turkey Time Again!

Spring turkey season is a great time to get outdoors to enjoy our beautiful state. The season opens March 28 this year and runs for 37 days through May 3 for the general season. (© Carrie Wilson)

Question:This will be my first year turkey hunting and I need pointers on where to go and what to look for. I live in the Modesto area but will go anywhere for a good hunt. Also, I noticed that the shooting stop time is 4 p.m. everyday. Why is this when the days are only getting longer? It seems way too early. Thanks for any help. (Paul L., Modesto)

Answer: Spring turkey season is a great time to get outdoors and enjoy our beautiful state. The season opens March 28 this year and runs for 37 days through May 3 for the general season (spring archery and spring season for Junior Hunting License holders are extended from May 4 through 17).

Shooting hours for the spring wild turkey season is always one-half hour before sunrise to 4 p.m. The reason for the early stop time in the spring (versus the stop time of sunset in the fall) is because the spring season occurs during turkey breeding season. Only the toms (and bearded hens) may be taken in the spring to allow the hens to nest successfully. The goal is to maximize the opportunities for hunters to take turkeys while protecting nesting hens. Setting this early shooting stop time gives the birds a break from hunting pressure.

Turkeys typically roost communally and may have only one or no more than a few trees where they roost at night. They become more vulnerable toward the end of the day as they return to their preferred roost. If the turkeys are disturbed along the way by gun shots, they may select unfamiliar roosting areas, thus making themselves more vulnerable to predation.

Turkeys are found throughout much of the state and their population is on the increase. Turkeys primarily occupy mixed oak and pine woodlands and, sometimes in the Central Valley, river bottom habitat. Much of their preferred habitat is privately owned but if you lack permission to access private lands, there are also good opportunities on public lands.

Turkeys can be found on portions of almost all national forests statewide. Department of Fish and Game (DFG) Wildlife Areas in Northern California also have good turkey hunting opportunities. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands have turkey populations but tend to be smaller parcels that are often difficult to access. Some local government lands may also be open to hunting.

Finding a place to hunt requires doing some homework. Once you find an area that you are interested in hunting, obtain a map to ensure that you are not trespassing. BLM maps of public lands are produced at 1:100,000 scale statewide. U.S. Forest Service maps are also available for each national forest. Both can be obtained by visiting their local offices. While there, you might ask if they know a good place to hunt turkeys. You should also ask if there have been changes in ownership of the lands you intend to access since the maps were printed.

DFG resources: DFG has an excellent Web page at Specifically, look in the Upland/Small Game section and click on the “regulations” link. For publications, the “Hunting Digest (spring 2009 edition)” and the “Hunting Guide for Wild Turkeys” are excellent resources for tips, special hunts and maps. They can both be downloaded at the above site or are often found at your local DFG office. Finally, check out the “Where to Hunt” section for maps and information. Maps of DFG Wildlife Areas can be printed directly from

Chicken Livers as Bait?
I know chicken livers and such are used in freshwater for catfish but someone told me that this type of bait is illegal in salt water (I have heard that a couple of people were cited for using chicken meat and organs on the Manhattan Beach Pier). I can’t find anything in the regulation booklet that says it’s illegal. Can you confirm this? Thanks. (Eric M., Huntington Beach)

Answer: There is nothing illegal about using chicken livers, meats or organs as bait in saltwater either. Generally, if the regulations don’t specifically state that something is illegal or cannot be used it is legal.

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Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week. Please contact her at

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