Hunting wild turkeys on private property may require a trade, but it's worth it

By: George deVilbiss/Special to Gold Country News Service
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Oh, where to hunt, where to hunt. That’s a popular refrain from many hunters hoping to pursue one of the state’s permanent residents, the wild turkey.

The season opens this Saturday, March 31, and ends May 6. Finding areas to deer hunt, for example, is generally no problem. You head for the high country to open lands owned by government agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Reclamation.

Finding room to pursue turkeys isn’t as easy. They generally stay below the snow levels. The problem is, the greatest amount of that territory is private property, and much of that includes homes.

Can’t understand why, but most homeowners object loudly to a shotgun blast early in the morning right under their bedroom windows.

However, many of these same homeowners consider the wild turkeys that happily trot across their groomed lawns and landscaped terraces a total pest, mainly because of the messes they leave behind.

If you can find a landowner with a fair amount of acreage and no subdivision-type setting in the foothills, you might be able to receive permission to hunt. It could mean knocking on several doors or working a trade, perhaps offering to do some work for the landowner in exchange for permission to hunt on their property. It could pay off.

The real plus side of hunting on private property is that you can leave your blind set up and feel somewhat comfortable it will be there when you return. Try that on public lands, and the blind would either be vandalized or missing.

There are public lands available nearby, such as the Spenceville Wildlife Area that has a population of wild turkeys. Because of its accessibility, however, there will be a tremendous amount of competition from other hunters, especially early in the season.

Especially if you head for the open territory of public land, you’ll need to get out in the field long before the crack of dawn, while the birds are snoozing in their tree roosts.

Hopefully, you’ve done some preseason scouting and know where their roosting sites are. They’ll utilize the same roosts night after night, so long as they aren’t disturbed.

Set up your blind in the dark with as little fanfare as possible. Many blinds can be done in minutes. Set up your decoys and wait for the magical shooting hour to arrive.

Once you hear birds coming down out of their roosts, begin your calling. It has to be light enough for you to identify birds with a visible beard through the breast feathers — generally but not always attributable to a male tom turkey. There is no minimum on the length of the beard.

You can take your first shot one-half hour before sunrise. Shooting ends at 4 p.m. You’re limited to one bird a day and three for the entire season.

Federal duck stamps available online

State hunting and fishing licenses and all stamps and options, such as the two-rod stamp, are purchased online through the state’s Automated License Data System.

The federal government is pursuing the same option with the required federal duck stamp. In January, the house passed by a 373-1 vote a bill that would authorize the stamp to be purchased electronically. It now only needs to be passed by the Senate.

The electronic stamp is valid for 45 days, giving hunters and others time to get their actual stamps through the mail.

The stamp costs $15 a year, and 98 percent of the revenue goes toward buying or leasing wetlands habitat for protection in the National Wildlife Refuge program.

Current fishing

Unstable weather is keeping most anglers home. While the calendar says it’s spring, we need rain and snow to feed the state’s lakes and reservoirs.

Ocean salmon: It’s always welcomed by anglers. The north state’s recreational salmon season opens Saturday, April 7, with the exception of Humbug Mountain in Oregon to Horse Mountain along the Mendocino County coast. The opening for those northernmost waters won’t be decided until April.

As is always the rule, only Chinook salmon will be allowed in the bag. If you take your own boat, as many anglers do, take a crash course on salmon identification.
Telling the difference between a silver salmon (or Coho) and a king salmon (Chinook) is obvious. Look inside the mouth of the fish. If it’s black, it’s a Chinook; if it’s white, it’s a silver.

Keep a silver, however, and you’re in for a big citation.

The daily salmon limit remains two. If you fish from Horse Mountain to Point Arena, which includes the Fort Bragg port, the minimum salmon size is 20 inches.
From Point Arena to Pigeon Point, which includes Bodega Bay and San Francisco ports, the minimum size is 24 inches; same for the Monterey and Santa Cruz ports.

There have been no early reports of boats out looking for bait balls of anchovy, which salmon generally hang close to as a primary food source, or what the water temperatures may currently be.

San Pablo-Suisun Bays: There are bigger water flows down the rivers from the sometimes-torrential rainfall. That bodes well for the sturgeon chaser, as there are fewer unwanted fish being attracted to your expensive sturgeon baits.
If you get bit now, for the most part it’s going to be a sturgeon. The bite is definitely worth going, rain or shine. Launch at Martinez for a quick trip to the open water of Suisun Bay. All sturgeon spots are working well. The mothball fleet is right there. Launch at San Pablo, and the flats territory around the Pumphouse and off China Camp are producing keeper sturgeon.

Camp Far West: The lake is running over the spillway. Some campsites are even under water. This is a popular lake for Easter weekend (April 8). If you hope to camp, you’ll need to get there early to ensure a spot. With unstable weather predicted most of this week and the weekend, bass and pan fish will be moving to warmer, shallower water.

Contact George deVilbiss at