Turkey Hunting in California

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  • B
  • 240,000

    Wild Turkey Population

  • Rios, Merriam's and Easterns

    Turkey Subspecies

  • 834,739

    Number of Licenses Sold Annually

  • $56.47

    Hunting license ($47.01), and upland game bird validation ($9.46).

    Cost of Resident License and Permit

  • $56.47 - $173.11

    Hunting license ($163.65), and upland game bird validation ($9.46). A two-day license and upland game bird validation is $56.47.

    Cost of Non-Resident License and Permit

To many, California seems anything but hunter-friendly. That's the perception. This is the reality . . .

My California turkey hunt included a pleasant drive north along the Pacific coast from L.A. with some longtime turkey hunting buds. Our hunt, based in the Central Coast region, included both rugged terrain and lush agriculture lands. Unlike more well-known West Coast cities, the location isn't densely populated. Wild turkeys were plentiful, and the old bird I killed gobbled hard, and wore sharp spurs. The entire hunt experience was a pleasure from start to finish.

The Golden State has virtually everything that a hunter needs, resident or non-resident, for a great season. Excellent turkey population densities cover nearly 18 percent of the state; hunters get a generous three-bird spring limit (two more in the fall) and long seasons. Success rates average 40 percent and higher. Licenses are reasonable, and there's a good amount of public accessible ground. 

Politics aside, it's hard to argue with numbers like this. 

Rio Grande turkeys are the most widespread subspecies in California and, as mentioned, are found along the Coast Ranges, plus the Sierra Nevada and Cascade foothills. Although in much smaller numbers, the Merriam's subspecies roost in the northeast and along the Transverse Range in Kern County. Additionally, Easterns were released along the northern coast and Eastern/Rio Grande hybrids from the Midwest have been transplanted along the south coast.

Although the introduction of wild turkeys in California started around 1877, and subsequent stocking programs continued from 1928 to 1951, results were poor and the program was eventually stopped. However, in 1959 the program was reignited, and over a 40-year period nearly 3,800 wild turkeys were released in more than 200 locations throughout the state. Because of these efforts, California’s first fall turkey season occurred in 1968, and in 1971 a spring season was added.

Now, wild turkeys are present in nearly all of California’s 58 counties, with about 40,000 turkeys killed annually. The highest take typically occurs in Butte, Calaveras, El Dorado, Mendocino, Nevada, San Luis Obispo, Shasta, Tehama and Yuba counties. Although many populations roam on private land, the state, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and public utilities offer numerous public opportunities.

Check California's nonlead ammunition regulations here.

Turkey Hunting in California (© GizmoPhoto-Shutterstock)

Fun Fact: If you'd like to leave your 12 gauge or bow behind, you can always tackle California turkeys with your trained raptor. Hunting by falconry is legal here, as wild turkeys are listed in the "upland game birds" category – bearded only in the spring, either sex in the fall, for all methods of take.

– Steve Hickoff

2021 California Turkey Hunting Regulations

Go here for Realtree turkey hunting.