If you want to hunt spring turkey, a clinic might be just the thing

By: George deVilbiss/Special to Gold Country News Service
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Wild turkeys have been in California for a good 10,000 years. Their skeletal remains have been found in Southern California’s La Brea Tar Pits along with various dinosaurs that roamed this state.

Wild turkeys were hunted to extinction. The state and surrounding areas were thought to be in a long-term drought and birds congregated in large groups around available water supplies, making them an easy target.

The first known introduction of wild turkeys back into California was in 1877, when a rancher brought them into the state and set them free on Santa Cruz Island. The problem is that the population had a limited range. They couldn’t migrate.

The California Department of Fish and Game attempted introducing wild turkeys into the state as early as 1908. That didn’t work out well. Between 1928 and 1949, the DFG tried its hand at farm-raising hybrid birds for release.

Most didn’t make it. One of the most prevalent to make it was the Merriam strain of turkey with the Rio Grande strain also being popular in the field. The Merriams tended to populate the higher elevations while the Rio Grandes stayed in the lower elevations.

By the early 1960s, the CDFG got serious about turkeys and began capturing the wild birds that did make it and relocated them; plus, they imported birds from other states. Their range has expanded exponentially over the years, and their numbers keep growing.

While the wild turkey population is welcomed by hunters, many land owners consider them a nuisance. Of course, part of the problem is that the land owners who complain the loudest are the ones who built their homes in areas the turkeys find most favorable. And, the birds have no problem munching on and ruining gardens, flower plots, etc.

So, when hunting season comes around in the fall and spring, many hunters are champing at the bit to help reduce the population and put a big bird on the dinner table.

A wild turkey is one of nature’s most wary critters, but because the male is looking for a lady bird to mate with during the spring season, he’s generally less wary.

They roost in trees. I nearly stepped on one while deer hunting one time, and she took to the air. By the time she got all the way across the canyon, my nerves settled down.

For the most part, once they come down from their roosts to feed and water, they’d rather run when they’re confronted. This past deer season, I drove up on a large flock of jakes and hens on my quad. Within minutes, they were out of sight, running en masse down a hill.

Years ago, the main hunting method in the spring was dressing in camo from the tips of your toes to the top of your head, face included. The shotgun was covered in camo. You sat next to a tree for what seemed an eternity, never moving in case a bird moved close enough.

Today, you can get a blind as large as a small tent. You can sit in it comfortably, fidget, and a nearby bird won’t spot you.

You can set up as many decoys as you can handle to help fool the strutting male into shotgun range. But, it’s still up to you to know how to convince the bird you’re the hen he’s looking for.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is hosting a one-day turkey-hunting clinic on Saturday, March 2, at the Gray Lodge Wildlife Area near Gridley and Live Oak. The clinic will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Hunters 16 years and younger can take the class for free while everybody else shells out $45. All necessary equipment and materials will be provided.

The clinic will cover decoy placement, blind design, ballistics, calling, equipment, game care and cleaning, and cooking tips and safety.

Space is limited. You can register online at Once registered, you’ll receive a confirmation e-mail, a map to the facility and a list of items you’ll need to bring.

Turkey season opens March 30 and runs through May 5. The limit will be three for the season, and all must have a visible beard.


Current fishing


Lake Pardee is prepared to unlock the gates for its annual spring opening. The entry gate will open Thursday, and the first lines can be cast Friday morning well before the first crack of light.

Anglers from all over the north state await this opening. The popular Rec Area Cove can be nearly shoulder to shoulder with hopeful anglers. The boat ramp will have a waiting line, and most trollers will ply the waters right there in the Rec Area Cove. It can be such a traffic jam.

Lake management has worked furiously in preparation of the opening. The restaurant will be operational, boat rentals will be ready, and the bait shop will be stocked.

Numerous truckloads of trout will have been dumped into the lake before the opening from private hatcheries and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Trout from private hatcheries tend to be larger than CDFW trout. Either way, trucks back down the boat ramp area, and many trout stay in that area for a couple of days before spreading out.

To beat the shoulder-to-shoulder traffic, some anglers will park in the lot at the far end of the cove and hike across the small dam to access the east side of the cove. But, just about anywhere you get bait in the water will potentially put you into a stringerload of trout.

The lake, as usual, will be regularly planted every week to keep the fishing great.

Lake Camanche: Private trout plants are still being made weekly, some to the South Shore Pond, the rest alternating between the North Shore and South Shore boat ramps. If you’re looking for a nearby place and don’t want to fight the big crowds expected at Lake Pardee, Camanche would be a good alternative.

The South Shore Pond is always a good bet and a good place to teach youngsters how to fish. There also are good areas to fish from the North Shore, where you can fish close to where you park your vehicle. Chartreuse Power Bait, garlic-flavored Power Bait, salmon eggs, Berkley’s Power Eggs and a night crawler work for the shore-bound. Use a sliding sinker rig, though.

Trolling close to the North Shore boat ramp region also tends to be good. Or, you can work the old river channel toward the dam, around Hat Island, or the deep water in front of the dam.

Bass are running deep with drop-shotters and jigs being dropped from 35-50 feet down. Shad-colored worms along with brown and purple jigs seem to be working, but if you’re scoping fish and aren’t getting bit, keep changing until you do. Most anglers are reporting catching 10-15 bass a day.

Contact George deVilbiss at