|With a growing population of turkeys in California this prized bird is becoming very popular, with the Central Coast and San Diego County holding healthy populations of Rio Grande and hybrid Rio/Merriam's species. Also, higher elevations of the western slopes of the High Sierra down to the Tejon Ranch are home to a unique Merriam's strain of turkey.
Now that opening day of turkey season is long past and many of the more aggressive or less-educated toms have been killed it's going to take a lot of patience, scouting and good calling to harvest a long beard. In addition to being on good turkey property, one of the key factors that will likely see a late season turkey hunter succeed in shooting a big gobbler is just how well a hunter knows the terrain being hunted.
This writer had a chance to talk to master guide Chad Wiebe of Oak Stone Outfitters about his take on hunting late season gobblers.
TURKEY HUNTING SUCCESS — Opening weekend of turkey season was good in the Paso Robles area where there is a very large population of Rio Grande turkeys. WON's Jim Niemiec and Jodey Gregory of Vista each shot a big tom on day two of the season while on a guided hunt with Chad Wiebe of Oak Stone Outfitters. PHOTO COURTESY OF CENTRAL COAST TAXIDERMY
"Jim, the later in the season it gets. the better chances that a turkey hunter will shoot a big gobbler. Now that the "first peak" has passed and the "second peak" is just a week or so away, toms will be expanding their daily range looking for any remaining receptive hens and that's when they become more vulnerable. Those toms on the move will be more responsive to most any kind of slate, box or diaphragm mouth calling and often the most raspy of calls will get the attention of a tom."
Wiebe said, "I would strongly suggest that late season turkey hunters get in the right position to ambush a turkey. I have had lots of success (editor's note: Wiebe has a 100 percent success ratio) when I locate the roost tree, seek out the nearest water and then come up with a good shooting location between these to set up in the morning. At this time of the season putting out a jake with a hen will draw in a gobbler who won't stand for any competition. Once you pattern a small flock of turkey they will most likely act the same until they are forcibly moved off that roost. I have found that turkeys will head for the closest water spot, whether that be a nearby spring, creek, stock tank, pond or watering trough, right after fly-down and then head off up a hillside as they begin their daily travel through turkey country.
San Diego County, specifically the higher elevations of the Cleveland National Forest, are home to lots of Rio Grande and Rio Grande/Eastern turkey from years of protection and lots of ranches and Indian reservations that don't allow any turkey hunting. Despite the fact that there are lots of turkeys in this county, most of which can be found from Julian to Ramona, over to Mt. Palomar and southeast to Mesa Grande, hunting during the late season can become very difficult due to hunting pressure and the fact that many birds have moved to the protection of private property, offering little if no access, to those birds.
John Massie, a very valuable resource on upland game birds for San Diego County, hunts hard all season long and looks forward to the late season.
"Most hens will be on nests and toms will moving around a lot starting right after fly-down and be on the move until dark looking for receptive hens. These toms will become very vocal in hopes of attracting a hen and when they don't find a breed able hen they are most likely to come in strong to calling and a set up of decoys. I would say that patterning a small flock of birds, consisting mostly of maybe one gobbler, a couple of jakes and possibly a hen and couple of jennies, would be the key to shooting a late season bird. Being able to set up alongside a traditional travel route as indicated by fresh tracks, strut marks or droppings would be a good location to shoot a late season gobbler," added Massie.
WON talked to a number of turkey hunters already this season and some of them are still shaking their heads as to what went wrong during the opening weeks of the season, when the birds just wouldn't cooperate. Most of these conversations then turned around into the option of doing a guided hunt with a guide on private property versus going at it one-on-one on public land.
This is what Jodey Gregory of Vista had to say about hunting with a guide or on public land in San Diego County.
"I have hunted on public land in San Diego County for many years and have shot turkey while out on my own. But an incident a couple of years ago changed my whole outlook on hunting turkey on public land when another hunter shot my decoy right out in front of me. That's when I read in Western Outdoor News about Oak Stone Outfitters and decided to book a hunt with them. Last year I shot two big toms, this year opening weekend I shot 10-inch bearded toms on back to back days and I have already booked for opening weekend next year. I cannot say enough about Chad Wiebe's guiding and ranch property he hunts as they are great. I just have a better comfort level in knowing I am in safe hands, won't have to compete with other hunters and will walk off a mountain with a big gobbler over my shoulder," said Gregory.
While the western slopes of the High Sierra, between Springville and Lake Isabella, don't get a lot of hunting pressure there is a healthy population of Merriam's and Rio/Merriam's hybrid turkeys in those rugged mountains. WON has successfully hunted this region in the past with the later weeks of the season being very productive including a closing weekend gobbler shot adjacent to the Sequoia National Forest last season.
A guide is not needed in this rugged mountain country but it's a good idea if a hunter is a newbie to this area which could make a lot of difference in the success of the hunt. There are many ranches in this country that hold small flocks of turkey and often just being sociable and asking for permission to hunt on a big ranch might be granted if the owner is approached correctly.
One of the better guided hunts for Merriam's turkey east of Hwy. 99 is to book a hunt with Mike Berry Guide Service, as advertised in Western Outdoor News.
Berry's main turkey guide is Leo Fisher and he is a very good guide who knows how to hunt turkey in this vast mountain country. WON asked Fisher to come up with one good tip to increase a hunters odds on bagging a late season gobbler and this is what he had to state.
"Tell your readers that during the later part of the spring season gobblers will get more responsive to calls with most hens now setting on nests. Those toms will become more huntable. A gobbler will usually respond to a loud shock call and then come running gobbling all the way in. Toms get desperate to breed a hen as the spring season winds down and will travel a great distance to seek out a receptive hen (or a hunter yelping and purring from under a tree with a decoy out in front)," says Fisher.