Turkey Hunting in California: Season Timing, Bag Limits, and Best Spots


California has a wide variety of turkeys that you can hunt. However, like most states, there are a number of regulations and requirements that must be met before you can legally own a bird. Fortunately, these requirements are not too complicated in this state.

The rules depend on the exact type of turkey you hunt and when you hunt. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the differences in turkey species and turkey seasons within the state.

Turkey Species in California

There are several types of turkeys in California. You don’t want to land the wrong breed of turkey, so you need to be aware of the species when hunting. Below is a list of the most common turkey species in California.

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Rio Grande Turkey

Rio Grande turkeys are common in arid regions, including most of California. They prefer low-lying areas with little vegetation, such as grasslands and open forests. They are known for their light colors and tawny or light brown tail feathers. They can often be identified by the brown tips of their tail feathers.

This species is also known for its adaptability. Therefore, they can thrive in a wide variety of habitats. They tend to perch on trees when moving into open areas for foraging. In California, these turkeys are found primarily in the Central Valley and foothills.

Merriam’s Turkey

Merriam turkeys grow in woodlands and mountainous areas. They like the exact opposite of the Rio Grande turkey style. More likely to be found in highlands and coniferous forests. The tip of the tail is also white, making it easy to spot. It also has more vivid and contrasting colors than other turkey species.

They are very adept at navigating mountainous environments. They often roost in tall trees. Common in northern and eastern California, including the Sierra Nevada area.


Although these turkeys are distinct species, interbreeding can occur. As a result, turkeys have a varied appearance and can be difficult to distinguish from pure breeds. Hunting for these turkeys can be a little confusing as they don’t always follow certain rules.

Turkey Hunting Season in California Timing

Turkey hunting in California is divided into two seasons: spring and fall. Each season has its own regulations and challenges, so it’s important to understand each as a separate season.

Spring Turkey Season

In California, the spring season begins in mid-March and lasts until late August. These dates vary slightly from year to year and may vary by region. It’s important to check the dates as they may change even mid-season.

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Spring is the best breeding season for turkeys. Therefore, male turkeys are especially active at this time of year in search of females to mate with. This behavior makes them more responsive to turkey calls, so they are often used at this time of year.

Hunters often use chicken calls to attract males looking for potential mates. However, it is helpful to know where their resting and feeding spots are, as this will increase your chances of finding turkeys. The unpredictable behavior of hormones during this time can make hunting difficult.

Fall Turkey Season

California’s fall turkey season typically lasts from early October to late November. Again, exact dates may vary depending on hunting areas and specific regulations. In some areas the date varies depending on the turkey population.

In the fall, turkeys focus primarily on feeding to store fat for winter. This behavior makes them more responsive to calls for food, making them an effective strategy for hunters this season. These calls include gentle laughter, purrs, and howls. Fall hunting is so different from spring hunting that the same tactics often don’t work. During this period, flocks of turkeys tend to disperse in search of available food sources.

License Requirements and Costs

You need a hunting license to hunt in California. It doesn’t matter what kind you pursue. With this license, you can participate in various hunts, including turkey. Both residents and non-residents are required to obtain a license, but each type has slightly different costs and regulations.

Validation for Upland Game Bird must also be purchased. This is in addition to your hunting license and allows you to hunt certain wild bird species, including turkeys. It is also effective for quail and pheasants. This certification must be obtained each year you wish to hunt turkeys.

For younger hunters there is a significantly cheaper junior license. The availability of this license depends on the hunter’s age.

The exact cost of a license varies by region. A non-resident license usually costs more than twice as much as a resident license. It is very important to present proof of residency when purchasing a license. So make sure the required documents are correct.

Licenses can be obtained online, from your local license dealer, or by visiting a Fish and Wildlife Service office. Make sure you know what license you want and what animal you want to hunt so you can purchase the right items.

Bag Limits and Regulations

Catch limits refer to the maximum number of turkeys that can be hunted in a given season. These restrictions are often based on turkey breed and gender. For example, different baggage limits apply in spring and autumn. Also, baggage restrictions may vary depending on the hunting area.

California also has different catch limits for different types of turkey. Therefore, it is important to know which species you are dealing with before shooting. Spring catch limits are often one to three birds per hunter. Only males are caught most of the time during this season. However, it fluctuates from year to year as turkey populations change.

Baggage limits are higher during the fall season, but vary by hunting area and time of year. During this period, women are often brought along. Turkeys must be tagged and the harvest reported to local wildlife authorities. This data will help biologists monitor turkey populations and make management decisions for the year ahead.

There is also a statutory hunting period. Usually these times are from the beginning of sunrise to the end of sunset. However, your situation may be different. Not allowed to use all hunting equipment at any time. Different regulations may apply to the use of gauges, ammunition and turkeys. Of course, you also need the necessary licenses and permits for hunting.

There are many spots you can hunt in California. Here are some of the most popular:

  • Mendocino National Forest: This forest is a mixture of woodlands and open grassland, and is home to a large number of turkeys. Both species are present, making it a popular hunting ground.
  • Shasta-Trinity National Forest: This forest is known for its varied terrain and many types of vegetation. The mixture of oak forests, conifers and meadows makes it suitable for both autumn and spring hunting.
  • San Luis Obispo County: This county is a mix of coastal and inland landscapes and is home to an amazing population of turkeys. The county includes rolling hills, grasslands, and oak forests. Since you have both types, you can choose which one to attack.
  • Sierra National Forest: The high altitude of this forest presents challenging terrain for experienced hunters. This area is truly a unique place for turkey hunting.
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