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

Written by Kristin Hitchcock
Published: September 2, 2023
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California has a plethora of turkey species that you can hunt. However, like most states, there are many regulations and requirements you have to meet before you can legally take any birds. Luckily, these requirements aren’t too complicated in this state.

The rules do depend on the exact kind of turkey you’re hunting, as well as when you’re hunting. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of the different turkey species and varying turkey seasons in the state.

We’ll discuss all of this below, as well as the general regulations you need to keep in mind when hunting in this state.

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Turkey Species in California

There are a few turkey species in California. You need to be aware of which species are which when hunting, as you don’t want to take the wrong kind of turkey. Here’s a list of the most common turkey species in California.

Rio Grande Turkey

Rio Grande turkeys are often found in more arid regions, which includes a lot of California. They prefer lower elevations with less vegetation, like grasslands and open woodlands. They’re known for their lighter coloration and buff or light brown tail feathers. You can often ID them based on the tan tips of their tail feathers.

This species is also known for its adaptability. Therefore, it can thrive in a variety of habitats. They tend to roost in trees while moving to open areas for feeding. In California, these turkeys are found primarily in the Central Valley and foothills.

Merriam’s Turkey

Merriam’s Turkeys thrive in more forested regions and mountainous terrain. They like the opposite spots of Rio Grande Turkeys. You’re more likely to find them in higher elevations or coniferous forests. They have white-tipped tails that make them easy to identify, as well. They also have more vibrant and contrasting colors than other turkey species.

They’re very skilled at navigating mountainous environments. You can often find them roosting in trees at higher elevations. Often, they’re located in northern and eastern California, such as the Sierra Nevada region.


While these turkeys are distinctive species, hybridization can occur. This leads to turkeys of varying appearances that are sometimes difficult to distinguish between pure species. Hunting these turkeys can be a bit confusing, as they don’t always obviously follow a certain set of rules.

Turkey Hunting Season in California Timing

hunter tracks a wild boar

California has divided their turkey season into two different parts.

©Maksim Safaniuk/Shutterstock.com

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

Spring Turkey Season

In California, the spring season starts in mid-March and extends through late August. These dates do vary slightly from year to year and may differ depending on the exact area. It’s important to check, as the dates can change mid-season, as well.

Spring is the primary mating season for turkeys. Therefore, male turkeys are particularly active during this time as they seek out females to mate with. This behavior makes them much more responsive to turkey calls, so they are often used during this time.

Often, hunters will use hen calls to attract males who are looking for potential mates. It does help to know where the roosting areas and feeding sites are, though, as this can increase your chance of finding a turkey.

Unpredictable behavior driven by hormones can make hunting a bit challenging during this time.

Fall Turkey Season

The fall turkey season in California usually runs from early October to late November. Once again, the exact dates can depend on the hunting zone and specific regulations. Some areas have different dates depending on their turkey population.

In the fall, turkeys are mostly focused on feeding to build up fat reserves for the winter. This behavior makes them more responding to feeding calls, making them an effective strategy for hunters during this season. These calls include the soft clucks, purrs, and yelps. Fall hunting is very different from spring hunting, so the same tactics often don’t work.

Turkey flocks tend to scatter during this time as they search for available food sources.  

License Requirements and Costs

To hunt in California, you must have a hunting license. It doesn’t matter what species you’re pursuing. This license allows you to participate in several different hunts, including those for turkeys. Both residents and non-residents must purchase a license, though the cost and regulations are a bit different for each type.

You must also purchase an Upland Game Bird validation. This is in addition to your hunting license and allows you to hunt certain game bird species, including turkeys. It also works for quail and pheasants.

This validation must be purchased annually for each year you want to hunt turkeys.

For younger hunters, there is a junior license available that costs much less. The availability of this license is dependent on the hunter’s age.

The exact cost of the license will vary from area to area. Typically, non-resident licenses are double or more the cost of a resident license. Proving residency is very much worth it when purchasing a license, so be sure to have the correct documents required.

You can purchase a license online, at a local license agent, or by visiting a Department of Fish and Wildlife office. Be sure you know what license you want to purchase and the animals you intend to hunt so that you can purchase the correct items.

Bag Limits and Regulations

Bag limits refer to the maximum number of turkeys that you can hunt during a specific season. These limits are often based on the species and gender of the turkey. Spring and fall have different bag limits, for instance. Furthermore, bag limits may vary by hunting zone.

California also has different bag limits for each type of turkey, so it is vital that you know what species you’re looking at before you shoot.

Often, bag limits in the spring range from one to three birds per hunter. In most cases, only males are allowed to be taken during this season. However, it does vary depending on the exact year, as the turkey population does change.

Fall season bag limits are usually higher, but they will vary depending on the hunting zone and season. Often, females are also allowed to be taken during this time.

Turkeys must be tagged, and their harvest reported to the local wildlife agency. This data helps biologists monitor turkey populations and make management decisions in the next year. There are also specific legal hunting hours. Typically, these hours are the start of sunrise to the end of sunset. However, it can vary.  

You aren’t allowed to use all hunting equipment all the time. Sometimes, different regulations are implemented around gauges, ammunition, and the use of turkey calls. Of course, you must have the appropriate licenses and permits to hunt, as well.

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

  • Mendocino National Forest: This forest is a mix of forested areas and open grassland, allowing a high population of turkeys to live there. You’ll find both species, making it a popular place to hunt.
  • Shasta-Trinity National Forest: This forest is known for its varying terrain and many vegetation types. It is suitable for both fall and spring hunting, as it has a mix of oak woodlands, conifers, and meadows.
  • San Luis Obispo County: This county is a mix of coastal and inland landscapes and has a surprisingly high number of turkeys. This county includes rolling hills, grassland, and oak woodland. Both species are around, so you can choose which one you want to target.
  • Sierra National Forest: Because of its high elevation, this forest offers challenging terrain for experienced hunters. This area is truly a unique place to hunt turkey.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Jim Cumming/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Kristin is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering dogs, cats, fish, and other pets. She has been an animal writer for seven years, writing for top publications on everything from chinchilla cancer to the rise of designer dogs. She currently lives in Tennessee with her cat, dogs, and two children. When she isn't writing about pets, she enjoys hiking and crocheting.

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