The 2015 general hunting season will open in mid-September for various upland game bird species in specific zones around the state, providing hunters with many opportunities to bring home some delicious table fare for the upcoming holiday seasons.
September openers include quail (Zone Q1 opens for mountain quail only from Sept. 12 through Oct. 16, and Zone Q2 will be open for all quail from Sept. 26 through Jan. 31); sooty and ruffed grouse (general season will be open in various northern and eastern counties from Sept. 12 through Oct. 12); white-tailed ptarmigan (general and archery seasons will be open from Sept. 12-20); and band-tailed pigeon (the northern hunt zone only will be open from Sept. 19-27).
Specific information about each of these opportunities, including zone maps and information about daily bag limits and possession limits for each species can be found on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Upland Game Bird Hunting webpage. Additional information about each species can be found below.
Quail are one of the state’s most popular native game birds. There are three species of quail found in California: California quail, mountain quail and Gambel’s quail. California quail (the state bird) are common and widespread throughout the state in brushy areas with good cover and abundant food. Mountain quail are also widespread, and live in steep and rugged mid to high elevation terrain. Gambel’s quail are California’s most desert adapted species and can be found in the arid lands of southeastern California.
The early mountain quail season starts on Sept. 12 and continues through Oct. 16 and covers much of the mountainous region of northern and eastern California (the zone map can be found on the CDFW website). On Sept. 26, the early general quail season opens in several coastal counties between San Francisco and Mendocino. The remainder of the state will open to quail hunting Oct. 17. Finally, an additional two-day early hunt season will be open on Oct. 3-4 for young hunters with junior hunting licenses in Mojave National Preserve.
For all quail species, the daily bag limit is 10 and the possession limit is triple the daily bag.
All three native species of quail have high reproductive potential with large hatches following good years of late-winter and early-spring precipitation. Despite the ongoing drought, the winter and spring conditions of 2015 were moist at times, providing some beneficial conditions and encouraging reproduction in wetter areas. Grass and forb production was better than the previous year and summer broods averaged seven chicks in drier areas, and eight chicks in wetter areas.
Like most upland birds, quail are most active in the early morning and later afternoon. Successful quail hunters know to look for freshly turned soil depressions in a circular shape, which can indicate where the birds have been taking dust baths. Quail have distinctive calls that can provide clues to the birds’ roosting spot or direction. Once they are away from cover and foraging, quail tend to stay on the move throughout the day.
Quail are most commonly hunted with 20, 16 or 12 gauge shotguns. A modified or improved cylinder choke is recommended to avoid excessively damaging the bird. Because of their ability to blend in and the brushy habitats, hit quail can be a challenge to find, and dogs can be useful for both locating and retrieving birds. CDFW reminds hunters that wasting game is both unethical and illegal.
CDFW estimates that in the 2014/15 season, approximately 470,000 quail were bagged across all three species by 69,000 hunters over the course of 550,000 hunter-days. Not surprisingly, California quail is the most frequently bagged of the three species.
California has two species of native forest-dwelling grouse: the sooty (or blue) grouse and the ruffed grouse. Sooty grouse occur in the mountainous regions in the northern and eastern parts of the state, while the ruffed grouse is restricted to the extreme northwestern part of the state. The general hunting season for both species extends from Sept. 12 to Oct. 12 this year. For sooty and ruffed grouse, the bag limit is two (all of one species or mixed) and possession limit is triple the daily bag. A map of the hunt zones for sooty and ruffed grouse can be found on the CDFW website. A third species, the greater sage-grouse, can be hunted by permit only.
Although they are fairly large birds, grouse camouflage themselves very well. Dogs are useful companions for grouse hunters, due in part to the grouse’s tendency toward a fast, explosive flush. Grouse are easily frightened and will sometimes fly in a zigzag pattern when flushed. A light gun is helpful because a fast swing is often necessary.
The white-tailed ptarmigan is a non-native grouse that was introduced by CDFW to the Sierra Nevada in the early 1970s. This is the smallest species of ptarmigan and the only one found in California. They live in high elevation alpine habitats at low densities from the Sonora Pass south to Sequoia National Park. The ptarmigan hunt zone includes Alpine County and portions of Mono County (for specifics, please contact CDFW’s Upland Game Program).
Hunting these birds can be challenging because of the barren and inhospitable terrain. Hunting is permitted from Sept. 12 -20 within the designated zone. The daily bag limit is two per day and the possession limit is two per season. Many hunters prefer using a 20-gauge shotgun and a hunting dog to pursue ptarmigan.
The band-tailed pigeon is California’s only native pigeon and is a close relative of the extinct passenger pigeon. They look similar to domestic (feral) pigeons that are common in urban areas. Band-tailed pigeons are found in mountainous terrain throughout the state, using coniferous forests as well as oak woodlands.
The band-tailed pigeon is locally abundant at times but populations are nomadic and movements can be unpredictable. The federal Harvest Information Program (HIP) estimates that in 2014, 10,700 pigeons were harvested in California, nearly 90 percent of the total Pacific Flyway harvest.
The northern California hunt zone season runs from Sept 19-27. The daily bag limit is two and the possession limit is triple the daily bag. The southern hunt zone does not open until December.
CDFW reminds hunters that an upland game bird stamp is required for licensed adult hunters (18 years and older) but not hunters with a valid junior hunting license. A HIP validation is also required to hunt band-tailed pigeons.
Please note that as of July 1, 2015, nonlead ammunition is required when hunting upland game birds on all state wildlife areas and ecological reserves. Please plan accordingly. For more information please see the CDFW nonlead ammunition page.
Levi Souza, CDFW Upland Game Program, (916) 445-3709
Scott Gardner, CDFW Upland Game Program, (916) 801-6257
Kirsten Macintyre, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8988