The 2016-17 general upland game bird hunting season will open in mid-September for several species in specific zones around the state, providing hunters with many opportunities to bring home some delicious table fare for the upcoming holiday season.
September openers include quail (Zone Q1 opens for mountain quail from Sept. 10 through Oct. 14, and Zone Q2 will be open for all quail from Sept. 24 through Jan. 29); sooty and ruffed grouse (general season will be open in various northern and eastern counties from Sept. 10 through Oct. 10); white-tailed ptarmigan (general and archery seasons will be open from Sept. 10-18); and band-tailed pigeon (the northern hunt zone only will be open from Sept. 17-25).
Please note that nonlead ammunition is now required when hunting on California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Wildlife Areas and Ecological Reserves. As of July 1, 2016, the nonlead shot requirement is extended to include the take game birds with a shotgun elsewhere in California, with the exceptions of dove, quail and snipe, or any game bird taken on a licensed game bird club. Please plan accordingly. For more information please see the CDFW nonlead ammunition page.
Specific information about each game bird species, including zone maps and information about daily bag limits and possession limits for each species can be found on the CDFW Upland Game Bird Hunting webpage. Additional information about each species can be found below.
Quail are some 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 low to mid-elevation brushy habitats with good cover and abundant food. Mountain quail are also widespread in higher elevation habitats. Gambel’s quail are California’s most desert-adapted species and can be found in the very arid lands of southeastern California.
The early mountain quail season starts on Sept. 10 and continues through Oct. 14 and covers much of the mountainous region of northern and eastern California (the Q1 zone map can be found on the CDFW website). On Sept. 24, the early general quail season opens in Zone Q2 for several coastal counties between Marin and Mendocino counties. The remainder of the state will open to quail hunting on Oct. 15. Finally, an additional two-day early hunt season will be open on Oct. 1-2 in Mojave National Preserve for young hunters with junior hunting licenses.
For all quail species, the daily bag limit is 10 and the possession limit is triple the daily bag. Hunters can still use lead shot for quail until 2019 unless hunting on CDFW Wildlife Areas or Ecological Reserves. Quail currently are exempted from the new nonlead requirement because lighter shot sizes used on these smaller birds is not as widely available as larger shot that has been used for many years on waterfowl.
All three native species of quail are characterized by high reproductive potential that can only be realized through adequate and well-timed winter and early spring precipitation. Despite the ongoing drought, conditions were good for in 2015-16 for quail, resulting in good hatches in most part of the state.
Quail are most active in the early morning and later afternoon and move in large coveys throughout the day. Quail have distinctive calls that can provide clues to the birds’ location. Hunting dogs can be useful for both locating and retrieving birds in the field.
Quail can be successfully hunted with 20, 16 or 12 gauge shotguns. A modified or improved cylinder choke is recommended to avoid damage to the bird. Because of the dense brush habitats where they are usually hunted, downed quail can be hard to find. Despite this challenge, 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. (Data is not yet available for the 2015-16 season.)
California has two species of native forest-dwelling grouse: the sooty (or blue) grouse and the ruffed grouse. Sooty grouse occur in the Sierra Nevada, Cascade and northern Coast ranges while the ruffed grouse is restricted to the northwestern part of the state. The general hunting season for both species extends from Sept. 10 to Oct. 10 this year. For sooty and ruffed grouse, the daily bag limit is two (all of one species or mixed) and possession limit is triple the daily bag. A third species, the greater sage-grouse, can be hunted by permit only.
Although they are fairly large birds, grouse camouflage themselves very well and will flush quickly when frightened, flying in a zigzag pattern away from the hunter. Dogs are useful companions to help hunters find and retrieve bagged grouse. A light gun is helpful because a fast swing is often necessary. Nonlead shot is required for all grouse statewide.
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 area around Sonora Pass in Tuolumne County to the area surrounding Kings Canyon National Park.
Hunting these birds can be challenging because of the high elevation, steep terrain. Hunting is permitted from Sept. 10-18. 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. Nonlead shot is required for 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 migratory and movements can be unpredictable. The federal Harvest Information Program (HIP) estimates that in 2014, 10,700 pigeons were harvested in California, comprising nearly 90 percent of the total Pacific Flyway harvest.
The northern California hunt zone season runs from Sept 17-25. The daily bag limit is two and the possession limit is triple the daily bag. The southern hunt zone does not open until December.
Nonlead shot is required for band-tailed pigeons statewide.
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.