Listen closely and you may hear a gobble in the San Bernardino National Forest. It means that wild turkey hunting, heretofore a waste of time in Southern California, can’t be far behind.
The Department of Fish and Game, with funding and assistance from the Cherry Valley Archers of San Bernardino and the Arrowhead Fish and Game Club, has transplanted 89 of the Merriam’s species from the Black Hills of South Dakota to four sites near Big Bear Lake and to the Tejon Ranch in the Tehachapis. Another 180 went to sites in central and Northern California, where virtually all of the state’s 100,000 Rio Grande turkeys reside.
According to Chuck Wagner of the Cherry Valley Archers, these are the first wild turkeys planted in Southern California since 1938, when some pen-raised birds were tried but couldn’t cope with predators.
These also are the first pure Merriam’s in the state. Whereas the Rio Grandes in central and Northern California--themselves imports from Texas at one time--prefer low-elevation oak and brush habitat, the Merriam’s birds favor higher elevations and conifer forests.
The state’s spring wild turkey season opens March 25, running until April 30. But DFG biologist John Massie, who supervised the project, hopes the hunters can restrain themselves for a year or two to allow the flocks to build up.
“They can go out and shoot them now but they’d only be hurting themselves,” Massie said. “With some forbearance, they could have some real good hunting in later years.”
Wagner said, “We’re hoping it will be two years. Our people are going to lay off, and we hope other hunters will, too. It would be fine if people just want to come out and look at ‘em or photograph ‘em. I’m just hoping we can keep the poachers out.”
Al Stegall, the DFG warden responsible for the area, said taking turkeys out of season is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or a sentence of up to six months in the county jail.
“It being an experimental program, if one of my wardens caught somebody, we would probably petition the judge to impose the maximum penalty,” Stegall said.
Stegall also urged people aware of poaching activities to phone CalTIP at 1 (800) 952-5400, the DFG or any law enforcement agency with descriptions of the suspects and their vehicles, including license numbers.
The birds, taken to reduce South Dakota’s surplus population, were selected at a ratio of 3 to 1, gobblers to hens. Left alone, Massie said, the 89 birds near Big Bear should multiply to 500 by June, 2,000 in 1990 and 5,000 in ’91. Meanwhile, anyone hunting bearded gobblers the first year should avoid birds wearing half-inch aluminum bands around one leg, marking them as breeders.
“If they can see the beard, they should be able to see the band,” Massie said. “It would would be better if people just took jakes (young males) for a while.”
The Cherry Valley Archers covered the $1,823 cost to transport the birds in a single stake truck. One bird escaped in Rapid City, another in Sacramento and two were DOA. If the flocks prosper, California hunters are in for a table treat, Massie said.
“Wild turkeys are all excellent eating,” he said. “They are juicier, with no fat. I’d say comparing a wild turkey to one you’d buy in the supermarket is like comparing a fresh pineapple to canned pineapple.”
Attention, Hunt Saboteurs, Earth First! and other wildlife enthusiasts. Volunteers are needed by the DFG, U.S. Forest Service and Society for the Conservation of Bighorn Sheep for the annual population survey of bighorns the weekend of March 11-12, focusing on the Lytle Creek area of the San Gabriel Mountains.
DFG wildlife biologist Jon Fischer said there will be an orientation meeting at the Lytle Creek Ranger Station at 7 p.m. Saturday. Volunteers will hike to observation points at 6:30 a.m. Sunday. Some camping facilities are available nearby, but volunteers are advised to bring suitable clothing, footwear and water. Children under 14 and pets will not be allowed.
The Hunt Saboteurs and Earth First! demonstrators, expressing concern for the animals, have attempted to disrupt the limited hunt of nine bighorns in the eastern Mojave Desert the last two years but have not been involved in survey, transplant or habitat-improvement projects designed to benefit the bighorns.
“We would welcome them (for the survey), providing their intentions are to help with the survey and not to disrupt it in any way,” Fischer said. “This population is not in an area we’re looking at for hunting.
“This is an excellent opportunity for members of the public to contribute to wildlife conservation efforts in Southern California.”
For details, call (213) 590-5158.
A National Audubon Society TV special on poaching, “Greed, Guns and Wildlife,” will be shown on TBS Sunday at 8 p.m. . . . Mike Mathiot, host of ESPN’s Outdoor Sportsman series and Western Regional director of Quail Unlimited, will be featured at a quail-calling clinic 7:30 Thursday night at the Pasadena Center, 300 E. Green St. Admission is $2. Reservations: (818) 351-0381. . . . California sportfishing regulation booklets for 1989 are available free at DFG offices and anywhere licenses are sold. . . . Bow River master guide Barry White will present a free slide show on fly-fishing Alberta’s premier trout fishery March 9 at 7 p.m. at Marriott’s store in Fullerton. For details: 1 (800) 367-2299.