CDFW News | Forest grouse and mountain quail hunters urged to check for wildfire-related closures before heading out into the field this season

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Forest grouse and mountain quail hunters urged to check for wildfire-related closures before heading out into the field this season

For the first time in three years, grouse and mountain quail hunters are expected to find the state’s National Forests as well as California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) properties mostly open for hunting when seasons begin Saturday, September 10, 2022. That’s the good news.

The disheartening news is that the state is once again facing severe wildfires with recent wildfires, active wildfires and fire restrictions occurring in some national forests historically popular with grouse and quail hunters. mountain ranges, including Tahoe National Forest, Modoc National Forest, Klamath National Forest, and Six Rivers National Forest. Hunters are strongly advised to check for emergency closures when planning their hunting trips. For the past two years, extremely dry wildfire conditions have forced the closure of most of the state’s National Forests and many adjacent CDFW properties just as hunting seasons for these special game birds of the highlands were about to begin.

The ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbels) and sooty grouse (Dendragapus fuliginosus) with mountain quail (Oreortyx pictus) are forest birds that provide hunters with many hunting opportunities on public lands. These species have been affected by both forest fires and drought. Birds have lost their forest habitat and hunters have lost some of their favorite hunting grounds due to recent forest fires. A third year of drought in California means less green grass and less seed for birds to eat and fewer insects their chicks depend on in the first weeks of life. The burned habitat, however, offers hope that it will regenerate again to provide even better habitat for quails and grouse in years to come.

Hunters are reminded that lead-free ammunition is required to hunt grouse and mountain quail and to take wildlife anywhere in California with a firearm.

Ruffed Grouse and Sooty Grouse

The ruffed grouse is the most common resident game bird in North America, found in all Canadian provinces and from New England to Alaska in the United States.

California is only a tiny portion of their overall range, and the birds are restricted to the far northwest of the state, primarily in Humboldt and Del Norte counties and parts of Trinity and Siskiyou.

The ruffed grouse favors young forests and disturbed forests, especially aspens with a patchwork of small clearings created by logging, wind or forest fires. So much the better if these clearings have brush for cover and downed logs for display and drumming.

Sooty grouse are much more widely distributed across the California forest landscape. Sooty Grouse can be found in the northernmost parts of the state and along the spine of the Sierra Nevada Mountains extending south to Inyo County and the edges of the Central Valley .

Sooty grouse and ruffed grouse are subject to statewide hunting area (PDF) and can only be taken legally in 28 of California’s 58 counties. Wood grouse season runs from September 10 to October 10, 2022. Shooting times range from half an hour before sunrise to sunset. The daily bag limit is two – all of one species of grouse or a mixture of both species. The possession limit is three times the daily bag limit.

mountain quail

The colored mountain quail is the first of California’s three native quail species to open up for hunting each year. The first mountain quail season in California opens September 10 and ends October 14 in the Q1 Quail hunting area which encompasses all or part of 26 counties in the northern part of the state and along the foothills and spine of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Beginning Saturday, October 15, mountain quails can be taken as part of the statewide quail season which runs until January 29, 2023.

As its name suggests, the mountain quail is usually found in forests at higher elevations than the California quail (Callipepla californica) or Gambel’s quail (Callipepla gambelii). Mountain quail favor edge habitat and hunters would do well to start their hunts early in the season between 5,000 and 7,000 elevations at least until winter snow forces the birds down to lower elevations later in the quail season.

Mountain quails are unique among North American quail species. They are the largest of the quails and are not sexually dimorphic, meaning that male and female mountain quail have the same plume and are difficult to distinguish from each other, even by hand.

Identification is key when hunting mountain quail early in the season so as not to misidentify birds and mistakenly shoot a California quail where their habitats may overlap. Shooting times range from half an hour before sunrise to sunset. The daily bag limit is 10 mountain quail. The possession limit is three times the daily bag limit.

The minimum hunting requirements for grouse and mountain quail are a valid hunting license and upland game bird validation (validation not required for junior hunting license holders) and good footwear.

A light, fast shotgun of almost any caliber is the ideal tool given the long treks often involved in searching for these birds and the quick, fleeting shots they sometimes present amidst dense cover. and a wooded habitat. Lead-free shotgun shells are required. Eye and hearing protection is recommended. A cooler with ice to store your birds, especially in the hot September weather, is always a good idea.

For many grouse and quail hunters across the country, a well-trained hunting dog is an essential part of the overall experience, a valuable companion in locating birds and finding downed game. However, many California hunters are quite successful in hunting grouse and mountain quail without the aid of a dog.

Grouse and mountain quail hunters should be aware that California tree squirrel season also opens September 10, 2022, throughout northern California and central parts of the state (PDF)providing mixed opportunities, as tree squirrels often share the same forest habitat as grouse and mountain quail.

Photo by CDFW: A painting of a ruffed grouse in flight by artist Jeffrey Klinefelter has been chosen as the CDFW’s 2019-2020 Highland Game Bird stamp.

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Media contacts:
Katherine Miller, CDFW Upland Hunting Program, (916) 261-5019
Peter Tira, CDFW Communications, (916) 215-3858

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