Laura Brown

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March 26, 2008
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Sounding the gobbler call

This weekend marks the start of turkey hunting season in Nevada County, and hunters are gearing up for the best year in a decade.

A mild winter devoid of large fires created an abundance of turkeys fattened on acorns, wild grasses and grass hoppers.

"It should be a banner year with more turkeys than I've seen in 10 years," said Mike Wahl, a local hunter who produces hunting and fishing films for his production company Unlimited Outdoors TV.

Originally from Texas, Rio Grande turkeys were first introduced in 1959 by the California Department of Fish & Game, said Tom Blankinship, senior wildlife biologist for fish and game.

A similar species existed 10,000 years ago in Southern California and remnants have been found in the La Brea tar pits. By the time Europeans arrived, the wild turkey had mysteriously disappeared, Blankinship said.

Northern California counties such as Nevada, Placer, El Dorado, Sutter, Yuba, Butte and Tehama are considered prime turkey hunting territory, Wahl said.

"The Gold Rush pocket is one of the highest concentrations of turkeys in the U.S.," Wahl said.

"We have a lot of turkeys up here, and every year it seems we have more," said Rod Akin, owner of the Hunter's Blind.

Unlike many introduced species, the turkey has had no detrimental impact on the environment but in some cases have become a nuisance to humans.

Communities such as Lake Wildwood and Lake of the Pines have large concentrations of the birds that leave droppings on manicured lawns and tear up vegetable gardens.

During turkey season, Wahl and his friend Rod Akin, owner of the Hunter's Blind, wake up before the sun rises to sneak up on the birds as they leave their nightly roost. Turkeys are the only game bird California Hunters are allowed to hunt in the spring time.

"Many people get very enthused by it," Blankinship said.

Akin and Wahl use a "knock on door permission" policy to gain access to prime hunting grounds on private lands and local ranches.

Public lands such as Spenceville Wildlife Area, some NID property, Bureau of Land Management and National Forests are open with restrictions, so hunters always should research an area before heading out.

In recent years, bow hunting has increased in popularity, because it is quieter than a shot gun and less disruptive to property owners and other wildlife.

Wild turkeys, which can grow up to 40 pounds, can outrun a human and are considered one of the most challenging game to hunt because of the birds nearly bullet proof breast protected by a mess of feathers and bone, said Akin.

The allure of hunting the birds can end sweetly with a tasty payoff. Foothill birds have a cereal taste that goes well with the dressing Wahl gives it.

"We stuff it with fruit, butter and bacon. It has this taste that's just amazing," he said.

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The Union Updated Mar 26, 2008 11:18PM Published Mar 26, 2008 11:13PM Copyright 2008 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.