For the first time in three years, grouse and mountain quail hunters should find the state’s national forests along with California Department of Fish and Wildlife properties mostly open for hunting when the season began Sept. 10. . That’s the good news.
The disheartening news is that the state is once again facing severe wildfire conditions with recent wildfires, active wildfires and fire restrictions occurring in some national forests historically popular with grouse and mountain quail hunters, including the National Forest. Tahoe National Forest, Modoc National Forest, Klamath National Forest, and Six Rivers National Forest. Hunters are strongly encouraged to check for emergency closings when planning their hunting trips. Over the past two years, extremely dry fire conditions 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 United States were about to begin. Highlands.
Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellas) and Sooty Grouse (Dendragapus fuliginosus) along with Mountain Quail (Oreortyx pictus) are forest-dwelling birds that offer hunters abundant 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 bird hunting spots due to recent wildfires. 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 their first weeks of life. The burned habitat, however, offers hope that it will regenerate again to provide even better habitat for quail and grouse for years to come.
Hunters are reminded that unleaded ammunition is required to hunt grouse and mountain quail and to capture wildlife anywhere in California with a firearm.
The ruffed grouse is the most widely distributed resident game bird in North America, found in all Canadian provinces and from New England to Alaska in the US.
California accounts for only a small portion of their overall range, and the birds are confined to the extreme northwest of the state, primarily in Humboldt and Del Norte counties and parts of Trinity and Siskiyou counties.
The ruffed grouse prefers young woodland and disturbed woodland, particularly aspen with a mosaic of small clearings created by logging, wind, or wildfire. All the better if those clearings have some bushes for cover and fallen logs for display and drumming.
Black grouse are much more widely distributed in the California wooded landscape.
Sooty Grouse can be found in the northernmost parts of the state and along the spine of the Sierra Nevada Mountains that extends south to Inyo County and the edges of the Central Valley.
Both black grouse and ruffed grouse are subject to the state game zone (PDF) and can only be legally taken in 28 of California’s 58 counties. Woodland grouse season runs from September 10 to October 10, 2022. Shooting hours are from half an hour before sunrise to sunset. The daily bag limit is two: all of one species of grouse or a mix of the two species. The possession limit is triple the daily bag limit.
The colorful mountain quail is the first of California’s three native quail species to open up for the hunt each year. California’s early mountain quail season begins September 10 and runs through October 14 in the Q1 Quail Hunting Zone which encompasses all or portions of 26 counties in the northern part of the state and along the foothills and the backbone of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Beginning Saturday, October 15, upland quail can be taken as part of the statewide quail season that runs through January 29, 2023.
As its name suggests, the mountain quail can be found within higher forested elevations than the California quail (Callipepla californica) or Gambel’s quail (Callipepla gambelii). Mountain quail prefer edge habitat and hunters would do well to start their early season hunts in the 5,000 to 7,000 elevation ranges at least until winter snow forces the birds down to lower elevations. ahead in the quail season.
Mountain quail are unique among North American quail species. They are the largest quail and are not sexually dimorphic, meaning that male and female mountain quail have identical feathers and are difficult to distinguish from each other, even in the hand.
Identification is key when hunting upland quail early in the season so you don’t misidentify the birds and shoot a California quail by mistake where their habitats may overlap. The shooting schedule is from half an hour before sunrise to sunset. The daily bag limit is 10 Highland Quail. The possession limit is triple the daily bag limit.
The minimum hunting requirements for both Grouse and Mountain Quail are a valid hunting license and upland game bird validation (validation is not required for juvenile hunting license holders) and a good footwear.
A light, rapid-fire shotgun of almost any caliber is the ideal tool given the long walks that searching for these birds often entails and the quick, fleeting shots they sometimes present amidst dense cover and wooded habitat. Non-lead shotgun shells are required. Eye and hearing protection is recommended. An ice chest is always a good idea to store your birds, particularly in the hot weather of September.
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 for locating birds and finding downed prey. However, many California hunters do quite well hunting grouse and mountain quail without the aid of a dog.
Grouse and mountain quail hunters should know that California tree squirrel season also begins on September 10, throughout northern California and central parts of the state, offering varied opportunities, as tree squirrels often they share the same forested habitat as grouse and bobwhite quail.