The 2018-19 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 on Sept. 8, and Zone Q2 will be open for all quail on Sept. 29) sooty and ruffed grouse (general season will open in various northern and eastern counties on Sept. 8); white-tailed ptarmigan (which will open Sept. 8); and band-tailed pigeon (the northern hunt zone will open Sept. 15).
Hunters should 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 of upland game birds with a shotgun statewide, with the exceptions of dove, quail and snipe, or any upland game bird taken on a licensed game bird club. For more information, see the CDFW nonlead ammunition page.
Zone maps and information about daily bag limits and possession limits for each game bird species can be found on the CDFW Upland Game Bird Hunting webpage.
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 found in higher elevation habitats. Gambel’s quail are California’s most desert-adapted species and are found in the very arid lands of southeastern California.
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 July 1, 2019 unless hunting on CDFW Wildlife Areas or Ecological Reserves.
All three species of 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. Quail are more apt to run than flush, making them a more challenging game bird to hunt. Hunting dogs can be useful for locating, flushing and retrieving birds in the field.
California has two species of native forest-dwelling grouse: the sooty 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. 8 to Oct. 8 this year. For sooty and ruffed grouse, the daily bag limit is two (both of one species or mixed species) and possession limit is triple the daily bag.
Although they are fairly large birds, grouse camouflage themselves well and generally hold tight to their location even when hunters are nearby. They flush quickly and fly off in a zigzag pattern, requiring a quick and accurate response from a hunter. Dogs are useful companions to help hunters find, flush and retrieve bagged grouse. 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 inhabit the high elevation alpine habitats at low densities from Sonora Pass in Tuolumne County to Kings Canyon National Park.
Hunting these birds can be challenging because of the high elevation and steep terrain. Hunting is permitted from Sept. 8-16. The daily bag limit is two per day and the possession limit is two per season. Hunters should prepare for difficult hiking conditions and be familiar with the area before heading out after this game bird. Nonlead shot is required for hunting 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 the introduced domestic or rock pigeons that frequent urban areas. Band-tailed pigeons are often found in mountainous terrain throughout the state, using coniferous forests as well as oak woodlands, but populations are migratory and movements can be unpredictable. The northern California hunt zone season runs from Sept 15-23. The daily bag limit is two and the possession limit is triple the daily bag.
CDFW reminds hunters that an upland game bird stamp is required for licensed adult hunters (18 years and older) but not for hunters with a valid junior hunting license. A HIP validation is also required to hunt band-tailed pigeons.