Central Coast Really Greening Up After Rains

Just in time for thirsty, hungry wildlife as things were looking bleak in many southern state areas

December 9, 2016
By Jim Niemiec
Western Outdoor News Staff Writer

PASO ROBLES — The coastal region started to green up early this fall when the first few storm fronts pushed through from the south. Rains triggered a germination of na- tive grass seeds, at least on land to the west of Hwy. 101 and to some ex- tent at some of the higher elevations to the east. Then came last week’s first major northern storm that dumped rain all along the entire west coastline, down into Baja Norte and east to Arizona and Nevada. It didn’t hurt the duck hunting on the refuges, either, and pushed birds — ducks and geese — down south to help a season that needed a boost.

The greening up had already started and this last offering by Mother Nature is sure to help big and small wild game, upland game birds and cattle ranches. Western Out- door News spent a couple of days in the field with master guide Clayton Grant, owner of Bitterwater Outfit- ters while on a fall turkey hunt as we scouted out some of the larger ranch properties that Grant has hunting leases on.
WON asked Grant just how big of an operation he now runs along the central coast.

“With the addition to two more big ranches, we now hunt on over 300,000 acres of prime hunting land. I have a staff of good hunting guides, many who have been with me for a number of years. The advantage that we can offer our hunting clients is that we manage our properties to provide the best hunting opportuni- ties for hogs, elk, deer, exotics, bison, turkey, quail and deer. We don’t have to hunt the same ranch day in a day out, thus allowing game to feel free to range about and our hunters tra- ditionally are successful on the first day of a booked two-day hunt with us and then opt for an exotic hunt to make for a good hunting experi- ence,” said Grant.

WON headed into the home ranch in Bitterwater Valley in the af- ternoon to arrive in time for an evening dove shoot over one of the ponds located below the new hunt cabins. Dove started winging over the ranch where an abundance of oats and other native seeds were available. Once fed, dove winged right into a pond, which made for some quick gunning for both mourning dove and a flock of some 20 resident Eurasian collared dove. Hunters booking multiple-day hunts with Bitterwater Outfitters should consider spending at least one night in a new cabin.

The plan was to meet up with Grant in Paso and then head south to one of his premier ranches just to the east of Pozo. That ranch was one vast vineyard with plenty of adjoin- ing habitat for this property’s popu- lation of turkey, deer, quail, dove and some hogs. During late fall, all win- ter long and up until spring disper- sal, Rio Grande turkeys will stay flocked up and become much more difficult to hunt and such would be the outcome of this writer’s quest to fill the dinner table with wild turkey for Thanksgiving. Our hope was to locate a satellite flock of gobblers that we could spot and stalk.

It took us nearly 2.5 hours to lo- cate a big flock of turkeys numbering between 150 and 200 birds and they were all flocked up in the middle of the vineyard. Due to warmer condi- tions along the coastal region, leaves of grape vines had not fallen, which would make it extremely difficult to find the birds. Prior to locating this one flock, there were dove every- where and two big wild hogs were bedded down under the canopy of grape vines. Grant had not men- tioned the possibility of harvesting a wild boar while on this hunt so I did- n’t go out and buy a hog tag.

Our attempt at trying to do a sneak on this huge flock was a waste of time. Not only were there 3 to 4 hundred sets of sharp eyes keeping watch, once the flock was alerted to our presence they moved easily across the vineyard just out of shotgun range. While stalking down a row, our upper bodies were concealed by grape leaves, but our legs were exposed to all those eyes. Also, a turkey can move easily across and through a vineyard while a hunter has to crawl through wires and irrigation tubing, making for an extremely difficult pursuit. After nearly an hour of trying to get within in shotgun range it was time to call off that task.

We located that flock again as they were exiting the vineyards, but at a distance of nearly a one quarter of mile away. It was an amazing sight to see that huge flock lift off the ground and wing safely to a nearby hillside covered in shoulder-high chaparral. Efforts to relocate the flock ended up in watching them es- cape to higher ground as they ran uphill and were never seen again.

WON went on to check with a ranch foreman about the acorn crop this year and he said that it was an above average crop that is now mostly on the ground. Hogs have been rooting under oaks and deer ap- pear quite often under the canopy of an ancient oak tree feeding on dropped acorns.

From the looks of ground cover and a healthy population of jakes from this past spring’s brood, there should be good turkey hunting come March. There was a pretty decent car- ryover of jakes from the previous year and those birds should have matured into gobblers. Likely, these young birds will respond to subtle calls, yelps and purrs and be more likely to come into a couple of decoys, at least during the early stages of the breed- ing season.

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I give Bitterwater Outfitters a rating of 210%. It was an outstanding experience. Clayton was professional about everything. I have gone on other guided hunts and they don’t compare to Clayton’s hunts. I am definitely going to come back.
Wayne