Mar 11, 2001
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DOVE OPENER GOOD TO EXCELLENT -- matthews outdoor column 05sept

Dove opener rated better than normal.

LEBEC -- Like weathermen, outdoor writers make accurate predictions so infrequently that they deserve follow-up crowing -- or cooing, in this case -- when they actually happen to luck into a forecast that proves correct. Believing that I have actually figured out dove and their feeding and migration habits, I suggested this year was going to be an excellent hunt for guys who like to poke around in the desert because there was so much feed out there this year. I also said that some agricultural areas would be off a little, but generally still very good because it seemed like bird numbers were up.

It sort of looks like I hit that nail on the head. Maybe not for any reason I suggested, and let’s forget I’ve been wrong the past several years, but this year the desert hunts were excellent and the action across the board was as good or better than normal most places for this past weekend’s dove season opener. At least that’s what happened if reports I’ve received from hunters, sport shop owners, and the Department of Fish and Game staff are to be believed. Here’s what I heard:

The Yuma region on the lower Colorado River produced “an excellent opener,” according to Richard Sprague, owner of Sprague’s Sports in Yuma, where there was a line of hunters out of his store for much of the day Friday waiting to get hunting licenses and last-minute ammo and gear for the Saturday opener. “It was definitely better than last year,” said Sprague. “I’d say 95 percent of the hunters we talked with got limits of birds opening day, and I had some guys go out this morning (Monday) and get limits. I think next weekend will also be good there are so many birds around.” Jim Garner, a hunter from Azusa, call the hunting near Yuma “spectacular.”

“We were done by 8:30 a.m. both days,” said Garner. “I scouted out the field we hunted on the Cocopah Indian Reservation Friday evening and in 10 minutes saw 100 doves or more. They were like swarming mosquitoes coming in.” Sprague’s 13th Annual Big Breast Contest had a record number of entries this year at 213, and the winning dove breast was taken by Kyle Hudiberg of San Diego. The 13-year-old hunter was in the Welton Valley and shot a whitewing that had an 84.3-gram breast. Second place went to Ronna White, also of San Diego, who shot a 78.4-gram whitewing from t he San Luis area. This is White’s 10th year of entering the contest. Third place was won by 15-year-old Yuma hunter Nick Slater hunting the Sommerton Valley, and his whitewing breast weighed in at 78 grams even.

Further north on the Colorado River, hunters in the Blythe area had generally good shooting opening day if they scouted thoroughly, according to Wayne Pinkerton at B&B Bait. But it was tough for those who didn’t do their homework. The shooting also dropped way off the second day and to nearly nothing by Monday. “There were some areas that produced limits opening morning,” said Pinkerton. “Whoever did their homework got birds, but it fell off considerably after that. I drove out to an area called the ‘firing line’ on Sunday and there must have been about 100 guys out there sitting on stools not firing a shot.” Pinkerton was really looking for a nice way to say that it wasn’t all that great. “Maybe folks will believe me when I tell them to go to Yuma next year,” laughed Pinkerton.

In the Imperial Valley, reports from the DFG field staff at Finney-Ramer and the fields planted with upland bird stamp money by Desert Wildlife Unlimited were good to excellent. With more land posted in the region this year than last, the public fields were especially welcome and Leon Lesicka is already lining up additional properties for next year. “Most everyone seemed to be very happy and grateful,” said LaVelle Lesicka, Leon’s wife. “Leon was so impressed with the behavior of the hunters this year. The fields were left extremely clean. He saw guys picking up feathers and putting them in trash back. They were just so nice and thankful for a place to hunt.”

Jim Chakarun, a Imperial Wildlife Area manager for the DFG, said that the hotspot was again the safflower field on Finney-Ramer where the average was around eight birds per hunter opening day. That is for around 200 hunters who visited that spot. The 157 hunters surveyed on the Wister fields had about a five-birds-per-hunter average. “This program is extremely popular,” said Chakarun. “We had people who bought hunting licenses and came down here who said they hadn’t hunted in 15 or 20 years.” Chakarun said with increasing posted areas in the valley, hunters welcomed the public fields and flocked to them. The DFG surveyed 251 hunters in the fields prepared by Desert Wildlife Unlimited, and all but one were thrilled with the hunting and opportunity to have open lands.

Pete Hadley and his sons Marc and Josh, all from San Juan Capistrano, hunted around El Centro and all had limits by mid-morning and said the hunt was very successful. “Nobody had a problem filling their limits from around the area. We did not see any whitewings but others I talked to did real well on them,” wrote Hadley in his e-mail to me. He said the second day was not as good as opener, however. Jason Mathiot, a San Bernardino hunter was also in the El Centro area and said that opening morning was so good “you couldn’t load your gun fast enough.”

In the Indio area, Bill Hinz and his son Matt, both from Brea, hunted until it hit 95 degrees at 8:30 a.m. and managed to bag nine doves each, including a couple of whitewings. “There were a lot of people there, but it was not as bad as last year,” said Matt Hinz. “We probably could have stayed an got limits, but it was hot.”

In the Western Mojave hunters who worked desert water sources found very good shooting. Gary Weiss, the manager of the Camp Cady Wildlife Area east of Barstow said the hunters there had about a five bird average opening day and seven birds on Sunday. Jim Monroe, a Lancaster hunter who worked a couple of desert springs and guzzlers the holiday weekend, said the shooting began at 7 a.m. opening day and that most hunters were packing up and leaving by 9 a.m. with limits at one of the spring he hunted. “We just annihilated them. Most of us were done by 7:30 -- and the action didn’t start until 7,” said Monroe.

An exception to the good hunt, the San Jacinto Wildlife Area shot very poorly this year. There were two safflower fields planted at the area, but few birds were using the safflower. Only about 10 percent of the safflower was knocked down just prior to the opener, not putting much feed on the ground. “You can tell hunters San Jacinto was a big zero,” said Durwood Hollis, a Rancho Cucamonga hunter who went to the area with his son Dustin. “We saw two birds.” Tom Negen of Lakewood, also had a poor hunt at the wildlife area. He said that he didn’t see anyone with more than two birds in their bag at San Jacinto, and most were skunked. Last year, San Jacinto shot very well. There were a number of limits reported and fewer hunters than this year. Over 100 hunters were reported on the area this season, probably double the numbers last year.

My charming wife Becky, my boys Bo and Kyle, and I hunted mullen fields and stock ponds on the Tejon Ranch near Lebec and had a decent shoot, bagging 25 birds for the group over two days. Becky was the high gun, getting nine birds total, and 12-year-old Kyle shot his first dove. Don Geivet, game manager on the Tejon, said the hunters in the lower end of the San Joaquin Valley on Tejon lands had generally good shooting. Andy McCormick with Turner’s Outdoorsman in Chino had a group of 15 hunters on a company hunt on the Tejon and said they shot limits easily both days. “It was better than any shooting I’ve ever had down at the Colorado River,” said McCormick. “You know how it is. Some guys have limits in an hour, and other guys are still picking away with five or six birds at noon. The guys who can shoot had limits,” said Geivet.

I think that last comment was directed my way -- proof that making accurate predictions about the hunt still doesn’t garner you respect when you can’t hit fast-flying doves.

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