SoCal Dove Reports

spectr17

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Dove opener prospects look better than last year.

By JIM MATTHEWS, Outdoor News Service.



    Field reports from throughout the inland and desert areas of Southern California and along the Colorado River point to a better dove season opener on Sept. 1 than last year, and this is in spite of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service population estimates that say the dove population has slightly declined again.

    Overall, the dove population seems to be stable or slightly declining throughout the West, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which tabulates spring count numbers from throughout the nation.

    David Dolton, who heads up the nationwide dove program for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from his Colorado office, said that “over the past 10 years, there is still a downward trend, but there is no significant change in overall numbers from last year for California.”

    A lot of casual observers tend to disagree with that assessment.

    “I don’t know where they get their numbers,” said one hunter who’s been scouting in the Winterhaven area along the lower Colorado River near Yuma. “But it sure hasn’t been around here. There are a lot more dove in the desert than last year and all the local harvested wheat fields are filled with birds. I don’t even think thunderstorms will move them out this year.”

    His report echoed most of the reports tracked from throughout the region this past week. Most guides, sport shop operators, and Department of Fish and Game personnel are reporting a lot of birds. This is true from the Central Coast foothills, throughout the southern San Joaquin Valley and all across the Mojave and into the Imperial Valley.

    Jim Chakarun, the new refuge manager at the Wister Unit of the Imperial Wildlife Area, said things were looking very good and that there were a lot of whitewings in the valley. Chakarun noted that the same five fields that were planted in grain crops last year -- mostly safflower and wheat -- were also planted again this season that hunters can get directions to these plots from the Wister headquarters. He also reminded hunters that there are five other fields planted in the Niland area with Upland Bird Stamp money thanks to Leon Lessica and Desert Wildlife Unlimited, and directions to those fields will also be available at Wister. Dove hunters have double the number of publicly-managed fields to hunt this year.

    Mike Abatti, president of Upland Paradise in El Centro said there “were a lot of doves in the Imperial Valley. They’re just everywhere. The public sure doesn’t have to come to see me to shoot a limit of doves.”

    Abatti, who started a fee pheasant hunting program on his properties last year, has a dove hunt this year on about 600 acres of his best fields. The limited-entry hunt is $20 per hunter per day, and it is designed for hunters who want to avoid the crowds. NRA members pay only $18 per day, while junior hunters 14 and under get a 30 percent discount and pay only $14 -- or just $12 if they are an NRA member. (For more information contact Abatti at 760-352-0543.)

    “I think we’re better than last year, dove wise. I’d say 10 to 20 percent more birds are in the valley this year,” said Abatti, who noted that a lot of area has wheat stubble fields have not been plowed under yet. He said there were simply dove everywhere in these grain fields.

    In Yuma, Richard Sprague, of Sprague’s Sports, which is hosting the 13th annual Big Breast Contest for hunters, echoed the same feeling.

    “I personally think there are a lot more dove than last year,” said Sprague. “We’re always cautiously optimistic because of how the monsoon pattern can move things around. You never really know what you’re going to have until opening day, but I think we’re going to have a good opener.”

    Sprague noted several things for hunters who travel to the Yuma area. First, the Arizona Game and Fish has been working with several area farmers to leave a few wheat fields in stubble through the opener rather than plowing the ground under and getting ready for the winter planting season. Sprague also said that there was good moisture in the desert this year, and a lot of doves are using the desert washes and areas for feeding so hunters can walk washes and shoot a limit of birds while scouting for quail season.

    While reservations at most Yuma hotels have been booked for a year, Sprague reminded hunters that the town has an RV capacity of 80,000 to 90,000 spots to handle the winter influx of visitors and spaces are available for hunters who want to bring a trailer or motorhome down and have full hookups and nice facilities.

    As with most sporting goods shops in dove country, Sprague said his store will be open until 11 p.m. or midnight Friday to sell licenses. Entry into the Big Breast Contest is free, requiring only that a hunter weigh in a bird, and all entrants will be entered in a drawing for a Beretta Eureka 391, and the three biggest dove breasts will win prizes worth from $300 to $500.

    Wayne Pinkerton at B&B Bait in Blythe said the valley was holding about the same number of birds as last year, or perhaps a few more. He also reminded hunters that some areas near the golf course and junior college have been annexed into the city and are now off limits to hunters.

    On the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, just south of Blythe, hunters are reminded that non-toxic shot must be used for dove hunting on the federal refuge, but there are three freshly-cut wheat fields on the island unit that were holding a lot of doves, according to refuge biologist Brenda Zahn.

    Hunters scouting desert springs and guzzlers in both the eastern and western portions of the Mojave Desert, are saying that because of spring rains it appears there are far more dove using the desert his year than last year. Springs were hunters might have seen fewer than a dozen birds this time last year, they are seeing 80 to 100 birds or more.

    In the inland valley, the San Jacinto Wildlife Area has two safflower fields that were mowed Monday this week, and area manager Tom Paulek said he expects the San Jacinto to have another good shoot this year.

    On the Central Coast, hog guide August Harden, who also has an annual dove shoot, said there “are just birds everywhere” this year, and he was expecting a very good hunt.

    Dolton said that doves remain the most popular gamebird in the nation, attracting more hunters opening day on September 1 than any other gamebird. In a 1996 survey, it was estimated that doves were hunted by 1.6 million people, providing over 8 million days of recreation. Dolton said there are estimated to be more than 400 million doves in the nation, and hunters annually shoot around 11 million birds for the table.
 



QALHNTR

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Called my cousin in Wisconsin today to verify my whitetail excursion later this year and brought up the proposed Dove hunt for WI.  They're on of the few states that don't have a season.  He still has trouble understanding what the fuss is all about.  After I described how thousands of hunters descend upon the desert/river region to hunt he asked what we do with them. Eat 'em of course - I thought he was going to puke.  He can't see why we eat lobsters either.  Poor farm boy is missing out on all the fun.  Who needs a reason?
 


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