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Dove hunting season opener poor to fair in most of region

By JIM MATTHEWS BLYTHE – The opening of dove hunting season on Sept. 1 was a disappointing experience for many hunters who expected to shoot limits of the dark-meated migrants for the barbecue. Leon Lessica, the Desert Wildlife Unlimited ramrod behind the popular public land hunting fields in the Imperial Valley, called it “fair to middling at best.” That was pretty much the story for hunters throughout the region who expected to see the volume of birds normally seen on opening day. But even with that said, many hunters managed to fill their new 15-bird limit and take advantage of the expanded bag and possession limits for 2014. And most managed to scratch down a few. In the Imperial Valley, the most heavily-hunted region in the southern half of the state, the public fields in the north end of the valley around the Wister Unit of the Imperial Wildlife Area, were all very slow. Lessica said that his group of about 50 Wounded Warriors from the San Diego region had from two to seven birds each. “I have been going down to the Imperial Valley for the dove opener for 20 years now and I can say without hesitation that this was the worst opener by far that I have seen,” said Bill Hinz of Brea. “I saw very few birds, and the ones that I did see acted as if they had been shot at for a month already.” Gary Low of Tustin agreed with Hinz’ assessment. “Just back from the fields around Salton Sea,” said Low. “There were lots of gunners but few birds where we were. The public fields were sparse. After opening in the northern-most field near Wister, we drove all fields and most said shooting was thin. Last year was much better for birds on the wing. That’s my two cents.” Patrick Hamman of Yucaipa said, “it was a super tough hunt for us in the Imperial Valley fields -- the worst we have seen in six years, but we still had fun and got a few.” Ed Khounganian of Encino said he and six buddies hunted one of the public fields just northwest of Niland and they had 56 mourning doves by 8:30 a.m. “It was fun. The weather was nice in the early morning -- unlike other years -- and I got a banded dove, which was a pleasant surprise.” Hunters who scouted out areas further south in the Imperial Valley did better than those who stayed around the public fields in the Niland-Wister area. Stan Rich of San Diego was surprised how well they did. “Our Imperial Valley opener was actually pretty good for my son and three other hunting buddies. We hunted south of Interstate 8 and all of us had limits or close to limits on mourning dove -- not one whitewing -- and a nice bunch of plump Eurasians,” said Rich. Rick Castillo of Los Angeles reported that he and his group ended up near Calexico, close to the International Border. “Everybody in our group of three limited out on mourning doves. Unfortunately, no Eurasians or whitewings.” In the Blythe region, the fields on the Palo Verde Ecological Reserve were pretty dismal, but some of the surrounding areas and fields on the Arizona side of the river south of Blythe shot pretty well. The vast majority of hunters who were on the wheat field on the Cibola Valley Conservation and Wildlife Area in Arizona shot limits or near limits by 9 a.m. Dean Magistrale of Lakewood said his group of six bagged a total of 70 birds for two days of hunting hunting the south end of the Palo Verde Valley near the Colorado River. Derek Fretheim from La Palma said he and his hunting partner limited both opening and day and Tuesday, coming home with 60 birds, which included seven whitewings. The Yuma area in Arizona was excellent, as usual, with most hunters who traveled the extra distance reporting good numbers of birds and good hunting. “I hunted in Yuma on Monday and Tuesday and although there were crowds of hunters, the number of birds was amazing. Pretty much everyone I spoke to had limits. The mourning dove, whitewing and Eurasians seemed to stay in separate areas, so you got mostly one species depending on where you shot,” said Lance Sweeney of Murietta. Orange County hunter Chris Jacobs traveled even further east to Wellton, Ariz., and hunted for two days. “Our family of four finished two days of hunting with 114 birds. Most of the birds were whitewings -- we limited with 80 -- the rest being mourning doves.” The San Jacinto Wildlife Area in western Riverside County was the worst it has been in several years for opening day. Tom Trakes with the DFW said 149 report cards were turned in for opener and those hunters reported only 23 doves. “I have been checking the hunt cards since opener and lots of hunters have been getting a few more birds with several reporting from three to five,” said Trakes. Hunters in the Owens Valley, across the west Mojave desert, and onto the Mojave Preserve did not have concentrated bird numbers on feeding fields, but some did very well. Rashawn Gordon, a Lancaster hunter currently living in Searchlight, Nev., said he hunted the Mojave Preserve opening Monday and Tuesday and shot limits of doves both days. The first half of the dove season continues through Sept. 15. The second half of dove season will start Nov. 18 and continue through Dec. 22. The daily limit is 15 doves for 2014 and no more than 10 may be whitewings. There is also no limit on Eurasian collared doves and the season is now open year-around. END

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