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Places where dove hunters will be required to use non-lead ammunition


Dove hunters will be required to use non-lead ammunition on state-owned wildlife areas and ecological reserves beginning this hunting season. This is the first-step in the phase-in of the statewide lead ammunition ban for all hunting that will be complete by 2019.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife has delayed the ban for most types of ammunition and game species for as long as possible so the ammunition manufacturers can ramp up non-lead production. But there is increasing concern that steel upland bird hunting loads will be in short supply this year, and the Sacramento-centric DFW might have missed how much dove hunting takes places on DFW-owned lands in Southern California.


Non-lead ammunition is now required on the Imperial Wildlife Area, located in the heart of the heart of the best dove hunting in Southern California. This area includes the Wister Unit, Hazzard Unit, and the Finney-Ramer Unit. For the thousands of Southern California hunters that flock to the Imperial Valley for doves, they need to know that a number of the public hunting fields prepared by Leon Lessica and Desert Wildlife Unlimited are on these DFW-owned areas and included in the lead-ban for this year.

Just two fields on the 2015 Desert Wildlife Unlimited public field hunting map (available at under “Things to Know”) will be closed to the use of lead shotshell ammunition this year. They are Field 513 and Field 312, which are located north of Niland on the west side of Highway 111. Three other historic spots -- the Wheat Field, Game Farm Field, and Field 138, all three located south of Calipatria on the Finney-Ramer Unit -- will also require non-lead ammunition this year.

Other fields, tree lines, and water courses within Wister, Hazzard, or Finney-Ramer boundaries will also be closed to the shooting of lead, and hunters should have an Imperial Wildlife Area map (available on the DFW website) so they know the locations of these three units of the Imperial Wildlife Area.

In the Blythe area, the Palo Verde Ecological Reserve fields all now require non-lead ammunition for dove hunting. These are the most popular fields in the Blythe region, planted by the DFW each year for doves and other wildlife use. They are located off 2nd Avenue right along the Colorado River north of town, and off 10th Avenue along an old river oxbow just out of town. The DFW has a map on its website for this area also. Many hunters also hunt the Arizona side of the river, and non-lead ammunition is already required on the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, so at least one local merchant in Blythe (The Yellow Mart) has carried upland steel loads for dove hunters at Cibola. Other public lands in Arizona are open to the use of lead.

The San Jacinto Wildlife Area, located in western Riverside County near Lake Perris, is also now closed to the use of lead-based ammunition for all hunting. This area has attracted 200 to 400 hunters opening day because of its close proximity to major population centers in Southern California. Hunters are also reminded that the entirety of San Jacinto is open to dove hunters the opening day of the season, but only the Upland Bird Area (lands west of Davis Road and south of “the big hill”) are open to dove hunters after opening Tuesday.

The Camp Cady Wildlife Area on the Mojave River east of Barstow will have a non-lead ammunition requirement. This little-known wildlife area has been a popular spot for dove hunting with local hunters and it has been targeted for increased dove field planting by the DFW this season.

Combined, these four areas represent a significant chunk of the public land dove hunting that takes place in Southern California.


Nearly all of the major mail-order retail outlets had some upland steel loads available. Midway USA had steel No. 7 1/2 target loads available in 12 gauge, steel No. 7 shot upland loads in 20 gauge, but not 12 gauge, and upland steel 6s in both gauges. They were out of stock of all steel 28 gauge loads, but had both 6s and 7s in stock for .410s.

Turner’s Outdoorsman’s head buyer Mike Etienne, with Turner’s corporate office in Rancho Cucamonga, said all of the stores should have 12 and 20 gauge No. 7 steel loads in stock now, and almost all other retail stores selling ammunition should be able to get steel upland or target loads in 12 or 20 gauge before the opener if customers request it this week. Steel upland loads were also available at Big 5 Sporting Goods stores and Bass Pro Shops. Prices ranged from $7 to $9 per box of 25 shells for 12 and 20 gauge loads.


As with all steel loads, hunters using steel upland or target loads should remember that it generally patterns tighter than equivalent lead loads, so hunters with interchangeable chokes should shoot more open choking. If you currently shoot modified, an improved cylinder choke should put you in the same ballpark as what you are accustomed to shooting with lead. Because the shot is also lighter than lead, hunters should shoot one size shot larger to get the equivalent pellet energy and have about the same number of pellets in equal weight lead loads. For dove shooting, that would mean steel 6s or 7s, instead of lead 7 1/2s or 8s.

In addition to steel, dove hunters can also use other approved non-lead ammunition. While pricy, there are bismuth loads available in all gauges and shot sizes that approximate lead very closely. The tungsten-based shot are also approved and available in upland bird configurations for most gauges at even more money than bismuth.


AB 711 was passed by the state legislature in 2013, and it directed the Fish and Game Commission and Department of Fish and Wildlife to phase in a complete ban on the use of lead-based ammunition for all hunting in California as quickly as possible. The complete ban was to be implemented no later than the 2019 hunting seasons. The Fish and Game Commission approved a phase-in process earlier this year that began July 1. Besides requiring non-lead ammunition on all DFW-owned lands, non-lead bullets must also be used by all hunters lucky enough to draw a bighorn sheep tag this year.


Dove season tips

Getting away from crowds on

Colorado River reservations


Even when it falls mid-week like this year, the Sept. 1 dove hunting season opener can be a crowded affair as over 50,000 hunters take to the field in California, and many of the best public hunting spots can be crowded. So how can you avoid the crowds and still see lots of birds?

The Indian reservations along the Colorado River have turned into the unsung and unheralded hotspots for dove hunting in the region because all of them require an additional hunting license that most of the dove hunting mobs refuse to buy. For hunters who don’t mind spending from $30 to $80 extra on a reservation license, this dove hunting bargain that can lead to far less-crowded hunting.

Here is a breakdown of the five Indian tribes that offer hunting on their reservations on the Colorado River. They are listed from north to south:

FORT MOJAVE INDIAN RESERVATION: This reservation is located roughly between Bullhead City and Needles, with most of the dove hunting area on the Arizona side. The most agricultural lands are on the east side of the river, and they attract the doves.

The tribe offers hunting for dove, quail, and waterfowl, and a license for each category is $35 (cottontails and Eurasian collared doves are an additional $25 each)

The dove hunting can be very good along this stretch of the river, but it is the furthest north and doesn’t have many whitewings — and even fewer by the time the season opens Sept. 1. Most Fort Mojave reservation lands are open to hunting, but some of the agricultural fields are posted (usually irrigated row crops, for obvious reasons). The color-coded maps available through the tribe are invaluable.

Tribal hunting licenses are only available at the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe Animal Control Division office, 7500 Dike Road, Mohave Valley, AZ 86440. The office hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. You can also mail order licenses in advance by sending a copy of your driver’s license with a self-addressed, stamped envelope and a money order or cashier’s check for the correct fee. For more information, you can call the Tribal Ranger Department at 928-330-3000.

CHEMEHUEVI TRIBE: The Chemehuevi Valley Indian Reservation sits on the west bank of Lake Havasu from just north of Black Meadow Landing upriver to the boundary of the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge (Topoc Gorge region). It is divided into a north region and south region, with the north area reserved for tribal members, but the property south of the Havasu Landing Resort and Casino is open to non-Indian hunters.

There is no agriculture on this part of the reservation so all the hunting is in the desert, but there is surprisingly good pass shooting for doves in some of the bigger washes leading down to Havasu, especially each morning and evening as the birds move to and from water. There are also more and more of the big Eurasian doves in this part of the desert.

Fred Rivera is the tribe’s only conservation officer who patrols for hunting, fishing, and off-road violations, and he keeps a list of all hunting license holders with him while patrolling (handy if you lose or forget your license). The reservation’s casino is the hub for all reservation activity, and the marina boat house (adjacent to the gas pumps) is the only place you can get the tribal hunting licenses. However, you can mail-order a license in advance with a money order, and Rivera will put you on the license list. The dove hunting license is $30 and the quail license is also $30. If you want to add on cottontail, that’s another $18. You can reach the marina by calling the resort number at 760-858-4593 and punching your way through a couple of menus. If you want to chat with Fred Rivera, he’s more than happy to talk with hunters, and his cell number is 760-464-7457. If you want to order the license in advance, send the money order (made out to Chemehuevi Tribe) to to Fred Rivera, Conservation Department, Chemehuevi Tribe, P.O. Box 1976, Havasu Lake, CA 92363. Make sure you include your phone number so he can contact you to confirm your license order.

COLORADO RIVER INDIAN TRIBES: The Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT) Reservation is the largest and most popular of the five reservations along the Colorado River, and it generally has excellent hunting for doves. There is also quail, duck, and goose hunting that really doesn’t get much attention, except from locals.

The reservation attracts on the order of 600 to 800 dove hunters each year. Because about 80,000 acres of the 300,000-acre reservation are in crops, you can do the math and see that’s about one hunter for each 100 acres in crops. And a lot of guys don’t even hunt fields here, preferring to hunt the ditches, canals, along the Colorado River itself, or where the fields meet the desert washes. When you consider that just across the river, the Palo Verde Ecological Reserve just north of Blythe is only around 1,500 acres total and that it typically has 500 hunters for opening day, you get the idea.

There have been a lot of grain, melon, and sudan fields on the reservation this year and the area is holding a large number of doves.

Hunting permits, which are good for dove, quail, and waterfowl remain $75 for this season. These licenses are available at a number of locations, including the Yellowmart in Blythe. The CRIT Fish and Game office is at 2100 Mutahar, Parker, AZ 85344. You can also call the office at 928-669-9285 for information on how to order the licenses in advance or other locations where they can be purchased in person.

QUECHAN TRIBE: The Fort Yuma Indian Reservation is located on the California side of the Colorado River from Winterhaven (across the Colorado from Yuma) up river to Imperial Dam and east into the desert. This is the reservation of the Quechan Tribe.

The reservation is about 55,000 acres with as many as 20,000 acres in cultivation each year. Dove license sales are only about 400 to 600 per year, offering relatively uncrowded hunting, and reports from hunters suggest this is always one of the best places to hunt along the entire Colorado River because the bulk of the agriculture is wheat, melons, and Sudan grass – all popular dove foods.

Most hunters who come this far go on into Arizona to hunt the agricultural lands around Yuma. The Quechan dove license is $80 annually, which also keeps many hunters away.

Licenses are available at just two locations in the area. The best spot is the tribal Game and Fish office, 350 Picacho Road, Winterhaven, CA 92283-9769 because the staff always has a map posted of the open hunting areas — and which spots are holding the most doves. These maps are also available in reduced size for hunters at $3 (the full-color version). But hunters can also get a hunting license at Sleepy Hollow in Algodones. The phone for the tribal Game and Fish office is 760-572-0544.

COCOPAH TRIBE: The Cocopah Tribal lands on the Arizona side of the Colorado River near Yuma are broken into three units. The North Reservation is completely closed to hunting, while the East Reservation (along state route 95 where the tribe’s casino is located) generally has some open areas of planted agricultural lands, but the bulk of the hunting takes place on the West Reservation which sits right on the Colorado River and borders Mexico. It has a border patrol fence right through it.

This is one of the more popular hunting areas in the Yuma region. Many of the birds in this greater Yuma region roost in the trees along this part of the river, and whitewing numbers are very high.

The $60 dove licenses are available at Sprague’s Sports in Yuma, the Cocopah Resort and Conference Center (in the Gift Shop) next to the casino, and the tribal headquarters office at 14515 S. Veteran’s Drive, Somerton, AZ 85359. The permit has a map on the back that shows the open areas each year. The tribal office phone number is 928-627-2102.

BASIC RESERVATION HUNTING FACTS: California hunters who decide to hunt on Indian reservation lands need to know some other facts. First, if you are hunting on reservation lands in California, you still need to have a California hunting license. Second, if you are hunting on reservation lands in Arizona, you do NOT need to have an Arizona state license. Tribal compacts are different between the tribes and the two states. Third, you need to have a federal Harvest Information Program (HIP) stamp or validation. These are available only through the state game agencies, not the reservations. If you already have a California (or Arizona) license, you probably already have your HIP validation. Fourth, you may not possess more than one limit of doves (15) per day or more than a single possession limit, even if you have both state and reservation licenses.

If you are getting allergic to the big crowds in the Imperial Valley or Blythe, the Indian reservations on the Colorado River might be an antidote to that problem.


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