Dove hunting opener Thursday; lots of public land opportunities
By JIM MATTHEWS
The September 1 dove hunting season is expected to be similar to last season across Southern California. Preliminary reports show that dove production was similar to or above last year’s hatch, and that means bird numbers remain stable or slightly up from last opener.
There has also been far less tropical thunderstorm activity in the southern deserts, with most of the storms not crossing the Colorado River into California. These storms are frequently blamed for running doves out of the region just before the opener each year.
Overall, almost everyone contacted for this report agreed the 2016 dove opener should be equal to or better than the 2015 season.
Hunting are reminded they must use non-lead ammunition (steel shot) for doves on state wildlife areas and ecological reserves, which includes many of the lands listed below.
Here’s the region-by-region summary of the public land hunting areas with hot spots highlighted.
For the second year in a row, there are excellent numbers of whitewing doves in the Blythe region right up through Friday (Aug. 26). David Baker, who manages the fields on the Palo Verde Ecological Reserve (PVER) north of Interstate 10 at Blythe, said the wheat and milo field off Second Avenue at the far north end of the state-owned land was packed with birds. Then there was a thunderstorm that dumped two inches of rain at Baker’s house in Blythe Aug. 24. He rushed up to the wheat the next morning expecting that many of the birds might have deserted the area, but there were even more doves using the area than earlier in the week.
“I don’t know what happened. Maybe the storm drove all the birds in Parker down here,” said Baker. “There are thousands of birds up there. Those fields have so much feed on them, I don’t think the birds will leave.”
Baker said the two other dove spots on the PVER unit weren’t holding the same volume of birds as last year.
The 10th Avenue fields, which were in wheat and milo last year and held an incredible number of whitewings, are not as good this season. But they weren’t planted this year. He was a little more optimistic about the Duck Pond area, which he said had a bunch of sunflower and Japanese millet this year, and doves were using it.
Non-lead ammunition is required on PVER fields.
An increasing number of California hunters in the Blythe region are hunting doves on the less-traveled side of the Colorado River, crossing into Arizona. There are two public hunting areas that are less crowded than the California fields.
The Cibola National Wildlife Refuge is located due south of Blythe and east of Palo Verde. The dove hunting takes place on Farm Unit II and on Farm Unit III located on the Island Unit of the refuge. Both areas are planted with rye grass for the geese that comes up each year and they have vast areas of sunflowers. Doves are thick on both areas.
The Cibola Valley Conservation and Wildlife Area (CVCWA) is the second spot hear Blythe that attracts a lot of hunters. This area along the Colorado River is being restored to native riparian and desert habitat. Most of the planting has been cottonwood, and is providing excellent dove roosting areas. But more importantly, the Arizona Game and Fish Department has been contracting to have at least one field planted in wheat for dove each season. This year that field is right at the junction of Baseline Road and the dike road along the Colorado River (just north of the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge)
A one-day non-resident Arizona license is just $20 per day and you also have to buy the $5 upland stamp. If you want an annual non-resident license, it is $160 (plus the $5). You can get non-resident licenses on-line and print them out yourself. This is kind of handy if you decide to hunt in Arizona at the last minute. We used a Blythe motel computer and printer to do this one year.
Non-lead ammunition is required on the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge but not on CVCWA lands.
SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY
For the second year in a row, the Camp Cady Wildlife Area just south of Interstate 15 east of Barstow has been planted with mixed grain crops. If there is a sleeper pick of all the public hunting areas covered in this issue, it is Camp Cady.
Bruce Kenyon, the Quail Forever volunteer who basically manages the area for the Department of Fish and Wildlife, has been doing wonderful things with this desert oasis. The biggest news is that there will be a 40-acre millet field (with some safflower, milo, and sunflower mixed in) on the west side of Harvard Road (south of Interstate 15). There are again a couple of smaller fields just west of the area headquarters. The 40-acre grain field was mowed Aug. 25 and 26, and the doves were already pretty thick in the milo. It will just get better each day up through the opener.
Last year the fields were not mowed prior to the opener because of later planting (the hadn’t come to seed heads yet), and there were fewer birds using the area. This year the timing was perfect for the first dove season, and Keyon expected a really good shoot.
Camp Cady also open water and some of the few trees that will support roosting birds for miles around, so there are usually good evening shoots as the birds come in late in the day to water and roost (see map). These evening birds fly up and down the Mojave River wash and come off the flats above the river from all directions, but especially from the south where Newberry Springs is located.
“I went out the other morning, and one of the trees by the headquarters looked like a Christmas tree full of ornaments there were so many dove on it,” said Kenyon.
Non-lead ammunition is required at Camp Cady.
DWU Fields: There are again 21 public dove hunting fields in the Imperial Valley prepared by Desert Wildlife Unlimited (www.desertwildlifeunlimited.org), a volunteer organization that has prepped, planted, and irrigated grain on these private lands, using seed purchased by the Department of Fish and Wildlife with Upland Bird Stamp monies.
Leon Lessica, head of Desert Wildlife Unlimited, has been the man behind these fields since their inception, and he said “all the fields are looking really good this year.” Emphasizing the “all.”
Frequently, Lessica points out the fields that are holding more doves than others, but this year he said there is a good distribution among the fields and an awful lot of birds in the valley. Last year, he said the crops were the best they had in seven years, and this year is at least as good.
Hunters can still use lead ammunition on DWU fields.
Imperial Wildlife Area: Rick Francis, a wildlife supervisor at the Imperial Wildlife Area, which includes the Wister Unit and the Finney-Ramer Units, agreed with Lessica’s assessments the DWU fields and the number of birds in the valley.
“All of Leon’s fields are cut or mowed, and they are holding a lot of doves,” said Francis.
And then he delivered the good news-bad news scenario for the state-managed wildlife area:
The bad news is that there are fewer dove fields on Wister and Finney-Ramer than in recent years.
But the good news is that work being done this summer and fall will mean all of the fields historically planted in the past are likely to be on line for 2017 and after.
On the Finney-Ramer Unit, the popular Game Farm Field (see map), Field 138, and the Wheat Field were not planted this year. All of these areas on Finney-Ramer are open to hunting for 2016, but very few birds are using the fallow fields.
Francis also said that fields on the Wister Unit with some dove plantings last year -- units 513A, 115A, U10, and S20 -- were not in grain this season. All are undergoing a variety of work, including lazer leveling, so they will be better for dove and waterfowl in the future. He said that S20 would have wheat next year and that the lazer-leveled 115A would also have a crop. Maps of these fields are available throughout the region and on my website (www.OutdoorNewsService.com on the “Western Birds” page).
Hunters are required to use non-lead ammunition on both the Wister Unit and the Finney-Ramer Unit of the Imperial Wildlife Area.
WESTERN RIVERSIDE COUNTY
For Los Angeles and Orange county hunters, the San Jacinto Wildlife Area is the nearest public land hunting spot in all of Southern California. It is located east of Interstate 215 adjacent to Lake Perris State Recreation Area. Off of Interstarte 215, you take the Ramona Expressway east past the Lake Perris dam (on the north side of the road). You will turn north on Davis Road to reach the headquarters — detailed on the map at left — or continue to travel east on Ramona Expressway and then turn north on Bridge Street to reach the hunting areas shown on the map below.
The biggest news for 2016 is that dove hunters will be able to hunting the entire wildlife area the first four days of the season — Sept. 1 through Sept. 4. Historically, the waterfowl hunting portion of the area was only open the first day of the season, leaving just the upland bird hunting area west of Davis Road and the area along the San Jacinto River Flood Control Channel open for the entire 15-day early season.
“We battled to get the waterfowl side open the first four days,” said Tom Trakes, the supervisor for the wildlife area. “We just do too much work back there for it to be open only one day.”
Now, no one is going to blow smoke and try to tell you that the hunting at San Jacinto will be as good as the Imperial Valley, Blythe, or Yuma regions. It won’t, but hunters who spend a little time here before the opener to find the key flyways have shot from six to 10 birds.
Trakes said the area was looking good and holding a lot more doves than last season. “I think its going to be better than last year,” said Trakes.
Last year, there were 97 hunters who checked in opening day, and they shot 160 doves for a 1.65 average. This is a far cry than the 1/4-bird per hunter reported the previous year. And while that doesn’t compare to the six to eight bird averages reported in other areas, it’s better than sitting at home for dove season.
Hunters are required to use non-lead ammunition at the San Jacinto Wildlife Area.
[Jim Matthews is a syndicated Southern California-based outdoor reporter and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 909-887-3444.]