Should dove hunting season open on a Saturday or stay on September 1?
By JIM MATTHEWS
Leon Lesicka bemoaned two things about this year’s dove hunting season opener. The overall low number of hunters on the Thursday opening day, and the almost total lack of junior hunters. Lesicka, and many other sportsmen, are wondering if a Saturday opening day for doves wouldn’t be better for all hunters.
“The people were just not here, and that’s sad,” said Lesicka. He is the man behind all of the public dove hunting fields in the Imperial Valley. This is the 15th year Lesicka, along with help from Desert Wildlife Unlimited and the Department of Fish and Wildlife, have used marginal private farm ground to grow food for doves and then open those fields to public hunters.
Lesicka said that when the dove opener falls on a Saturday or Sunday, they see around 4,000 hunters use the public fields. This year, it was less than half that.
“When we have a Saturday opener, people come down here and they bring their kids. That is the one big thing I like about the Saturday opener, the kids, and because of our fields, everyone knows they have a place to hunt,” said Lesicka.
The question Lesicka poses is a simple one: Should dove season open on Saturday each year so more hunters – especially junior hunters – can participate?
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is in charge of setting the hunting season framework for all migratory birds, and the earliest states can open seasons for doves is September 1. Most states choose to open their hunting season on that date because doves start their southward migration about then, frequently clearing out within a few days. In some years, most of the birds are already gone before the Sept. 1 opener in northern tier states. Even in Southern California, both mourning doves and whitewing doves start migrating around the first or before -- especially the whitewings, which are almost always gone by Sept. 3 or 4.
There are problems with weekday openers for hunters: Kids have usually just started back to school and parents are unwilling to remove them from class for a day or two of hunting. Because doves frequently get hammered on opening day, those hunters who have to work and can’t come out until the opening weekend always have much poorer shooting on public hunting areas. Many hunters simply skip the dove opener if it’s not on a weekend. While it’s sad, some hunters only hunt doves, and on those years when they don’t show up, it results in a reduction in DFW license fees and budget for upland birds. It is also hard on rural communities that rely on revenue from dove hunters.
Here are the options for a Saturday opening day for doves.
The federal option: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could allow the dove season to open on the Saturday nearest Sept. 1. The earliest the season could open under this scenario is Aug. 29, which would not alter its management mission, and the latest it could open would be Sept. 4.
The statewide option: The state Fish and Game Commission could open the dove season in California on the Saturday or Sunday on or following Sept. 1. That would mean the latest the season would open would be Sept. 6.
The county option: The Commission could also adopt a Saturday or Sunday opener nearest Sept. 1 in specified counties or a single county. For example, the dove season might open statewide on Sept. 1, the earliest under the federal framework, except in Imperial County. This year, under that scenario, Imperial County (and all of Lesicka’s fields) would have opened on Sept. 3.
The county option would likely increase the overall number of dove hunters heading into the field. Many hunters might go to Blythe (Riverside County) or the Owens Valley (Inyo County) for opening day, and then go to Imperial County with the family on the Saturday opener, knowing the hunting would still be good there.
What do you think?
[Editor’s Note: You can post comments to Jim Matthews at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Mandatory deer tag reporting
kicks in for real this fall season
Deer hunters were required to return their tags or report on line whether or not they killed a buck last year. It was the first year of the new mandatory reporting program, however, there was no penalty for not reporting. The final results: Only about 50 percent of deer hunters returned their tags or went on-line to fill out a report.
That was last year.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife is getting serious about the requirement this season. If you don’t report this year, it will cost you.
The mandate says you must return your deer tag or report on-line by Jan. 31, 2017. If you don’t, you will be assessed a $21.60 non-reporting penalty. You will have to pay that fee before you can apply for a deer tag next season – and that fee is in addition to the regular tag and application fees.
But this isn’t about a new way the DFW can get more money out of hunters. It’s about data.
“We’re really excited about this [new requirement],” said Craig Stowers, the DFW’s deer management coordinator in Sacramento. “Even with only 50 percent reporting last season, we finally have real numbers to work with based on real data. This year we’d like to get everybody. I certainly don’t want these guys to have to pay $20 bucks next season – I want their information this year, and then I want them to go hunting again next fall.
Stowers said that the DFW’s harvest estimates for most deer zones are likely to be off, off significantly in many cases. This affects the DFW’s population estimates and tag quotas. With a 100 percent reporting rate the harvest rate won’t be a guess, it will be an accurate number. Stowers said many of the DFW’s tag quotas could be increased with more accurate data, allowing for greater hunter opportunity.
Most Southern California rifle deer hunting seasons will be starting in late September or early October, depending on hunting zone. Stowers suggests hunters compete on-line reporting as soon as they harvest a buck or as soon as their season ends so they don’t put it off and forget. Completing the effort on-line also saves the DFW money out of the deer management budget that could be better spent in the field. Currently, Stowers said that two scientific aids are required to input data from the 30,000 returned tags.
“The last thing we want is a windfall of money off this non-reporting fee,” said Stowers.
[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.]