Dove opener looks promising on public areas for Southern California bird hunters
By JIM MATTHEWS
Dove reports from public hunting spots across Southern California bode well for a good dove opener weekend which kicks off Saturday, Sept. 1. The weekend opener will assure bigger crowds on popular areas. However, thanks to a major effort by the Department of Fish and Wildlife and Desert Wildlife Unlimited, all of the major hunting areas have been planted with grain crops that are just now starting to be cut or flailed this coming week.
“There are lots of doves – maybe even a little more than normal,” said Leon Lesicka, the 86-year-old ramrod behind Desert Wildlife Unlimited, which prepares 22 fields in the northern Imperial Valley for hunters on private land each year. “But it hasn’t rained yet, either, so we’ll see.”
Lesicka said they planted the same fields as in 2017, so hunters with maps from last year have the locations for the 2018 season for planning now. Last year’s maps are also still available on the DFW website’s as a downloadable PDF file from the Hunting Page (www.wildlife.ca.gov/Hunting). That map is also available on this website on the Western Birds page. It is in last year's Dove Special issue (along with maps to all of the other areas outlined in this story) at this direct link.
These fields were planted in a mixed grain seed crop, and Lesicka said they would all be cut or flailed at least 10 days before the opener. He also raved about the work that was done on the Wister Unit of the Imperial Wildlife Area by saying, “they did a really good job this year.”
Rick Francis, with the DFW at Wister, said they planted wheat on all the Department-owned lands prepared for dove season, and that there was an increase in the number of fields planted at both Wister and the Finney-Ramer Unit. Most notable for dove hunters will be fields 413-E and 312-A, with 30 and 20 acres of wheat respectively and both will be mowed the week of Aug. 13. Other fields with wheat, which will be left sanding for waterfowl – but still attracting a lot of doves – are fields U10-4, T10-2 and T10-4, and S20-2 and S20-4. (Francis also noted that the S20 blinds were responsible for the harvest of over 400 snow geese last year because of the wheat planted last season.)
At Finney-Ramer south of Wister, both the Game Farm Field and the Wheat Field were planted in either wheat or the same mix Lesicka used, which includes milo, mullet, rice, flax, sunflower, safflower, and wheat. Both will have 15 acres of the favored grain. Hunters who are scouting this area will note that both are currently posted with no hunting signs, but Francis said they would be open for the Saturday opening day. He said that poachers had been shooting whitewings and mourning doves under the guise of hunting Eurasian doves, which are open all year, so the DFW simply closed the fields.
Francis also said that hunters at Wister and Finney-Ramer must check in at the Wister headquarters or the kiosks at Finney Ramer to get a free permit if they hunt either of those properties. The Wister check station will be open at 4 a.m., and he said that Sportsman’s Catering run by Frank Bailey will also be open, selling licenses, stamps, ammunition, along with coffee and snacks adjacent to the Wister check station.
At the Palo Verde Ecological Reserve (PVER) in Blythe, wheat was used for the fields on the far north end of the DFW property with access off 2nd Avenue and the main dike road. Wheat was also planted in the fields between 8th and 10th Avenues. David Vigil with the DFW in Blythe said they have already begun shredding and knocking down the wheat, and that the work would be complete at least 10 days before the opener. He said doves were already using both areas in big numbers.
PVER will probably be the best area to hunt doves in the Blythe-Palo Verde region this year, including the Arizona side of the river. The Cibola National Wildlife Refuge has not been planted grain on the Island Unit for the second year in a row, and the Arizona Game and Fish Department will not have a grain field anywhere on its lands north of Cibola. There is also little other grain in the whole valley, compared to two years ago when there was wheat all over the Blythe-Palo Verde region that held an amazing number of doves. Those birds will be concentrated at PVER this season.
At the San Jacinto Wildlife Area adjacent to Lake Perris in western Riverside County, Tom Trakes with the DFW at San Jacinto said the lack of winter rains produced less grain on their feed crops planted this winter, but he still said it was “looking pretty good, and some areas have more birds than recent years.”
Even though the Bridge Street fields, which were the hotspot last year with a lot of limits posted, didn’t produce as much grain as last season, Trakes said the area was still holding a lot of doves and the staff was going to mow the sunflowers and grain that did come up.
“I was at the green gate [at the Bridge Street field] the other day and counted 47 doves in one of the trees and more than 30 in another, so the birds are using those fields,” said Trakes.
Trakes said there were two fields planted in the “level land” (upland dog training area), and seven fields in the Upland Bird Hunting Area west of Davis Road. Three of those fields are adjacent to the check-in kiosk opposite the headquarters right next to Davis Road. The other five are spaced between those three fields to the south and adjacent to the San Jacinto River Channel. The fields are between the channel road and the middle road (both service roads and not open to vehicles, only walk-in access).
Trakes said the fields were planted with a mix of safflower, milo, and sunflowers. While the lack of rain means the milo has not headed out, the safflower and sunflowers have produced a good seed crop.
All of the areas will start being mowed beginning this coming, and should be holding even more birds by opening day.
Hunters are reminded that all of San Jacinto Wildlife Area will be open to dove hunting the first three days of dove season (Saturday through Monday), but only the Upland Bird Hunting Area will be open to dove hunting after those three days. Hunters also need to make sure they have a free permit available at the kiosk on Davis Road before hunting.
At the Camp Cady Wildlife Area east of Barstow at Harvard Road along the Mojave River, there was about a 30-acre field planted with mixed grain that was already being cut last week. This area gets far less pressure than the other public hunting area and it is located further north and can have fewer doves come opening day, but most years this field is excellent when harvested early like this year. Last year, it was cut too late and opening day was a bust.
Dove hunters are reminded that they must use non-lead ammunition on all state-owned wildlife areas and ecological reserves (the Wister and Finney-Ramer unit of the Imperial WA, Palo Verde ER, San Jacinto WA, and Camp Cady WA). On all other lands (public and private), including the Desert Wildlife Unlimited fields in the Imperial Valley, this is the last season that lead shot will be allowed for dove hunting.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The 2018 Special Dove Issue will be available on the Western Birds page of this website no later than August 28.
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.