Dove hunting season opener better in many areas than last year
By JIM MATTHEWS
The dove hunting season opener last Sunday, Sept. 1, was better than it has been in many seasons in one of the most popular hunting areas in Southern California. Public land hunters focus their efforts on a handful of lands in the region, and the Imperial Valley public spots have been fair at best for the past two or three seasons.
This year was an exception. Fields were planted and harvested on time for this year’s hunt, and most hunters who focused on the Desert Wildlife Unlimited (DWU) fields found very good hunting, with most veteran hunters reporting 15 bird limits.
Across the region’s other public hunting spots, the San Jacinto Wildlife Area in western Riverside County near Lake Perris and the Camp Cady Wildlife east of Barstow both were better than last season, but just fair overall. However, most hunters reporting at least some shooing and from two to eight birds each in the bag.
The Blythe-Palo Verde region was on par with last season with very good hunting at the Palo Verde Ecologic Reserve (PVER) with many limits reported opening day, and some the following morning. PVER was also one of the few areas where more than an occasional whitewing dove was reported.
The region-by-region update, many reports gleaned from Facebook posts to the author’s pages:
CAMP CADY WILDLIFE AREA
Durwood Hollis of Fontana hunted Camp Cady Wildlife Area east of Barstow opening morning and reported there were only a dozen or so vehicles in the parking area next to the prepare d field off Harvard Road (south of Interstate 15). He said that was in stark contrast to last year when the field was overflowing with vehicles and hunters.
Hollis said the birds were not plentiful, but that there were a steady stream of flights for the first three hours of the morning and most of the 37 hunters were able to scratch down one or two birds the early part of the day.
The Blythe-Palo Verde region was again one of the top spots across Southern California with the Palo Verde Ecological Reserve (PVER) providing limit-style dove hunting opportunities at least through the first two days of the season.
Noli Cabantug of Pomona hunted the planted fields on PVER and managed to get a limit after arriving around 9 a.m. and then returning in the evening to finish his 15 bird bag.
“The crowd size was regular, and there were plenty of birds,” wrote Cabantug, which means busy in the morning. “My first dove was banded, and later in the day, I got another bird with a band, this one was a whitewing.
“Most shooters got their limit, one particular hunter came in the afternoon and shot his limit in just an hour. If one is a good shot, limiting out is quick because of the bird volume. The second morning, few hunters stayed,” wrote Cabantug. He said by the next morning, the crowds had thinned with only about 10 cars at the busiest field. He still managed to get 10 more doves before 11 a.m.
“These DFG fields are valuable to our hobby,” he wrote.
Mike Carman of San Diego had a similar experience at PVER. “Blythe was loaded with birds and hunters. I hit my limit by 7 a.m. I had 11 mourning move and four whitewings hunting off 10th Avenue. I then went to meet up with five friends that like a more private setting, but they didn’t see as many birds but came out with 40 birds for the five of them. I took them back over to 10th Ave. The crowd of hunters had gone home with only few guys here and there. My friends were happy to get a few birds shortly after getting out of the truck, but the flyover slowed down fast. Everyone had a great time.”
Lewie Guay of Los Angeles said his group had been hunting the Blythe-Palo Verde area for over 15 Years. He said there was a lot more posted land in the valley, but when they found “a hotspot” he said the 16 hunters in their group really “burned through the shells” with a lot of 10-bird limits on whitewings and full limits of 15 when combined with mourning doves filling out the bag.
“Everyone was successful in taking birds,” he wrote.
Jay Shaw of Buena Park also reported taking a lot of whitewings in the Blythe region. He hunted the area three days with his son and daughter, and their three-day bag was 120 (limits would have been 135).
“There were plenty of whitewings, but you had to work to get your mourning doves,” wrote Shaw.
Dove hunting is a family sport for a lot of hunters, and there were dozens of reports of kids on first trips. Brent Fast took his three boys to Blythe for the opener.
“There were tons of birds, and we were done by 10 to escape the heat! We had a blast! It was the first dove hunt for one of my boys – but it won’t be the last,” he wrote.
Most hunters said the Blythe area was about the same as it has been the past few years, with very good hunting on the public hunting areas, and a lot of whitewings in the bag.
In spite of some reports to the contrary, the Imperial Valley was better this season that it has been the past two or three, according to a roundup reports from the field.
Jason Mathiot of Moreno Valley hunted one of the Desert Wildlife Unlimited fields in the north end of the Imperial Valley. He, his wife Selena, and his son Conner bagged 28 doves opening morning, including five whitewings. Mathiot said Conner also got his first whitewing on the hunt. He was hunting field ND310.
John Coleman of Riverside also hunted one of the DWU fields, M18, located right off Highway 111. He wrote: “I’ve hunted M18 for the last four years with just a handful of other hunters every year, with no problem getting limits. I knew it was a bad sign when I scouted last weekend and found at least 1,000 birds feeding in that field. More than I had ever seen.
“Well opening morning my fears materialized when I pulled up to the field and saw 20 plus cars in the dark. Turned out to be at least 35ish hunters in that small field. My honey hole was not a hidden gem anymore. It all worked out OK though -- we limited out by about 7:30 a.m. I suspect about half the only hunters did too. I noticed them stop shooting as the birds continued to roll in.
“I took a co-worker who had never hunted dove before and he managed seven birds, but went through six boxes of shells to do it. So the targets were there for everyone, if you could hit them We left at 9 a.m., and there were still birds coming in sporadically even with the heat,” said Coleman.
William Ridenour of Hesperia hunting the south end of the Salton Sea area, and reported “plenty of dove and more than usual number of hunters. I limited by 7:30 a.m. with a couple of buddies, all whitewing and a few Eurasians. We went out the next morning, but weather that evening pushed ‘em out of the area.”
Ridenour’s report of whitewings was an anomaly for most hunters in the Imperial Valley, with hunting reporting just one or two whitewings, if any. But most hunters reported limits early opening morning. Kyle Rea of Buena Park hunted near El Centro and “shot a limit by 7:30.” Nick Taranik, formerly of Apple Valley but now living in last Vegas, report that everyone in his group “had limits in the Westmoreland area.” Sean Harrison, Rancho Cucamonga, said he and his three buddies all had limits in the generically-described “Imperial Valley.”
Hamilton McWhorter of El Cajon wrote that he hunted with seven others in the southeast corner of the Imperial Valley. He said they had “two limits and -- except for the first year hunter we had with us -- everyone else was in double digits.”
Overall, very good to excellent shooting throughout the Imperial Valley was reported, back to what has been expected for this region. The Imperial Valley historically has been the dove hotspot for Southern California over the decades.
SAN JACINTO WILDLIFE AREA
At the San Jacinto Wildlife Area in western Riverside County, there were a total of 163 hunters opening day and they shot a total of 238 doves for a 1.46 birds-per-hunter average, according to Tom Trakes with the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The wildlife area attracts a lot of new hunters, either first-time dove hunters or hunters new to the area, and most of those posted scores of zero or one bird, while those who scouted or hunt the area regularly had from three to eight doves, depending on shooting skill and spot.
Mike Anderson of San Bernardino, ended up with three birds each, and complained that if he’d shot better, it would have been at least twice that. Anderson said the birds he cleaned were all filled with dove weed seeds, indicating the doves haven’t even found the grain crops mowed recently at the wildlife area.
“I got more mosquito bites than dove,” joked Anderson.
Mosquitos were a problem in a lot of the public dove hunting areas, and if you forgot bug repellant, you were miserable.
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.