There is good news and bad news for upland opener this Saturday
By JIM MATTHEWS
There is good news and there is bad news for this coming weekend’s upland bird hunting opener.
The good news is that both quail and chukar numbers are up across most of Southern California, with numbers better than they have been in nearly a decade in some areas.
The bad news is that availability of non-lead ammunition at retail outlets has only improved marginally since the dove hunting season opener. Hunters who wait until the last minute are likely to find empty shelves, and if you shoot something other than 12 or 20 gauge, finding non-lead shotshells will be problematic.
Areas where quail and chukar numbers are up include most of the east and west portions of the Mojave Desert, the southern Eastern Sierra Nevada, the Owens Valley, and the Colorado River Desert, and there are spots in all these areas where bird numbers are at recent highs.
Cliff McDonald, a president of Desert Drinkers 4 Wildlife, said he has seen very young quail just three weeks ago. “I think they were on their fourth hatch. I was seeing little ones just three weeks before the youth hunt [this past weekend] on the Mojave Preserve,” said McDonald. This part of the east Mojave also had a good hatch last year, and McDonald said he was seeing more Gambel’s quail than last year.
“We took kids to five spots during the youth hunt, and got into birds everywhere we stopped,” said McDonald.
In the West Mojave in the Barstow to Hesperia region and across the Lucerne Valley, avid hunter Nick Rojas said the chukar numbers in this region are “the best I’ve seen in a long time.” He reported seeing about 200-plus chukar at just one desert water source in July.
Further north in the Red Mountain region and up into the Owens Valley, quail and chukar numbers are the best they’ve been in several seasons.
“They’ve bounced back pretty good this year,” said Tim Mahoney with the Ridgecrest Chapter of Quail Forever about chukar numbers in the Rand and El Paso mountains. “It’s by far better than last year.”
Matty Rawllinson with Owens Valley Wingshooting guide service in Bishop said it was an excellent year in that region.
“I’ve seen more mountain quail this year than I ever have – there’s three times as many this year as last year, and it’s going to be a bumper season for valley quail,” said Rawlinson.
Other areas have been a mixed bag because of late spring rains that hammered chick numbers. The Carrizo Plain region (Temblor and Caliente mountain ranges) west of Bakersfield, most of the coast mountains north of Santa Barbara, and pockets along the north side of the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountain ranges generally had ideal conditions and good to excellent hatches.
“All was looking great -- then May arrived,” said Dave Hardt, the former manager of the Kern National Wildlife refuge and an avid bird hunter in the Carrizo region. “We had some cold rain that began around the first week in May that continued until the middle of the month. It managed to wipe out most chicks that hatched from late April until around May 20th or slightly later.
“It was obvious during the brood surveys that we were missing an entire age class of chicks but quail are resilient birds and many of the pairs that lost chicks appear to have re-nested and pulled off some chicks, maybe not as many as were in the original clutches, but at least it wasn't a total loss,” said Hardt.
This story was the same all along the coast and across much of the intercoastal mountains of Southern California. There were spots in Cajon Pass where hunters have reported not seeing any chicks. Hardt said their brood surveys in the Temblors and Caliente’s indicated overall decent production in quail, but production was not uniform. “Overall I think hunters who know the area will find huntable numbers of quail in the areas that normally hold birds,” said Hardt.
But then, that is usually the story.
A quick check of retail outlets the weekend before opener revealed that most had at least some 12 and 20 gauge steel non-lead loads available in both size 6 and 7 shot. Turner’s Outdoorsman in both Palmdale and Victorville both had at least 10 boxes of both gauges, and Victorville only had No. 6 shot (no 7s). These supplies could sell out well before next weekend’s opener. No local stores reported having 16, 28, or .410 shotshell ammunition in steel available.
Old Dad bighorn sheep drinker
finally retrofitted with new tanks
The Old Dad bighorn sheep drinker located on the Mojave National Preserve in the Old Dad Mountains was retrofitted with three new 3,000-gallon tanks, increasing the water capacity of this important sheep water source by 33 percent, according to the Society for the Conservation of Bighorn Sheep that ramrodded the tank replacement and repair.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife provided the funding for the helicopter that was used to air-lift the three new tanks into the location and remove the three decaying old tanks.
Volunteers worked on the project Friday through Sunday to complete all the work. The important water source was in danger of going dry because of leakage from the old, decaying tanks. The SCBS has been trying to get permission from the National Park Service for 15 years to replace the old tanks on this historic big game guzzler.
The Old Dad guzzler or drinker was one of the first installed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife and SCBS to benefit desert sheep herds in the region. The Old Dad Mountains had a wandering band of only about 20 bighorn before artificial water was added to the range. With permanent water, the range’s bighorn population has peaked at over 200 sheep a couple of times in recent decades and even provided animals for relocations to mountain ranges where sheep had disappeared.
The Old Dad guzzler was in danger of going dry this summer when leakage was increasing, as shown by the satellite-monitoring equipment paid for and operated by SCBS. The DFW funded $40,000 worth of helicopter flights to add water to the tanks earlier this year, but the level was plummeting. A small crew of four volunteers went in during late spring and cut off one of the tanks, pumping its water into the two remaining tanks, but the amount of water would not have been enough to last the summer, and the replacement was scheduled once the NPS gave approval.
Other repairs were also made that should have the Old Dad drinker in excellent condition for years to come, increasing its capacity from 6,000 gallons to 9,000 gallons of water and improving its ability to collect water during rain events.
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.