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Friday, March 09, 2012
PREVIEW: Countdown to gobble time

It was a timely storm for wildlife
The High Sierra got much needed snow last week that will help with wild game populations along both sides of the Sierras. The San Bernardino Mountains got up to two feet of new snow, while the Tehachapi Mountains got a little more than a dusting as did the higher elevation ranges of the Cleveland National Forest and out in the high desert with a mix of hail and some light snow.

Western Outdoor News made a number of phone calls to gather as much information as possible about what Mother Nature offered up and the thoughts of outfitters, guides, ranchers and field observers as to what benefit the late winter storm might have on wildlife.

The overall consensus was that with some areas in Southern California receiving more than 2 inches of rain it helped recharge aquifers, stock tanks and guzzlers and that melting snow will keep many small creeks alive through the early periods of nesting and breeding seasons. Drought conditions are still present for most of the southern part of the state and there is already talk about the wildfire season being on "high alert."

It is not too late for a new sprouting of green grass, but for the most part a lot of the hillsides had already started turning brown. Likely there won't be as many lush meadows and colorful hillsides as turkey hunters have enjoyed being a part of the past couple of wet years. The rains and melting snow will make for better conditions for all wildlife and there should be enough bug life out there to provide the protein needed for the survival of poults and new born chukar and quail, in addition to increased forage and cover for big game animals.

Up to 5 inches of snow fell in the mountains around Lake Henshaw, which lies in prime turkey country in North San Diego County. Retired wildlife biologist John Massie of Ramona reported to WON, "It was more than a dusting of snow that fell on Sunday in the Mesa Grande area, as it totally covered the ground and roads. If a hen had already laid eggs during the warmer days of March and that nest was lost, there is a very good chance that she will certainly re-nest."

Massie went on to add, "We really don't need any more rain prior to opening day, and I would expect that a large part of the San Diego turkey population will be henned up so there may be a restricted amount of gobbling going on, but there was a good carryover from last year (of adult toms) and that should help."

"We just received a good amount of rain on our thousands of acres of prime hog, deer and upland game bird properties we hunt between Bitterwater Valley and the Pacific Coast. We had hoped for more rain from the first storm that only produced a little over an inch east of the coastal range and from the last front this region got more, but we are still well below normal. A "dry gray mist" developed as part of the storm system and that is when clouds move over and lay close to the ground but only produce less than a tenth of an inch of rain for each front that passes," reported Clayton Grant, master guide for Bitterwater Outfitters.

Grant went on to tell WON, "Fortunately many of our ranches still have running springs, seeps and stock water tanks that are providing wild game with plenty of available water and the populations are not being affected like they were back a few years ago when this region was hit hard with back to back to back seasons of very little rain. The pigs are coming off a very good breeding season and there are lots of meat pigs on the ground that can offer up an option to hunting after a client shoots a big tusker or sow. Based on what we are seeing on hunts into the many thousands of huntable acres we have that most all the game is in fine shape. We are hopeful that there will be a couple of more major storms move through this area before the end of March to top off the native grass and produce more bugs for upland game birds in addition to providing additional protecting cover for offspring."

The snow pack in the High Sierra was welcome for this late in the season and will enhance the run off over what was originally expected to be a much drier year. Not only will skiers see an extended season but there will be ample water to enhance another hatch of upland game birds including valley quail, mountain quail and sage grouse that are coming off pretty good hatches the last couple of years.

Long Valley, to the east of Mammoth Mountain, finally got some snow, in back to back storms, that the area has needed for the past couple of months. This moisture will seep into the soil and should be substantial enough to produce a good amount of green grass, native seeds and much needed bug life to support sage grouse that are having a rough time holding their own under varying conditions, pasturing of sheep and changes in native habitat. It's not that the birds are feeling the pressure of hunting too much, as the California Department of Fish and Game and field biologists are monitoring these birds to ensure their survival while at the same time allowing minimal hunting pressure.

"The sage grouse in Long Valley are coming off a pretty good year and with the milder winter survival should be good as the birds move into their breeding period. There was a good mix of adult and juveniles on both public and private land this summer and they are a very hardy survivor even during harsh times. Reports that I have been getting from other ranchers and those hunting in other counties and adjacent states is that these big grouse are doing much better than in years past and that bodes well for upland game bird hunters who enjoy hunting the vast sage brush country," said Howard Arcularius owner and operator of Arcularius On The River.

The storms were timely enough to re-green up many areas of Southern California, clear on down into Baja Norte, where quail are doing quite well, and even dumped a bunch of snow on quail country in our neighboring states of Arizona, Nevada and Oregon.

Due to the lack of rain in turkey country thus far this spring the grass will not be as high as it has been the last couple of seasons. Hunters are going to be able to see birds a little better, but turkeys are going to be able to see hunters a lot better! Maybe not much need for the added height for a Hunter's Specialties turkey strut seat, but it sure would make for a more comfortable day of sitting under the shade of an oak tree patiently waiting out a gobbler.     

sage hen hatch
SAGE HEN HATCH SHOULD BE JUST OKAY — With additional late winter snow in Long Valley, this year's adult sage hens should produce about an average number of chicks. This photo shows part of a flock of about 20 birds that was taken along the upper Owens River on a fly fishing ranch under the management of Arcularius On The River this past fall. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC

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