Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Bird hunters facing a dilemma
|Just when it looked like wing shooters might be on track to having separate opening days for upland game birds and waterfowl, this year's regulations call for a simultaneous opening of birds in two major waterfowl hunting zones. This outdoor writer and avid bird hunter had campaigned for a number of years to set dates that would not conflict, thus allowing an upland game bird hunt on one Saturday in October and then the following Saturday would be opening day for duck season. Sounded good to me.
For the past two seasons calendar dates seemed to have worked out just fine with separate opening days and wing shooters could enjoy success on opening day hunts on multiple species. Unfortunately this year openings days are the same so wing shooters are faced with a dilemma of whether they hunt ducks or upland game birds on Saturday, Oct. 20, or both.
This outdoor editor does not favor the dual opening of ducks and upland game birds on the same day. Those of us who hunt in the Southern California and Balance of the State waterfowl zones are those most affected by this conflict. Seems that the Colorado River Zone gets to at least open on Friday, Oct. 19, allowing time to go on a chukar or quail hunt on Saturday, the duck opener for the Kern National Wildlife Refuge was back on Oct. 6 as was opening day for the Northeastern Zone, and wing shooters can (or will) now mostly just concentrate on upland game birds in as much as good opening day shoots don't enter into the picture.
THE HORNER FAMILY LIKES TO HUNT — Harold Horner, Sr. and Harold Horner, master guide of High Desert Guide Service based out of Victorville, have enjoyed many successful bird hunts together over the years. The father and son team are pictured above with a nice bunch of chukar and valley quail shot last opening day in the high desert region. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC
There are not a lot of options out there to allow for hunting ducks and upland game birds on opening day, but there are some hunting spots where this could happen, although it will require a lot of planning, some extra miles on the SUV at gas prices approaching $4.50 a gallon and perhaps the loss of sleep time.
One option that is on the table is if you have drawn a good number at one of the refuges, have time to spend in a sweat line or hope for a fill-in blind to open up. Picking a hot duck shooting blind could allow for enough time to head out into the desert or un-posted fallow grain fields in hopes of flushing a covey of Gambel's quail. One could also forgo the hassle of registering the night before opening day and then be in line no later than 3 a.m. to get a blind choice by just passing on the morning shoot, go out and look for quail and then return to a refuge in the early afternoon in hopes of finding a shooting site open for an evening duck hunt.
Another area that might lead to a successful opening day duck and upland game bird hunt would be to head up into the Lower Owens River drainage. Despite a lack of rain the lower river area is holding some water, there is a flow still coming down into the old Owens Lake basin and there are coveys of California valley quail and chukar to be hunted in the foothills. This area is accessed off Hwy. 395 with miles of dirt roads and parking spots to jump shoot the river as it slowly meanders through the valley floor. When Western Outdoor News last checked on this river, to plan some jump shooting of ducks, there was a lot of tules along the river making for difficult hunting and finding birds. Another factor to be considered in making this area an option to hunt on opening day is the probability of a lack of ducks on the river or on holding ponds. According to locals, who hunt the river system regularly, the bulk of the ducks and geese that winter in this huge wetlands don't start arriving until mid-November.
The Kern National Wildlife Refuge will not be open for duck hunting on October 20, as this time will be between their split season; although at any other time, starting with this refuge's second opening on Oct. 27, there are some good quail options in the western sloping foothills of the High Sierra or by booking a guided quail hunt with Mike Berry Guide Service based out of Bakersfield.
Another area that could have good potential if there is enough rain (likely not this year) is Baldwin Lake. This lake, even if just ponded, attracts a lot of waterfowl and doesn't receive a lot of waterfowl hunting pressure. If this small lake did have at least some water to float a boat or decoys, the option of hunting mountain or valley quail off the back side of the San Bernardino Mountains is doable and within a very short drive. For additional information on hunting or the status of Baldwin Lake call (909) 484-0167.