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Tuesday, September 05, 2017
Dual bird openers…a hunter’s dilemma


Dual bird openers…a hunter’s dilemma
Wing shooters are going have to make up their mind again this fall, at least in the balance of the state waterfowl zone, as to where to hunt come opening day of waterfowl season, which is on the same day as the upland game bird season opens. For many years, this hunting editor has been faced with the dilemma of whether to hunt ducks or chukar/quail on the opening weekend of the season.

Over the past five years, I have opted to skip opening day of chukar season mainly because there weren’t any birds out there in the high desert to hunt, thus allowing me to spend time in a duck blind. This year it looks like the choice will be more difficult. Timely rains, good ground cover and plenty of food sources seem to have helped our native chukar population bounce back. I’ll most likely wait until the week before opening day to decide on where to hunt, after my fall scouting trip up Hwy. 395 and checking in with a number of good hunting contacts along the way.


highdesertchukarpre
HIGH DESERT CHUKAR — Pre-season forecasts for a good chukar opener look promising. Late-summer rains could spread out chukar populations in the high desert regions. An abundance of food, cover and water could combine to make for a good opening weekend for chukar season. This yellow lab did a wonderful retrieve on a fat chukar while on a hunt with Harold Horner of High Desert Guide Service. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC


Having questioned why our California Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists continue to open waterfowl and upland game bird seasons on the same day have led to no valid answer(s). Letters and phone calls to staff members over the years have yielded very little insight into why these two seasons have to open simultaneously. By wildlife regulations, we are pretty limited to the number of days that we can hunt ducks/geese in this part of the Pacific flyway, but I can find no reasoning in not allowing the upland game bird season to open a week earlier than duck season. Duck and goose seasons are stretched out as long as possible in the balance of state zone, but end earlier in the northeastern zone. Having lived and hunted in Alturas for many years, I can understand why the northeastern zone opens earlier and closes when winter slams into that distant corner of the state.


It’s looking like it will be a very difficult choice this fall. With the exception of the mallard population in this portion of the Pacific flyway, duck numbers are up well over 10 percent of where they were at last year. Teal, gadwall, shovelers and pintail populations are up in most flyways, but the widgeon is down nearly 20 percent based on a recent survey released by Ducks Unlimited, and the overall duck population is about 2 percent down for numbers posted for the 2016 season. Overall numbers based on the percentage change from the LTA are up 34 percent and this reflects a good nesting and rebuilding of waterfowl populations.


Thunder showers in the high desert region this past week can only help with the rebuilding of our chukar populations. There should be huntable numbers of this year’s chukar hatch on the ground and with additional water and possibly a sprouting of new green wild grass the chances of survival into the fall season seems assured. Our neighboring states also are reporting good conditions for producing a better-than-average season for hunting chukar and quail. It looks like the rugged terrain of northern Nevada will offer up very good chukar hunting, as will the mountains along the Snake River in Oregon. Over into Arizona, wing shooters can expect spotty, but good, Gambel’s quail hunting and prospects for a better than average Mearns’ quail season for the steep terrain of the mountain ranges south of Sonoita.


There is one place in the southern High Sierra range that will likely produce some good hunting for chukar and possibly mountain quail for those willing to make the long hike into the mountains. The road that leads off Hwy. 395 just to the south of Little Lake offers access to Nine Mile Canyon. It’s a rugged hike into higher elevations, but this part of the High Sierra has been a pretty productive chukar spot over the years. Make sure to be prepared for a very difficult assent to where chukar are likely to be found. This hunter has also hunted chukar and quail at the higher elevations of Indian Wells Canyon when upland game bird numbers were up.


One option that upland game bird hunters have when making plans for this fall is to consider a hunt south of the Mexican border. Rancho El Coyote-Meling, (619) 390-0905, and Arturo Malo’s BajaHunting, (866) 241-6405, are two bird hunting outfitters that offer up excellent wing shooting. While the Meling family focuses on prime California Valley and mountain quail hunting south of Ensenada in the San Telmo Valley watershed, Malo hunts native pheasant, Gambel’s quail and all three species of dove on leased farms south of Mexicali.


While there are concerns currently on safe travel into parts of Mexico, it’s been this hunter’s experience that both the Meling and Malo multi-day hunts have never encountered any problems in travel or while in the field. For additional information on hunting Baja Norte or the northern region of the Mexican state of Sonora contact Victor Morales of Wildlife Hunting Services, (858) 522-9547, as he handles gun permits, licensing, bird stamps and is a wildlife biologist who works with many of the UMA’s in northern Mexico.


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