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Thursday, September 07, 2017
Dual bird openers…a hunter’s dilemma

Perhaps looking at an early waterfowl migration
Western Outdoor News headed out to the wetlands areas in the southern portion of the state this past week to check a few duck clubs, marshes and estuaries to get an idea on what prospects for this coming waterfowl season hold. After field work was completed, a request was sent out to refuge managers to get their thoughts on the upcoming waterfowl season.

A trip around Prado Basin showed high potential for this vast wetlands set behind Prado Dam. There were lots of small flocks of mallards (mostly pairs and small groups), a few teal, and some high flying flocks of what looked like either gadwall or wigeon that numbered better than 25 ducks. Interesting to note that there were also huge flocks of ibis on the wing, perhaps lifting off from the flooded ponds of Raahauge’s Duck Club that is included in the watershed riparian area for the Orange County Water District.

CIBOLA MIXED BAG — Captain Buzz Brizendine, owner/operator of the sportfisher Prowler, had a good hunt at the Cibola Sportsman’s Club’s South Ranch last season. A limit of bull sprig, a few green winged teal and a greater Canada goose topped off a good hunt at the ranch. Prospects for this coming winter are good, as there seem to be more Canada geese now wintering in the valley. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC

Duck clubs in the basin are preparing to flood in a couple weeks, as there still is a lot of mowing and cutting back of tules that needs to done prior to flooding. A couple of ponds on Raahauge’s club held some water and looked very huntable. There were a few duck club members out setting up duck blinds and clearing areas for decoys. All three clubs located in these wetlands will start flooding over good native food sources about the first week of October, in hopes of holding some of the early migrating flocks of puddle ducks through opening week of the waterfowl season on Oct. 21.

Wister Wildlife Refuge (760) 359-0577), is a very popular duck and goose hunting refuge that hosts thousands of waterfowlers each season. WON checked in with Scott Sewell, Wildlife Habitat Supervisor II for this refuge who filed the following: “The refuge will be at least 99 percent flooded by the time opening weekend arrives. Ponds are being flooded and there has been some repair work to dikes due to the most recent thunderstorms that blew through Imperial Valley last week. We lost power for a few days and had some equipment issues, but right now everything is moving ahead very well.”

Sewell added, “The refuge is holding about 9,000 ducks currently and these early arrivals are made up of a mix of pintails, gadwall and teal. There also was an excellent hatch of local mallards that should stick around for most all of the early part of the season. There is plenty of food available with lots of swamp Timothy, wheat and millet in the ponds. We should be able to handle a minimum of 100 reservations come opening morning.

Hunters planning on hunting at the San Jacinto Wildlife Refuge near Lakeview should be in for a good hunting season according the following report filed by Tom Trakes, Assistant Wildlife Manager for the refuge.

“Right now we are about 70 percent flooded and the refuge will be ready to go by opening day. We planted 3,000 pounds of millet seed and it’s coming up very well. The refuge’s brooding area for mallards really took off this past spring. We are seeing 100s of mallard winging over the refuge and they don’t seem to want to leave. There are more mallards on the refuge than ever.

Also the first flocks of cinnamon teal have arrived on the refuge. A couple of the ponds are holding some 500 teal and more are arriving daily. The first cackling geese just arrived and we are expecting specks very soon. Based on flooding and our wetlands, this refuge will have at least 54 blind sites available for opening day,” said Trakes.

Trakes went on to add, “It’s looking like we will be able to at least hunt the mud flats of Mystic Lake on opening day and if we get some more rain, more hunting sites at the lake will be made available. It’s holding water right now and it won’t take much to get the level to where more shooting blinds can be erected.”

Western Outdoor News went on to ask Trakes about the status of Lake Perris and he offered up the following; “There will be no duck hunting on Lake Perris this coming season even though the lake level is much higher than last year. We are still awaiting a Land Management Plan for the lake and the surrounding property and until that plan is submitted and accepted there will be no duck hunting on that lake.”

Checking in with Tom Anderson, wildlife biologist for the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge early arrivals and the first lone snow goose of the season arrived this past week.

“Right now we are getting all the fields and ponds ready for planting rye grass. We put wheat in a few locations, including the Union Tract, earlier in the spring and it has now headed out and should provide a good food source for both ducks and white geese. Last year this refuge only hosted about 20,000 white geese, which is less than normal. Good habitat in the Central Valley likely held big flocks of white geese to the north and we are thinking that many snow and Ross’ geese will hang up in those wetlands again this season,” said Anderson.

Estuaries were checked along the coast, along with a few inland wetlands and they showed signs of holding good numbers of locally hatched ducks consisting of mallards, gadwall and even a few spoonies. The wetlands of Mission Bay show cased a good number of puddle ducks.

LOS MOCHIS PUDDLE DUCK SHOOT — Duck hunters who opted to hunt in Mexico last season had great gunning for puddle ducks on the vast marshes around the farming Mecca of Los Mochis. Pictured with a game strap full of ducks is Bobby Balderrama, outfitter for the Sinalo Pato Duck and Dove Club. Plenty of summer rains have created new wetlands for this part of mainland Mexico. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC

Moving up to the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley a good report on the Kern National Wildlife Refuge was sent into WON by refuge project manager Nick Stanley.

“As of this past week, the refuge now has about 1,100 acres flooded and is holding over 1000 ducks. This wetlands number will continue to increase as we flood additional acres preparing for the 2017/18 waterfowl season. This year the refuge will be receiving its full CVPIA allocation of water and we project that we will have the ability to flood most, if not all, of the wetlands on this refuge. The extra flooding this season will increase waterfowl habitat and increase hunting opportunities,” stated Stanley.

Moving across the state over to Cibola, Ariz., good Canada goose hunting is expected to start around Thanksgiving and continue on through the first of the year. Last year saw an increase in the number of dark geese in the valley that offered up very good honker hunting on both the South Ranch of the Cibola Sportsman’s Club (702) 355-8784, and the Farm Unit of the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, (928) 857-3253. The South Ranch should offer up a mix of goose and duck hunting, especially on stormy days, as birds wing over huge decoys spreads and shallow fresh water ponds. Some wheat, lots of alfalfa and a mix of other crops will hopefully compete with all the corn planted by the refuge.

Mother Nature came through big time for mainland Mexico this past spring and recent rains have enlarged natural wetlands and estuaries all the way from the Rio Hardy down past Mazatlan. Outfitter Bobby Balderrama, of the Sinalo Pato Duck and Dove Club,, reported to Western Outdoor News that the Sinaloa farming Mecca around Los Mochis enjoyed an excellent hatch of local Mexican ducks, teal and pichiquila. There is plenty of fresh water on farm land and the many nearby marshes are holding good numbers of puddle ducks. The season for Mexico duck hunting begins on Nov. 1 and continues through March 16, 2018 with a very liberal daily bag limit.

Locally things are looking very strong for a good Canada goose season for this part of the Pacific flyway. I have seen a number of small flocks flying over Orange County for the past month and most recently spotted a flock of 30 lesser Canada geese in a park along the Santa Ana River. Seems that Canada geese are moving into the southern part of the state and enjoying some pretty decent breeding conditions and very little in the way of hunting pressure.

Owens Lake has lots of water wetlands

Heavy runoff from the tremendous snow melt of the High Sierra flooded most of the Owens Valley from below Pleasant Valley dam all the way down to the newly constructed levees of the once dry Owens Lake. The Department of Water and Power had to dump millions of acre feet of water down through Bishop and this flooded land that had been dry for years. The banks of the Owens River over flowed and millions of acres of dry desert and open range land became seasonal lakes and wetlands.

Western Outdoor News toured this area on a recent trip to the High Sierra and noted that access to some of the duck hunting spots along Hwy. 395 were inaccessible and many of the gates were behind locks. The lower Owens River doesn’t receive a lot of duck or goose hunting pressure, but there are those dedicated waterfowlers who prefer the challenge of hunting on public land. For those thinking about duck or goose hunting, this valley it would be a good idea to check with the sporting store in Lone Pine or give Reagan’s Sporting Goods (760) 872-3000, in downtown Bishop a call to find out where access road down to the river might be usable.

Waterfowl fund raiser to attend…

There are two waterfowl fund raisers set before duck season opens and both should offer up an excellent place to find new places to hunt ducks and geese and also give hunters a chance at winning a new shotgun or a host of other hunting accessories.

Ducks Unlimited will hold its fund raiser again at the Mile Square Golf Course in Fountain Valley on Saturday, Sept. 30 starting at 6 p.m. This year’s event will put over 40 guns in raffle and auctions, along with a Lab puppy and a lot of other fine hunting accessories and wildlife art. This year’s dinner will feature a Fausti Select O/U as the DU shotgun of the year and a Weatherby Vanguard Lazerguard as the rifle of the year. For ticket information, call (714) 546-6256 or log on to the event’s website at

California Waterfowl will put on a great fund raising dinner for the Newport/Mesa chapter on Oct. 12 to be held at the La Vida Cantina at the Triangle in Costa Mesa. This is a high end gathering of waterfowl hunters and will offer up a huge selection of shotguns, other neat hunting gear and wildlife art. The event will kick off with a cocktail party at 5:30 p.m. followed by dinner at 6:30 p.m. For ticket information and to reserve a table, contact Shannon Young at (949) 331-1339.

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