Jim Niemiec's Blog

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Wednesday, January 03, 2018
Waterfowl populations have pretty much peaked
Thursday, January 18, 2018
Youth hunts set for refuges and duck clubs

Hunting seasons ending options
As the waterfowl and upland game bird seasons for California wind down, there are a few options to look forward to that can offer up excellent bird hunting and an opportunity to extend the hunting season for a couple more months.

There are a number of licensed pheasant clubs in the southern part of the state that will be open until at least the end of March, and possibly longer if their supply of ringneck pheasant, chukar and quail allows clubs to shoot even into early May.

MIXED BAG — Sean Ponso, owner of the Lone Pine Pheasant Club, shows off a mixed bag of big puddle ducks, prime ringneck pheasant and chunky chukar, the results of a good morning’s hunt. Club members can opt to hunt released birds and then spend time hunting native game along the Lower Owens River. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC

Pheasant hunting clubs are holding fully feathered birds that hold tight in thick cover and flush strong when pressured by a sharp-nosed sporting dog. During the month of February, all birds will carry enough scent to enable any pointer, setter or flushing dog to enjoy a good time of busting game birds all day long, but as the extended season winds down, birds will lose a lot of scent and become more difficult to locate in fields.

Clubs are professionally managed to provide maximum hunting pleasure and safety in the field. Prior to heading out to a designated or reserved field, all shooters and walk-alongs, are gathered up to hear the game manager address shooting rules, inspection of guns and the requirements of steel-only shot, blaze orange outer wear and safety shooting glasses.

Western Outdoor News reported the closing of the Four Winds Pheasant Club back in November, along with a delayed opening of Raahauge’s Pheasant Club as they finalize a new hunting site. With the loss of these very popular hunting venues, this left basically two clubs to take on added hunting pressure. Thankfully, Mother Nature offered up plenty of rains early last year, providing an abundance of prime cover, which seems to be holding up even though the last few drought like months with no rain.

On the bright side of upland game bird hunting is the pending re-opening of Raahauge’s Pheasant Club (951-738-9212).

WON checked in with club owner Tony Hendy just prior to this week’s edition of Western Outdoor News and the following is what Hendy told this hunting editor: “We are now just awaiting final approval for the leasing of land in San Bernardino County. Hopefully details will be finalized and we should be open no later than mid-January. Once we get the final approval, we plan to open for hunting in about three days.”

The High Desert Hunt Club at the Tejon Ranch (661-724-1218) has continued to shoot well all season long, offering a variety of upland game birds that are hunted in prime native cover. While this club is a membership-only club, upland game bird hunters can make an arrangement to check out the club, its facilities and bird hunting activities during their initial visit to the club, which is located just about an hour north of Los Angeles. WON has hunted this club over the years and each hunt has produced very good bird hunting in a native setting that allowed for excellent gun dog work. Billed as “Southern California’s Premier Upland Bird Hunting Club” this ranch like hunt club has been a great go to hunting club for over two decades.

Another fantastic pheasant club to hunt is the Lone Pine Pheasant Club (760-876-4590), which is located in the Alabama foothills of the Eastern High Sierra Mountain range. This club has offered up great upland game bird hunting for well over a quarter of a century and its fields are still covered in prime cover consisting of knee-high grass, sage and stands of wild rose that provide excellent holding cover for pheasant and chukar. This WON hunting editor has made this hunt club a traditional must stop on our family fall fly fishing trips up to Arcularius on the River (760-387-2692) in October.

The clubhouse overlooks hunting fields that are assigned to each hunting party before they head out on a hunt. There are both yearly and daily memberships available at the Lone Pine Pheasant Club. This club has been designed and developed exclusively for the hunter who wants to avoid large commercial operations and enjoy an informal, truly natural hunting experience. Advance reservations are required for those looking ahead to booking a hunt at this club to lessen hunting pressure and offer up excellent upland game bird hunting.

As for shotgun selection, when shooting released birds at a licensed club there are a lot of choices, which can range from a high-end 28 gauge Weatherby Orion over/under to a standard model Mossberg pump. Most all clubs are now limiting hunters to steel shot only, with Federal Steel Game loads in size #7 shot being high on the list of effective loads when hunting pheasant and chukar through thick cover. The ammo is only available in 12 gauge currently. This size shot is effective at knocking down even the biggest ringneck that usually flush well within effective shotgun range. Due to damp hunting conditions during an early morning hunt, make sure you wear good rubber hunting boots and water-resistant hunting pants. At this time of the year you don’t have to even think about snakes, as they are not usually active until warmer weather arrives come springtime.

Hunting in Mexico has been off the charts this winter. Excellent reports of lots of ducks continue to come in from the campo Rio Mayor area, mainland Mexico and super Black brant hunting down in San Quintin. While brant hunting season will close in San Quintin in Feb., the vast marshes of Los Mochis will still offer up occasionally good brant hunting through this region’s extended season that doesn’t end until March 18.

“The marshes and estuaries to the southwest of Los Mochis are holding lots of big puddle ducks and huntable numbers of divers. The current population of ducks is numbering in excess of 850,000 birds in the state of Sinaloa. Hunters are enjoying fantastic shooting for teal, sprig, widgeon, spoonies and pichiguilas as the migration is pretty much complete. There are plenty of grain crops and other food sources available for ducks and dove. Water is everywhere thanks to the vast farming Mecca of this region,” reports outfitter Bobby Balderrama of the Sinalo Pato Duck and Dove Club (800-862-9026).

Balderrama went on to add, “This year has offered up very good shooting on the marsh, as our airboat operation has mastered the skills necessary to make for great pass shooting of ducks. Some the blinds are located in tules with a spot of open water, where puddle ducks love to dive into a decoy spread. All three species of teal frequent this smaller water as they wing across the marsh, while bigger puddle ducks and divers seem to prefer the more open water of the estuaries.”

While the quail season continues through Feb. 11 in our neighboring state of Arizona, hunting reports have been minimal at best. Arizona wildlife biologist Kirby Bristow filed the following report with WON: “Mearns’ quail season has been average to below-average, slightly less than last year. Gambel’s quail hunting has been similarly mediocre, although I have heard of better bird numbers in other parts of the state.”

MATURE BULL SPRIG — Sprig are now fully feathered and beginning to pair up in preparation for their long flight north to nesting grounds. These two sprig were part of a daily limit of puddle ducks harvested during a late-season hunt with the Sinalo Pato Duck and Dove Club based out of Los Mochis, Mexico. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC

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