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Wednesday, December 26, 2018
Late season waterfowling tips

Looking back on the best and worst hunting and shooting of 2018
SAN CLEMENTE — January 2018 started off a good year for hunters and shooting sports enthusiasts. Waterfowl hunting was very consistent right off to the last weekend of the 100-day season with good gunning for puddle ducks and divers showing up on comp counts for those shooting out in blinds at refuges and private duck clubs. January also offered up some good goose shooting in Cibola Valley where hunters in goose blinds at South Ranch enjoyed shooting decoying geese. On a more dismal note, white goose hunting on the southern end of Imperial Valley never seemed to come together.

LIMITED OUT ON VALLEY QUAIL — Upland gamebird guide Kevin Johnson II and his young German pointer hunted in Kern County the last week of December harvesting a limit of valley quail.

SHOT SHOW again took place in Las Vegas and show cased everything that is new or improved in the shooting sports industry. This huge dealer show highlighted the latest in black guns that have taken over the lead from hunting and shooting firearms. Also, in late January SCI’s Hunter’s Convention was well attended in Las Vegas for a brilliant 4-day run of outstanding exhibitors representing the world’s best in big game, waterfowl and upland game bird hunting, in addition to fantastic destinations, great art and taxidermy. SCI announced that the Hunter’s Convention for January 2019 will be held in Reno.

Significant rains began to fall across the state through most of February bringing a welcome relief from years of draught conditions. Hill sides began greening up with prospects for good habitat for all wildlife on the horizon. Just about the only hunting that was available was for wild pigs with outfitters reporting good success afield. Valley quail began pairing up in expectation of a good hatch later in the spring.

March showed a lot of promise for Rio Grande turkey along the coastal mountain range, across to the lower foothills of the western slopes of the High Sierra and down in northern San Diego County. Hunter success was very high for those booking guided wild turkey hunts, but those who headed out on public land didn’t fare all that well. According to reports coming into Western Outdoor News while guided turkey hunts produced nearly a 100 percent success, public land hunting offered up less than a 10 percent chance of success. Those who opted to hunt national forests reported seeing very few gobblers and not much sign. Mexico duck hunting was off the charts as the waterfowl population in this flyway remains strong.

April and May have always been kind of a slow period for hunting except for hogs and wild turkey hunts that kept outfitters and guides busy. It was also pretty good for those heading to other worldly destinations. Gould’s turkey hunting down in mainland Mexico was 100 percent successful and a resident population of this species of turkey remains excellent. Ruben del Castillo of wingshooterslodge,com, reported to WON that he is looking forward to another a great spring of hunting Gould’s turkey at his ranch in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Sonora, Mexico.

June was kicked off by a return of Mike Raahauge’s SPORTS FAIR that was well attended and gave those who enjoy sports shooting a chance to live fire all the new firearms that are available. The Department of Fish and Wildlife did a good job in getting hunting information out in a timely manner. Those who put in for special big game drawings had ample time to plan a future hunt. The cost of a hunting license and some tags increased again, but being able to make purchases on line and at new vendor locations made it a lot easier for hunters.

July started off pretty slow due to some excessive heat, but pig hunting was very good especially in the counties of San Luis Obispo and Monterey where hunter success was nearly 100 percent. SCI’s Youth Safari Day set attendance records at Raahauge’s Shooting Sports Complex and introduced shooting sports, conservation and fishing to many children.

The DFW set hunting seasons for the rest of year in August. Liberal bag limits and hunting seasons were similar to the past couple of years. Of disappointment to this hunting editor is the commission’s decision on opening quail/chukar and waterfowl seasons on the same date. There is no reason, even biologically speaking, why these two wing shooting opportunities can not open on different weekends come October in the southern part of Southern California.

Dove hunting on September 1 was slower than had been expected. Good hatches locally and in desert regions produced a very huntable population of both mourning and white-winged dove along with healthy numbers of Eurasian collared dove, BUT for some reason gunning for the first half of the dove season was spotty. Deer hunting for Zone A hunters was very good with a number of big blacktail bucks harvested in Monterey County. Hunting in the X zone was slower than expected over all, even though there were some heavy antlered mule deer taken by hunters in the Bridgeport area.

Come October, as expected, based on poor habitat conditions afield, quail and chukar hunting did not respond to spring, summer or early fall precipitation. Chukar hunters reported seeing very few small coveys of birds with little harvest success. Dry conditions in many desert areas resulted in very poor quail hunting. Baja valley quail also didn’t respond well to early rains and hunters were tested on hunting uphill for adult birds, which made for a tough hunting.

Ducks and geese were slow to arrive in the southern portion of Pacific flyway making for very limited shooting at state and federal refuges. Upland game bird clubs opened up for the 2018 hunting season offering released pheasant and chukar. In operation this year were the High Desert Gun Club, Antelope Valley Sportsman’s Club, V1Ranch, California Upland Bird Hunts and California Pheasant Hunts. Due to a health issue the Lone Pine Pheasant Club didn’t offer hunting in 2018, but is hopeful of reopening soon. Also, no longer are day hunts available at Sam Elder’s Four Winds Pheasant Club.

Cooler weather and some strong storm fronts in November sent more waterfowl south with duck hunting showing good and much improved gunning. The last week of the month, on the full moon, brought some Canada geese down into Cibola Valley. The population of White geese in Imperial Valley peaked at some 30,000 snow and Ross’ geese. Duck hunting at Wister and San Jacinto was just okay, but hunters did well at Kern located at the southern end of the San Juaquin Valley. There was little pressure from hunters on the fall turkey season, but according to Clayton Grant, owner of Bitterwater Outfitters, hunting was 100 percent successful. Those hunting the second half of the dove season did well on mourning dove, but Eurasian collared dove were mostly MIA.

During December duck and goose hunting was spotty at best, at least for those hunting Wister and the Union Tract where very few white geese were bagged. Snow goose hunting was also slow at these two refuges with some days offering up less than a one bird per gun average. Kern shot well late in December with a 4.5 bird average for one day’s shooting reported just prior to Christmas. Cibola Valley also filled up with over 5,000 Canada geese, 3,000 white geese and lots of big puddle ducks.

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