|Eurasian invasion will add birds to the bag
It's not too early to start making plans for opening of dove season and also to begin checking the status of quail hunting opportunities in our neighboring state of Arizona. The flyways of this state have traditionally produced excellent hunting for white winged and mourning dove and now with a population explosion of the Eurasian collared dove hunters can add lots more birds to the game bag.
Western Outdoor News checked in with biologists, sporting goods stores, hunters and the good folks at the Cibola Sportsman's Club to get their take on what hunters can expect in the way of dove and quail hunting during the 2012 season. Looking back on the glory days of the 1960s and 1970s, when more than 100,000 hunters reported harvesting in excess of 2.5 million dove, things have changed. According to a release from the Arizona Department of Game and Fish the mourning dove is still ranked as one of Arizona's two most important game birds, mourning dove hunting has since fallen off due to urban expansion, changing farm practices and more restrictive season arrangements. Today, based on hunter survey questionnaires only about 55,000 hunters take to dove fields and bag about 1 million to 1.3 million dove each year.
With dove season opening up on a Saturday come Sept. 1, there are likely going to be a lot more hunters out in the field as compared to a mid-week opener. Not only will dove shooters have the advantage of a weekend opening, but Labor Day is on Monday this year, thus allowing wing shooters to spend as much as three days hunting dove without missing a day of work or youth hunters being pulled out of school.
WON got a pretty detailed long-range report on dove and quail from AZDGF wildlife biologist, Kirby Bristow, "I am not sure just how dove hunting will be this season. Right now I am seeing a lot of white winged dove and their arrival from down south seemed to be earlier this year. This could also mean that these birds will leave sooner as well. White winged dove tend to head south right around the season opener each year regardless of the weather."
Bristow went on to state, "I think with the current high cotton prices everyone is planting cotton and the grain fields that concentrate birds in agricultural areas will be hard to find. I thought that would result in excellent shooting over the one field I'd located in the Eloy area last December, but such was not the case. It could be that the few milo or sorghum fields will be covered up with doves, but they also (will likely) be quite crowded with hunters especially on opening weekend."
Western Outdoor News then checked in with Bob Corbett, co-owner of the Cibola Sportsman's Club located south of Blythe along the lower Colorado River.
"The dove outlook looks good this year. Wheat is in on the South Ranch and based on the numbers of dove already here, we should have another great shoot. When we have the feed, water and with good weather the dove will come and hold. There are lot of Eurasian collared dove in the valley this year and they should hang around and add to overall good dove shooting as well."
Corbett went on to add the following, "I am told that the planting outside of the ranch up on Baseline Road will be cut back considerably leaving less room for public hunters to find a productive safe spot to fill a limit of dove. I think that filling a limit may be a challenge this year on public lands."
Dove hunters looking for a good place to hunt might want to call the Cibola Sportsman's Club and reserve a cabin or RV spot for opening weekend. Last year the South Ranch shot well for combined limits of white-winged and mourning dove and there were lots of Eurasian collared dove winging over the salt cedar and grain fields to top off many good shoots. For reservations for lodging or a spot to hunt dove call the Cibola Sportsman's Club at (702) 355-8784 or log on to their web site at hunt4geese.com for general information.
Another good hunting area for all three species of dove is the Yuma area where hunting is often extremely good on both the Arizona and California sides of the lower Colorado River. Sprague's Sports Inc., located in Yuma, has been a valued source for information on dove hunting for a number of years and filed the following with WON.
"It is very early to do any real predictions, but excellent populations of dove are being seen in some of the valley areas and on the mesa (an area of citrus trees to the south and east of Yuma). Some of our customers that live and work in these areas are saying that at this point of the summer it looks stronger than in recent years. As I understand it the Arizona Game and Fish Department will be doing some surveys later in the summer before the season and we'll pass those counts on to Western Outdoor News prior to opening weekend."
Richard Sprague wanted to remind WON readers that this year will the 24th Anniversary of the Dove Big Breast Contest and that all hunters in the area should stop by the store, located on 32nd Street in Yuma, AZ. to find out where to hunt and then weigh in their dove breast. Editor's note: The Dove Big Breast Contest has grown every year in popularity with local and out of state hunters.
Moving on to the quail outlook for Arizona the following is what we have some 4 months before opening weekend.
"We had good winter rains up through the end of December then it shut down. We had encouraging green-up in early spring, but it seemed to dry up and blow away with the hot/dry weather we've had recently. In my limited scouting I have not seen many broods on the ground. We may have had some reproduction with the early greening of the desert floor, and if those birds can survive the drought conditions and hold out until the Monsoons arrive we may have an average year with above average numbers of quail in the better areas from last year," said Bristow.
Bristow went on to add, "Scaled quail numbers will be similarly below average to average although their numbers are harder to predict. Mearns' numbers will depend on summer rains (Monsoons) of course, which won't start until July. We are starting from a deficit, but last year I found some areas that at least had some reproduction. I don't think I could have said that the previous two years. If we get real good Monsoons then we may have average Mearns' quail numbers this year. In short, I'm cautiously optimistic that we will have an average quail season." (Editor's note: Kirby Bristow has monitored quail and big game populations for the Arizona Department of Game and Fish for many years and is a very knowledgeable wildlife biologist and avid hunter.)
ARIZONA DOVE LIMIT — Captain Buzz Brizendine of the sport fisher Prowler enjoyed a successful dove hunt near Tucson shooting mourning dove over a fallow stubble field. Limited grain crop production and likely very heavy hunting pressure over opening weekend of dove season will make for tougher hunting conditions for the general public. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC