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Friday, December 13, 2019
Dove hunting Baja Sur again
Wednesday, January 15, 2020
Junior waterfowl hunts and turkey tune-up

Cibola Valley loaded up with geese and ducks
After last week’s full moon phase and below freezing temps in the Great Basin, geese and ducks have started their winter migration big time. Western Outdoor News had booked a 2-day hunt at the Cibola Sportsman’s Club’s South Ranch, (702) 355-8784, well over a month ago in hopes of good timing for the hunt. Just prior to heading off to the ranch, WON received a couple of complaints about the status of hunting conditions on the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge.

The drive to South Ranch would take this hunting editor right past refuge offices off River Road in the rural town of Cibola and hopefully would offer a chance to talk with the new refuge manager.

After taking the Goose Loop tour of the closed portion of the refuge, which showed thousands of Canada geese, snow geese and more ducks than this outdoor writer has ever seen on the refuge in nearly 40 years of hunting around Cibola. I stopped by the office and was greeted by a couple of mid-western volunteers, as I waited to talk to Nancy Spencer-Morris, the new refuge manager, who I had met up with as our vehicles crossed paths on the refuge tour.

CIBOLA REFUGE LOADED WITH WATERFOWL — Thousands of Canada geese, snow geese and lots of mallards and widgeon are packed into the loafing pond on the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC

After introducing myself, I asked the new manager a few questions about what was going on at the refuge and told her that WON had received a couple of refuge complaints. “Just forward or have those complaining call me and I will handle them,” she said. I countered with the fact that refuge phone lines don’t work very well and she agreed they were having phone problems.

Moving on to basic concerns about the status of the Farm Fields, low water in the loafing ponds, blinds, cutting of wheat crops and current waterfowl numbers, Morris said, “The Farm Fields are hunting, as is the Island Unit and Heart Mine Marsh”. She didn’t want to talk about blinds or cutting the wheat and she said I would have to get bird count numbers from the biologist. She said that there were problems in both refuge ponds and that the refuge crew was working on a broken water line and trying to locate a breach in one the levees. Logically, one would think that the refuge manager should have a current waterfowl count at hand. I then asked for a time to tour the refuge with her the following day and she said she would be busy the rest of the week. Thus ended an all-too-short meeting with not much accomplished.

Upon arrival at South Ranch’s hunt cabins I met up with Capt. Buzz Brizendine of San Diego who would be my hunting partner and master guide Bob “Budda” Fields who was just coming in from the ranch’s hunting area.

“We are seeing lots of geese and ducks flying across the ranch and every day has offered up some shots at big Canada geese. I would think there are about 3,500 honkers here now, along with 2,500 snow geese and thousands of big puddle ducks. Get settled into your cabin and then plan on meeting me out at the pond for an evening hunt and let’s hope that the nightly flights south to Cibola Lake will bring some flocks of honkers to within shotgun range,” said Fields.

The geese started lifting off the refuge to the north of South Ranch, but they were taking the river flyway, less than a half-mile from our blinds. We were able to harvest one honker out of a flock of a dozen birds, so it appeared it was a good start to the hunt.

The South Ranch ponds were being flooded with fresh water and green fields of mixed clover, alfalfa and some native grass made for a great decoy spread behind a row of pit blinds. Unfortunately, the geese in Cibola Valley followed sandhill cranes on flights to the west all morning, thus avoiding the expert calling and flagging being done by Fields.

SOUTH RANCH HONKER — Capt. Buzz Brizendine of San Diego holds up a big Canada goose he shot while hunting last week at the Cibola Sportsman’s Club South Ranch. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC

For that afternoon Western Outdoor News had set up a meeting with John Rosenveld, president of the Friends of Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, to talk about refuge problems and issues with the refuge manager. Also, joining in on the meeting were Rosenveld’s wife and Friends VP Mike Tommaney.

“We had met with Nancy months ago to talk about cutting the wheat in the Farm Fields, putting tops on the blinds and benches for hunters that were being donated to the refuge by the Friends of CNWR. We informed her that cutting the wheat and letting it lay on the ground would benefit all wildlife in the valley floor and told her that the Friends had paid for the leveling and planting of the wheat. We paid to have wheat planted by a local farmer for a couple years in this hunt unit. We also wanted to put covers on the pit blinds and she wouldn’t allow us to do that right up to the day before the annual Youth Hunt.”

Rosenveld went on to add, “She asked for all our keys to the refuge to be returned and said we needed new release forms to access refuge property. She also was very hesitant about the Friends putting out benches for hunter use in the Island Unit. She just isn’t being very cooperative with our volunteer group even though we have donated a lot time and money to make this a good hunting refuge for all.”

As the meeting was winding down, Rosenveld offered up the following quote from the refuge manager that kind of sums up her position on hunters, hunting and conservation: I am not going to open up a supermarket for the hunters.

As to the future of goose and duck hunting at the Cibola National Wildlife Refuge, one would hope that the Friends of CNWR and the refuge manager can work things out to continue to provide hunting opportunities.

Western Outdoor News asked Fields about the next month of goose hunting at the South Ranch. “We are seeing only about half the number of Canada geese that should arrive in the valley by the first week of January. I think we won’t see many more white geese, but when those ducks start moving around more, our ponds should attract mallards and sprig during both the morning and evening shoots.”

It would be this WON hunting editor’s recommendation that a goose hunter should book at least two days of hunting at the South Ranch and take advantage of being able spend a couple of nights in a cabin or the bunk lodge.

• • • • •

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Reader Comments
I have hunted Cibole for 40 years until 2018 and because of the wildlife Refuge feeding and harboring ducks. There is no longer any reason to hunt in the areas open to hunting because ducks don't leave the refuge. After years of steady decline due to this policy the refuge has I cannot justify the amount of work and expense it takes to almost never have even a single shot. When I think about the great years I've had there without the refuge interfering with wildlife it is sad because the waterfowl population seemed to thrive wonderfully. Waterfowl has thrived on its own for all time why do we think we could do a better job.
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