CALIFORNIA'S ONLY SPORTSMAN'S NEWS SINCE 1953

Jim Niemiec's Blog



WON News Column
by Jim Niemic

Passionate about the sporting life, Jim Niemiec has spent his life enjoying the outdoors, hunting and fishing around the world and as a writer he’s just as passionate about  informing the public of opportunities. 

Niemiec has searched out the best destinations and reports conditions accurately, but he has also  dedicated countless hours to conservation groups (national and international) in hopes of “preserving our rights and opportunities to hunt for future generations.”
White geese numbers still at record levels
Despite increased daily and possession bag limits, and wide-open hunting during the spring migration, according to wildlife biologists white geese numbers continue to be too high. White geese numbers started climbing nearly a decade ago and that’s when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service started to increase bag limits and lessen hunting regulations in hopes of lowering the number of white geese that migrated to nesting grounds in Canada.

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SALTON SEA SNOW GEESE This huge flock of snow and Ross’ geese lifted off the Sonny Bona National Wildlife Refuge during a morning movement of geese from one field to another field.


Here in California the daily bag limit went up from just 3 birds allowed per day, to 6 per day, then on up to a limit of 10 geese and this past season’s bag limit of 20 white geese per day with a possession limit of triple the daily limit (60). The Special Management Area, Imperial County, just ended on Feb. 26 and the limit was 20 white geese a day, where hunting was tough.


Up in northeastern California the late season snow and speckled-belly hunting season will allow 20 white geese and 10 dark geese per day, again with triple the bag limit being the possession limit. This late season hunt zone will run through March 10.


Western Outdoor News checked in with wildlife biologist Chris Stoneman, at the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge, 760-348-5278, to find out a little more about the white goose population and migration patterns for this huge wildlife refuge that stretches from just southwest of Niland, across the southerly end of the Salton Sea, over to the vast wetlands just to the north of Westmorland.


“This past winter the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge hosted more than 42,000 white geese. We were prepared for this number of birds and there was plenty of food and fresh water to hold birds on the refuge for most of the season. This number of geese was on the high side of average. There were big bunches of geese holding on the refuge right after their arrival in November and it was pretty easy to make a comp count on geese. As of mid-February, many of the geese had already started leaving the refuge on their northerly migration,” said Stoneman.


Stoneman went on to add, “Since those rains hit the valley last December and into early January, and vast amounts of wetlands were formed on the south end of the Salton Sea, making it rather difficult for us to get accurate counts of birds. It was just too difficult for our staff to wade through mud and brackish water. I talked to some old time waterfowlers, who hunted the south end of the sea back in the late 50s and early 60s, and they talked about how good duck hunting was this year due to the creation of new (formally old) wetlands between the Alamo and New Rivers.”


According to Stoneman, currently the refuge is in a weed abatement mode, but rather than spraying to kill off weeds, they are able to just plow invasive weeds under and make fields ready for planting later in the year. Staffing has been reduced at this refuge, but Stoneman is confident that all projects will be completed in a timely manner.


Western Outdoor News also checked in with master guide Brent Dolby, of Modoc Waterfowl Outfitters, (530) 610-0411, based out of Alturas to find out how this year’s late season snow and speck hunting season has been going.


“It’s been really tough hunting this winter. Seems that the snow geese have really smartened up and are very decoy shy. We are having a difficult time getting huge flocks of snows in the area to decoy no matter how many decoys we put on in the field. We are having more success hunting specks than bagging white geese. There has been very little in the way of weather or storms moving through this corner of the state and I am sure that the harvest would increase with a storm front. The geese are moving around quite a bit and that’s not helping either,” stated Dolby.


Dolby went on to add, “We even tried leaving decoys out overnight to attract more geese, but that effort only resulted in a lot of frosted-up decoys in the morning. On one recent hunt we set out 450 full body decoys that took the group over 2 hours to set up, but results were minimal.”


This WON hunting writer has not been very successful on spring snow goose hunts over the past few years. In Texas, a few years back, tens of thousands of white geese just changed their travel route overnight and even though the guide put out plenty of decoys, recorders were blasting out snow goose calls and shotguns were maxed out with ammo, the total harvest for the morning’s hunt was 2 Ross’ geese. Another more recent spring snow goose hunt in South Dakota ended up being a total bust, as geese were holding up south of the Missouri River due to freezing weather. There were plenty of Canada geese flying low to the ground, but a complete absence of white geese. On the last morning of this hunt, my guide decided to make a 3.5-hour drive south to the Nebraska border and set up on a frozen lake. That hunt produced just a single snow goose for this hunter. I can also recall a spring snow goose hunt that took place on a playa north of Chihuahua, Mexico. That hunt saw thousands of snow geese on a lake next to a Meionite rural town and vast grain fields. Guides knew very little about snow goose hunting and ended up driving 4WD Suburban across fields and over irrigation ditches trying to get ahead of flock after flock of snows. That hunt did produce a number of snow geese, but it was a pretty dangerous way of hunting. On the other hand, this hunting writer has enjoyed a couple of very productive early season Canada goose hunts (for large resident Canada geese).


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We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.


SCI’s Hunters Convention attracts a huge audience
The 48th Annual Safari Club International Hunters’ Convention ended a fabulous 4-day run at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center this past week. This unique venue showcased the finest in firearms, taxidermy and fine art, along with fantastic hunting and fishing destinations from all over the globe. This hunting-based expo is the largest in the world. There were in excess of 1,000 exhibitors, representing 70 countries and well over 15,000 attendees at this great outdoor orientated show.

Western Outdoor News spent 3 full days covering the convention and still ran out of time to spend with many outfitters and guides and some of the greatest far off destinations where dreams become a reality at this venue.


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TROPHY CLASS WHITETAIL DEER — Trophy hunting lodges were well represented at SCI Hunters’ Convention in Reno. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC


Some of the finest antique firearms ever manufactured were on display and representatives from many rifle, shotgun, pistol, knife and ammunition companies were on hand to show off the newest in products for 2020. This show is open to SCI members, the general public, and from walking countless isles I have to admit this year’s show was well attended.


One of the main reasons that hunters, shooting enthusiasts and big game anglers come to the Hunters’ Convention is to talk to outfitters, guides and representatives from around the world. WON’s interest in attending SCI’s biggest event was to gather information on hunting conditions and the status of wild game around the world. Of course, of much interest was the status of big game and upland game birds here in California, and our adjoining states of Oregon, Nevada, Arizona and Mexico. Specifically I was interested in finding out what hunting options are newly available on the mid-Atlantic islands of Iceland and Greenland, of which both are now being targeted by big game and avid waterfowl hunters.


The premier hunting outfitter for both Iceland and Greenland is Bjorn Birgisson, owner of the Icelandic Hunting Club, +354-894-3095 or email tobb@islandia.is. Western Outdoor News hunted with Bjorn a few years ago in quest of the pink-footed goose in what turned out to be a very unique worldly waterfowl adventure.


WON met up with Bjorn at his SCI booth and began talking highly of the hunting opportunities now open on Greenland for musk ox and reindeer hunts, with the possibility of the opening of King Eider duck hunting during a special period when these large sea-going ducks are in full plumage.


“Jim, I know you are a very avid waterfowl hunter and have spent a lot of time collecting different species of waterfowl all around the world. We are now working with the government and biologists of Greenland to open up a special season for hunting King Eider ducks when they are in full breeding feathers. I will keep you posted on that waterfowl hunt,” said Birgisson.


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BOOKING AN ELK HUNT AT SCI — Many SCI show attendees book a hunt of a lifetime at the biggest hunting expo in the world. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC


Birgisson then went on to add, “Our late-summer combination hunt for musk ox and reindeer is based out of our main lodge in the rural city of Ivituut, Greenland. The area hunted has one of the highest concentrations of game on the island. It’s a very unique hunt as we scout the coastline in a 30-40-ft. mothership and then transfer to a small craft to stalk the animal. This maneuver can be repeated a number of times until we find a trophy bull.”


In addition to hundreds of hunting exhibitors at this show there are plenty of hunting seminars, informative conservation sessions and huge fund-raising auctions and banquets to attend. WON was invited to a media event at which Prince Benjamin Dipati Maenetja of South Africa, talked about African Wilderness Safaris and their ongoing efforts to monitor leopard populations on the Dark Continent in the best interest of future hunts.


This show is a great venue at which to meet up with guides and outfitters to find out what options one might have in hunting any particular species of big game animal, upland game bird or waterfowl. The event not only allows attendees to check out a hunt, but in the fishing village area one can meet up with booking agents for exotic fresh and saltwater fish such as tiger fish, peacock bass, golden dorado, bonefish, and giant black or blue marlin.


There were many new hunting rifles and shotguns to shoulder, booths were filled with the latest in optics from Trijicon, Swarovski, Leupold, Carl Zeiss and Burris/Steiner Optics and the number of booths filled with hunting accessories, packs, and hunting clothing was simply amazing.


The SCI Hunters’ Convention for 2021 will be held in Las Vegas at the Convention Center, running from Feb. 3-6, 2021 and the event will mark the 50th anniversary for Safari Club International. For SCI membership information, show tickets or additional details log on to the SCI web site at sci.com.

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We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.


Ringnecks flush strong at Lone Pine Pheasant Club
It was a good feeling to be heading up Hwy. 395 on the way up to the Lone Pine Pheasant Club after a couple of years of not hunting this well-established upland game bird hunting club. The shadows were closing in on the Alabama Hills as we pulled into a dog friendly motel.

Sean Ponso, co-owner of the Lone Pine Pheasant Club, (760) 876-4590, had invited Western Outdoor News to come up and hunt pheasant again, after the club took a sabbatical last year. After an early morning hot breakfast, the drive into the Alabama Hills was very picturesque as the clubs’ hunting fields were lit up by the morning sun with the backdrop being the majestic High Sierra mountain range and towering Mt. Whitney.


picturesquePICTURESQUE ALABAMA HILLS AND EASTERN SIERRA — Upland game bird hunters can enjoy great terrain and scenery when hunting the Lone Pine Pheasant Club. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC


It was a brisk morning with the temperature holding at just above freezing, which would make for ideal scenting conditions for the hunt. Ponso met us in the parking area and invited us into the hunt lodge to enjoy the warmth of a wood burning fireplace and sip on freshly brewed coffee. It was nice to be able to chat with Ponso and catch up on what has been happening at the club over the past couple of years while we waited for two other upland game bird hunters to arrive.


“The club had a year of rest, but all weathered well thanks to some timely rain provided by Mother Nature. All of our hunting fields have excellent cover with a mix of wild grass, oats, native sage brush, bunches of rose bushes, along with a mixture of cottonwoods and tules. There is plenty of water on the ranch to sustain our fields and offer up plenty of drinking water for gun dogs. The stock of ringneck pheasant that we have this season are hard-flushing birds that come from Bishop, which makes them ideally suited for this altitude and our high desert terrain,” said Ponso.


Long time WON subscriber (since 1959) and Lone Pine Pheasant Club member Hudson DeCray of Bishop and his hunting partner John Armstrong of Reno arrived and we exchanged old remembrances of Western Outdoor News founder Burt Twilegar, the editors, contributors and the many fine stories published over more than a half-century.


Ponso interrupted the pleasant conversation, and said, “It’s warming up a little outside and best we head out to our assigned fields before the pheasant get too restless. With the moisture on the ground the dogs should have plenty of scent to lock in on. You will have time to finish your remembrances after lunch while sharing some home-made soup, tortilla chips and salsa and a refreshing drink.”


My yellow Lab Sierra remembered almost too well past upland game bird hunts at the Lone Pine Pheasant Club. Even after running around the hunt lodge with Ponso’s black Lab Luna, she was full of it as we headed down into field No. 1 with its great mix of game bird cover. While most all of this upper field is pretty level, following a gun dog at this altitude (slightly over 3,700 feet above sea level) makes for a challenging hunt. Sierra ran through the calf-high grass and headed for taller stands of sage and rose bushes, recalling from past hunts where the birds were likely to be.


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CLASSIC LONE PINE PHEASANT HUNT —WON staff writer Jim Niemiec, his wife Toni and their yellow Lab Sierra had a great time hunting the Lone Pine Pheasant Club. PHOTO COURTESY SEAN PONSO

Trying to catch up to my Lab didn’t quite work out on that first long tailed rooster that exploded from cover just outside of 20 ga. No. 7 steel shotgun range. Ponso’s comment was that we’d just finish hunting downslope and try to pick up that pheasant on the way back to the hunt lodge.


Finally, Sierra started slowing down and spent more time on being a semi-trained pointing Labrador retriever, thus allowing my wife Toni to take good photos of dog work, points and being in position to catch a flushing ringneck in the air. Ponso had asked his bird man Mark to put out 6 pheasant for our hunt and Sierra flushed 7 birds during that morning’s hunt, including one holdover ringneck from a previous release.


The Lone Pine Pheasant Club is a small hunting club that has been developed exclusively for the hunter who wants to avoid the large commercial operations and enjoy an informal, truly natural hunting experience. According to Ponso, his club hunts on one of the most beautiful working cattle ranches in California. This ranch welcomes hunters and recognizes the importance of good relations between ranching, the community and sportsmen.


Normally, the club is open three days a week, Friday thru Sunday. However, the club will open any day of the week for groups of six or more hunters, who can then enjoy the exclusive use of the entire club. All hunts begin at the clubhouse lodge at 8:00 a.m. and the afternoon hunt starts at 1:00 p.m. There is an RV parking area adjacent to the clubhouse and bird processing and packaging is available for birds taken home.


WON might suggest that those booking a hunt at the Lone Pine Pheasant Club that they check with Ponso on other hunting options in the lower Owens River Valley, where ducks, native Valley quail and fishing are available. Advance reservations are required when hunting this club and Ponso offers assistance with booking a motel or nearby campground arrangements for hunting guests. To find out more about this upland game bird club log on to their website at lonepinepheasantclub.com.


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AFTER THE HUNT — WON’s Jim Niemiec, his Lab Sierra and Lone Pine Pheasant Club owner Sean Ponso show off the morning’s harvest of ringneck pheasant in front of the hunt lodge. WON PHOTO BY TONI NIEMIEC


• • • • •

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.


42nd SHOT Show opens with 2,600 exhibitors
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — The 42nd Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade ShowSM (SHOT Show®) opened Jan. 22 at the Sands Expo Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, where a record 2,600 companies will exhibit products related to target shooting, hunting, outdoor recreation and law enforcement.

shotshow2020
THE 2020 Shot Show ran Jan. 21-24 in Las Vegas this year, and there were 2,600 exhibitors in attendance, and the show was visited by 60,000 professional hunting and outdoor representatives. New products will be unveiled during the coming weeks.

SHOT Show spanned four days, Jan. 21-24, with additional show-related events in Las Vegas creating “SHOT Week” that include a fundraiser golf tournament to support healing veterans, Industry Day at the Range and SHOT UniversityTM, a professional development series.


SHOT Show attracted nearly 60,000 professionals representing 113 countries from the firearms and outdoor industry.


Owned and sponsored by the National Shooting Sports Foundation ® (NSSF®), the firearms industry trade association, SHOT Show is the largest trade show of its kind in the world. The show is open to trade professionals only and not to the public. No firearms are transferred at the show. Consumers will see the products unveiled at SHOT Show on retailers’ shelves throughout the coming the year.


The 2020 SHOT Show marks the 22nd time the show has been in Las Vegas. It has been at the Sands Expo continuously the last 11 years.


SHOT Show provides a significant economic contribution to the Las Vegas and Nevada business communities, pumping more than $88 million in non-gaming revenue into the economy. The record 2,600 exhibiting companies occupy more than 692,000 net square feet of exhibit space, completely filling the Sands Expo. To satisfy a huge waiting list of companies seeking to be part of the show, SHOT Show will expand in 2021 into exhibit space at the new Caesars Forum.


This demand for exhibit space at the show reflects the high interest Americans have for firearms ownership and recreational shooting equipment. NSSF surveys show that some 40 million Americans would like to learn more about the shooting sports.


SHOT Show is the largest event conducted at the Sands. Some 12.5 miles of aisles lead to displays of firearms, ammunition, gun safes, locks and cases, optics, shooting range equipment, targets, training and safety equipment, hunting accessories, law enforcement gear, hearing and eye protection, tree stands, scents and lures, cutlery, GPS systems and other electronics, holsters, apparel, leather goods, game calls and decoys.


Anyone with an interest in the show and new industry products can learn more at SHOTShow.org or by following the show’s news on Twitter , Facebook , Instagram and YouTube .


• • • • •

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.


When things go bad in blind
Finally new flocks of teal, sprig, spoonies, gadwall and Canada geese are now winging through this portion of the Pacific flyway, offering up pretty good gunning for those hunting refuge hunt sites, those shooting out of above ground blinds and shotgunners coming up out of covered goose blinds.

This WON hunting editor just has to pass on what took place this last week on a couple of waterfowl hunts. New flocks of puddle ducks arrived in the more than half flooded Prado Basin providing some pretty good shooting for those in dry blinds and hunting out of boats. This hunter drew a pretty good blind selection at a club owned and operated by the Riverside County Flyway Foundation and prior to shoot time, lots of puddle ducks were working over ponds and landing among decoys. All showed promise of a good duck shoot.


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WHEN THE BENELLI M2 SHOT JUST FINE — WON hunting editor Jim Niemiec bagged this limit of ducks while hunting in Prado Basin with his yellow Lab Sierra. His Benelli M2 performed flawlessly, but since has had two problems with the firing pin inertia spring that has cut a couple of duck hunt short. JIM NIEMIEC FILE PHOTO

The first duck this hunter shot was a green winged teal and my yellow Lab Sierra did a good job at retrieving it and I only fired one round out my Benelli M2 auto-loader. I grabbed another Federal Black Cloud #3 shotgun shell and filled up the magazine to be prepared for the next flock of birds that will hopefully wing within shotgun range.


A flock of sprig began circling the blind and after three circles one bull sprig cupped and started to settle down into the decoy spread in front of the blind. It was at about 25 yards and I came up with the Benelli shouldered with the front bead on the nose of that sprig and pulled the trigger…click! Hoping it was just a slight malfunction, I reloaded and got ready for the next group of ducks to cross over the blind. Again, all was set to make a killing shot, but nothing happened when I pulled the trigger. Thus, ending my morning’s hunt.


Plans had already been made to head over after that morning’s duck hunt and do a season closing Canada goose hunt at the Cibola Sportsman’s Club South Ranch. I was out of the blind by 6:30AM, with just that single green winged teal and was hopeful of borrowing a shotgun from a fellow hunter to avoid having to make the drive back home in traffic and then make the 4 hour drive down to Cibola. One hunter I asked had only a 16 g. side-by-side with no goose loads and a second hunter had his prized Winchester Model 12 that wasn’t up to loaning either.


Arriving at South Ranch, too late for the evening hunt, I went to work on getting my 50-year-old Remington Model 870 cleaned and ready for action the following morning. I had “officially” retired the old 870 with its F-grade walnut stock and fore-end, but felt it was worthy of another Cibola Valley goose hunt.


Canada geese numbers in Cibola Valley are very high this year, but they have become pretty decoy shy. South Ranch guide Bob “Budda” Fields said that each day offered up a shot at decoying honkers.


In anticipation of shooting a couple of mallards before the geese started moving up the valley, I loaded the old 870 with Black Cloud #2’s and would later switch out triple BB’s when geese began to fly.


I then made my biggest mistake of this year’s hunting. Switching out the duck loads, my first round was a heavy load of Federal Premium BB’s, backed up with T shot. A lone honker made the mistake of locking in on the South Ranch decoy spread and fully committed to the spread of decoys behind my blind. I waited; Sierra sat still. At 25 yards I got up, shouldered the 870 and missed that bird! I think the pattern out of that old full choke barrel was a tad too tight for such a close shot. The second round, from the slower recycling pump, hit the goose in the belly and that shot dropped both feet of that big honker, but it continued to wobble off towards the closed portion of the federal refuge. I have no idea where the third shot went, but it likely missed its target. Unfortunately, that goose likely ended up being dinner for a coyote or flock of vultures, as there is no way that honker would be able to fly again once it was on the ground.


This was the second time that Benelli M2 had a firing pin malfunction. It was just as couple of seasons back when the same scenario occurred at a prime southland duck club. It was a morning similar to this past week’s hunt when there were flocks of puddle ducks working ponded water. After the first shot, the Benelli wouldn’t fire again, and I walked out of that blind with a single bird, as other hunters were well on their way to limits.


After that hunt, I took that M2 into Bolsa Gunsmithing, 714-894-9100, for repairs to the firing pin mechanism, including a replacement spring and it had performed perfectly up until this past week’s hunt.


Time to call Bolsa Gunsmithing.


Co-owner of Bolsa Gunsmithing Jason Nash, answered the phone and after talking about the firearm repair business and family updates, I told him about the problem with my Benelli.


“Jim, didn’t we just fix that firing pin problem a couple of years ago?”, asked Nash.


My answer was, “Yes, and it has shot just fine until this last hunt. Is there any problem with the firing mechanism of the Benelli M2?”


Nash’s response was, “We have a lot of customers who shoot competitively all the time. Those that shoot a Benelli bring their shotgun into our gun shop every year to have the inertia spring replaced. It’s just a matter of whether you close the bolt or not that puts pressure on the spring and as a result the system will not allow that shotgun to fire safely. While I am not sure it’s a failure of the spring, it’s a good place to start. Bring the shotgun in to the shop and we’ll check it out for you. This spring issue is just not a problem with Benelli auto-loader shotguns, we often find the same spring related problem with Beretta’s.


Hopefully, I will be able to get over to Bolsa Gunsmithing to have the spring replaced and firing mechanism checked out before the waterfowl season ends, but I am not going to change the barrel of that old Remington 870 that is NOW fitted with a modified choke barrel.


• • • • •

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.



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