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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.”
What’s all the cooing about?
Based on reports afield and from all the dove cooing going on this early in the summer it appears that this year’s dove opener should be one for the record books,IF Mother Nature cooperates a little. There appears to be a very good hatch of mourning dove taking place and white-winged dove are enjoying good nesting conditions in desert regions. Dove hunters should be able to bag 15-bird limits on opening day, Sunday, Sept. 1, and hopefully conditions will allow for multiple days of hunting thereafter.

goodmourningdove
GOOD MOURNING DOVE HUNT  — Dove hunters should enjoy some good gunning come opening day of dove season on Sept. 1. From reports being sent to Western Outdoor News there is an excellent hatch coming off with plenty of food and water available across California, over into Arizona and clear on down into Mexico. Hank Osterkamp of San Clements shows off a game strap full of mourning dove. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC

There is good news coming in from the San Jacinto Wildlife Area, by way of an updated report by Wildlife Supervisor Thomas Trakes.


“Dove season is looking very strong. With all the rain we had, winter crops are coming along just fine. With some safflower seed that was donated by CWA we planted it early and it’s already heading out. We should be able to start knocking it down in a couple of weeks,” says Trakes.


Trakes went on to state, “There are more dove on the refuge than I have seen in over a decade and they are spread out across the entire refuge. I would think that this coming dove season opener will offer up very good hunting, weather permitting, and that we could see a very high per gun average. On opening day, Sunday Sept. 1 and Monday Sept. 2, the entire refuge will be open to hunting including the waterfowl area. After the Monday shoot, hunters will only have access to upland game bird fields. We plan on keeping water in some ponds and will continue with our farming through the summer months.”


Western Outdoor News was able to get in contact with wildlife supporter Leon Lesicka of Imperial Valley, who was spending some vacation time over on the river in Arizona.


“Right now, I am watching flocks of white-winged dove flying around. There appears to be more birds this year and I would think that the overall hatch will be good, at least in this southwestern part of the lower Colorado River. Also, I am seeing more Gambel’s quail around and these coveys are numbering between 10 to over a dozen chicks along with adult birds,” stated Lesicka.


When asked about the farm fields to the north of Calipatria, Lesicka says that they seem to already have been planted in wheat and should be very huntable come opening day of dove season.


WON then checked in with avid sportsman Steve Turigliatto of San Diego, who has been out scouting dove.


“I’ve been out to the Imperial Valley a number of times recently. There are great numbers of mourning dove and production seems to be in full swing. In checking on the citrus groves there appears to be very good counts on white-winged dove, but the population of Eurasian Collard dove appears to be down around rural towns, but around feed lots there are plenty of this larger species of non-native dove,” stated Turigliatto.


Turigliatto went on to add, “There is a lot or wheat, corn and melons all across the Imperial Valley, all of which are a great food source for dove.”


As for San Diego County Turigliatto said that nesting appears to be later than normal. He told Western Outdoor News that the likely reason for a later dove hatch was all the cold weather, rain and winds that blew through this county up until early June, may have set the dove hatch back a couple of weeks.


Yuma has always been a hot spot for dove hunters and this year is shaping up to be another good shoot. WON asked Richard Sprague, owner of Sprague’s Sports in Yuma, rds@spragues.com, to file a report.


“We just had our dove opener planning meeting this past week with an Arizona biologist and he reported that white-winged dove are at an all-time high and with the wetter winter we have had this year, and he is expecting the mourning dove hatch to be excellent. The World Dove Cook Off will be held this year on Sept. 7 (Saturday after opener), with more details to follow. This year will also mark the 31st Big Breast Dove Contest,” said Sprague.


In contacting Johnathan O’Dell, small game biologist for the Arizona Department of Game and Fish, the following was passed on.


“Things are looking good in Arizona. We’ve had a very wet winter this past year. Even though we have multiple nesting per year for mourning doves, our biggest hatch occurs in late July. So, it’s still a little too early to tell but it’s expected to be good. As summer agriculture in Arizona continues to be dominated by small grain crops (durum wheat specifically) the doves will only continue to benefit. The call count index for white-winged dove across Arizona remains at record highs and the population is growing steadily,” stated O’Dell.


The local hatch of mourning and Eurasian collared dove is strong as witnessed by all the paired-up dove winging around or sitting on telephone wires in Southland cities. Early morning walks with my Lab Sierra are being rewarded with the cooing of many dove, flights of paired up mallards and at times a small flock of Canada geese. Surprisingly, there appears to be ample turkey millet (dove weed) growing in areas where one would think that foxtails had totally taken over.


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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.


Rains helpful… but was there enough?
Mother Nature treated all of California, adjoining states and most all of Baja Norte with ample amounts of rainfall. Late spring rains are very unusual for the southern part of the state and right up almost through the end of May measurable rain and some snow fell at higher elevations. Western Outdoor News just returned from a long trip that carried this hunting editor clear up to the northeastern California and was followed up with a flight over southwestern Arizona and across the high desert region, all of which showed signs of some recent rain.

One of the first contacts made was with master guide Harold Horner, outfitter for High Desert Guide Service, (760) 447-1030, based out of Victorville.


canadageeseof
CANADA GEESE OF ALTURAS — Excellent wetlands across northeastern California have contributed to an excellent waterfowl hatch. Puddle ducks and Canada geese have recently hatched out good numbers of chicks and conditions are ideal for these young birds to grow into adults. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC

“The high desert did get off and on rain and some snow at higher elevations starting with those winter storms. Unfortunately, most all of the most recent weather patterns didn’t drop much in the way of any significant rain in this region, but the winds did howl across the desert floor. It’s a bit too early to determine whether chukar and quail numbers will be huntable. We normally don’t see chicks on the ground until June, but we are hopeful that chukar have recovered somewhat and that we will be seeing coveys as we start scouting for the upcoming upland game bird season,” stated Horner.


WON also checked in with valued resource Kirby Bristow, Sr. wildlife biologist with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, who has supplied this editor not only with “on-the-spot” information, but also has been a great Arizona quail hunting partner.


“I think there will be good reproduction on Gambel’s quail, as the winter rains were the best we’ve seen in over a decade. I’ve heard reports of broods that have fledged already, so these recent rains shouldn’t reduce chick survival and may enhance it, as the moisture in general improves forage conditions,” said Bristow.


Bristow went on to add, “Arizona is holding judgement on Mearns’ quail until after the summer rains. With adequate moisture we should have good Mearns’ numbers. With luck (and summer rains) it will be a good hunting season for all three species of Arizona quail. Overall, I would guess that it won’t be outstanding (quail hunting),but I would think there will be some areas where the Gambel’s quail numbers could be excellent!”


WON spent three days up in God’s Country (Modoc County) checking out wetlands and duck/goose breeding habitat. Northeastern California and most all of northern Nevada had plenty of rain this winter and storms still continue to pound that region right up to press time. Rivers, streams, creeks and even seasonal streams are all running with many lakes and ponds spilling.


Last year this region enjoyed good rainfall that produced a bumper crop of ducks and geese and this year looks even stronger for reproduction of all waterfowl, upland game birds and big game. Canada geese have hatched most of their goslings along with some puddle duck chicks following hens around at most every bit of open water. Surprisingly, there were more paired up gadwall spotted than mallards, to go along with a few teal and some sprig.


On the upland game bird scene there were lots of Eurasian collared dove winging around Alturas, up through the Madeline Plains and across to Adin. Only a few California valley quail pairs were seen, but this could be due to excellent ground cover that is high enough to hide quail. Based on last year’s production for most all of northeastern California one would expect this year to offer up good quail hunting. Unfortunately, not much can be done about the diminishing numbers of sage grouse that back in the 70’s were found in huntable numbers.


All along the central coast conditions remain ideal for nesting hens, paired up valley quail, deer and hogs. Cold winds and wet weather has pushed back the maturing of wheat and other standing crops, but hog hunting has been off the charts. All outfitters report lots of pigs on ranch properties with the first piglets of the spring now following sows around in foot high foliage. Reports afield indicate that hog hunting will continue to get even better and remain so until crops are harvested. The acorn crop is just now beginning for all species of oaks and there should be plenty of acorns on the ground come late September.


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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.


CANCELLED — Outdoors and shooting events at upcoming youth venues
EVENTS CANCELLED

Two youth events are scheduled at Raahauge’s Shooting Sports Enterprises which should offer up excellent exposure to the great outdoor for young boys and girls. The 21st annual Youth Safari Day will be held on July 20 and, new for this coming summer, will be Youth Day 2019, which is a Mike Raahauge Foundation event to support youth shooing and other outdoor events, and will held at Raahauge’s range on June 1.

Youth Day 2019 will offer youngsters an opportunity to shoot sporting clays, enjoy an archery range and try their luck at fishing out of a stocked pond. The venue will feature experts in the field of safe shotgun handling, skills with a bow and arrows and fishing should provide a new experience for many kids.


sciyouth
SCI YOUTH AT RAAHAUGE’S SHOOTING COMPLEX — Young boys and girls can learn how to handle firearms and shoot safely under the guidance of experts when attending Youth Safari Day or Youth Day 2019. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC


This event will be for one day and is limited to the first 100 youths that sign up and visit the web site events@raahauges.com. Only kids between the age of 12 to18 will be allowed to participate in this fun day. Included for the day of activities will be shotgun rental, ear plugs, safety shooting glasses, 25 clay bird targets, 25 rounds of ammo, archery and fishing equipment, a hot dog lunch and raffle ticket. Check-in time begins at 7:30 AM. Youngsters can also bring their own tackle.


Adults are welcome to attended Youth Day 2019. Adults can opt to purchase a lunch for $6 or for $30 (cash only) they can participate in some of the shooting events, including lunch. For additional information contact the shooting range office at (951) 735-7981.


For the past 21 years, the Orange County and Los Angeles chapters of Safari Club International have hosted Youth Safari Day at Raahauge’s, set for July 20th, and this year could be one of the best events for kids. Not only will boys and girls get an opportunity to see just how wonderful the great outdoors is, they will also get expert attention in the safe handling of 22 rifles, air guns, shotguns and archery gear.


Youth Safari Day, youthsafariday.com, is a full day of great outdoor programs and concludes with a giant raffle. Ten’s of thousands of kids have participated in this venue over the course of years, many of which have returned year after year as they were growing up. Parents from all over Southern California make the drive to Raahauge’s to witness their children experience great and safe outdoor activities.


At Youth Safari Day kids will get a chance to experience just about everything that’s out there to do and the list of activities includes, but not limited to the following: shotgun range, BB gun range, kayaking on Tule ponds, rock climbing, decoy painting, learning how to cast and fish, visit with many conservation groups, share the thrill of a big game hunt by walking through the Safari Trophy Room Trailer,


Western Outdoor News has supported Youth Safari Day since it was first organized by SCI past president Dennis Anderson, Mike Raahauge, both the L.A. and O.C. chapters of SCI and a group of very committed volunteers, whose goals were to allow all kids an opportunity to get involved in the great outdoors and participate in events that they would ordinarily not have access to in the confines of city life.


****UP DATE ON NEW CASTLE DISEASE****


WON has recently heard of a concern of New Castle Disease in Riverside County that presently seems only to involve wild ranch chickens. A source stated that officials are coming to homes and taking domestic chickens away if they are suspected of carrying or being exposed to the deadly New Castle Disease. As of press time, there hasn’t been any evidence presented that this disease has spread. It was years ago when the New Castle Disease broke out in Riverside County that resulted in many lost upland game birds and pigeons used for dog training. As a result of this disease, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service imposed restrictions on bringing upland game birds and waterfowl harvested in Mexico back to the United States.


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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.


Start your ‘turkey grand slam’ at Indian Rock Ranch
Now that the general turkey season has ended (Junior and archery season will run through May 16), hunters can now reflect on what was a pretty darn good spring turkey season. Mother Nature dealt us some strange weather over the past six weeks, bringing a mix of rain, cold temperatures, some wind and a few hot days in between. Along the Central Coast it was a very strong season for those hunting with guides on large cattle ranches and vineyards, while San Diego County offered up its traditional tough hunting, the northern part of the state faced weather related hunt days and dispersal was late along the western slopes of the High Sierra foothills and up into national forests.


Western Outdoor News was invited up for a late-season turkey hunt by master guide Ron Gayer, of Indian Rock Ranch, (661) 809-1613, or elkron98@bak.rr.com. Cold springtime temps, off and on rain showers and just a few nice days pushed the first peak of turkey breeding season back a couple of weeks for this region and thus the entire season had much different hunting conditions this year.


trophyindian
TROPHY INDIAN ROCK RANCH MERRIAM’S — Turkey hunting at this High Sierra ranch, located near Glennville, traditionally offers good success during the spring season. Avid turkey hunter David Halbrook harvested this adult Merriam’s turkey that responded to calling and a decoy setup. When hunting Indian Rock Ranch, a hunter could be successful on shooting a Merriam’s, Rio/Merriam’s hybrid or Rio Grande gobbler on any given day. PHOTO COURTESY OF INDIAN ROCK RANCH


“It’s been a good season, but each day was different and the birds were not always that predictable on this ranch, located at 3,500 feet. While we could pattern the birds pretty good, as to where the main roosts were and the travel routes, it was not that easy to keep them vocal. It’s always more exciting when a hunter can hear gobbles from a nearby roost and then its high adrenaline time when a tom is on the move toward a blind with decoys out in front. IF, a tom or even a jake doesn’t gobble, it makes for a very long and often frustrating day of hunting,” said Gayer.


The bulk of the native turkeys in California are of the Rio Grande species, dating back many years. The National Wild Turkey Federation teamed up with the California Department of Fish and Game in the late ’60s and along with the cooperation of some key ranches, there were Merriam’s and Eastern turkey transplanted from the Midwest on to those private ranches throughout California. During those initial transplants, agreements were made with ranch owners not to hunt those introduced turkeys until a population of huntable numbers of turkeys was reached and that natural reproduction had been established.


The Tejon Ranch, (661) 724-1218, was very instrumental in trying to establish a wild turkey population and there were many efforts made to introduce Merriam’s turkey on the huge ranch during the late sixties and into the seventies. Finally, as numerous attempts failed to establish a huntable population of turkeys, a big transplant of wild turkey took hold and thus established a stronghold for Merriam’s here in California. The Tejon already had a solid hunting program in place and good game management allowed the turkey population to grow. Many an avid turkey hunter from across America books a Merriam’s turkey hunt on the Tejon Ranch to start or complete a “turkey grand slam” of this highly coveted species.


Today, Indian Rock Ranch offers one of the best options for shooting both a Rio Grande and Merriam’s turkey in California. The ranch, located in an area where turkeys were released, offers ideal habitat for turkeys. Turkeys that were introduced along the western range settled onto ranches that offered up protection and suitable breeding terrain.


“This working cattle ranch is located at the right elevation, there is plenty of water, good roosts of tall oaks and pine, good ground cover with a mix of wild oats and wheat, mixed in with some rye grass and we deal with predators, as do most big ranches with well managed wildlife programs. Both the Rio and Merriam’s have adapted well to this ranch, as our bird numbers continue to grow. This ranch offers up probably the best opportunity for a turkey hunter to take multiple species of turkeys over a few days spent hunting. Our largest population of turkey on the ranch are Rios, there is also a good mix of Rio/Merriam’s hybrids and there are some true full-blooded Merriam’s on the ranch. Each year we see all three species harvested and there are some really trophy-class gobblers in the mix,” says Gayer.


WON’s hunt with Gayer started off with thundershowers and an early morning temp in the high 40s…not what you would call ideal spring turkey hunting conditions. With the knee-high grasses soaked, Gayer opted to hold off the morning hunt until the birds hopefully became more active and vocal. The hunt trailer at Indian Rock Ranch offers all the amenities needed for a good hunt camp and the veranda looks over a lush green pasture and adjoining rolling hills of ancient oaks and lots of ground critters, and it was a great place to kick back and talk hunting!


The plan was to scout the ranch, pattern some of the gobblers and then set up for a late afternoon hunt, before spending the late evening roosting a flock of birds. Gayer has tent blinds set up near some feed plots, next to travel routes and near some of the more established roosts. This knowledgeable guide doesn’t like to leave blinds set up overnight, due to the interest of cattle who can demolish a portable blind. It took about an hour for us to fix up a blind and settle in for the afternoon, which unfortunately didn’t offer much in the way of gobbles.


In defense of a beautiful ranch and accomplished turkey guide, this hunting editor opted not to shoot a jake that was sporting a 4-inch beard. Had that young tom been a Merriam’s, showing white tail feathers, it would have been an easy shot at 30 yards with my Benelli M2 loaded with Federal Premium #5 FS Steel shot.


Both Indian Rock Ranch and Tejon Ranch had a successful turkey hunting season with many a long-beard harvested. Based on the carry over of adult gobblers, a huge number of jakes and ideal nesting conditions along the foothills of the Western slopes of the High Sierra, native Rio Grande and Merriam’s turkey should have a very strong nesting season that will ensure many good spring turkey hunts ahead.


Editor’s note: Indian Rock Ranch also holds a huntable number of mule deer. This ranch is located within hunt zone D-8 and offers a limited number of trophy deer hunts each season. According to guide Ron Gayer, there are some dandy 4x4’s that travel around and through the ranch.


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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.


Bitterwater Outfitters’ ranch properties loaded with gobblers, hogs and bucks
Mother Nature has been kind to wildlife the last couple of years and this year generous amounts of rain has soaked most all areas of the state. Currently hillsides are a display of lush greens and yellow mustard flowers, some standing 4 to 5 feet tall, and there are still some wildflowers blooming at higher elevations. WON was not fortunate enough to have hunted opening weekend of turkey season, which saw good results, only to be followed by poor weather conditions the following week.

This Western Outdoor News field editor received a call from master guide Clayton Grant of Bitterwater Outfitters, bitterwateroutfitters.com., after he enjoyed success on opening weekend of the spring turkey season.


“It was a supper opening weekend of turkey hunting at one of our prime ranches in San Luis Obispo County. The hens hadn’t fully dispersed due to cool night time temperatures but toms and jakes were very vocal off the roost and pretty simple to pattern once they hit the ground. The working ranch hunted had ample running water in the way of creeks and streams, the meadows were starting to green up and oak trees were showing new buds, which bodes well for a great acorn crop to drop come October,” stated Grant.


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BIG GOBBLER FOR EASTER DINNER — WON hunting editor Jim Niemiec shot this big gobbler while hunting a ranch near Paso Robles with master guide Clayton Grant of Bitterwater Outfitters. The tom was shot at 40 yards with Federal Premium #4 FS Steel shot. The bird weighed 20 pounds and sported an 8.5-inch beard. PHOTO COURTESY OF BITTERWATER OUTFITTERS


Grant went on to add, “Jim, if you can fit in a spring turkey hunt why don’t you plan on coming up mid-April. I am pretty booked up with turkey and hog hunters, but I do have a mid-week day open. I would like to show you just how many turkeys are out and about and allow you at the same time to see ideal conditions for all wild game animal and birds we hunt. I cannot ever recall seeing so many gobblers on any ranch we have leased over the years, not mention wild hogs, deer, dove and quail. All game seems to have been able to reestablish into very huntable numbers thanks to all the rain.”


While Santa Ana winds were howling across much of Southern California the protected hillsides and valleys of the coastal region offered up ideal turkey hunting conditions. It would be cold at night and warm up mid-morning, but not so much as to push birds into thick cover early in the day.


At the ranch we jumped into a Can-Am and headed off to a roost that had been scouted out by Grant. While putting out a pair of decoys and settling in on a Hunters Specialties Strutt seat, a strong gobble came off an ancient oak that was less than 100 yards across a little dip in the lush terrain. My first thoughts were, “Oh sh…., that tom has had to have seen us setting up and is now on full alert, but it was too late to relocate. A few minutes later a single hen flushed out of another nearby oak and flew directly over that gobbler, but into a different meadow. There was still gobbling coming in strong from other roosts, so we decided to wait it out.


Grant is pretty darn patient and very good with a soft purring slate call, off set with a few hard gobbles. Unfortunately, right after fly-down, there was some hen chatter, but no more gobbles, as the toms were pretty comfortable in the company of possibly breed able hens. We spotted a couple of mature gobblers topping a nearby ridge and after another 20 minutes decided to make a move.


Grant knew the ranch very well, as we moved to different locations, stopping from time to time to call. Spotting a few hens, a couple of jakes and 2 long-beards we set up in hopes of getting the attention of those now very silent toms. Needless to say, those toms were hened up and no way were they going to leave that small flock. A couple more set-ups also resulted in no response to Grant’s calling.


It was now time to change tactics and try to cut off ambush style flocks of mixed birds that were moving around all over the ranch. Getting ahead of one satellite flock of mixed jakes and couple of toms, not with any hens, we thought results would change, but they were on a mission and just kept moving down a poison oak filled creek bed.


Finally , it all came together when 3 hens and 2 mature gobblers made the mistake of going the wrong way. This small flock seemed confused and kind of moved off as a tight group and not going single file, as one would hope for a clean shot. The hens moved ahead, but still the two toms, like brothers, stayed too close together to take a safe shot. Just as they were ready to go over a ridge into a stand of chaparral, the toms separated enough for a round of Federal Premium #4 FS Steel, sent out of my Benelli M2 auto-loader, to put one of those toms on the ground.


It was an enjoyable hunt with Bitterwater Outfitters and the results were a 20-pound gobbler, with an 8.5-inch beard and well-worn spurs measuring just over an inch. Wing feathers were well worn from all the strutting this bird had been doing.


On the way back to ranch headquarters Grant talked about how good turkey season was going and that he was booked up for the remainder of the spring season as part of his game management program. Grant also talked positively about how good hog hunting was right now and that he believes that the rest of spring and clear through the fall season will offer up some of the best wild pig hunting that the central coast has witnessed in over a decade. In addition to hog hunting, Bitterwater Outfitters has some prime blacktail and coastal deer ranches leased for this coming season.


“I really feel that all the rain we had this year has put our game populations over the top and that both big game and upland game bird hunters should enjoy excellent hunting in the months ahead,” closed out Grant.


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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.


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