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.”
A Central Coast hunt that came all together
The Central Coast offers up some excellent hunting opportunities for big game and upland game birds with a vast number of huge working cattle ranches home to very huntable populations of hogs, coastal deer, Tule elk, Rio Grande turkey, varmints, quail, dove and exotics. A call from master guide Clayton Grant, owner of Bitterwater Outfitters, 805-610-4521, based out of Bitterwater Valley, to come up and hunt for the ultimate combo was an invitation too hard to pass on. Western Outdoor News has been hunting with Bitterwater Outfitters for a decade and every hunt has been a true outdoor experience.

Bitterwater Outfitters has over 300,000 acres of prime ranch land under hunting lease in San Luis Obispo, Kern, Fresno and Monterey counties. Each ranch offers multiple species of wild game and good game management enhances hunting opportunities. While a hunt cabin is available at the home ranch at the head of Bitterwater Canyon, due to locations of hunt ranches Clayton advises hunters to book a room in Paso Robles or Atascadero, which makes for a shorter morning drive to a ranch. WON opted to stay Vino Inn and Suites in Atascadero.

It was dark on the drive to the ranch east of Arroyo Grande and upon arrival we were met by veteran Bitterwater Outfitter guide Ty Gonsalves who had the CanAm ATV all ready to head out. It was a chilly morning, the first sign of fall, with the temperature holding at 46 degrees. As the sun broke over a nearby mountain peak, a vast working black angus cattle ranch, with a stubble field of golden wheat, filled the valley floor.

THE ULTIMATE CENTRAL COAST COMBO — Jim Niemiec enjoyed a great hunt with Bitterwater Outfitters last week harvesting a 150-pound boar and dandy coastal blacktail buck the same day. Photo courtesy of Ty Gonsalves for Bitterwater Outfitters

“Let’s try for a boar right away,” said Gonsalves, who added “This fallow field has been holding some nice boar and I think that will start the hunt off right.”

We had just passed through a gate when Grant spotted a herd of a dozen hogs out in the middle of the field. Gonsalves headed the ATV along the side of a hill, when we spotted a lone boar feeding. It didn’t take long for that hog to become alert and head towards some nearby protective cover. With the ATV stopped, I got on the shooting stick and followed the boar until it stopped. The Weatherby Mark V, 7 MM Mag, matched to a Leupold scope, was on target as a single round of a Barnes TSX 140 grain copper bullet found its mark. That hog spun around once and fell over. It was a nice young boar that weighed around 150 pounds and had short tusks just starting to poke out of its upper jowls.

A quick run back to the game locker to offload the boar had the ATV heading off into higher country to look for a trophy class coastal blacktail buck. The drive through stands of oaks, filled with ripening acorns, showed off a very picturesque terrain and the open golden hillside glistened, as the sun continued to rise over adjacent mountains. Small coveys of mountain quail were around the many water sources of the ranch, while mourning dove hung close to fields of dove weed, ducks flushed off full cattle ponds and small flocks of Rio Grande turkey worked through the cover of stately oaks.

Gonsalves wanted to hunt the high country of the ranch and try and catch a buck out in the open before all deer would head for the shade found in oak covered valleys. Grant spotted a buck with couple of does along a hill side. It would be a long poke “uphill”, but I got on the sticks and fired, missing as the bullet seemed to hit over the back of the 3x3 buck. Gonsalves and Grant were not sure about whether the buck was hit or not, as the sound of bullet hitting something echoed back down the canyon. Both guides headed up the mountain side to look for blood, while I stood by the ATV in case a move was to be made. Fortunately, there was no sign of blood and Grant saw that buck bouncing up a nearby ridge. If any sign of blood had been spotted, our hunt party would have to spend the rest of morning looking for that buck and that would have ended my quest for the “ultimate combo.”

The day was warming up but there was still game out and about. We passed on a few smaller bucks, saw lots more quail and dove, a large bobcat, and a lone hog heading towards thick chamois cover.

Topping a ridge, Gonsalves spotted a buck lying in the shade of a big oak some 300 yards uphill. It would be a tough shot for anyone, but that buck was wise to what was going on, stood up and bolted over an adjacent ridge before this hunter could even get on the shooting sticks.

Grant had to head to Paso Robles for a business meeting at noon, but Ty said he had all day to hunt.

“Some of my most successful coastal deer hunts have occurred between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Jim, if you are in no hurry let’s spend another couple of hours looking for your buck. I have seen some dandy bucks over in Live Oak Canyon and we’ll give that a try, as there are plenty of oaks to provide ample shade and uphill winds help keep that country cooler.

We crisscrossed now dry stream beds, which earlier in the spring flowed strong after last winter’s heavy rain fall along the Central Coast.

The seasoned ranch hand and veteran guide went on to add, “Last year over 30 inches of rain fell on the ranch, and that’s about double what our normal expectation can be. All game benefited by Mother Nature being so generous. The turkey hatch was the best ever, I think that some of valley quail are just coming off their third hatch, hogs are all fat and the deer are fat, healthy and with good antler mass.”

We both spotted the buck being shaded in the saddle of an old oak. It was a dandy buck, but before I could get on the sticks, he stood up and started to walk up hill. Getting my Weatherby on target at close range, the shot was on its mark again and the buck circled and dropped not 20 yards from where it had been bedded down. The 3x2 buck sported a rack measuring 21 inches wide by 19 inches high, a very good representation of a trophy class coastal blacktail deer.

“Ultimate combo” now complete!

The buck was shot at 2 p.m. and was this hunter ever so happy that he opted to spend another few hours with Ty looking for a mid-day buck.

Based on what this WON hunting editor saw on this 27,000-acre ranch, the upcoming valley quail season should be awesome and there will be plenty of gobblers strutting around come the spring turkey season. According to Grant, he is going to increase the number of turkey hunts that will be available in the spring and that hog populations on all his leased ranches is remarkably strong.

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We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website 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.

Some X zones set to open
Archery mule deer season along the eastern slopes of the High Sierra has been tough. Hot weather and scattered deer — due to excellent feed and ample water sources — have combined to make bow and arrow hunters work hard. The harvest to date has been down from previous years and most of the bucks that have been killed have small antler growth but body wise deer are very healthy. The general rifle season for X Zones 9Xa, X9b and X12 open on Sept. 21, zone X8 is set to open on Sept. 28, along with X10, but zone X9c will not open until Oct. 19.

YOUNG HIGH SIERRA TROPHY BUCK — This dandy buck is still in velvet and should reach trophy class during the X zone general season which begins on Sept. 21. Reports indicate there is plenty of food and water, which will keep bucks pretty much scattered in the high country. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC

Western Outdoor News checked in with Jim Reid at Ken’s Sporting Goods (760-932-7707) in Bridgeport to get his take on the upcoming deer season.

“While it’s been extremely hot since the archery opener a few weeks ago, finally night time temps are dipping down into the 40,” Reid said. “It has really been a slow year for archery hunting, but I would think that the general rifle season for this area will produce some dandy bucks. There is plenty of food and water available on both sides of Hwy. 395, thus deer will likely be pretty scattered on opening day. The Bodie area has been slow for archery hunting, but I would think some bigger bucks will be moving into to the sage during the upcoming rifle season.”

Reid went on to add, “The eastern slopes of the High Sierra hold a good population of mule deer and some of the older and large bucks will most likely be found at higher elevations until cold weather drives them down come October. There were only 40 archery deer tags issued by the DFW this year, which means there are not a lot of hunters out. There were 350 rifle tags issued for the upcoming season and we should see some dandy racks checked into the store, especially during the last couple of weeks of the season.”

Sitting in the middle of the X zones along the eastern slopes of the High Sierra is the June Lake Loop, which offers access to some very good high-country mule deer hunting. WON made a call to Jeremy Ross, general manager of Ernie’s Tackle Shop (760-648-7756) in June Lake.

“It has been a very hot summer after a long winter that dumped a whole bunch of snow in the high country. With plenty of rain there is ample food at most all elevations now and with the exception of a few snow drifts around Alger Lake, most of the trails and passes are open. We are seeing a lot of deer around the loop, but they are sticking pretty close to town to not offer up any hunting opportunities. The region had thundershower activity this past week and that kind of cooled things off a little. For the upcoming rifle season, there hopefully will be some colder nights with temps dipping down into the 30s. Deer appear to be in excellent condition, many still in velvet and there is an ample food supply that will keep them pretty much scattered until the fall migration begins,” voiced Ross.

WON then checked in with Reagan’s Sporting Goods (760-872-3000), located in downtown Bishop, to get a report on zones close to the Bishop.

“I would think that zone X9A and X9B, due a very healthy carryover of bucks, should produce some quality racks and healthy bucks this season. There is plenty of food out there thanks to Mother Nature with her dumping rain and snow all along the high country. Thankfully, deer herds weathered the winter down here in the valley and there wasn’t much of a winter kill off of any deer except those eaten by mountain lions, coyotes and road kills,” stated Reagan.

Reagan then said, “It’s been very hot with daytime temps pushing 100 degrees but as of this week the nights have been cooling off a little and fall cannot be to far down the road. There were some winds in the valley a week ago that pushed all our dove south and made for a tough dove opener. I would have to think that valley quail hunting will be good again this year, with a very strong hatch on tap due to extremely excellent nesting conditions, ample food, cover and plenty of water sources.”

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We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website 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.

Pre-dove opener outlook
As long as the southern part of the state and our neighbors over in Arizona aren’t hit with some untimely monsoonal thundershowers and strong winds prior to the Sunday, Sept. 1 shoot, opening weekend of the 2019 dove season should be outstanding for those afield. Good numbers of mourning and white-winged dove are winging across fields and dumping into watering holes during early morning flights. Also, for those close to orchards, high mesquite or stands of tall eucalyptus trees, there should be excellent pass shooting at hand as the dove head back to their mid-morning roosts.

holtvilledoveshootHOLTVILLE DOVE SHOOT — WON hunting writer Jim Niemiec teamed up with Gus Osterkamp of Tustin to bag double limits of mourning dove, topped off with a handful of Eurasian collared dove while hunting a ranch along a river channel in Imperial County. Good dove hunting is predicted for the entire Imperial Valley and across the border to Yuma and Blythe. WON PHOTO COURTESY OF MARK OSTERKAMP

Thankfully, hurricane Ivo stayed pretty much off the coast of Baja Sur and other than bringing in some swells and winds, it didn’t appear to affect dove numbers anywhere. Western Outdoor News spent Saturday out scouting and there were plenty of birds winging across a warm blue sky, many in tree tops and sitting on telephone wires after having fed early in the morning.

Of interest, due to late hatches and multiple hatches this summer, there is likely to be a lot of juvenile dove bagged. One would expect that 15-bird limits could see some young dove still with pin feathers. Dove hunters should expect to see a lot of wardens out and about, especially near hot dove fields down in Imperial Valley and across to Yuma. Make sure to check your vest and shell bag to make sure there aren’t any left-over lead shotgun shells with you. According to information being passed on by the DFW, even one lead shotgun shell can lead to a citation. Hunters should also be advised that a daily bag limit of dove cannot have more than 10 white-winged dove included.

A very good pre-opening dove report was filed by Rick Francis, Habitat Supervisor for the DFW at Wister.

“After working through the fall planting, irrigating and now rolling the wheat that we grew… all I can say is WOW!” said Francis.

Francis went on to add the following, “This past very dry spring and summer has paid off this year. We have had a solid 2 to 3 hatches of white-winged and mourning dove. The mourning dove population is way up from previous years. Last week, there were literally hundreds of white-winged and mourning dove roosting in the salt cedars between hunting sites 413 and 312, and using the upland food plots at Wister… now there are more! The number of hunting fields were reduced down to just two up north because CWA showed up this summer and re-lasered and re-configured our upland/green feed fields, and also down south. There is no forecast for rain in the near future and the abundance of feed should keep the doves here for a great opening day. The fields planted in wheat are 312 and 413, they have been rolled and are now ready for openers. Eurasian collard dove numbers in this area are down quite a bit from normal, perhaps from all the hunting pressure,” added Francis.

Francis went on to tell WON, “Closed areas to dove hunting are within a ½ mile of the check station, hunt site 114A and the state-owned housing area. Also, area Y16C and the camp grounds are closed to hunting. The Sportfish pond will be open from sunrise to sunset for Fishing Only, no gas-powered boat motors are allowed on this area or past the campground Kiosk.

Richard Sprague, owner of Sprague’s Sports (928-726-002) in Yuma, also offered a good dove report.

“Scouting went well… I was limited in my time I could spend out in the field, but what I did see was encouraging. At this point, bird numbers look excellent. The challenge will be to find a decent hunting spot that has fewer hunters,” stated Sprague.

Sprague then offered up some dove hunting spots around Yuma; “County 19th and Ave. B areas and County 19th east to Ave. 3E are big areas with lots of roosting citrus and date palms, plus center pivot fields with a variety of crops. Also, don’t forget to check out east of Yuma, toward Welton and Roll in Arizona as well. Another source that could offer up good dove hunting spots for unattached hunters is to log on to the Arizona dove website “Yuma Dove Hunt.”

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We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website 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.

Why hunters should join SCI – Orange County
There are a number of very good hunting, fishing and conservation-orientated chapters across the state. Perhaps the largest group is represented by Ducks Unlimited, followed by the CWA, NWTF, Pheasants Forever, Quail Unlimited, Mule Deer Foundation and California Deer, just to mention a few of the more active chapters. Based on this WON hunting editor’s association with all of these groups over the years, I would have to say the most active group of hunters in Southern California are members of Safari Club International’s Orange County chapter.

boddingtonguestBODDINGTON GUEST OF SCI – OC — Outdoor journalist Craig Boddington spent an evening with the Orange County chapter of SCI. After signing books, with Audie and Daisy Kurth looking on, who attended the dinner meeting with their dad SCI life-member Don Kurth, this big game hunter talked about hunting around the world. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC

The Orange County chapter is very active in conservation programs, youth education, shooting and hunting venues, contributions to outdoor events and its members take a very active part in big game hunting and upland game bird hunting. WON was the guest of the OC chapter this past week at the Phoenix Club in Anaheim, and the chapter invited outdoor journalist Craig Boddington to speak on hunting around the world, and he was followed by Cliff McDonald, President and Project Coordinator of Water For Wildlife, who spoke about conservation projects in the Mojave Desert and the upcoming Youth Quail Hunt set for the first weekend in October.

This monthly gathering of hunters and sportsmen offers a great evening to exchange hunting stories, talk about hunting destinations around the world, enjoy dinner and then top off the evening with a raffle for a firearm and a number of hunting accessories.

Bill Waddle, President of the Orange County Chapter and also owner of the 6-pack sportfisher Options, offered the following information on what it means to become a member of a SCI chapter and take an active part in annual shooting, hunting and conservation events.

“Although I have yet to hunt Africa, I have been the president of the Orange County chapter of SCI three times. There is an important lesson here in that SCI is not an elitist group of international hunters. SCI represents varmint hunters in California, whitetail deer hunters in Wisconsin and squirrel hunters in Pennsylvania. We all have to stick together and be united under a strong organization that represents our interests and protecting the right to hunt here in the United States and worldwide. Does that mean that you shouldn’t also be a member of Ducks Unlimited or the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation? Of course not, but the lobby power of SCI and the NRA have real strength in the political arena. Everyone is welcome to come to one of our monthly meetings on the third Thursday of the month and enjoy a night of sharing the evening with fellow hunters, listen to our guest speaker and participate in the nightly raffle,” voiced Waddle.

Waddle then went to state, “On a local level, SCI Orange County is instrumental in funding important programs like Water For Wildlife, which maintains drinker/guzzlers for wildlife throughout the Mojave Desert. The Orange County chapter also supports Youth Safari Day and the Mojave Youth Quail Hunt, which are hugely important in getting kids involved in hunting and the outdoors in general.”

Boddington held the interest of the group, as he presented detailed information on big game hunts around the world. His talk was about logistics, problems, costs and the importance of being in good shape when hunting. He covered many animals from the largest sheep of the Himalayans to blacktail bucks along the Central Coast of California.

McDonald spoke to the group about the projects completed in the High Desert and plans for next year.

“This is the 15th year that Water For Wildlife has headed out to the vast Mojave Desert to work on guzzlers and other antiquated water sources. So far volunteers have completed work on 188 guzzlers. To repair, each guzzler costs about $600 to $1,000,  plus the 100- to 130-man hours to complete the job. For just 2019, there were 80 volunteers showing up for work projects and they restored 14 drinkers and put in a total of 1,250-man hours. There were additional expenses of material and equipment costs that amounted to $6,500 and some of the costs were covered by donations from the Orange County chapter of SCI and California Deer,” said McDonald. (See McDonald's letter on page 4 about a recent project in the Bishop area in June in the Eastern Sierra).

McDonald added, “Right now Water For Wildlife, other than the Bishop project, has no plans for projects in 2020 on the books for the vast Mojave Desert, but we are open to suggestions for work projects to be done in the East Mojave.”

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We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website 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.

Buy your dove ammo now
Don’t wait until the last minute to purchase your dove ammo. Sporting goods stores, retailers and gun shops currently have a pretty good stock of steel dove ammo on hand at some reasonable prices, but don’t get caught up in the newly enacted, July 1, 2019, CA Department of Justice (DOJ) regulations than can find you put on a wait list for up to 2 weeks, IF, you don’t have a current DROS number on file.

This Western Outdoor News hunting editor was caught up the red tape this past week, which caused a major delay in picking up my dove ammo for this coming season. The following is how things developed.

Plans were to have new steel dove ammo shipped to a local gun shop from out of state, in as much as ammo and firearms can no longer be shipped directly to the purchaser from companies located in other state after passage of Assembly Bill 711 that was adopted and signed into law back in 2013.

BAGGED A DOULBE ON MOURNING DOVE — Hank Osterkamp of San Clemente dropped this double on dove during a hunt last year in the hot desert. Despite heavy thundershower activity in the most all regions of the desert, it should bode well for hunting both mourning and white-wing dove come opening day. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC

The gun shop was duly licensed with a current federal firearms license and I had used the shop for other ammo and gun purchases over the years, which made it perfectly legal for the manufacturer to ship the ammo into California.

The shipment was received at the gun shop after the new July 1, 2019 regulations went into effect, which meant that a purchaser had to be on an approved DOJ list before the ammo could be delivered to the purchaser. Seems that I hadn’t purchased a rifle or shotgun since 2012, but did occasionally purchase shotgun shell ammo, when no paperwork was required. I felt confident that buying a Benelli M2 and later a Beretta Black Eagle shotgun, registering them through Turner’s Outdoorsman and waiting the 10 days required for my background check, that my name and pertinent information would be on file with the DOJ. WRONG seems that the DOJ only saved recent files and that firearm purchases made more than 5 years ago, were likely not saved and no longer accessible within the DOJ system.

The gun shop manager brought out the ammo and proceeded to file paperwork with the DOJ on-line system after asking for my drivers license and dob. No problem I thought, I have a clean record and had not violated any firearms or ammunition regulations. The first application was the Standard Ammunition Eligibility Check which can be done quickly on line. Guess what… within minutes it came back with the notation…STATUS: DENY/REJECT!

The manager said I couldn’t take the ammo and that a second transaction would have to be taken that would cost $19, and then I would have to wait until the approval came through, which in some cases could take as long as 2 weeks. With my tail between my legs, I headed back to the office, disappointed, you bet and mad...why me, I am no felon!!!

While still upset, I sent off a quick e-mail to Mike Etienne, Vice President of Purchasing and Marketing for Turner’s Outdoorsman, a good friend and shooting buddy to ask what I could do.

“You will just have to wait now for the DOJ to issue you your DROS number, or you could go into one of our retail stores, purchase some shotgun shell ammo and a Stripped Polymer AR-15 Lower and that should get you issued your DROS number quickly,” said Etienne.

I had already started the application process with the DOJ, so I opted to wait it out and see what happened, as opening day of dove season was still over a month off. It took over a week, which included a weekend, to finally get a call from the gun shop that my DROS number had been issued and that I could come by to pick up the ammo at any time. There would still be some paperwork to sign as the recipient of the ammo. Seems that under new ammo purchase regulations that a licensed dealer needs to fill out separate forms for each type of ammo purchased: as to manufacturer, gauge and how much ammo was purchased.

A further check into the DROS System, the following information was available: BASIC AMMUNITION ELIGIBILITY CHECK: you may use this eligibility check if the individual does not have a current entry in the Automated Firearms System or if they do not have a current Certificate of Eligibility. (who does?) The Department (DOJ) will determine the individual’s eligibility on a comprehensive review of its records (similar to a firearm eligibility check).

In addition, WON found out the following: When transferring ammunition between private parties the following needs to be addressed: When transferring ammunition from one non-vender to another non-vender, YOU must obtain an approved eligibility check for the purchaser and then select a Private Party Ammunition Transfer to submit the sale of ammunition. (Editor’s Note: Does this really make sense?)

So, based on what’s now required when purchasing ammunition, and I am sure more details when purchasing a rifle, shotgun or pistol, go out and buy your dove ammo now. Don’t wait until the last day or so before the season begins on Sunday, Sept. 1, or you might be left out in the heat, due to either a lack of a DROS number or no steel dove loads left on a dealer’s shelf.

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We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website 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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