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.”
Dove hunting Baja Sur again
It was well over 50 years ago when this hunting editor last hunted dove down in Baja Sur. My first dove hunt was by way of an invitation from Chuck Walters, owner of Rancho Buena Vista, to fly down to La Paz, take a taxi to his resort located on the Sea of Cortez (East Cape), write a feature story for Western Outdoor News on the great fishery and enjoy an evening or two of dove and duck hunting.

Back in those late 1960 years it WAS still legal to hunt birds in Baja Sur. In those olden days, Cabo San Lucas was still just a fishing village with a cannery, there was no international airport and it was just a dirt/gravel road from Los Barriles to Cabo (which was often washed out). Finally, Walters could no longer purchase ammo in La Paz for his hunting friends and resort clients, but reloading of shotgun shells was still allowed. As I recall, during that same era, Bud Parr, owner of the Cabo San Lucas Resort, also offered dove hunting as part of a package.

THE OLDEN DAYS OF BAJA SUR DOVE HUNTING — This photo is of Chuck Walters, who owned Rancho Buena Vista for many years. This dove hunt took place in the early 1970s before the governor of Baja Sur shut down the sales of shotguns and ammo. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC

Walters suggested we bring our own ammo to hunt. We crossed the Tijuana border with a full case (20 boxes) of Remington #8 dove ammo and checked into the airport for a direct flight to La Paz. The ticket agent tagged the ammo as part of our luggage and we headed up to the bar prior to departure. A few minutes afterwards, an agent announced that Mr. Niemiec should return to the ticket counter…oh boy! The agent was very friendly and spoke good English, “Mr. Niemiec I am sorry but we cannot fly that ammunition down to La Paz. You need to take it back across the border.” It was almost departure time and taking it back into the United States was not an option if we were to make the flight to La Paz with our wives. The agent then offered an option…

“Just leave it here with me and I will store it in the office and you can pick it up and take it back to the States upon your return. I will make sure it is safely secured for you.” While we didn’t get to do much hunting that trip, the marlin fishing was outstanding and yes, the ammo was waiting for me upon our return to the old Tijuana airport.

On one of our subsequent trips to hunt with Chuck, my hunting partner (Tommy Forbes of the Grant Boys) and I loaded up a suit case with 12 ga. wads, #8 shot, primers, some extra spent shells and powder to make sure we would have ammo available for hunting. That was our last dove hunt in Baja Sur, as the governor closed down all hunting and the ownership of firearms was greatly regulated and strictly enforced.

Now let’s fast forward to last week, when the Niemiec family headed down to the East Cape to spend Thanksgiving at Hotel Buena Vista Beach Resort,, to check on the late fall fishery for pelagics and billfish.

Co-owner and General Manager Axel Valdez met us upon arrival and we talked about fishing and other activities.

“Jim, I know you love to fish, but also I read your weekly hunting columns in Western Outdoor News. Esaul (Axel’s brother and food and beverage manager for Hotel Buena Vista Beach Resort), has just started offering guided dove hunts on private ranch properties close to the resort. Winds are expected to blow soon and I’ll talk with Esaul about taking you and couple of other resort guests out on a morning dove hunt. Would that work for you and your son Brook?”

BAJA SUR DOVE HUNTING SUCCESS — Outfitter Esaul Valdez, co-owner of Hotel Buena Vista Beach Resort, shows off a handful of white winged dove harvested during a hunt over Thanksgiving. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC

Everything was set for the dove hunt after a couple of good days fishing for dorado and striped marlin, and Esaul would pick us up at 6 a.m. for the drive to one of his permitted rancheros.

In the dark, the crew-cab pickup arrived with Esaul and we headed north on Mexican Hwy. 1 toward the old gold mining town of San Antonio. During the drive, I had a chance to talk with Esaul about his new outfitting business.

“We offer very good white winged dove hunting on at least three private ranches here in Baja Sur. Hunting clients will stay at the resort and be able to mix fishing with dove hunting. It’s a long dove season here in Baja Sur and there is great fishing in the Sea of Cortez during the late summer and early fall months. For duck season we will also offer hunt packages”

Hunt package(s) offered by Esaul, on his Facebook page valdez@outfitter or by calling (624) 129-6526, are pretty much semi-inclusive. Dove hunters have two choices when opting to hunt with ValdezOutfitters.

The basic hunt package includes the following: Transportation from Buena Vista Beach Resort to private ranches, dove hunting license, shotgun use (Beretta or Remington 870), refreshments during the hunt, cleaning of dove accompanied by a professional and licensed guide. This price of this package is only $300 per hunter. The second option includes: 1-night accommodations at Hotel Buena Vista Beach Resort, dinner and breakfast and two dove hunts, one in the morning and the evening hunt. Shotguns shells are priced at $15 per box and are available in both 12 and 20 gauges.

There was no reason to be at the watering hole at daylight, as white winged dove fly much later in the morning than do mourning dove. The private ranch we were hunting consisted of 5,000 acres of cactus and Baja timber. The sun was just starting to crest a nearby mountain range when we set out for the morning hunt. Heavy rains had pounded Baja Sur for a couple of weeks and everything was a lush green. Heavy dew dripped from nearby cactus and the grass was calf-high. Dove began to move pretty slow on this particular hunt, but many birds just winged overhead well out of shotgun range. We did harvest some white winged dove, but Valdez apologized for the less than “hot barrel” action he expected.

“When it’s dry here in Baja Sur, dove flock to watering holes on our ranches. It is just too bad that those heavy rains dumped so much rain, as it really dispersed the dove. Upon your next trip to Los Barriles we’ll do little more scouting before your arrival,” said Valdez.

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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.

Guides’ thoughts for hunting winter hogs
Winter weather has finally kicked in along the West Coast and those extremely dry hillsides will soon be showing some greening up. Hogs have been feeding on acorns under the shade of oaks since they started to fall last month. Most of the barley and wild oats have either been harvested or eaten up by large groups of hungry wild pigs.

Western Outdoor News contacted Chad Wiebe of Oak Stone Outfitters, based out of Bradley, to get his thoughts on hunting winter hogs.

CENTRAL COAST BOAR Young L. Zerbe of Monterey made a good shot on this huge boar. It was his first wild hog and he was hunting with master guide Chad Wiebe of Oak Stone Outfitters. PHOTO COURTESY OF CENTRAL COAST TAXIDERMY

“In the winter, our tactics change quite a bit from summer time hunts and the dryer months. Hogs in the winter tend to be much more nomadic, especially once the acorns drop. We try to find a high vantage point and rely on glassing larger areas than we do on summer hunts. Once spotted, we will try to get closer by stalking a group of pigs feeding with their heads down. Any rain, like that one that blew through this past week, is obviously a huge help in detecting fresh sign — we don’t get that luxury very often,” stated Wiebe.

“We are seeing lots of pigs on our guided hunts. During the fall we would catch them coming to and from limited water sources, which made for good stalking and taking killable shots at a variety of boars, sows and meat pigs. Now that we got some rain I would think that pigs might start rooting more often looking for wild onions and other tuber plant life,” said Clint Miller of Miller Bros. Expeditions.

Miller went on to add, “Hogs were coming down in the valley floor for a food source and a drink and then heading back up into the dense cover of surrounding mountains. With this past week’s rain, we’ll likely be spending more time hunting the hills. There are plenty of pigs all along the Central Coast and this Parkfield area offers up prime hog hunting.”

Hog hunting guide Lincoln Raahauge, Raahauge’s Hog Hunting Guide Service, (951) 833-8116, based on a ranch northeast of Bakersfield, has a new property to hunt hogs. The ranch consists of 31,000 acres, is located in the foothills of the western High Sierra and varies in elevation from 1,500 feet clear on up to near the timber line at 7,000 feet. This ranch is privately owned and Raahauge has exclusive hog hunting rights to the property. The ranch has a very huntable established population of wild hogs. The cost of a wild pig hunt is $1,500 and the hunt package includes: 2.5 days of hunting (Friday, Saturday and Sunday), hunts are conducted by licensed hunting guide, Lincoln Raahauge, ranch style meals are part of the experience, experienced dogs are used, in the field transportation via ATV is included as are comfortable mountain cabins.

Ron Gayer, the head guide for Indian Rock Ranch, located in higher foothills above Glennville, 661-809-1613, hunts hogs on this beautiful ranch property. On a recent WON turkey hunt with Gayer, we watched a huge 325-pound boar rooting the side of a nearby hill as we headed out to a nearby turkey blind overlooking a spring. That boar sported tusks so long that you didn’t need bios to see the ivory. While the ranch offers mostly turkey hunts, wild pig hunting can be a good option. According to Gayer, currently the wild pig population that moves through the ranch are pretty well spread out as they root under the oaks and onto some food plots for tubers and other plant life.

Clayton Grant, master guide of Bitterwater Outfitters, (805) 610-4521, based out of Cholame, hunts on nearly 300,000 acres of private ranches along the Central Coast for hogs, coastal blacktail deer, turkey and exotics, including Tule elk. Most all of the ranches hunted by Grant hold good numbers of hogs, some sporting huge tusks. Hogs are not hitting newly planted barley fields as the seeds haven’t germinated yet. During cooler weather, hogs will stay out a little longer in the morning and head to feed and water late in the afternoon. With darkness now at about 5:30 p.m., the hunting day is a tad shorter than during the spring, summer and early fall months.

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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.

White geese arriving on time
While the snow and Ross’ (white geese) species hunting season does not open until Nov. 7 for Imperial Valley, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any of these geese being hunted. This past week saw the comp count from the San Jacinto Wildlife Area report that there were 7 snow geese and a single Ross’ goose shot last Wednesday.

Western Outdoor News checked in with Tom Anderson, Wildlife Biologist for the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge down at the Salton Sea, who filed the following report.

HAPPY SNOW GOOSE HUNTER — Good snow goose hunting can produce lots of happy waterfowlers, as witnessed with Hank Osterkamp of San Clemente. This photo was taken when the white goose limit was still at 6 birds, now it’s up to 20 birds a day. The hunt took place on the south end of the Salton Sea. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC

“We are starting to see an earlier-than-traditional arrival of white geese at this wildlife refuge. Our first survey indicated over 1,500 white geese here with more arriving daily. The staff was out this past week and today there are over 5,000 white geese on the refuge, with other geese kind of scattered around the southern end of the Salton Sea,” said Anderson.

WON then asked Anderson about the migration pattern.

“This year’s migration of white geese into Imperial Valley (in big numbers) is a tad earlier than normal, but they are coming into the valley in pulses now. Biologically, I don’t know if this untimely arrival is due to good food conditions to the north or the lack of significant freezing temps. All our ponds are flooded and ready for the arrival of both species of white geese but we were a tad late on planting, which probably won’t affect the number of birds this refuge will handle through the winter. Based on information and the big numbers of white geese that used this refuge last year, we are looking at perhaps 35,000 or more white geese showing up again,” stated Anderson.

Anderson went on to add the following, “When we as wildlife biologists talk about pulses, we refer to small flocks of perhaps 50 geese in a group arriving at the same time. There are not huge waves of thousands of birds all arriving at the same time, but there could be three or more small flocks winging into the refuge about the same time. I would think that by the time the full moon phase comes around Nov. 12, most of the white geese will have arrived at the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge. (Interesting to note: It was way back in the early ‘70s that this hunter started hunting snow geese around Niland. The limit was three white geese back then and my hunting buddies all enjoyed good success at Wister, the Union Tract and River Ranch. Also often hunted was the Elmore Ranch and that little corner between the national wildlife refuges guided by Danny Moss. When the limit on white geese went to six birds, hunting success seemed to slow and now that the daily limit of snow and Ross’ geese is up to 20 birds a day, I have only heard of one super shoot down in the Imperial Valley this past season. The national wildlife refuge is doing its job in keeping geese happy, watered and well fed and thus, less hunting opportunities are occurring.)

Moving up a little to the north, WON checked in with Scott Sewell, Wildlife Habitat Supervisor II for the Wister Wildlife Area, where most of the goose hunting takes place by unattached hunters. Wister also manages hunting on the Union Tract, which is part of the national refuge on adjoining properties.

“We are seeing more white geese arriving daily. We estimate that there are perhaps some 500 mixed white geese on the refuge with likely more to arrive on next month’s full moon phase. The Y14 field has been planted and irrigated and we expect there to be enough feed in that non-shooting site to hold geese on the refuge for a period of time. Right now, there are fields ready to hunt snow geese come opening day for Imperial Valley on Nov. 7,” said Sewell.

Surprisingly, hunters at the San Jacinto Wildlife Refuge in south eastern Riverside County have been shooting a few white geese along with pretty good comp counts of puddle ducks and divers.

The south end of the Salton Sea is not the only wildlife area that offers up snow goose hunting. Moving to the east, the Cibola National Wildlife Area has been attracting more and more white geese every winter. This past season, there were perhaps a couple of thousand white geese that used the national refuge, but offered up very little hunting opportunities for those hunting the Farm Unit, Island Unit or Hart Marsh Mine part of the refuge.

The latest update on new geese showing up in Cibola Valley comes by way of Rick Francis, Wildlife Habitat Supervisor I based out of Blythe.

“Finally, this past week about 150 snow geese show up in Cibola Valley along with a handful of honkers. That cold front that moved down from Canada this past week will surely change the migration of geese into this valley. As for Canada geese, it might be a while before they start hitting Farm Unit 2 that has just been planted and it is expected to be irrigated soon,” said Francis.

This hunting editor has spent time in the pit blinds of the Cibola Sportsman’s Club’s South Ranch over the years. Every morning you could see flocks of hundreds of snow geese moving high over the valley floor as they headed for food on the national refuge. Most of those flights of white geese were flying much higher than Canada geese, offering up little in the way of even a pass shot these geese. When strong winds come in from the southwest or a winter storm makes it down into Cibola Valley — mixed with the arrival of new geese in the valley — is when small flocks can often be decoyed into hunting fields on the South Ranch.

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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.

Modoc mule deer herd numbers of concern
It was nearly 40 years ago when this WON hunting editor lived, worked, hunted and fished in Modoc County. It offered up (and still is a great place in the state to enjoy the outdoors) some of the best hunting across the state especially for huge mule deer, trophy-class antelope, sage grouse and huge flights of greater, lesser and cackling Canada geese.

The northeastern corner of the state lies in deer zone X3b, which includes the Warner Mountain Range starting at the Oregon state line, moving south to the rural town of Madeline, and its western boundary would be all east of Alturas.

MODOC MULE DEER This mother Modoc mule deer and her twin fawns were part of a herd of 16 mule deer in this photo taken last week just west of Alturas. In that group of deer, there was only one “tweaky” forked horn buck — no bigger bucks were anywhere close. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC

Going back into the Modoc mule record books, with information obtained by way of the Modoc Record, it was way back in 1939 when the Modoc mule deer kill, based on validated tags, was 937, as reported by National Forest Supervisor Russell Beeson. In the year 1957, during the first six days of the mule deer season the count was upwards of 1,500 bucks, slightly under the last year’s first-week harvest, but considerably higher than years previous to 1956. Moving ahead to 1969 the deer kill was 2,389 bucks as of the 13th day of the season, and (this) was the second highest only to Lassen county in the state for that season.

Based on information supplied by the Department of Fish and Wildlife in the Big Game Digest published for 2019, the total number of quota tags issued for zone X3b for the 2018 season was only 794 permits with an estimated hunter success of only 31 percent. According to published figures, the total mule deer harvest for this zone for the 2018 season was only 202 bucks reported killed. Of this number, 33 percent were just forked horned bucks and the harvest of 5x5 bucks was only a mere 3.5 percent.

While driving the Alturas area last week, this hunting editor only saw one small herd of mules with two small bucks fighting over 10 does in the Modoc National Wildlife Refuge. They were in their dark gray winter coats and looked very healthy. I drove up into the headwaters of the Pitt River east of Likely and saw no deer sign at all, but plenty of cut-down trees and limbs from what must have been, or is, a huge family of beavers. Another location off County Hwy. 71 that always had deer was void of any wildlife.

WON checked in with master deer guide Brent Dolby, owner of Modoc Waterfowl Outfitters (530-640-0411).

“We are just ending our mule deer season (Oct. 20) and it has been tough hunting for trophy class Modoc mule deer in the Warner Mountains. In years past we would spot anywhere from a dozen up to 25 nice bucks a day as we traveled though this mountain range. Today, if we spot 3 or 4 huntable bucks, that’s a lot. I think that hunting pressure over the decades has had some affect on the deer herd, but based on the huge mountain lion and coyote populations we have in this northeastern corner of the state I would have to believe that these predators are responsible for wiping out our mule deer population,” said Dolby.

One important source that WON got in touch with in respect to the Modoc Mule deer herd was Richard Shinn, CDFW’s unit biologist for Modoc County.

Shinn spends most of his time in the field, therefore Peter Tira, Information Officer for the DFW, was able to reach him and passed on the following information.

“Jim, your observations are 100-percent accurate. Our staff biologists have been working that area since 2002, and the deer numbers in X3b have always been fairly consistent until recently. Shinn first started seeing changes during the drought years. He conducts fawn surveys every year and during the drought years he saw fawn ratio rates drop from 45 to down to 30 fawns”, according to the report filed by Shinn.

Shinn then went on to add, “I expect to see a rebound given the return of wet winters the past couple of years and end of the drought. I saw some slight improvements in fawn survival, with the fawn ration back up to the low 40’s to 100 does.”

The report went on to state, “The deer survey in zone X2, which borders zone X3b up in the Devil’s Garden area, was a one-day survey in March 2019 and Shinn counted 740 deer. The anecdotal reports from deer hunters this season has backed this fact up. Deer hunting has been fantastic this past season in zone X2, with the harvest success way up and the number of bucks taken, 4 points or better, was way up.”

Shinn then stated in his report, “We don’t know exactly what’s going on in X3b and why the deer numbers remain down. We hope to do more capturing and collaring of deer in this area to find out what’s biologically going on.”

In addition to the above information on zone X3b, Tira made the following mention, “There are some theories: The black bear population appears to be way up in X3b. Bears are known predators of fawns, especially.

There was also a huge fire back in 2001called the Blue Fire, that resulted in a wide-scale landscape that has matured almost 20 years after that fire. It may just be less attractive to deer than it was prior to that fire.”

In wrapping up the report from Tira, he quoted Shinn as saying, “Incidentally, there was another huge fire in Modoc County’s deer zone X2 this past summer that burned 14,200 acres. It is now contained, the Tucker Fire, which could impact the big deer herds and future success in zone X2.”

Of note: Shinn further mentioned this about the bear population, “With regard to bears, they are also known to steel mountain lion deer kills and caches. So, more bears robbing mountain lions of their deer kills also means those mountain lions have to go out and kill more deer than they ordinarily would.”

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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.

Post-duck opener hunting tips
Opening weekend of the waterfowl season produced mixed results on for those hunting a refuge, at a duck club or public hunting area. Most of the birds harvested were likely locally hatch mallard, teal and gadwall with few spoonbills and pintail added to game straps. As traditionally is the case, Sunday hunting (the day after opener) saw less ducks harvested, although some winds did help in the weekend harvest.

The hatch of local puddle ducks was very strong this past summer due to ample winter and late-season rains which created ideal nesting conditions across the state. Local birds pretty much stick around until numbers are reduced or these birds have found safe refuge in non-shooting waters like: Lake Matthews, the Santa Ana River, stock ponds, some flood drainage lakes that had enough standing water and of course, golf courses.

MIXED PUDDLE DUCK HARVEST — The early part of duck season can produce some pretty good gunning, especially on windy or rainy days when ducks fly within shootable range. Mike Palmer of Newport Beach shot a limit of dabbling ducks while hunting Prado Basin during a past season’s hunt.

Refuge managers did report that prior to opening weekend there were early arrivals of pintail, cinnamon teal and gadwall, but these birds don’t stick around much after lift-off and seem to know that it is time to continue their migration south down into Mexico.

Western Outdoor News caught up with waterfowl guide Gregg Johnson, who guides small groups (1-3 shooters) on public land, stock ponds and small lakes where hunting access has been established, working with other guides who have waterfowl hunting spots, the Lower Owens Valley (Owens River), where he jump shoots ducks off the river and some of the newly created ox-bow lakes.

This veteran guide passed on to WON some helpful hints that might contribute to more ducks on the game strap. After opening day, Johnson said that many of the ducks were pressured off established hunting ponds and likely would only be coming back after shoot time to feed and rest. Before sunrise many of these ducks are likely to lift off in the dark before shoot time and not be around for lift off. If possible, Johnson says to try not to push ducks off where they spent the night and move in at or just after legal shooting time. This will allow time for the sky to get lighter, making for better identification of species, which this season has some added harvest regulations.

No motorized/electronically operated decoys (spinning wings or blades) are allowed to be set up in a spread until Dec. 1. It was suggested that hand operated motion decoys could add life to a decoy especially on a blue bird hunt day. Speaking about blue bird hunting conditions, during the first few weeks of the season duck hunters will see better weather, fewer ducks and only under Santa Ana wind conditions will there be much of a harvest.

Local birds, along those few new flocks that might arrive through the end of the month, are going to be pretty decoy shy and become very aware of a flashing shotgun barrel or faces not covered in a mask or camo make-up. While early season birds might look at decoys, it becomes a lot harder to draw them to within shotgun range, which could necessitate moving up to heavier steel loads with higher muzzle velocities.

Refuge comp counts are also likely to see a significant drop after opening day, which opens up a whole lot of problems for those competing with other waterfowl hunters out in blinds. IF, ducks are not decoying or hunting pressure is heavy, there is a lot of high shooting at passing ducks that makes for a tougher hunt. Johnson suggestion to hunters with a high number draw, that they should check with the local refuge staff to find out what optional shooting sites could be productive after all the good sites are taken. It’s unfortunate that refuge hunters cannot get out onto ponds to see where birds are resting or at least find out if there are feathers on the water or not, which is a good indictor that ducks are using a particular hunting site.

Another suggestion made by Johnson was to attend a local waterfowl fundraiser, CWA or DU and any shotgun shooting event being held in the Southland. If duck hunting has been non-productive in spot a hunter normally hunts, talking with other shooting sports enthusiasts might offer up new duck or goose hunting spots to check out.

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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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