October 22, 2009

Heat, heavy coverage hurt bird hunting

Jim Matthews, Outdoor Writer
Inland Empire Daily Bulletin

APPLE VALLEY - Upland bird hunters reported seeing good numbers of quail and chukar throughout most of Southern California's deserts and foothill regions, but rain just before the opener, then heat and heavy hunting pressure over the weekend, made for difficult conditions and low hunter success.

"At Goat Springs, there was approximately the same number of vehicles you'd find at a large car dealership," said Rick Bean of Hesperia about a popular chukar hunting spot in the West Mojave off Highway 247 between Barstow and Lucerne Valley on opening day. While Bean and his hunting partners, Matt and Debbie Gangola of Glendora, didn't bag a bird - in spite of seeing a covey with 60 or more birds - two young hunters they met near a guzzler north of Goat Springs managed to get seven chukar between them.

Chris Coston of Orange was hunting near Ord Mountain, another popular chukar spot in the West Mojave, and said there were hunters everywhere, but that most guys he spoke with had "one or two birds each."

"There were a lot of birds, a lot of birds," said Coston, who managed to bag two chukar on opening Saturday and then another pair in the same area on Sunday.

Farther north, chukar hunters in the Southern Sierra Nevada, White and Inyo mountains, along with the popular Red Mountain region, all had similar reports: lots of birds but tough hunting conditions. Several hunters complained of chukar flushing well out of range in the Rand Mountains, but the hunting pressure was very high in that area, like the West Mojave, and it was warm.

The Mojave National Preserve had an excellent hatch of quail and chukar this year, but rain apparently scattered the birds and then warm weather made hunting difficult. Most hunters reported seeing birds, but success seemed to be about only a quail per hunter, with the chukar even tougher, flushing out of range.

Ed Tolman, along with his son Andreas and father DeLoy, and Dave Hancock and Ted Werner, all of the Chino Hills area, were out in the preserve Friday and saw good numbers of quail scouting for the opener. But opening day they managed to bag only five quail between them. Werner and Andreas Tolman wore themselves out chasing chukar over some nasty terrain, seeing 120 or so birds but unable to bag a single one.

Jack Ingram of Chino managed to get six Gambel's quail in two days of hunting in the Mid Hills region of the preserve.

"The birds were hard to locate, but I did get into a couple small coveys," said Ingram on Monday.

"I had my shots and I could have taken a limit for the weekend if I were on my game. As it was, I will be grilling six up tomorrow for dinner."

In the Imperial Valley and near the Salton Sea, quail numbers were reported to be well up from the past couple seasons, but the heat made the birds difficult to hunt, especially after the coveys were scattered opening morning.

Along the lower Colorado River, there were generally pretty good reports of quail numbers from Yuma to Needles. Robert Pierce, who managed Walter's Camp south of Palo Verde, said there were a lot of birds in the desert washes this year, and he and his brother-in-law managed to get 11 birds between them on Sunday of opening weekend, after being skunked the day before.

"There were a lot of birds out there, but there are too many guys with quads who chase them on those things and then jump off and shoot them," he said.

"I'm from Texas, where you get out and walk and hunting quail behind dogs, and it's just a shame that quail season was so badly abused.

"On Sunday the quads were gone, the jeeps were gone, and we got 11 birds in four hours of hunting. All the coveys were big, massive, with 20 to 30 birds."

A number of hunters complained about unethical hunters sitting on desert water sources (you can't stay on a water source for more than 30 minutes, so wildlife can come to water) and people on quads who didn't use normal hunter etiquette.

With another warm weekend forecast, it doesn't look like the next weekend of the season will be any better than the first.