EL CENTRO – The Sept. 1 dove opener, the traditional gateway to hunting season, kicked off with plenty of “bang” for gunners across the west. Results were overwhelmingly good based on the reports WON fielded, in some cases the best in a decade, but as always, there were some misses.
You know the hunting is good when someone checks in about 8 a.m. to report dove limits all-around. That someone was longtime WON reader Gilbert Hernandez, who took his son Silas, 13, and friends to shoot the Nuevo La Paloma Club affiliated with Wilderness Unlimited and located near El Centro.
“Our day started with a handful of full body decoys, three dove mojos and high hopes of getting a limit of dove for our group of five including my son Silas,” Hernandez said. “With temperatures pushing over 100 degrees in the early morning desert, not only was the weather hot but the hunting was hot as well!
“Everything was flying from mourning dove to whitewing dove with a handful of Eurasian dove mixed in. The birds were so thick at times with flights of 30 to 40 birds it almost seemed impossible to miss.”
Hernandez continued, “My son Silas was raised in a duck blind but this was such a different experience for him to see how quick and fast these little birds took to flight. Leading these birds was a challenge for him. A few misses but he eventually figured them out and gave him a smile after every shot. I knew he was having the time of his life, mostly because that 3-inch duck load was replaced with a 2 3/4 steel shot something that his shoulder appreciated.
“We ended our day with limits around 8:00 am and left them flying for another day. The father and son experience I have with all my boys outdoors is something to remember but El Centro and Nuevo La Paloma club will always be a day Silas and I will remember.”
Wister – Jeff Von Urff of Palomar Mountain has been reading WON for 40 years, and in that time he’s posted a dove opener report many times. Von Urff hunted the Wister area of the Imperial Valley and had a spot to himself.
“I had a good hunt in a flyway between Fish and Wildlife fields,” he said. “Birds still flying, got my limit including 2 whitewing and a bonus Eurasian. It started very slow but then slow and steady. A good breeze kept the heat at bay. Good luck to all the rest of this this first half of dove. Good to get back in the fields! Deer Saturday, duck in October, here were go!”
Niland – Andrew Mack of Mack’s Fishing Adventures hunted the Niland area near the Salton Sea with a large group of friends. He sent this report, “Woke up at 1 a.m. to make it out to the dove field before sun-up. I found a field that had a lot of trees and water. We got there and walked to the spot around 5.30 a.m. waiting for first light.
“No activity. Then after a short while we started hearing gun shots off in the distance and then I spotted my first bird behind me. Someone in the field behind us let the steel fly and it came tumbling down. Then all of a sudden I look to my right and a flock of at least 100 whitewing doves was coming straight at us. I’ve never seen so many white wings in a group that size.”
He continued, “I shouted to everyone in our group to get ready. After we all took a few birds it was steady action until all 9 of us had 10 whitewings each in our game bag and a handful of Eurasian collared doves. I walked back to the truck and grabbed my phone to see what time it actually was. It said 7.15 a.m. I couldn’t believe that we were done that fast. There are so many birds out at the Salton Sea area this year, it was awesome.”
Blythe – Jim Matthews, WON staff writer from San Bernardino, his wife Becky, and son Kyle hunted the Palo Verde Ecological Reserve in Blythe on opening morning. The day was mostly about working Kyle’s new Labrador puppy Archer. The three hunters managed to bag 18 doves between them with the young dog finding and retrieving most of the birds, a mix of five whitewing and 13 mourning doves.
Palo Verde Ecological Reserve was crowded with hunters opening morning, clearly one of the best places for dove in the area. Matthews counted 78 vehicles from his position on the edge of one of three wheat fields planted on the Reserve’s new property on Sixth Avenue and estimated four times that number of vehicles within a mile of his location on the fields. With an average of three to four hunters per vehicle Matthews thought there were well over 1,000 hunters just on a part of the reserve.
The happy sound of gunfire started exactly at legal shooting time of 5:42 a.m. against a bright eastern sky, not long after the full moon set in the west. With the volume of hunters in the immediate area, the gunfire built to a rolling cresendo of shotguns that lasted for two solid hours before tapering off to less intense shooting.
The hunters who scouted the flyways to the field from roost areas did the best, with many obviously having limits by 7 a.m. and the parade of vehicles leaving started early. Matthews watched one senior hunter shoot his limit with less than a box of 15 shells. Matthews joked with the old man that he always felt lucky to get one or two birds with a box of shells.
Kyle Matthews delighted in watching another hunter’s Labrador take a straight line to a downed bird only to have the bird flush off the ground and fly two feet above the deck for 100 yards with the dog right on its tail. The dog was on the bird instantly when it came back down to the ground and proudly carried the dove back to its owner. “See, Archer, that’s how it’s done,” he said to the puppy at his side.
Santa Ysabel – WON Eastern Sierra fish reporter Ernie Cowan spent his dove opener in Santa Ysabel east of San Diego, but it was a tough shoot despite good habitat and conditions.
“The traditional Sept. 1 opening of dove season dawned clear and mild with no clouds and no birds in the sky,” Cowan reported. “There was a group of seven hunters working open fields and a small pond north of Santa Ysabel that typically produces opening day limits for hunters willing to put in the effort.
“This year things were remarkably slow with only seven birds total logged by the group and only two birds the maximum bag for any one hunter. The lack of birds was puzzling considering conditions that included fields of dove weed, water in the nearby pond and excellent weather conditions.”
He planned to check back in after the afternoon shoot if things were any better, but never did, suggesting his group’s ill luck failed to improve.
Red Rock, Ariz. – The dove gunning was outstanding in Red Rock, close to midway between Phoenix and Tucson. WON hunting editor Steve Comus was there and reported, “The dove hunt opener around Red Rock started off spotty, but then turned into a wide open shoot. Birds were flying late into the morning. Weather was in 80s and sunny. More birds this year than in more than a decade. Lots of white-wings and collared Eurasian doves.”
Reno, Nev. – More excellent results in this Reno area report that came by way of Comus. His friend Andy McCormick of Legacy Sports, hunting with his Griffon Barley, shot a limit of “palomas” with his new POINTER Acrius 20-gauge over-under. “Good stuff, let the seasons begin,” McCormick exulted.