BY ERNIE COWAN
BRAWLEY — Dove hunters flocked to the Imperial Valley last week, along with unprecedented high temperatures and humidity, to enjoy the first post-COVID hunt that kept many out of the fields the past two years. Despite the heat and wilting humidity that raised temperatures to a “feels like” 119 degrees, eager gunners were greeted with plenty of birds and a return to tradition for many who have been coming here for decades.
Like the High Sierra fishing opener, the annual Sept. 1 start of dove season often brings multi-generational family groups or long-time friends to enjoy the first salvo of fall hunting season. It just didn’t seem like fall, with the triple-digit temperatures scorching fields not long after the 5:50 a.m. shoot time when the first shots began to ring out.
A clear sky and colorful sunrise greeted hunters as they spread out to agricultural fields, open desert and designated plots set aside for hunters by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
I hunted northeast of Brawley on a cut wheat field with two friends, one who was born and raised there. Despite the arrival of birds right on time, two years out of the fields – thank you COVID – and not enough time on the trap range with a new autoloader proved a bit embarrassing with a morning hunt that I did not include a limit. There were plenty of birds, so the excuse is on me.
Early flights brought flocks of six to eight birds, but generally we were seeing the two- to three-bird flybys as the morning wore on. You could hear plenty of action from hunters shooting in surrounding fields. It sounded like the old days. Unlike many openers where birds get smart quickly and begin flying high and fast, the dove we saw held closer to the ground, making for easier shots.
AT about 10 a.m. the flights did slow down, so it was time for breakfast.
As we packed up to head into Brawley, our bag for the morning included mostly mourning dove and a few white wings. We did not see any Eurasian collared dove in our fields.
Following tradition, we headed for Brownie’s Diner, the almost legendary gathering spot for opening day dove hunters. As we walked inside, there were so many invisible hunters in camouflage that we wondered where everyone was.
Ok, I had to slip in that old joke.
The restaurant was buzzing with the festive gathering of hunters swapping lies, telling tall tales and spinning yarns of past hunts. Overall, hunters called this one of the better dove openers. Lots of birds, and depending on where you were hunting, a mixed bag of mourning dove, white-winged and Euros.
Veteran gunner Steve Alyea from Redondo Beach hunted with three fellow members of the South Bay Sportsman’s Club, including brothers Jerry and Joe Wade and Brent Akers. This was his 68th year, starting with a hunt with his dad when he was two. The group hunted south of Brawley near an abandoned granary, and all had limits opening morning.
“The best action was about an hour into the hunt, and we had lots of birds and lots of Euros,” Alyea said.
Luke Federico came down to Brawley from Castaic with four other hunters, including his daughter Hailey for her first hunt. The group shot over an alfalfa field south of Brawley and also mentioned the peak action was about an hour into the hunt. Hailey was all smiles at breakfast after downing her first dove with her new 20 ga. autoloader.
Will Vanderven, 13, from San Diego, was also a first-time hunter and did well with his 20 ga. over/under, hunting open desert east of Brawley. Jeff von Urff from Santa Ysabel hunted with a buddy from Prescott, Ariz., in the same open desert location near Westmoreland he has worked for over 25 years. The location is along a dove fly way that can be good or slow. This year was outstanding.
“There was plenty of fast shooting and the most birds I have seen in a few years,” von Urff said. He limited in under an hour using only 41 shots and downing 11 mourning and four white-winged doves. His secret is a dove tree made with wire and holding several roosting dove decoys along with Mojo, fluttering wing decoys placed on the ground nearby.
Dove season is split in California, opening Sept. 1 through 15, and again from Nov. 12 through Dec. 26. Non-lead ammunition is required, and the daily limit is 15 per day with no more than 10 may be white-winged dove. Possession is limited to three times the daily limit. There is no season or limit for the larger Eurasian collared dove.