Summer has given way to fall, opening the great outdoors to hunters as well as fishermen, making these among the busiest and best of times for California sportsmen.
Deer hunters, facing prospects fair to the north and poor to the south, have already taken to the woods, many of them armed with bear tags as well as deer tags.
Waterfowl hunters are gearing up for a major influx of ducks and geese, and many will point their shotguns to the sky knowing that, were it not for them and their participation in waterfowl conservation, there wouldn't be nearly as many birds.
Freshwater fishermen, meanwhile, are wallowing waist-deep in joy and solitude in these waning weeks of the Sierra Nevada trout season, well aware that this is the time to fill a stringer with rainbows or land that big, beautiful brown most trout fishermen only dream about.
As for saltwater fishermen, well, one needs only two words to describe the craziness beyond our shores: El Nino.
With all of this in mind, some news, notes and maybe even a little nonsense. . . .
BEAR IN MIND . . .
California's black bears would go into hibernation right now if they knew what was good for them.
All 15,000 bear tags have been sold, marking the second consecutive sellout, and Department of Fish and Game officials believe they're onto something by opening deer and bear seasons simultaneously in portions of zones A, B, C and D, where hunting is already in progress.
Because of lagging bear-tag sales, they did this last year for the first time since the late 1970s, and deer hunters responded by doubling up with tags and taking 30% of the bears. Bear hunting in select areas of deer X zones begins Oct. 11.
Bear hunting will end statewide when the kill reaches 1,500 or on Dec. 28, whichever comes first. Last year, the quota was filled Dec. 2.
There are an estimated 17,000-23,000 black bears in California.
General duck-hunting season begins Oct. 11 and it figures to be a blast, not only here but across the country. A fall flight of 92 million ducks--one of the biggest in decades--is expected to fill the nation's flyways in the coming weeks.
Mother Nature deserves most of the credit, for keeping wetlands lush in the breeding grounds of southern Canada and in the Great Plains states. But conservationists--mostly hunters as well--are patting themselves on the back for their part in the comeback.
"These numbers are a fitting reward for the dedicated conservationists of North America," says Matthew B. Connelly Jr., executive vice president of Ducks Unlimited, the world's largest private wetlands and waterfowl conservation organization.
Californians contributed more money to DU than any other state: $14,371,965 in 1996, more than three times as much as the second-highest contributor, Wisconsin.
Nearly half of North America's pintails spend the winter in California, mostly in the Central Valley. Nearly 60% of all migratory waterfowl in the Pacific Flyway at least stop over in the valley. Since 1993, DU has restored or enhanced 34,700 acres of wetlands throughout the valley.
How important is that work, and the work of other such organizations and government agencies? More than half of the United States' original wetlands have disappeared and more than 100,000 acres are still being lost each year.
BLINDS FOR THE BLINDLESS
Those who want to get in on the action but do not belong to, or have access to, a duck-hunting club, might want to consider a trip to either the Imperial Wildlife Area or the San Jacinto Wildlife Area.
Both will accommodate hunters throughout duck and goose seasons--goose season begins Oct. 18--and both already have waterfowl on their ponds.
"We have had a few thousand birds [mostly mallards] in a couple of ponds on some afternoons," says Pam Cherny, manager at Imperial Wildlife Area, located in Niland. "And the adjoining duck clubs have had quite a few birds as well, so it looks like it's going to be a good opener."
Imperial Wildlife Area, which will offer at least 80 blinds throughout the season, is sold out opening day, but reservations are being accepted for the rest of the season, which ends Jan. 18. There is also a non-reservation line for walk-ins. Details: (760) 359-0577.
San Jacinto Wildlife Area, which will offer up to 30 blinds until Nov. 1, after which the number will drop to 25 because of water quality restrictions, is also getting a slow but steady trickle of ducks, mostly mallards but a few pintails. San Jacinto, in Riverside County near Lake Perris, is also sold out opening day, but manager Tom Paulek says he expects some no-shows and will hold a drawing to fill blinds as they are vacated by earlier hunters. That draw will be held about an hour before the first shoot. Details: (909) 654-0580.
TAKE YOUR BEST SHOT
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has given temporary approval for the use of tungsten-iron shot for waterfowl hunting this season, meaning hunters will have the choice of using steel shot, bismuth-tin or tungsten-iron.