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Hunters Mourn Lack of Quarry

Outdoors: Nearly 100 try their luck on first day of dove season near Lancaster. But most find few birds and some look for a second chance.

September 02, 2002|MASSIE RITSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dove season began Sunday with a promise from the state Department of Fish and Game that the hunting would be "the best in years." Tell that to Luis Ovies.

Ovies sat on a camp seat, with a lone mourning dove in his cooler, wondering where the birds were. He lives in North Hollywood and was among about 100 hunters who were in the brush before sunrise Sunday to try their luck at the Antelope Valley Sportsman's Club, west of Lancaster.

As a kickoff to the fall wing-shooting season, hunters in 38 states had the rare opportunity this year to devote the three-day Labor Day weekend to the dove: scouting on Saturday and hunting Sunday and today.

In California, dove hunting is permitted through Sept. 15 then picks up again for 45 days, beginning Nov. 9. Each year, about 120,000 hunters kill about 1.8 million doves in California, according to a state survey.

"Even if I got one, I go home and I'm happy," Ovies said.

Factor in the cost of his membership at the club and his hunting license and that one palm-sized bird he shot was probably worth more than $250 a pound.

"This is kind of like Vegas," said the club's owner, David Whiteside. "You know when you go, you're going to lose money. And then once in a while, you win. And it's wonderful."

Driving through an old almond orchard Sunday, where in past seasons doves have roosted in the trees like ornaments on a Christmas tree, Whiteside observed, "This is a honey hole and there's nothing."

Whiteside stocked his 1,250-acre ranch with 400 chukars, or red-legged partridges, to keep hunters from getting too frustrated.

A hunter for more than 40 years, he has his ideas why doves are less plentiful this year. In the spring, just as their eggs would have been hatching, a freeze hit the Antelope Valley.

The cold stopped Whiteside's pear and plum trees from bearing fruit for the little birds to eat. Drought kept down the sunflower crop and other tasty weeds.

Or maybe the doves were pestered by starlings, which eat dove eggs and commandeer nests for themselves.

"If I knew the real answer, I'd write a book and charge somebody to buy it," Whiteside said.

He hopes that, by the second half of dove season, birds from the San Joaquin Valley will have migrated south to his land. The state fish and game department singled out the San Joaquin area, as well as parts of the Sacramento and Imperial valleys, as particularly promising for hunters this year.

In the Imperial Valley, a state-funded program that planted wheat, barley and other grains on otherwise idle farmland attracted "scads of dove," said La Velle Lesicka of Desert Wildlife Unlimited. Money for such planting programs comes from the $6.55 stamps that hunters must stick to their general hunting licenses before they are permitted to shoot certain birds.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of hunters came out to the Imperial Valley for the season's first day, Lesicka said. Many junior hunters killed the state limit of 10 birds, and "it was nice to see these people out who hadn't been out in a long time."

The state Department of Fish and Game posts hunting regulations on its Web site, www.dfg.ca.gov.

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