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Agri-hunting

OUTDOOR TALES:

March 22, 2001|By AL KALIN, Special to this newspaper

Recent changes in the federal definition of baiting of doves should greatly improve dove hunting in the Imperial Valley for the upcoming dove season, which opens Sept. 1.

With the help of cooperative farmers, Leon Lesicka, founder of Desert Wildlife Unlimited, is developing 10 hunting areas throughout the Imperial Valley that will be available to hunters free of charge when dove season opens. These food plots, ranging from 5 to 15 acres, are being planted with grains favored by doves for the sole purpose of furnishing food, nesting habitat and cover for this year's brood of doves.

According to Lesicka, these premier food plots are being funded and monitored by the California Fish and Game using grant money from its game bird heritage program to pay for the cost of ground preparation, seed, water and labor to bring the plots to maturity.

A few weeks before the opening of dove season, portions of each plot will be chopped to scatter seeds that should attract even more doves to these fields.

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If Lesicka's plan is successful this year, he is hopeful the heritage program will fund even more acres in the Imperial Valley in future years. The Valley economy will receive a much-needed boost from the influx of dove hunters who will travel to the Valley for the opener.

"It would be great," said Lesicka, "if we could return to the old days of dove season when it was one of the largest events of the year."

Obviously, with the farm economy in a major slump, this should be great news for the businesses in the Imperial Valley.

Moving along the same lines, the March edition of Imperial Agricultural Briefs, the monthly newsletter published by our local farm advisers at the University of California Cooperative Extension includes a feature article by farm adviser Keith Mayberry titled "Dove hunting as a farm enterprise."

Mayberry states that some local farmers, as an alternate source of farm income, are charging hunters for the privilege of hunting on their farms. He warns farmers, though, that they need to be familiar with the information contained in the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service bulletin, "Dove hunting and baiting," from August 2000. A violation of any of these laws will mess up any farmer's day.

For more information, Mayberry may be reached at 352-9474. Also additional information is available from State Fish & Game warden Lt. Joe Brana. He can be reached at 353-3059.

The way I envision this agri-hunting venture working is during harvesting, a farmer would leave narrow strips of wheat unharvested along with the wheat stubble. Between the May/June window when the grain is harvested and on through August, the field would be allowed to stand, undisturbed, so doves could feed on the grain and build their nests in the wheat stubble. Then, a few weeks before the season, the farmer would chop some or all of the unharvested grain to draw more doves.

It is important to remember, though, that farmers would be breaking the law if they harvest the grain and then spread it on the ground.

Farmers should try to pick fields close to major roosting areas such as cities, orchards, desert edge or along the banks of the New River, Alamo River or major drains clogged with brush. A nearby source of cool drinking water is helpful to holding a dove population.

If you farmers don't plan on doing anything with your wheat ground until after September, you might want to consider an agri-hunting operation to pull in more income. It wouldn't be much but it would be cash flow.

If a farmer plans on charging more than $50 per day per hunter or taking in more than $500 total, a license is required from the California Department of Fish and Game. There are other rules, including posting regulations, permission slips, insurance requirements as well as other requirements. The phone number to call for more information is (916) 653-7664. I think the fee for the license is $165 per year.

Another word of caution is that this method is not allowed for waterfowl — only doves. Ducks and geese have a completely different set of rules.

Dove season gives the Valley economy a pretty good boost already. Wouldn't it be nice if 10 times the hunters showed up, like the old days?

Outdoor Tales columnist Al Kalin may be reached by e-mail at akalin@quix.net.

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