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Outdoor Tales: The mother of all dove hunts

August 15, 2002

Free hunting areas in Imperial Valley are four times larger than last year

Last year Leon Lesicka of Brawley, founder of Desert Wildlife Unlimited, along with the organization's membership, created 700 acres of food plots near Niland using game bird heritage funds to attract doves for the Sept. 1 opener.

Hundreds of hunters flocked to the numerous locations and were amazed at what the small group had accomplished, but this year the food plots have been increased to four times the size of last year and the hunting may be as good as it was 45 years ago.

Finding hunting spots open to the general public is becoming increasingly difficult with every year. Outdoorsmen couldn't believe the signs posted around the game bird heritage food plots last year that welcomed them to the fields, and most hunters had no problem bagging limits within hours as both mourning dove and white-winged doves blackened the sky over the lush wheat and safflower fields on opening day.

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Thanks to increased funding from the California's game bird heritage program, DWU was able to increase the food plots to 2,581 acres for the coming season. This may represent the largest undertaking of its size in the United States.

Last week I drove along the East Highline Canal between Calipatria and Niland reviewing the thousands of acres of food plots and couldn't believe the number of mourning dove and white-winged dove moving back and forth between their roosting areas and hundreds of acres loaded with mature wheat, safflower and milo.

This program is designed so all the food plots are near thousands of acres of citrus orchards, where the birds can roost nightly as well as being able to escape from predators and intense hunting pressure. Hunters need to realize though, that the citrus orchards are entirely off limits to all types of hunting. Nice, juicy citrus doesn't sell well with lead pellets inside.

Portions of each food plot have already been chopped to scatter the seeds. By opening day the entire acreage will have been chopped to lure the doves.

There was some confusion last year and a few hunters questioned whether it was legal to hunt the game bird heritage food plots, fearing they may have violated federal and state laws regarding hunting over baited ground. An August 2000 publication from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service titled "Dove Hunting and Baiting," states although it's against the law to spread harvested grain over a field to attract doves, it's not against the law to grow the grain and then chop it to spread the grown seed, nor is it against the law to hunt over the chopped fields.

But attempting to hunt ducks and geese on these manipulated fields is strictly against the law. Hunters can rest assured that the California would not be spending $60,000 on any game bird heritage project if it could be deemed unlawful.

The president of Desert Wildlife Unlimited, Johnny Gibson, and past president, Norm Wuytens, both from Brawley, have worked hard with Lesicka to prepare the ground, plant the seed and help irrigate the food plots. Western Farms, CalEnergy and Marlin Medearis from Brawley donated most of the farmland being used this year and the state Fish and Game, Wister Unit loaned some of the farm equipment to DWU.

The Imperial County Fish and Game Commission donated much-needed funding to ensure the success of this project. Other generous donations came from Quail Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, Safari Club of San Diego, Titan Corp. and the Imperial Valley division of General Dynamics. Imperial Valley seed brokers Jim Austin, Robin Lemaster and Keithly-Williams Seed Co. donated seed for the project.

"During my whole life, I have enjoyed hunting, so whenever I can put something back for the future generation to enjoy, it gives me a good feeling," said Lesicka. "Thirty years ago the opener of dove season was one of the most important events of the year for our local economy. I hope to see that happen again."

According to Jim Chakarun, manager of the Imperial Valley Wister and Finney-Ramer units, hunters can expect to find food plots similar to those planted by DWU at numerous state locations.

"One location on the Finney-Ramer Unit, known as field 138, accessed from Rutherford Road, was too popular last year," said Chakarun. "This year only 40 hunters at a time will be allowed in the field. As hunters complete their limits and leave the field, new shooters will be rotated into the vacant spots so a maximum of hunters can enjoy the facility. Also new for this year, on field 138, will be a special zone built for disabled hunters. For more information about hunting the state areas in Imperial Valley contact the Wister Unit at (760) 359-0577.

Valley outdoorsmen should seriously consider joining Desert Wildlife Unlimited. It only costs $10 a year and I guarantee your donation will be wisely spent to help the wildlife in Imperial County. Send your tax-free donation for membership to DWU, 4780 Highway 111, Brawley, CA 92227 or call (760) 344-2793 for more information.

>> Al Kalin can be reached on the internet at akalin@quix.net

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