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By STEVE MERLO, Contributing columnist
With the first half of dove season coming to a close Sunday, hunters may find additional upland shooting when tree squirrel and the special mountain quail seasons open Saturday. Even though the drought has most game species numbers well down from past counts, there are still significant populations of each to hunt in the mountains to the east and northeast of us.
Mountain quail, a distinct species found at elevations above 5,000 feet, may only be taken from Tulare County northward, with Kern County closed to hunting them until the statewide quail season opens later in October.
The birds, a third size larger than their valley quail cousins, sport distinctive russet colors and a topknot that may exceed 3 inches in length. Their fondness for running from danger rather than flushing makes them a venerable hunting foe, especially when they lead hunters up steep tree- and brush-filled mountain sides.
Because they are often found at such high altitudes, the birds are often vulnerable, having little or no prior contact with human beings and therefore may act quite naÃ¯ve at their initial meeting. Mountain quail are occasionally slow to react and some hunters can literally whack a limit of standing or running birds in short order before they figure out the game. They will not make the same mistake twice, though, and that's when the hunt really gets interesting.
Personally, I have no qualms about busting them on the ground, based on where they are found. I also enjoy eating them more than I enjoy flushing and then shooting at them and having to climb down a mountainside or two to retrieve them. I think people will discover that most mountain quail hunters will also act accordingly. Purists can wait for the bevy to rise if they want to, but these great-eating birds are too valuable in the bag to chase and chase and chase without success.
Gray squirrel hunters will be looking for the animals wherever oak tree concentrations afford both acorns and a nearby water source. Cedar Creek and Greenhorn Mountain have long harbored good numbers of the good-eating bushytails, but the area can get a bit crowded.
My personal choice would be to hunt the Peppermint Creek area above Johnsondale and get well off any roads. I'd then find a likely grove of oaks with plenty of squirrel sign and acorns and sit down, be quiet and wait for them to come to me. Most hunters prefer the shotgun for bringing the animals down when they're flying through the trees, but a stealthy approach will allow accurate riflemen to make quick and humane head shots.
The daily limit on mountain quail is 10 and a triple the daily bag possession limit after the third day. Gray squirrel hunters may take up to four per day, with only four allowed in possession. A current California hunting license is required to hunt squirrels, and quail hunters must also have an upland bird license validation.
Let's Go Fishing class
It's not to late for Babyboomers, 50 and older, to take advantage of "Let's Go Fishing" class on Tuesdays at Bakersfield College. The class is intended to teach beginning fishing to prospective anglers wanting to spend their time pursuing man's favorite sport.
Contact Miriam at the Levan Institute for Continuing Education at (661) 395-4431 before 11 a.m. on Friday or Monday, and from noon-5 p.m. Tuesday. Prospective students can also e-mail her at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Cost is only $10 to help defray the costs of the building and supplies.
KNWR filling for opener
Nick Stanley, acting Kern National Wildlife Refuge manager, will hold an annual work day from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Sept. 21 to help brush up blinds, assist in necessary menial work and basically get things rolling in anticipation for the 2013-2014 hunting season. The refuge staff will host a barbecue after the session.
A season total of 14,000 scheduled acre feet of water now heads for the duck hunting Mecca, and several thousand birds are already making use of newly inundated grounds. According to Stanley, the refuge staff is shooting for a 25- to 35-hunter capacity by opening day on Oct. 5, and adding more as each block of habitat is filled.
Last year, as many hunters will remember, water did not begin flowing into the refuge until just a few days prior to the opener. The same governmental-induced, bureaucratic-foul-up did not occur this year and hunters will be happy to know that the Goose Lake Canal, which feeds the refuge, has been running fast and high for some time.