OUT: Sunday Column September 07, 2008

Choice for wildlife lovers

DON ZIPPERT/Special to the Daily Sentinel
WHETHER IT’S A DAY CHASING blue (also known as dusky) grouse, pheasant, doves or even the ever-elusive chukar, there are few finer ways to spend some time in Colorado’s wild country.

A significant group of retired Colorado Division of Wildlife employees have signed a letter supporting Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colorado) in his bid for the U.S. Senate.

The list of nearly 80 supporters includes two former DOW directors, John Mumma and Perry Olson, along with a wide diversity of terrestrial and aquatic biologists, conservation specialists and other field personnel with more than 2,000 years of accrued experience in wildlife management.

The letter cites Udall’s record of supporting scientifically based wildlife management policies, building coalitions among hunters and anglers and being a leader in seeking possible answers to global climate change.

“... we believe wildlife and wildlife habitat are at a crucial crossroads in Colorado,” the letter states. “It is our objective to ensure that the future of wildlife resources, the traditions of hunting, angling and the right to bear arms are protected.”

Also mentioned is Udall’s push for responsible energy development, a point of key interest in western Colorado where energy development is affecting vital wildlife habitat.

“Energy development is here, we’re not looking to stop it,” said John Woodling of Grand Junction, a former
DOW water quality specialist. “But it would be a nice thing to be able to save for the next couple of generations the same outdoor opportunities we have now. The way things are going now, that’s not going to happen.

“If we want to have anything left, we have to some involvement at the federal level to have the opportunity to protect our resources.”

DOVE, CHUKAR SEASON OPEN —  It’s upland bird season, the fall’s first fling for shotgunners eager to try out their best camouflage and worst shooting habits, the ones they’ve kept hidden for a year now.

There are grouse to chase and chukars to stalk and doves to, well, miss, is what most of us do when it comes to dove hunting.

It’s not for show that shotgun shells come 12 to the box, and that’s still not enough for the “average” dove hunter, if there is such a thing.

The best dove shooter I ever witnessed was a retired Air Force jet fighter pilot who invariably picked up his 15-bird limit in the still-cool hours of Saturday morning so he could relax in the shade and listen to the radio broadcast of University of Colorado football games. While he kept score of the game, he also kept score of our shooting while we punched holes in the robin’s egg-blue sky of eastern Colorado.

This year, the Division of Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are cooperating on a statewide dove-banding program that earlier this summer wrapped aluminum leg bands on more than 700 mourning doves.

Similar to the leg bands found on waterfowl, these numbered bands will help biologists determine annual survival rate and harvest rates as well as where doves are harvested. Other states have similar programs and hunters might harvest doves with those bands.

The DOW cautions hunters to check their doves for bands. Given the relative size of a dove’s leg, you can imagine the bands aren’t very big and might be overlooked.

Any hunter harvesting or finding a leg-banded dove is requested to report the number to the Federal Bird Banding Laboratory at http://www.reportband.gov or call 800-327-BAND.

Dove hunters also are likely to encounter the Eurasian collared dove, an non-native immigrant which hopped from the Bahamas to Florida in 1980s and since have spread across the country.

Last year, the Colorado Wildlife Commission approved a special Eurasian collared-dove hunting season that extends from Dec. 1 through Feb. 29, long after most of the thin-skinned doves have fled for warmer climes south.

Because Eurasian collared doves are an unwanted exotic species, and in some cases are known to pull off up to six broods a year, there is no bag limit. However, birds must be kept fully feathered in the field or during transport for identification purposes.

Truly hard-core bird hunters are those who scramble the dry rocky slopes for chukar partridge. Western Colorado offers excellent chukar hunting — although you should invest in good pair of boots and a tireless dog.

A sense of humor helps, too.

“(District Wildlife Manager) Paul Creeden says the first time you hunt chukars is for fun, the second time is
for revenge,” said Stephanie Duckett, DOW terrestrial biologist for the Grand Junction area.

Many of the canyons along the Book Cliffs hold chukars, thanks to recent transplants by the DOW. In both 2004 and 2005, 200 birds were trapped in Death Valley, Calif., and released in western Colorado, Duckett said.

“We wanted survivors to improve the (genetics of) local populations,” she explained.

Chukars are an under-utilized resource, flying under the radar of most bird hunters.

“People always call me to ask where to go pheasant hunting and I tell them to forget it and go after chukars,” she said. “They’re on public land and it’s easy to get out and see some.”

Among her best bets would be the Book Cliffs, Baxter Pass, near Cameo and along Nine Mile Hill southwest of Grand Junction.

Local chukar flocks are doing well, Duckett said.

“We saw a lot of movement this spring and have spotted some birds in the traditional spots as well as some odd spots, like around Whitewater,” she said. “They appear to have wintered well, although this last winter might have been sort of rough on them.”

Another favorite spot is the Gunnison Gorge, where an early fall cast-and-blast trip can result in a double hook-up of fall-run browns and elusive chukars.


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