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The Gardners (l-r) Kayla, Karen, Mark, granddaughter Rileigh and Amanda will be honored as "Family of the Year" at Tuesday's annual Sportsmen's Night at the Kern County Fairgrounds.

The number of free-flying condors living in the wild continues to grow despite long-term problems with lead exposure in a large segment of their population.

Biologists in charge of the condor recovery program continue to attribute a large portion of the problem to lead bullets, despite the fact that lead in the premium condor zones of Southern California has been outlawed since 2008 -- that's almost five years -- way too long to continue blaming hunters trying to do the best they can to overcome a bad rap. Other factors biologists have used to address causes of lead exposure include poaching and shooting of wild pigs with lead bullets, upland game hunting and other shooting not banned under the Ridley-Tree Condor Protection Act.

I think it's time for Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists to quit blaming lead bullets and illegal hunting and seek out what other prevalent factors are causing so many birds to get sick. For example, one scientific study taken from the US Department of the Interior's California Condor Recovery Program, Project Update found that the lead in nine individual birds (8 of the 110 birds in the study) "did not match the isotopic signature of ammunition, background levels, or paint, indicating an unidentified source of lead in the environment."

I agree, there's something out there somewhere causing the birds a lot of grief, and it ain't all from lead bullets as the powers-that-be surmise. And for sure it's not the fault of upland hunters and lead shot either, because I've never heard of a condor stopping by to slurp up a dead quail. It's time to look elsewhere and quit blaming hunters for things completely out of their hands.

The best advice I can give them comes from my childhood, when an old and one- time market hunter told me that if condors were good to eat and came into decoys, they would not be on the endangered species list. That's because hunters would have united to save them just like we did with ducks starting in the late 1930s.

Biggest event of the year Tuesday

For the first time in its 62-year history, the annual Sportsmen's Night committee will present a "Family of the Year" honor to a family deemed to have sacrificed more time and hard work for the outdoor world than any other. The extravaganza is set for Tuesday at the Kern County Fairgrounds, and this year's special honorees are Mark and Karen Gardner and their daughters Kayla and Amanda of Bakersfield. As usual, all four will be working hard at the event, despite their honored status of that evening.

Tickets are on sale at Bob's Bait Bucket, Galey's Marine, Second Amendment Sports, The Ammo Dump, Bear Mountain Sports, Valley Gun and Ol' Boy Outdoors. The committee, expecting a decent crowd, will sell leftover tickets (if any) at the door on a first-come, first-served basis.

Doors open at 5 p.m. for happy hour and beverages, with a catered barbecue steak dinner at seven.

More than 100 prizes will be on the raffle agenda, including lots of quality guns and other outdoor-related gear, with the odds of winning a quality gun or other prize worth over $100 at an unheard of one-in-10.

Buena Vista trout program

While still at minimum pool because of the extended drought, Lake Evans, the smaller of the Buena Vista Aquatic Recreation Area impoundments, has reopened for the county's annual trophy trout program. With nearly 3,000 pounds of planted rainbows already trucked in and swimming around the 82-acre gem, fishing should be picking up with the arrival of cooler temperatures. Wednesday's opening day and last Saturday's Taft Derby proved fairly slow for anglers venturing out to the complex to do battle with fish in 1- to 2-pound range. Garlic flavored Power- Bait proved to be the best attractant for the hard-fighting fish, but only a few limits were reported as the trout continue to acclimate to their new surroundings.