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Steve Merlo

Oct. 19 marks the opening day of the general quail and chukar season across the state, but it won't be business as usual for Kern County sportsmen and -women. Now, no one appreciates upland hunting more than I do, but things are not right in our neck of the woods this year, and as hunters, we sometimes need to take stock of what's environmentally happening around us before loading up our guns and dogs and going shooting.

Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists conducting brood counts this spring in the Temblor mountain range on the western side of Kern County indicate that quail populations declined 76 percent from the previous year's counts. And chukar numbers were almost insignificant, with very few, if any, noted in the surveys. On top of that, very few young birds were counted to replace the drought-driven downturn in overall bird numbers.

The severe lack of moisture we are experiencing has had a devastating effect on our upland bird populations, with very little, if any, reproduction taking place last spring. Two years of meager rainfall with resulting low atmospheric humidity has prevented eggs from hatching and brushy covers from springing up to afford protection for both quail and chukar nests.

Those of us spending time hunting our little top-knotted friends during last season's already-stressed bird counts certainly understand what this year's drastic decline means to the bird populations and leftover breeding stock. For example, every time someone pulls the trigger on a single bird this season, the odds are that the dead bird will be an adult -- one of our breeders for next season -- and will mean the demise of at least 20-30 future birds.

Ordinarily, during normal years with adequate rainfall, that single bird loss would not be much of a factor, because the overall numbers of birds in a single bevy would allow for a normal harvest and adequate brood stock for the following spring.

But this year is far from normal and all hunters, as stewards of our wildlife, need to back off and leave the birds alone until they can spring back from certain devastation. If we get a wet winter and spring, then next year will be a different story and we'll be able to harvest the birds without damaging our existing stock. But to whack and stack our precious and yet depleted stock at this time, as far as I'm concerned, is criminal.

Also, those hunters already spouting off about the huge numbers of chukars and quail seen at waterhole locations in the Temblor Range such as Crocker Springs are only fooling themselves. The birds are there because the location has the only drinking water found in a five-square-mile area and has concentrated what's left of our precious upland game.

So what are my suggestions for this year's hunts? Pack up and go over to the eastern Sierra or Nevada for chukars or dip down into Arizona or some other quail Mecca where the birds are not in short supply. Or start switching over to other game. Try going after waterfowl, or even domestic pigeons, for example, or join a local upland bird club. I honestly believe that one can get as much or more shooting at a private club for a nominal fee than spending hundreds of dollars in gasoline searching out the few ghost coveys and bevies still left on the west side.

Come on hunters, this is one time we really need to give the birds a break.

Ironman shoot

Hey, don't forget to sign up for the Bikes for Bakersfield shoot at the Kern County Gun Club Oct. 26. The event will feature 25 regular trap, 25 wobble trap, 25 skeet and 50 sporting clays. Only 40-teams will be allowed on a first come, first served basis. Contact Mike Jones (661) 201-4132; Mike Brown (661) (661) 619-9051 or Randy Harden (661) 201-0890 for more information.

Shoot 2-Run event

Five Dogs Shooting range will host the Shoot 2-Run sporting clay shoot on Oct. 26. The event benefits the Kern County Sheriff's Office and Bakersfield Police department Baker to Vegas relay teams. Lunch will be served for shooters and additional lunch tickets will be available for any non-shooters wishing to join in on the fun. Sign ups begin at 7 a.m. with shooting starting at 8. Contact Jenee Sakamoto (5-Dogs) at (661) 301-7436; Steve Castillo (KCSO) at (661) 978-4060; or Chris Johnson (BPD) at (661) 912-2283 for more information on this fun shoot.

Cal. Trucking Association Shoot

Be sure to put Saturday, November 2 on the list of things to do when the California Trucking Association, supporting and benefitting the Optimal Hospice Foundation, holds its annual sporting clay shoot. Sign in begins at 8 a.m. with the first shots rolling out of the shotgun barrels at nine. Contact Randy at (661) 323-4015; Tim Delcid at (661) 324-2031; or Cherie Shoemake at (661) 716-8000 for more info.