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Jim Niemiec's Blog: Many Wing Shooting Options in Lower Owens Valley

December 06, 2012 by


Winter is starting to set in the Lower Owens Valley as night time temps are dipping down into the mid-twenties and it's not getting much over 60 degrees during the day. This valley, thanks to the flow of water that was mandated to keep wetlands alive and settle the dust in the mostly dry Owens Lake bed, holds a lot of wild game. The extra flow of water through the valley floor has created a maze of canals, ponds and a flowing Owens River making for ideal habitat to attract flocks of winter ducks, geese and shore birds, while the dry sage brush flats are home to native California valley quail, Tule elk, mule deer, varmints, dove and along the foothills, off the eastern slopes of the High Sierra, wing shooters can hunt chukar and mountain quail.

This valley is truly a Mecca for the general hunting public and offers up a lot of opportunity over thousands and thousands acres of prime hunting property that for most of the season is pretty accessible. Western Outdoor News was invited up to hunt for a mixed bag of birds after visiting the Lone Pine Pheasant Club and making plans with club owner Sean Ponso.

LOWER OWENS VALLEY MIXED BAG — There is a lot of bird shooting available in the Lower Owens Valley with lots of public access. Sean Ponso and Levi Gratzke show off a harvest made last week near Lone Pine. Included in the successful hunt were big puddle ducks, native California valley quail and released pheasant and chukar from the Lone Pine Pheasant Club.

"Jim, I would think that you need to get up here right after Thanksgiving and we'll head out to jump shoot some ducks, work the surrounding sage brush for native valley quail and end up the hunt with a few released birds at our club," said Ponso.

Quail numbers have been down for many areas due to extreme drought conditions, and such was the case for valley quail between Lone Pine and Independence as only a couple of small coveys, numbering less than 10 birds were seen on the southeastern side of the Owens River. So day-one would end with a few native quail in the bag, but hunting released flushing ringnecks and tight holding chukar made for a good afternoon of gunning while walking knee- high cover across club property.   

It would be any early start on day-two with Ponso and Levi Gratzke meeting up with this shooter at the Best Western Frontier Motel for a quick complimentary breakfast and then heading up Hwy. 395 to an access road north of Independence. Gratzke is Ponso's right hand man and handles a lot of the club chores, including steady dog handling in the field for day hunters at the club. Gratzke was raised in Lone Pine and has hunted the Lower Owens Valley all his life. If anyone knew how to jump shoot ducks it would be that young man and his trusty chocolate lab Shy.


There was skim ice on much of the ponded water in the valley floor as the temperature was holding at 30 degrees when the doors of the SUV were opened.

"There is a pretty good little spot about 500 yards up the road. Let's get out and do our first sneak on that canal now that the sun is high enough in the sky to see the birds in shadows of the side of the canal," was the plan laid out by Gratzke.

It worked perfect as two gadwall flushed into the sky but only one folded to ground. The next spot was about a quarter mile hike south along the same canal and that produced a pair of northern mallards. We opted to pass on a couple of small divers and crazy flying snipe, but ended the morning hunt with three fat puddle ducks.

OWENS VALLEY DUCK POND — There is a vast wetlands between the old almost dry lake bed of Owens Lake and Bishop. There are canals, irrigation ditches, small creeks, the aqueduct and the Owens River which make up excellent waterfowl habitat. This photo shows one of the Tule choked ponds that offers good duck hunting over decoys. Hunters are advised to pre-scout these ponds and carry along an updated GPS to navigate these big ponds. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC

Gratzke suggested that we tour the rest of the valley before heading back to the ranch to finish up on more club birds and hopefully find a covey of quail to hunt. There is a maze of dirt roads that access lots of wetlands, canals and the aqueduct. A good GPS is advised and if you use Goggle Earth most of the available water and roads come up on the screen making it a lot easier to locate possible spots that could hold ducks or geese. There was an alfalfa field passed that often held Canada geese and the abundance of sage and native brush made for excellent valley quail habitat.

The SUV made it through the dry soft silt easily, but Gratzke cautioned hunters to stay off those roads when it is raining or frozen puddles begin to thaw after a winter storm passes. This area might hold a lot of wild critters, but it is also a very ugly place to be caught when the roads get wet, very slippery and getting stuck is likely.

While there is no overnight camping along the river on Department of Water and Power property, day use is permitted with access to the river by gates in parking areas. The Frontier Motel is dog friendly, which makes for an ideal place to stay if a hunt party wants to spend a couple of days hunting the valley floor.

Gratzke says that winter flocks of ducks and geese are just now starting to arrive in this part of the valley and that from now on through the end of the season waterfowl hunting should be very good. This knowledgeable hunter told WON that best shooting days are when the wind blows hard, kicking the birds off open water, and when there is more hunting pressure on these wetlands. The Black Rock ponds are ideal for decoy shooting but do require a boat to access due to all the tules surrounding the shallow water lakes, with pre-scouting and having a GPS along in the dark of early morning a great help.


Gratzke went on to tell Western Outdoor News, "The lower river is pretty well choked off by the growth of tules and it's difficult to hunt, so I spend most of my time hunting smaller canals and upper sections of the river. There has been about 300 snow geese loafing at a spot where the river flows into the old Owens Lake bed and that has rewarded goose hunters who have scouted that area with some good jump shooting for snow geese.

After enjoying a huge breakfast at Jenny's Cafe our hunt party headed back to the club and we were lucky enough to catch a pretty big covey of quail crossing an opening in the sage. It was a short hunt as the birds headed for thick rose thorn brush and even two strong flushing labs could not get the birds to flush. That quick quail hunt did produce over a dozen native quail to end a perfect hunt.

This part of the Owens Valley needs more rain and hopefully major storms will bring much need moisture to valley floor and help rebuild valley quail numbers. The Lone Pine Pheasant Club is a great option to have in your hunt plans. If a hunt doesn't produce as many quail, ducks or geese as you hoped for, you can always fall back to a club hunt and end the hunt with wild game for dinner.

For more information on hunting Lower Owens River Valley contact Sean Ponso at (760) 876-4590, as I am sure he will be more than happy to make suggestions on hunt options and what he offers in the way of day hunts at the club.

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