The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) conducted its first Veterans and Active Military Personnel Waterfowl Hunting Days in February, providing more than 650 veterans and active duty military the opportunity to hunt on state and federal managed public hunting areas. Gray Lodge Wildlife Area near Gridley and the Wister Unit of the Imperial Valley Wildlife Area near the Salton Sea hosted the most hunters over the two days. Gray Lodge hunters averaged 5.1 waterfowl on the Saturday of the hunting weekend hosted mid-month while the Wister Unit hunters averaged 3.5. Hunting results for all CDFW managed hunting areas are posted at wildlife.ca.gov/Hunting/Waterfowl#877772-hunt-results.
“Each of us at CDFW express our appreciation for the work and sacrifice many of our veterans made and continue to make,” said Stafford Lehr, Deputy Director of CDFW’s Wildlife and Fisheries Division. “Opening our wildlife areas and providing veterans and active duty personnel a special waterfowl hunting opportunity was not only a pleasure, but a chance to give something back for their exceptional service to our country.”
Once the Veterans and Active Military Personnel Waterfowl Hunting Days dates were set, a coordinated effort took place among state and federal agencies, private organizations and duck clubs to provide veterans and military personnel with hunting opportunity. CDFW opened more than a dozen of its most popular waterfowl areas for these special hunt days. California Waterfowl (CWA) opened its Grizzly Island Ranch, Butte Creek Ranch and other properties. CWA reached out to members and cooperating partners to provide places for 60 veterans to hunt.
Duck clubs like The Members Duck Club near the Salton Sea and Mound Farms in the Yolo Bypass welcomed veterans for the Veterans and Active Military Personnel Waterfowl Hunting Days. Club members accompanied veterans out to the blinds, helped them find their blind in the dark and set out decoys.
CWA Volunteer Veterans Hunt Coordinator Mike Peeters said, “There is tremendous community outreach among landowners to connect with veterans, to give back and provide hunting opportunity.”
Only veterans and active military personnel could apply for a hunt reservation through the CDFW waterfowl reservation drawing system for the weekend. This made it possible for many to draw their first reservation of the 2020-21 waterfowl hunting season. A reservation is extremely important to hunters since it guarantees a place to hunt. Drawing a reservation is hard. In 2020-21, a record 1.23 million hunt reservation applications were submitted. At Little Dry Creek Unit within the Upper Butte Basin Wildlife Area, one of the most sought-after hunting areas, a record 141,160 applications were submitted. Overall, the odds of drawing a reservation for the 2020-21 season on a CDFW managed waterfowl hunting area averaged 4.05 percent.
Veterans and active duty personnel experiencing the hunt came away with several positives. First and foremost, they enjoyed a special weekend of waterfowl hunting. Those new to waterfowl hunting got a chance to experience a hunt with minimal hunter competition. Many also were able to share the experience with friends and family.