Hunters have reason to be optimistic this fall. Four consecutive years of heavy rains, after six years of drought, have stimulated growth in the wilderness and provided an abundance of water for wildlife.
As a result, experts say, hunters face the best prospects in years for bagging two of the biggest game animals, deer and bear.
The western Riverside County buck zone, D19, opens Oct. 7 and four other Southern California zones open Oct. 14. The general black bear season begins Oct. 14 and runs through Dec. 31, or until 1,500 bears are killed.
In buck zone D19, Department of Fish and Game biologists say, the herd has increased from an estimated 1,000 in 1994 to 1,700, including, according to Kevin Brennan, a number of "big-bodied bucks."
Best locations figure to be the Rouse Ridge area, the south face of Thomas Mountain, the south side of Garner Valley, Poppet Flat on the north-facing side of the San Jacinto Mountains, and the Strawberry Creek drainage east of Hemet.
Zone D13 in Ventura County holds the largest number--7,200--and highest density of deer of any of the five zones.
Hunters are expected to do best in the Frazier Mountain, Alamo Mountain and Pine Mountain areas.
Zone D11 in the Angeles National Forest figures to offer the most challenging hunting, mostly because of the rugged terrain.
Zone D14 in the San Bernardino Mountains should be productive for hunters in the Coxey Meadow area, site of the 1994 Devil's Fire. Bucks have also been located in the Mission Creek and Whitewater River areas. Several areas within the zone, however, are off-limits to vehicles.
The same is true of Zone D17, which covers much of the East Mojave Desert, now governed by the California Desert Protection Act.
The federal law, passed last year, prohibits vehicles so hunters will have to hike to fill their tags.
Black bear habitat covers 46,000 square miles statewide, with open areas including much of Northern California's coastal mountains, the Cascades, the Sierra Nevada, and portions of Southern California.
Biologist Bob Stafford said bears are feeding on acorns and manzanita berries, and advised hunters in Southern California to hunt at about 5,000 feet.
Not much has changed off the Central California coast: Albacore are still in abundance offshore, but strong winds and large swells are still keeping the boats in more days than not.
"The VHF weather radio says change is expected for the better starting Thursday," said Louie Abbott at Harbor Village Sportfishing in Ventura.
Texas angler Wendell Breazeale pulled off a triple crown of sorts while fishing recently off Cabo San Lucas. He caught a blue marlin, black marlin and striped marlin in one day.
Also off Land's End, an Arizona angler battled a marlin estimated at more than 1,000 pounds for 12 hours before the billfish rattled the base screws of the fisherman's reel loose, snapped his 80-pound line and swam away.
The DFG is looking into the mysterious die-off of 38 bighorn sheep in the Old Dad Mountains in the Mojave Desert near Baker.
Said Pam Swift, a DFG veterinarian: "We're testing for a variety of acute contagious diseases. . . . We're also testing for toxic diseases, such as botulism and blue-green algae poisoning."
The 38 animals represent about one-sixth of the population in the Old Dads.
The first Kern Valley Vulture Festival will begin Saturday at 8 a.m. at the Kern River Preserve in Weldon. More than 27,000 turkey vultures migrate through the valley each year. . . . Thirteen cyclists will ride the Whitney Classic Benefit Bike Ride this weekend. Starting Saturday at Badwater in Death Valley, they will ride to the Mt. Whitney Portal, covering 136 miles and gaining 13,000 feet in elevation. Sponsorship pledges will be used to provide scholarships to the wilderness program of Summit Adventure.