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Lake Sonoma turns to bow hunters to manage deer population

  • With deer and wild pig populations exploding around Lake Sonoma, The Friends of Lake Sonoma has initiated a bow hunting program. Jayson Collard, along with his dog Maliki, guides the hunters into previously inaccessible land above Lake Sonoma. (photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

For Jayson Collard, the wild peaks and forests around Lake Sonoma offer the near perfect hunting grounds in the otherwise crowded Bay Area.

“There are so many no-hunting, no-trespassing signs going up everywhere,” he said, bounding up a rugged road this week in his pickup truck in the middle of the 5,000-acre wildlife preserve that covers almost a third of the land around Lake Sonoma. Finding hunting grounds “is getting really hard, especially if you don't know somebody with private property.”

The hunting clubs and public lands that are open to hunters, he said, tend to be unpleasantly crowded.

Bow Hunting Above Lake Sonoma

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Collard, an avid bow hunter, is part of the opening up of the mostly wild Lake Sonoma preserve to hunters more than a quarter century after it was partially closed to the public when the Warm Springs Dam was constructed.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the land, and the nonprofit Friends of Lake Sonoma are in the first season of a program to control the deer population in the preserve by allowing a handful of hunters to explore the rugged hills, deep ravines and thick forests that line the northeastern side of the lake. Hunters are restricted to bows, and they have to be escorted in and out of the preserve by Collard, who will offer them tips on the best ways to hunt on the scenic landscape.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife, which regulates hunting even on federal land, will allow hunters to take a total of just six bucks from the preserve this season. That means only a handful of hunters will be allowed in, so anyone willing to fork over the $500 fee will be virtually alone on the land during the hunt.

The hunter “has got that all to himself,” Collard said, standing atop a high peak and surveying a sea of fog enveloping the preserve below. “You couldn't cover half of that in a day, it's so wild.”

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