Elliot & Hawes Now Closed to Hunting

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Signs worked for a short time. Police tape helped for a short while. Intensive patrolling worked as long as wildlife officers were in the field. Verbal warnings from officers were often ignored. Multiple citations had limited impact.

The long saga of the popular dove hunting area commonly referred to as "Elliot and Hawes" in Mesa came to a sad conclusion before the Arizona Game and Fish Commission April 11. The commission closed this small island of non-incorporated land to hunting: all hunting.

The Elliot and Hawes area is a county island located entirely within the Mesa City limits. It consists of one-square mile of private homes, multiple dairies and Arizona State Trust lands in an area bordered by Ellsworth and Sossaman roads to the east and west, and by Elliott and Warner roads on the north and south. The area also contains the alignment for the future San Tan Freeway loop.

Mesa Regional Supervisor Rod Lucas explained to the Game and Fish Commission that burgeoning metropolitan growth is having tremendous impacts on hunting opportunities. "The continual absorption of traditional hunting areas has left hunters little choice but to travel further outside the urbanized areas."

Lucas told the commission that the area is noted not only for its short drive time for hunters, but also for the large numbers of dove flying in and out of the five nearby dairies. "This area has been a long-standing dove hunting area since the late 1980s. It increased in popularity as dove hunting opportunities rose dramatically in the late 1990s." Ironically, the area's popularity led to its demise as a dove-hunting bastion.

The small island of county land has 20 residences interspersed across the landscape. State law requires no discharge of firearms within a quarter mile of such homes. That created small "strips, arcs and plots" of legal hunting areas in this small island.

During the dove hunting seasons, large numbers of dove hunters competed for quality and safe shooting spots within the small areas. Hunters arriving late or those who were frustrated by the high concentration of hunters often move out legal shooting zones into areas where shooting is prohibited and unsafe.

"The movement of hunters into areas too close to residences generated an inordinately high number of quarter-mile violation complaints," Lucas told the commission, adding that the department has committed a tremendous amount of manpower and other resources to the area, especially during the past five years.

Starting in 1998, two officers were assigned to the area for each weekend day of the early dove hunt, which impacted the department's ability to respond to problems in other areas. The chronic quarter-mile violations also prompted the department to purchase laser range finders for patrol officers. All those efforts resulted in a number of citations being issued. However, the violations continued as soon as officers left the area.

In 2001, the department launched an exhaustive and expensive signing effort in the area. Initially, it had an impact. Over time, the problems increased. Officers tried police tape in addition to the signs to show hunters where they could not legally and safely shoot. Some hunters continued to ignore the signs. The tape was torn down. In addition, many hunters who were provided warnings were later caught violating the law again the same day.