Archive for the 'General' Category

The Beginning of The Addiction – The First Time

Since we’re pretty much all under “house arrest” to one extent or another I figured I’d take a ride in the way-back machine and relive my first waterfowl hunt, the beginning of the addiction.

The exact date is lost in the fog of time, but it was somewhere around December 1975.  I’d been hunting a couple of years by then, but I’d only hunted upland game.  My one and only shotgun at the time was a 20-gauge Ithaca 37.  My dad wasn’t a hunter, nor was he a fisherman but, to his credit, he never tried to block me from developing a love for both these outdoor sports.

At my work at the time one of my coworkers, who was sort of a mentor to me, was also interested in hunting but had even less experience then I did.  As we talked while we worked and at lunch breaks, we’d many times pour over the Western Outdoor News, which I think was either a quarter or thirty-five cents back then, and we would read the reports of the waterfowl harvests at the Wister Wildlife Area.  There were often pictures in WON of the hunters and their straps sometimes showing limits of pintail, which had a seven-bird limit back then, along with limits of Snow Geese, which I believe was three back then.

Well, we were impressed.

We talked it up and decided, “Hey, we could do that!”  So, a plan was formed.  One Friday afternoon we would drive down to Wister and bag us both a limit of ducks and geese.

Of course, some preparation was necessary.  Neither of us had any waterfowl equipment.  My buddy had some fishing waders and he already owned a 12-gauge but all I had was my little Ithaca, no waders, no camo, no proper ammo, no decoys.

I was a duck hunter extraordinaire already…right?

I hit the sporting goods store at Puente Hills Mall.  Yes, they had a sporting goods store there at the time, and they even carried guns, ammo, and hunting gear.  In fact, some may not believe this, but a few years later I bought my deer rifle, a Remington 700 7mm Mag, at the JC Penney’s Store at Puente Hills Mall.  Can you imagine what would happen nowadays if you walked out of a major mall with a boxed rifle under your arm?  Nobody gave that a second look back then.  But, let’s get back to the subject of this story.

Anyway, as luck would have it, they were having a sale on decoys, so I picked up a dozen pintail decoys.

I also picked up a couple of boxes of 12-gauge #4 lead shot.  Yup, that was long before the lead ban.  Also, I picked up a pair of cheap vinyl stocking foot waders. I had a pair of high-top sneakers at home to cover the stocking feet.  Last was the state and federal duck stamp to add to the hunting license I already had for upland hunting.

Of course, by this time I was about out of money and I still needed a shotgun because the little 20-gauge I had wasn’t going to cut it for geese.  Even though back then, you could walk out of the sporting goods store with a gun in five minutes, unfortunately, you still had to pay for it.

Here’s where another friend came to the rescue, or actually his father came to the rescue.  His dad owned an old Winchester model 1897 shotgun.  For those unfamiliar with the Winchester 1897, it was the second pump-action shotgun designed by John M. Browning in, of course, 1897.  They were produced until 1957 so I’m sure this one wasn’t 78 years old, but I’ll bet it was a good 40 years old at the time.  After explaining my situation with the upcoming hunt, the old 1897 was kindly loaned to me.

So, after borrowing from my fishing gear to rig the decoy anchors we were fully armed and ready for our trip.

My hunting buddy picked me up on the assigned late afternoon in his Dodge two-wheel-drive pickup (this will be important later in the story) and we headed down to Wister.  After an approximate four and a half-hour drive, we pulled in off of highway 111 and into the check station parking lot.

We got our names in the lottery for the sweatline draw and waited with great anticipation to see when our ping-pong ball would drop out of the bingo ball cage.  As I recall we were drawn not too far from the top and so headed for the truck to attempt to get a little shut-eye before the wind-up alarm clock went off at 0300 for us to get back to the check station and pick our spot.

As we slept..sort of…the constant tick, tick, tick of the wind-up alarm clock seemed to get louder as the appointed alarm time approached.  Added to the excitement of the first duck hunt I don’t think either of us got more than a half-hour sleep total.

When the alarm finally rang, we jumped out of the truck and headed up to the check station to pick our spot.

Since we had no idea what we were doing, when it was our turn to pick our hunting spot it was kind of an eeny-meeny-miny-moe situation.  So, after picking our hot-spot and paying for our day passes, which you bought at the check station in those days, we grabbed a map of Wister from the check station counter and were off to our big waterfowl adventure.

The wind was blowing hard, maybe 30 mph or so and the sky held broken clouds.  There had been no rain, and it wasn’t threatening any, just those big puffy clouds blowing across the sky, hiding and revealing the moon and the star as they wind hurried them along.

We got down to the crossroad that would lead to our hunting spot and turned left off of Davis road.  As we drove down this road, we saw a sign indicating that our parking spot was coming up soon and, near as we could tell, we had to transition over to the adjacent dike to enter the parking area a couple hundred yards down the dike.  Just after we started down the dike, we noticed a puddle of water on it that was probably five feet across covering the top of the dike.  It appeared that the adjacent pond had just overflowed onto it.  Being Wister newbies we didn’t give the puddle a second thought and charged right through it in my buddy’s two-wheel-drive Dodge pickup.

Of course, if you’ve ever been to Wister, you probably know what happened.  Yup…we sunk her right down to the axle in the middle of the puddle.

We didn’t have a shovel, not that it would have done much, and, apparently, we were the last ones headed out to that particular hunting area as no one else came up behind us that might have helped.

After about an hour of pushing from either end of the truck and attempting to use one of the hubcaps as a makeshift shovel, we concluded that we’d have to walk back to the check station to get some help.  All the other hunters were already in their hunting areas and setting up so it was a long walk with no prospect of a ride.  Now, remember this was well before cell phones so the only way we were going to get help was the payphone on the side of the Wister Check Station.  As we walked towards the check station, we could hear whistling wings above us and make out ducks flying back and forth above us in the gathering light.  When start time rolled around about a hundred shotguns opened up all over the wildlife area and we could even see an occasional duck falling out of the sky as the hunters connected with their prey.

We finally got to the check station and called the Auto Club for a tow.  I guess they don’t do this any more down at Wister or maybe it was because we were just in a puddle and the area was generally dry, but we managed to get the auto club to come out and pull us out of the puddle.

Once we were free, we jumped back into my friend’s truck and managed to get to our parking spot without further incident.  We were generally covered with mud and the truck was too, inside and out.  When we finally got our limited gear out to our hunting spot it was about 8:30 am.  We’d missed the best shooting of the day, however, the wind was picking up even more and the Snow Geese were beginning to fly.

We quickly threw our dozen decoys out and basically just hunkered down on the dike near the hunting spot stake and waited for whatever might come along.  We didn’t have to wait long.

Several times flights of magnificent Snow Geese flew right over us fighting the strong wind, just seeming to hang there in the sky not 30 yards above us.  We fired and fired yet nothing fell.  Occasionally we could even hear shot drumming off the wing feathers of the geese, yet they didn’t come down.  Either the #4 shot didn’t have enough oomph or the wind was blowing our shot strings way off course.

Finally, on one of my shots, a “golden bb” broke the wing of one of the Snow Geese and it nosedived into our pond with a huge splash.  I quickly set the shotgun down and “ran” (as much as you can run in Wister mud) to claim my prize.  I thought it was dead as it hung limply as I carried it back across the pond, but it was apparently only stunned by the hard splashdown.  As I approached the dike it woke up and began to beat me with its wings and scratch at me with its claws.  The only thing I could think to do was to stumble the last few steps to the dike and bash its head on the barrel of the old Winchester.  That ended the fight.

So, finally, I had my first waterfowl and my first goose.  It wasn’t long after that my buddy was able to also scratch down a goose except his was actually dead on splashdown and didn’t fight him when he brought it back.

After a few more unsuccessful shots on the geese by both of us, things started to slow down and I thought I’d take a short walk down the dike just to stretch my legs.  I got about 75 yards down the dike and just as I was about to turn around and walk back to our hunting spot a drake pintail jumped out of the brush near my feet.  It didn’t fly very well and, looking back, I believe now that it was probably a cripple that escaped in the morning shoot, but I was able to connect on it and also harvest my first duck.

We hunted a little while longer, but the ducks were no longer flying, the wind had slowed down, and the geese that were still flying were now flying well out of range.  We finally called it a day at about 1 pm.

So, that’s it.  That’s how it started.  I’ve been chasing them for 45 years now and hopefully will be doing it a while longer.

San Jacinto’s 26th Annual Junior Waterfowl Hunt Event a Great Success, February 8th, 2020

As always, I want to say that there were so many great sponsors, volunteers, and so many that supported the Junior Hunt event with prizes, assistance, and food they deserve another big thanks from all of us.

The San Jacinto Wildlife Area Junior Hunt is an outstanding event to cap off a great season of hunting for our Junior Hunters.  The Junior Hunters had some good waterfowl hunting and, as always at the SJ Junior Hunt Event, they also came away with some fantastic prizes at the lunch and giveaway at mid-day.

As is the tradition at SJ, the Juniors and their adult mentors were treated to a great breakfast of pancakes and sausage with coffee and hot chocolate.

After a great breakfast, the Juniors and their escorting adults headed out to the Wildlife Area to set up and wait for the starting horn blast.  The hunting was fairly good this year and many waterfowl were harvested by the Junior Hunters.

(In case you missed it you can read the hunt results here…  https://socalhunt.wordpress.com/2020/02/08/hunt-results-for-san-jacinto-wildlife-areas-26th-annual-junior-hunt-saturday-2-8-20/ )

When lunch rolled around everyone assembled at the Check Station workshop for lunch and the prize giveaway. Lunch was fantastic with the Juniors and their adults dining on BBQed hamburgers and hotdogs donated by Angelo’s Burgers and Quail Forever and pulled pork prepared and donated by John Ross from Dee’z Boy’z BBQ in San Jacinto.  Tom Trakes’ daughter provided and decorated a fantastic cake for the event.

This year’s Junior Hunt was dedicated to the memory of Easton Parker, also known as “Beaston”, one of the SJ Junior Hunters that sadly passed away this past year from a brain tumor.

After lunch the event everyone was excitedly waiting for, the prize giveaway was conducted.  There was so much support for this year’s Junior Hunt that all the Junior Hunters received at least two raffle prizes each!  The prizes ranged from gun cases, decoys, fishing rods, and a plethora of other assorted hunting and outdoor gear.  Needless to say, all the junior hunters went away happy.  There were several “Grand Prizes” at the event.  5 firearms given away and a German Shorthair puppy, donated by Chaz Prato was also one of the grand prizes.

Tom wanted me to give a special thanks to Quail Unlimited for sponsoring the shotgun raffle earlier this past year for the two shotguns at Bass Pro Shop.  Through their generosity, quite a bit of money was earned which allowed many prizes to be purchased for the event, along with two of the shotguns given away to the Juniors Hunters.  Tom also wanted to thank Bass Pro Shop for assisting with a place for the earlier shotgun raffle by QU and for giving the SJ crew a great discount on the prizes they bought for the event which made the money spent go much further.

After the raffle, many of the Junior Hunters went back to their blinds to finish out their day, and their waterfowl season, hunting.

The Junior Hunt was an outstanding event, as it usually is.  As I’ve said every year and will repeat again as I fervently believe it, the Juniors are the future of our sport, so it is vital to keep them interested and involved in waterfowl hunting.  San Jacinto’s Annual Junior Waterfowl Hunt definitely goes a long way towards that goal every year.

Tom told me he’d like to thank, as well as I would myself, everyone who donated prizes, food, labor or anything else towards this event.  We all should also thank the San Jacinto crew for, as usual, going the extra mile to help make this event happen. We all appreciate all your hard work.

So, another Junior Waterfowl Hunt is in the books.  Check out the pictures below of the 73 Juniors Hunters that participated this year and the beautifully decorated cake Tom’s daughter worked so hard on.  This was a great event to celebrate the 26th annual waterfowl hunt at San Jacinto Wildlife Area and a great way to usher in what will hopefully be a lifetime of waterfowl hunting for the future of our sport, the Junior Hunters.

Also, off the subject of the Junior Hunt, but since I have your attention, Tom told me that he expects to have a cleanup day scheduled some time in March to start the process of cleaning up the Wildlife Area in preparation for next season and he also wanted me to remind everyone that the annual Hunter’s Education Class, which is required for new hunters to obtain their license, would likely be conducted in May.  Watch here on SoCalHunt for the dates for those events when they are set.

Here’s just a few photos of the Junior Hunt event.  I’ll let the pictures do the talking…

San Jacinto Wildlife Area’s Bryant Park Preschool Annual Toy Drive a Big Success!

The San Jacinto Wildlife Area Staff is putting out A BIG THANKS to all the hunters who, once again, came through BIG TIME to donate toys for the Annual Bryant Park Head Start Preschool Toy Drive.   The San Jacinto hunters came through overwhelmingly and provided the toys needed to make this event a big success for the kids.

Just before Christmas, the preschool’s kids were presented with toys from Santa. It was a wonderful time for the kids and the adults in attendance and some great food and desserts were brought in by the parents too!

Once again, the Staff at San Jacinto Wildlife Area (and I as well) would like to extend a big THANK YOU to the San Jacinto hunters for their very generous toy donations to make this all possible.  SJ hunters, as they always do, have proved they have a heart and really care.

Thanks once more for all the generous toy donations!

Here are a few pictures from the event to tell the story:

Report on Wister Conditions – Access via Highway 111

If you’re going to go to Wister for the upcoming waterfowl season opener next Saturday (10/19/19) here some information regarding conditions at  Wister and the road conditions that might affect your ability to get there.  As you most likely have heard there have been some road closures and construction off and on in the area of the Wister entrance and check station due to a “mud volcano” which popped up a while back across the highway from the check station.

Scott Sewell, Senior Fish and Wildlife Habitat Supervisor with the Department of Fish and Wildlife reported the following conditions for the Wister Unit of the Imperial Wildlife Area:

North End
514 All ponded
513 Ponded trying to get water to Disable Site
413 Still Ponding, 413W2 dry, 413W3 half ponded, 413W4 dry
312 312B2,4 ponded, the rest still dry but filling.
312C 2,4 just getting water, 312C 5 just getting water.
115 B1 just getting water, B3 East is ponded B5 ponded.
114 All ponded

South End
Y15 Last 2 ponds near Davis Rd Dry.
W11 Last 2 ponds near Davis Rd Dry.
U14 2,4 ponded, 5 is filling, 1 is dry.
U12 2,4 filling, 5 ponded, 3,1 filling
U10 Ponded
T10 All Dry due to no pipeline.
T12 Ponded
T14 1,3 Dry, 5 low water in swell, 2,4 Ponded
S20 1,3 Ponded

Scott advised that Wister staff is currently flooding as much as possible and the above information is as of this past Monday.

In addition, for those concerned about access to Wister due to the “mud volcano” that appeared a while back in an area across Highway 111 from the check station, CalTrans is reporting as of Saturday, October 12th, 2019 at 02:13 PM:

“Highway 111 – 1-WAY CONTROLLED TRAFFIC AT VARIOUS LOCATIONS FROM 0.6 MI NORTH OF MUNDO TO 2.3 MI SOUTH OF WISTER /AT NILAND CREEK BRIDGE/ (IMPERIAL CO) FROM 1600 HRS ON 10/11/19 TO 2200 HRS ON 10/12/19 – DUE TO CONSTRUCTION – MOTORISTS ARE ADVISED TO USE AN ALTERNATE ROUTE”

There is no indication on the CalTrans web site if there will be any closures or restrictions past 10 pm (2200) tonight (Saturday 10/12/19).  So, right now it sounds like you can get to Wister, although there may be some minor delays.  Hopefully, it will be completely opened by next Friday night/Saturday morning.

If you want to keep on top of the current conditions for Highway 111 you can check on the CalTrans Road Conditions web site at:

https://roads.dot.ca.gov

Just enter “111” in the box for the highway number or you can call and get recorded info at 1-800-427-7623.

If SoCalHunt learns of any further reports on any changes to either conditions at Wister and/or road conditions on Highway 111 which may have an impact on hunters’ ability to get there, we will post a new report.

UPDATE!: As of 6:28 PM on 10/14/19 CalTrans reported the following –

SR 111

[IN THE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA AREA]
NO TRAFFIC RESTRICTIONS ARE REPORTED FOR THIS AREA.

San Jacinto’s September 21st Volunteer Blind Brush Up / Work Day -Things are Looking Good at SJ

Saturday, September 21st, was the final volunteer blind brush-up work day at San Jacinto Wildlife Area prior to the opening of the 2019/2020 season. About 20 volunteers showed up at the SJ check station parking lot at 0600 ready to get at it. Tom briefed the volunteers and they headed out to various locations around SJ to finish rebuilding and to brush-up several of the blinds.

 

The San Jacinto Staff has obtained some hay bales and these are being utilized to provide seating in some of the area’s blinds. Work was finished up on some of the blinds and F-1, F-2, Walker 12 & X blinds were finished being brushed-up. 

 

While out on the wildlife area the group took some time to check out Mystic Lake, which still has plenty of water and is currently holding a couple of thousand ducks! Thinks are looking good for the coming season!

 

One of the blinds, ready for brushing. Hay bale seats in place already.

 

Brushing up a blind.

 

Walking out to check out Mystic Lake.

 

Ducks EVERYWHERE! WOW!

 

After the hard work in the morning, some of the volunteers who didn’t have other obligations to get to and the SJ staff headed over to Marcello’s Pizza in Nuevo for a well-deserved lunch. 

 

Finishing up the PIZZA!

 

Once again, Tom and San Jacinto Crew would like to shout out a big “thank you!” to everyone that came out and worked hard to finish getting the blinds ready for the upcoming duck season, and I echo that sentiment. 

 

The SJ Staff is flooding up the area big time and the food that has been planted for the birds over the last few months has got a lot of duck and other birds using the SJ waterfowl area. Mystic Lake still has plenty of water and should help hold birds in the area throughout the season. Tom and his crew will continue to tweak things, finish up a few blinds that still may need a little attention, and in general, make sure things are ship-shape for the October 19th opener.

 

Get your license, passes and get your reservation request in soon and hopefully, we’ll see you out there at SJ for what appears to be shaping up to be a great season. 

San Jacinto’s August 24th Volunteer Blind Clean Up / Work Day a Great Success

Saturday, August 24th, was the second volunteer clean-up/blind brush-up day for San Jacinto Wildlife Area.  About 35 volunteers arrived bright and early at the SJ check station parking lot eager to get to work.  After a short briefing, Tom sent the volunteers out to various locations in the Wildlife Area to brush-up and even in some cases completely rebuild several of the hunting area’s blinds.

Several people had answered the call in that last few weeks to drop off palm fronds at the San Jacinto parking lot and all of them were utilized in building and brushing-up the blinds today.  Tom says more palm fronds are needed for the next volunteer work day and for maintenance of the blinds as the season progresses so if you can get a hold of any palm fronds any time before the work day you can drop them off at San Jacinto. Just call Tom at 951-236-3040 and he’ll make arrangements for someone to be there so you can drop them off.  Some hay bales were obtained also, and these were utilized to provide seating in some of the area’s blinds.  Extensive work and rebuilding was done on D-2, Walker 5, 10 & 12 and E-4 blinds as well as general brushing-up of many of the other blinds in the area.

Some of the volunteer crew

Hay bales for the blinds

Working on D-2

SJ’s backhoe in action!

After working hard all morning some of the volunteers who didn’t have to head off to other obligations and the SJ Staff headed over to Marcello’s Pizza in Nuevo for a well-earned lunch.

PIZZA…yum!

Once again, Tom and his team at San Jacinto (as well as myself) would like to give a big thank you to everyone that came out and worked hard to get the blinds ready for the fast approaching waterfowl season.

One more blind brush-up/work day is to be scheduled to finish getting things in good order for the coming waterfowl hunting season. The next work day is scheduled for Saturday, September 21st.  I’ll make a separate post with all the details for the September 21st work day when I get all the info and the flyer from the SJ Staff, but mark it on your calendar now so you can keep that date opened.  The September 21st work day will concentrate on working on and brushing up more of the blinds, so palm fronds are needed (check above for details on bringing in palm fronds to use for the SJ blinds).  Please make sure you don’t bring in the type of palm fronds with the thorns on their stalks, unless you’re willing to strip off the thorns first. Those things wreak havoc with waders if the thorns aren’t removed.  Watch SoCalHunt for the “official” announcement and details of the next blind brush-up/work day.

So, things are coming together at San Jacinto.  Mystic Lake is back big time, which should help things immensely this season.  There are also plans to possibly put some blinds on the Mystic lake shoreline, increasing your opportunity to draw a blind.  Most of the duck hunting area has been cleaned up and the SJ Staff, best in the state in my humble opinion, is continuing to plant food for the birds and has started flooding the ponds.  It should be a banner season at SJ this year.  Hope to see you out there some time.

 

 

 

 

US Fish and Wildlife Reports Nationwide Duck Numbers Down slightly for the 2019/2020 Waterfowl Season

Since 1955, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Service have reported the results of their joint breeding population and habitat survey.  Total duck numbers for this year were down slightly compared to last year’s count and, in fact, most species dropped to some degree with the exception of Mallards, Gadwall and Green Wing Teal which all went up slightly and Widgeon, which stayed the same as last year.  With the exception of Pintail and Scaup all species where actually up from their long-term averages, with Redheads actually right at their long-term average. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at: https://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/pdf/surveys-and-data/Population-status/Waterfowl/WaterfowlPopulationStatusReport19.pdf

reported:

“In the traditional survey area, the total duck population estimate, (excluding scoters, eiders, long-tailed ducks, mergansers, and wood ducks) was 38.9 million birds. This estimate was 6% lower than the 2018 estimate of 41.2 million and 10% higher than the long-term average (1955–2018).  The total pond estimate was 5.0 million, which was similar to the 2018 estimate of 5.2 million and the long-term average of 5.2 million. In general, habitat conditions during the 2019 Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey (WBPHS) were similar to or declined relative to 2018, with a few exceptions.  Much of the Canadian prairies experienced below-average precipitation from fall 2018 through spring 2019. The U.S. prairies experienced average to above-average precipitation over most of the region. Habitat conditions were generally drier near the North Dakota border with Canada.”

The report revealed that Mallards were up to approximately 9.4 million, which was a slight increase from the 2018 estimate of 9.3 million, yet still 19% above the long-term average.  Blue Wing Teal numbers are approximately 5.4 million, which is 16% below the 2018 estimate of 6.5 million but 6% above the long-term average. Green-winged teal are down to 3.2 million, which is up 4% from the 2018 estimate of 3.0 million which make them 47% above their long-term average. The estimate for American Wigeon is 2.8 million which is level with the 2018 estimate of 2.8 million and 8% above the long-term average. Estimated numbers of gadwall are 3.3 million which is up 13% from the 2018 estimate of 2.9 million bringing Gads up to a whopping 43% above their long-term average. Scaup (both greater and lesser) were at 3.6 million, which is a 10% decrease from the 2018 estimate of 4.0 million making them 28% below the long-term average. Northern Shoveler (an SJ favorite) are estimated at 3.7 million which is 13% down from the 2018 estimate of 4.2 million but still a sizeable 39% above the long-term average. Redheads are at 0.7 million which is 27% below the 2018 estimate of 1.0 million and right at the long-term average. Canvasbacks came in with 0.6 million which was down 5% from the 2018 estimate of 0.7 million but still 10% above the long-term average. Pintails were estimated at 2.3 million, which was down 4% below the 2018 estimate of 2.4 million and, sadly, 42% below the long-term average.  (Note – all numbers rounded off).

So, it looks like, unfortunately, this coming season will present hunters with a slightly fewer birds but still, despite this, we might have the potential to get a crack at good numbers since most waterfowl, with the exception of Scaup and Pintail, are still above their long-term averages.

As always what will be more important to waterfowl hunters in the Southern California area over small fluctuations in nationwide duck numbers is the weather.  What Southern California duck hunters really need is some weather up north to spur the available birds into migrating into our area.  Another thing we Southern California duck hunters have to consider is that the California DFW’s own state breeding population survey shows duck numbers in our state are actually down 14% over last year’s state numbers.  (You can check out DFW’s report on the California Waterfowl Breeding Survey here:  https://cdfgnews.wordpress.com/2019/06/28/cdfw-completes-2019-waterfowl-breeding-population-survey/ )

As of this report it’s 61 days until the season opens here in Southern California.  It’s a great time to start getting all your duck hunting gear ship shape and maybe go shoot a few rounds of trap or skeet to tune up. Despite the lower duck numbers in both the USFW survey and the DFW breeding survey the bigger factor for us down in this part of the state is to get the birds moving our way.  Hopefully we’ll get the weather and the birds will migrate early, and we’ll have another great season at San Jacinto!

 


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