News and Updates

We were finally able to advance in training this morning with less smoke on the course.  This morning's training toss looks fairly normal on the results but about 2/3 of the birds got into some real trouble not arriving for 1 Hour  & 20 Minutes after the release.  Hopefully they learned something.

About 1/3 of the birds arrived in 30 Minutes from the south (they stayed up loft flying an additional 30+ minutes).  Fairly typical for a short toss in a new spot with birds that are still learning.  However the next 30 minutes nothing at all came in to join them.  We were starting to get pretty nervous that the rest got into some real trouble.  Just after the 1 hour mark another 25-30 joined the group that was already here flying.  They all landed and started trapping around 8:25 to 8:30.  After they  went in and a couple on the roof we were still only at 170 of 360 birds.
At the 1 Hour & 20 Minute mark, there were still no more birds.  1 Hr/20 Mins from past experience is I think the time when you gotta start worrying on a short toss that the main flock is lost and having a hard time finding home.  That's when they start to break apart.  Fortunately a couple minutes later a huge group of about 165 arrived from the north (wrong direction). They looked good on arrival but also had that nervous/relieved look that I have seen before to where they were happy to have found home.  We were still down around 25 birds at that point and 12 have come in since (later in the morning and 1 so far this afternoon).  I think we'll probably lose 5-10 birds but I'll take that over the alternative because it looked like we were real close to having a smash 6 Mile toss.  We've had it happen once before with the GCC birds and a couple of times with my own birds.
I'm sure a lot of the breeders think a 6 mile toss should be a piece of cake but where we live doesn't make for the typical 6 mile toss.  The birds have to fly through multiple mountains with canyons and a cross over the American River just to get home from that 6 Miles.  Once we get out to 30+ Miles the terrain starts to transition into rolling hills and of course by that point the birds are already used to the mountains.
Tomorrow we will go back to the same spot and then 12-13 miles on Saturday.  Sunday looks like rain in the morning which would prevent training but if it does rain it should help knock down some of this excess smoke that continues to linger.  Tuesday and Wednesday were hot and stagnant with a lot of smoke in the area still.  Today was better but still a fair amount of smoke around release and especially to the SE.  I expect smoke will be better tomorrow and Saturday and then who knows from Monday on as the winds shift again.  Goal right now is to get the birds trained in this 6 to 13 mile area (which is also the smokiest) and then once we get them to 24 Miles the skies have generally been better in that section of the course.
Any birds that come home late this evening will be kept home from tomorrow's toss.  
- Matt
Smoke continues to be an issue and has again prevented us from training the past two days.  See picture at bottom of update with the AQI Map from this morning at 8:00 AM.  The skies cleared out real nice Sunday (with the Caldor Fire less active), so I thought we would have a better chance to train today............yet somehow the smoke was even heavier this morning along the course than yesterday.  It's also lingering longer today (air quality is still bad at Noon) which isn't a good sign for tomorrow.  It's difficult to even make sense of as the smoke/AQI around Placerville are even worse this morning than they were all day yesterday right next to the fire itself.
The last several mornings at the loft and within a 3 mile radius have been nice with mostly clear skies.  The little valley we sit in has actually protected us from the smoke during early mornings during this stretch.  However once you start to get about 4-15 Miles away from the loft in the direction of S, SE, SW, W the smoke gets heavier especially in the canyons around the river and along Highway 50.  This is right where we need to train from.  AQI ratings are around 140-180 which is unhealthy and too dangerous to train in.  I know from experience and watching other OLR's, if you release in 150+ AQI the birds are going to have problems.  The air doesn't clear well enough till around 10:30 to Noon and by that time it's too hot to train.  Temperatures have been above 90 for the last couple days and through Wednesday, so it's too hot to release past 9 AM.
We're considering training the birds NE or NW instead but even that is risky in these mountains.  If they get off course a few miles south of the loft then they're in the smoke.  The birds have been loft flying well (especially this morning) and seem to be fully back in shape.  Forecast does show a cool down coming later this week from Thursday-Sunday.  That means stronger SW winds starting earlier in the morning so it may work out to where the smoke blows out by 10 AM.  With temperatures only in the 70's before Noon perhaps we can do some later morning tosses on those mornings.
If we don't see a change to this pattern on Friday then I think we may have to switch courses and go back to the NE course.  I'd rather fly the south course because the NE course is much more difficult terrain and sucks for training losses.......but at some point we gotta get the show on the road.  Racing past November is not really an option.  Hope for the best in the coming days and I think come Friday morning we'll have a better idea.

9/13 AQI Ratings

Fire and smoke has made for a difficult two and a half weeks to where we've hardly been able to even let the birds outside let alone train.  We're starting to see some improvements in air quality early over the last couple days however and have been able to finally get the birds out early.  Earlier in August we were already dealing with smoke intermittently on certain days from the massive Dixie fire to the North which is now over 800,000 acres
Saturday night August 14th the Caldor Fire started about 15 Miles SE of here.  Monday morning August 16th we watched it explode with a massive Pyrocumulus cloud to the SE as the birds were finishing up loft flying.  In the two weeks since there has been devastation along the southern and eastern portions of El Dorado county with a lot of burned down homes, evacuations, and shutting down Highway 50.  It's now up to over 210,000 acres and threatening thousands of homes in the Lake Tahoe basin.    My sister (Jon's Daughter) who lives in South Lake Tahoe on the edge of Meyers had to evacuate this past weekend and Sunday night/Monday morning the fire came within less than 1/2 Mile of her home.  So far her house and all the others on Pioneer Trail have survived but it's a tenuous situation with the fire still actively burning less than 2 Miles away.
Since the beginning the fire has continued to burn and spread further away from the loft here in Garden Valley but because of overnight wind patterns, smoke has been horrible here every morning.  Every night from about 10 PM to 8 AM the next morning the winds blow light from the E or SE in the foothills and lower mountains (1500-6500' range).  In the early morning hours all the smoke blows down here and it's the absolute worst from about 6 AM to 10 AM every day.  Nearly every morning the AQI ratings here at the loft range from 250-600.  150+ is considered unhealthy for anybody and 300+ is considered hazardous.  Most people have no idea what 500+ AQI readings look like in person but I can tell you it looks like the end of the world.  It's an eerie look and smell.  Remarkably the pigeons have handled it well and appear very healthy but we'll see in the coming week or two if it has affected their condition as we start to work them back into shape.
Because we live in a small valley between some mountains we also get very little wind in the morning, so the smoke is very slow to clear out.  If we lived just 5-10 miles away in any other direction the skies would be much better on most mornings.  On the really hot calm days where highs reach upper 90s to 100, the entire region has little wind and the smoke at the loft takes all day to move out to where we can't even let the birds out.  We've had a few days such as Wednesday where temperatures were more mild because of some cooling SW winds and the smoke blew out mid morning.  Thursday was even better as we got lucky in that most of the smoke stayed south of us and we were finally able to let the birds out early.  The birds have only been out on 3 other occasions during mid-day once it had warmed up (after the smoke finally cleared) and predictably they didn't fly much.  
Needless to say with 2+ weeks of little activity, the birds are somewhat out of shape. This morning (Thursday) in cool temperatures the main group only flew just over 30 minutes with flagging (some flew longer).  That was actually better than we expected but normally in the same conditions they'd easily fly over an hour.  If the smoke continues to cooperate over the next week we'll use that period to get the birds back in shape and then resume training late next week.  There is a chance it may smoke up again all day this weekend as high pressure builds in and it heats up so we'll hope for the best.  The Caldor fire is finally starting to slow down and push into the east side of the sierras to where we don't have as much smoke blowing back overnight.
One benefit of the essentially 2+ weeks off is that it has really accelerated the body moult on the younger birds.  Once they stopped flying every day, they really fall apart.  Several birds that arrived in April and May are in heavy upper neck and head moults right now.  This is a good thing as they'll finish up in a week or two before the longer training tosses occur.  Heavy body moults especially around the head/neck are a big stress on young birds.  They're more likely to get lost in this stage of moult.
We started training a little early this year and were hoping to be ahead of schedule but looks like now we'll end up being a little behind.  This is why it's almost impossible to stick to a 'training schedule' as Mother Nature never cooperates.  The smoke here has been so awful that it's been an easy decision to leave the birds in.  A couple other OLR's have been faced with the tougher decision of releasing in moderate amounts of smoke and have paid the price with some heavy losses.  There is an AQI target range number that I figure is safe enough to release the birds in for training/racing but the smoke does move around and can thicken up in a hurry.
Most likely races will start late in October and go well into November.  Hopefully no more fires impact our area but Northern California is in such a severe drought right now, we're likely not done with the fires.  Just a question of where the next big one occurs.
Finally thank you to all of the firefighters both local and being brought in to help from all around the country to fight all of these wildfires.  They are working long grueling shifts in very dangerous and rugged terrain.  The work they've done to save homes around Lake Tahoe has been amazing.  I've also watched several videos of DC-10 Tankers doing retardant drops just over the trees in the mountains.  Incredible bravery and precision from those pilots.  Thanks again to the firefighters who still have a long couple months ahead of them.
Will update again shortly after training resumes or if any other notable changes.
- Matt

This morning was not a good morning here in Garden Valley.  We and apparently the birds were caught off guard by heavy wildfire smoke that rolled in from the north.  As I write this at 12:30 we are missing 50+ birds from this morning's loft flight.  Over half the birds were out ranging and a group of 50+  just never came back after the smoke started to roll in really heavy.

When we let the birds out at 7:00 this morning it was smoky up very high but down at the altitude the birds flew in the skies were good.  You could see the surroundings fine. I checked the air quality ratings and they were all good.  We've loft flown birds the last few years in this kind of smoke or worse and never any problems.  The birds were doing really good this morning and were in two groups.  One group of about 40% was staying closer to the loft and another group of about 60% were out ranging/routing but appeared multiple times out in the distance.  I let my own young birds out at about 7:20 and they joined in with the two groups of GCC birds.
As of 7:30 all the birds were still here and the two flocks both looked like the right amount of birds.  Sometime after 7:40 the group that was out ranging disappeared again and we were getting a little concerned as the smoke was starting to come in thicker and lower.  Jon spotted them again though around 7:45 to 7:50.  Shortly thereafter they came back and merged in with the other big group close to the loft.  At the time it seemed like all the birds but now I'm guessing it wasn't.  Appears sometime in that time after 7:40 is when about 50+ birds just disappeared after breaking off from the main flock.  Once all the birds started trapping in just past 8 AM Jon noticed we were down birds.  
By 8:15 the smoke was starting to roll in really heavy to where you could now smell it and visibility was starting to go down quite a bit.  From 9:00 AM on the smoke is as bad as we've ever seen it to where you can't even see across the canyon.  The air quality ratings are terrible in the very unhealthy range.  I'm missing 9 of 32 (28%) of my own Young Birds as well, fortunately the percentage of GCC birds missing is not nearly that high.  Since this morning only 1 bird has worked it's way back so far at 10:53.  We're hoping the rest of the birds went down early and are just waiting out the smoke.  Skies should improve a little late in the day as the winds pick up a little and moreso tomorrow when the winds go back to normal direction.
All of the smoke is arriving from the north from about 4 different fires especially the Dixie Fire which is now over 400,000 acres.  We had a wind shift last night and today with light north winds blowing all of the smoke into the Sacramento region.  Here in the foothills we have less wind so once the smoke rolls in it tends to thicken up and doesn't move out quickly.  At this time of year winds are out of the SW 90% of the time, so we have been fortunate not to have to deal with much smoke but that changed big time today.  The entire northern part of the state is on fire with multiple large fires.  The Dixie Fire being the 3rd largest in State History and less than 100 Miles north of us.
This really sucks and sorry to those breeders who are missing birds today.  This is very similar to what happened to the AGN Race last year with incoming fire/smoke causing some birds to just vanish while out loft flying.  Hopefully with better skies some of them work their way back tomorrow.  In hindsight we wish we hadn't let the birds out this morning.  Skies changed so much between 7:00 and 8:00 and nothing you can do once they're already out flying.  I'm surprised some of the birds would choose to venture out of sight of the loft with smoking thickening up but they don't always do things that make sense.  It's possible a hawk or falcon got after that group as well.
Will hope for some returns and clearer skies in the morning.  Training will resume early next week. 
- Matt

Sunday and Monday Jon completed a two-day hands on inventory of all the birds (except the youngest 25 that were sent over the last couple of weeks).  He also pulled the 10th flight of most of the birds.  Birds that were a little too young and not on their 10th flight yet were marked with snap rings and will have theirs pulled late in June.  As is usually the case around early June, various birds are in all stages of body moult.  Some are almost done, some are starting to drop body feathers, and some young ones have barely started.  Racing primarily in October helps to get just about all of the birds through the body moult before the races start.

We are no longer accepting new entries but we do accept replacements for the next couple of weeks. Please check the inventory on the Trainer Page on Wincompanion from this Hands-On Inventory.  If you are missing a bird or two you still have the next two weeks to send one.  
It looks like we are down about 20+ birds that still need to be replaced.  Some of these we already knew about and had contacted the breeders who either did not have anything to send or have not yet sent them.  There were about a dozen (including a few older ones surprisingly) that have disappeared from loft flights over the last month.  I think most of those were fly-aways but hawks may have got a few.  We have not had much of a Cooper hawk problem over the past two months but a new one has moved in over the last few weeks.  I imagine it has picked off a few birds but hard to say since we haven't seen much of it.
Overall health in the loft is good and has been good for the duration.  We seem to get a sick bird in the main loft maybe every 4-6 days but in total we've only had about a dozen sick birds in the main loft itself.  We're hoping this trend continues for the next few weeks.  Generally by the end of June the common Young Bird illnesses that spread in one loft races, tend to wind down.
As mentioned, overall health in the main loft has been good this year and better than an average year.  Quarantining has been a different story, we've had 15+ sick birds in quarantine this year.  We've had birds from about 5-6 different breeders get sick within just 2-5 days of being here.  One breeder's birds were so bad that all 6 of them were very sick within less than a week of being here (3 didn't make it) and they even infected the quarantine pen next to them (with 2 of those 3 dying too).  
Quite simply these birds are being shipped in already sick and/or carrying something that comes out immediately after the stress of shipping.  All of the issues with USPS shipping times (some boxes taking 3-4 days) doesn't help but that only brings out what the bird already has.  Unfortunately some breeders aren't paying enough attention to the health of their birds at home (or just don't care).  Bottom line..... if you have sick birds at home you shouldn't be shipping youngsters to one loft race.  You not only hurt your own chances but more importantly these birds end up exposing other breeder's birds to sickness.  Quarantining helps, as do the numerous supplements we use but it's impossible to stop every carrier from entering the main loft.
Birds have been flying pretty well so far and a dry spring (with less hawks) has allowed us to get them out more.  We just moved the second to last group into the main loft and they're all together now.  After a couple of off days after merging them together, this big group of 420+ will start going out together later this week and then just a matter of introducing these last 25 + any replacements from the next week or two.  We will start posting WinCompanion loft flight inventories later in June once all the birds are going out and everything is being forced out of the loft.
Ideally we would like to start training late June this year or very first week of August and try to get the schedule moved up a week or two.  So far we are on a good pace for that but will see how the weather and fire season cooperates.  California is in another bad drought this year, brush didn't grow as tall but it's already bone dry.  I'm guessing fires earlier this year but maybe that will lead to them being more spread out and less concentrated in the fall.
Thank You to everyone who supported the race again (or for the first time) in 2021.  We ended up getting just a little more birds than we planned on, which is a good thing.  We don't have any gimmicks or guaranteed massive payouts but we do consistently have among the very best actual race series year after year.  The archived past races are proof of that.  To me that's what is most important (how the races themselves go) and not just hype and money.
- Matt @ Gold Country Challenge

The 2020 Gold Country Challenge season has come to a close.  Just about all of the birds have been picked up or shipped back over the past week and most of the checks were mailed out last week as well. For those that won prizes shipping charges were deducted from your prize check.  We charge very close to the actual amount for shipping as depending on how close you live to California, USPS vary quite a bit.  If your bird(s) are still here and you want them back please let us know soon.  Anything still here after this coming weekend will be given to new flyers.

The 320 Mile Final (Race 4) was flown 2+ weeks ago from Lancaster, CA.  It was an interesting race that somehow went both good and bad at the same time.  The birds poured in early (65 birds in 9 minutes) with several of the top performers from the first three races repeating at the top.  However returns really sputtered after the beginning of the race and overall returns were not nearly what we hoped for. 
Jon released the birds at 7:15 under clear cold skies with light winds. One of the breeders Bryan Schaller was also there to witness the release.  As mentioned the morning of the race, the birds struggled to leave the release at one point heading SE towards the sun.  After 9-10 minutes they seemingly got it together and finally left in the right direction extremely high in the air. Both Jon and Bryan noted that this was the highest they've ever seen birds leave a release point.
The biggest challenge for the pigeons on this south course once we get past 300 Miles is climbing the Tehachapi Mountains that begin about 20-25 Miles out from the release point.  The terrain (5000-6000') they have to climb is higher than anything they've flown in to this point.  It is typically windy in the Tehachapis.  On the morning of the release winds were out of the east around 12-15 MPH but I figured this would help keep the birds from venturing too far east up into the Sierras which are even bigger mountains.  The rest of the course was beautiful with sunny skies, light winds, and mild temperatures.  There was a light headwind the last 75 Miles or so.  Conditions were there for an upper 1300s YPM type of race.  That's what I thought we would get but it appears the birds had some difficulties navigating the mountains early on.
Here at the loft I thought the birds were getting a bit late once speeds fell below 1350 and I was really concerned once speeds started to approach 1300 YPM.  Conditions were too nice not to have birds yet.  Another concern was that we would then have 1 or 2 random birds show up that had not shown anything the entire series.  That's all too common when races start to get slower than they should be.  I understand it happens but not the kind of race I like to see.  Fortunately just before 2:27 a big drop of birds flew over (I didn't see what direction they came from as by the time I saw them they were already starting to loop around).  I threw a dropper and the drop came right down.  They were pretty tired after 7 Hours & 12 Minutes on the wing.  They all clocked in pretty quickly over the course of 30+ seconds and I was pleasantly surprised that there were 22 birds on this first drop.  Pretty amazing that many of them stayed together well after 7+ hours on the wing on what ultimately ended up a tough race.
This first drop ended up being a who's who of several elite pigeons that were outstanding the entire series.  16 of the 22 pigeons on this drop were First Drop in at least 2 races and 8 Pigeons were First Drop in at least 3 of the 4 Races with of course the lone standout being First Drop in all 4 Races.  No question these were the leaders as so many of these pigeons were at the top in every race and even the long training tosses.  That is one trend we found out at the club level with the south course, the pigeons are very consistent at the top every race as the same birds seem to continually come together in tiers.
1st in the clock at 1301 YPM went to 304-ML from H & H Flying Circus of Chuck Hughes and Mark Heimann.  This pigeon also climbed up to 3rd Place in the Nominated Point Bird standings.  Congratulations to Chuck and Mark who have now won actual 1st Place on the final race 3 times over the last six years in addition to 2 or 3 more actual 1sts on shorter races and numerous equal 1sts.
Also on the first drop is the aforementioned 2514-PNW from Portland Loft (Michael Schiele) that won 1st Overall Ace Pigeon (Average Speed) and was 1st Drop in all 4 Races plus 1st Drop on the longest 4 training tosses including a 131 and 101 Mile toss.  This pigeon 2514-PNW is undoubtedly one of the greatest one loft champions ever in any one loft race regardless of size.  It refused to be anything other than first drop in a multitude of speeds and conditions and on a race course that has mountains.  Congratulations to Michael for breeding an incredible pigeon.
Also on this first drop were the 2nd Overall Ace Pigeon for Sierra Ranch, the 3rd Overall Ace Pigeon for Bieche-Stevenson, 4th Overall Ace Pigeon for Denis Eastwood, and 5th Overall Ace Pigeon for Dan & Greg Coury.  All 4 of these pigeons have virtually identical records all being on the first Drop in Races 1/2/4 and 3rd Drop in Race 3 (just 7 minutes out).  In a normal year in our race or any race......any one of these pigeons would have easily won 1st Overall Ace Pigeon but this year they just ran into a perfect pigeon that never slipped up.  Congratulations to all of these breeders who have all had big success here in past years.  Sierra Ranch was also 7th Overall Ace Pigeon.
Emmalyn & Carelyn Loft (Ceyx Torado) was also on this first drop with his 708-CEYX that made a leap forward all the way to 1st Nominated Point Bird.  Congratulations to Ceyx and his hen 708 that did exactly what it needed to do to narrowly win 1st Point bird.  The Top-5 Nominated Point birds were separated by just a mere 10 points.  With the point bird standings you never know how it's going to play out with different scenarios in play on the final.  This year with the top few nominated point birds falling off on the final race and some within striking distance having their best race and clocking at the top of the drop where they needed to....... a unique scenario played out where the standings actually tightened up and became super close. 
There were too many breeders and super pigeons on the first drop to mention them all but, last mention will go to the 22nd Place bird (last to clock on the drop) 579-GENS from Genesis Syndicate (Gordon Meng).  This pigeon was 2nd Nominated Point Bird and 9th Overall Ace Pigeon.  Of note, Gordon was also on the first drop of the final last year with the first bird in the clock.  Congratulations to Gordon on being first drop on the final two years in a row.  Congratulations to all 22 breeders who had pigeons on the first drop.
The second drop of 4 birds flew over right as the first drop had finished scanning and I ran over and scanned the drop marker.  One bird actually dove down and ran in just to the left of me but it was definitely on the second drop and this is why I use the drop marker chips attached to a piece of dowling to officially mark the drop.  These 4 birds won the last of the prizes.  Just 3 minutes after the first drop arrived, the 3rd drop arrived and to my surprise it was even bigger than the first with 25 pigeons on this 3rd drop.  They came  online out of the SSE.  This drop contained a few more Top-14 average speed birds (who won prizes for that) but unfortunately the capital prizes for the final had already been exhausted at this point.  Kind of a shame to have pigeons just 3 minutes out on the final not winning any prizes but with only a $250 entry fee, so many pigeons on the first drop, and a large number of average speed prizes......there is only so much money to go around.  Congratulations though to the breeders of these birds who also had great performances on a tough day.  Many of these 3d drop birds had their best race of the series.
Several more pigeons arrived over the next 6 minutes mostly coming online or close to online out of the south.  After just 9 minutes 65 birds (29%) were already home.   The way the birds were just pouring in during that first 9 minutes, I thought we were going to have a great race with great returns.  I was wrong and things sure took a turn for the worse quickly with returns dramatically slowing down.  Only 18 more birds came back over the course of the next two plus hours with one coming right as it was getting dark and another actually coming in the dark.  In total 83 birds made it on the day.  Granted the days are very short now but returns slowed so dramatically over the last two hours it was obvious most of the remaining birds just weren't anywhere near home.  A clue a few days later with one of the lost birds being found 400+ Miles from home confirmed that notion.
We hoped the next morning that birds would pile in but there never really was a big wave.  Birds did come in the next morning but still pretty sporadic and there were some long lulls between returns.  We did get a decent little wave of birds late morning till just past noon and these birds looked like they flew 500.  Likely many of them did, having to turn around from whatever big mistake they made early.  Sadly there were zero 3rd day returns which is bizarre considering how many were still gone and just one 4th day return.  We have not seen a bird since despite several days of good weather.  In total 120 (52%) of 230 birds sent to the final race made it home.  We did get a call a few days after the race that one of the missing birds had strayed into a pigeon flyer's loft in Palm Springs.  This was pretty shocking news as Palm Springs is 105 Miles SE of the release point and over 415 Miles from the loft.  I believe this offers a lot as to why overall returns were poor.  I assume a large portion of the birds at some point broke off and went essentially the exact opposite direction.  Depending on how far they went, the turnaround flight then just becomes too long to overcome. I think some obviously did but many couldn't.  I don't have an answer as to why a portion of the birds would go the wrong way.  The fact they struggled to leave the release point in a timely fashion was another clue their bearings were off that morning.
Hosting the Gold Country Challenge for 13 years, we've never had an actual race with these kinds of returns (we've had plenty of rough training tosses though).  In fact the lowest returns we've ever had on a race was 77%.  The vast majority of our races have had returns above 90% with only a handful even being in the 80% range.    This race from Lancaster with only 52% returns is obviously a dramatic departure from what we are used to and what we prepare the birds for.  It was probably bound to happen at some point especially with switching courses but we're not happy with the returns this particular race and hope not to have a race with these kinds of returns again.  I knew the final race on the south course would be tougher because of the Tehachapi's and that 90% returns were unlikely but I didn't think it would be this difficult. 
Races with returns like this (or often much worse) are common in OLR's these days but I don't ever consider these kinds of races normal.  We certainly don't enjoy seeing a large chunk of birds get lost after putting so much time into them.  In hindsight, had I known the race was going to be so tough, I would have waited one more day to give the birds an extra day of rest before the race.  Maybe this would have given a small handful of extra birds enough gas in the tank to make it home but who knows.  It looks like about 12-15 birds that were doing great throughout the first three races were lost in this race and that's a real shame as some of those probably made their first mistake since they've been here.  However I'd venture an overall higher percentage of birds that were doing great throughout the series made the right decisions and did make it home (mostly early).  A silver lining was that the beginning of the race went so well and that numerous top performing birds did great again in the final.
Going forward for 2021 we still have not decided for sure what course we will be flying but as of now we'll probably stick with this south course and go to 5 races next year.  Both courses have their pros and cons.  The east course that we flew for many years has brutal training in the Sierra mountains and we typically experience one or two "smash" tosses a season before the actual races.  It was almost a yearly thing to lose 75-100 pigeons at Mount Rose from 8500' elevation and there really didn't seem to be a solution of better places to train from.  Typically on the east course the actual races went very well though.  The rough training tosses generally gave the birds so much experience in the mountains that once they had a running start at them it was easier as they had already learned so much through adversity.   The final race has always been a great race with returns in the 80-95% range.  Generally there is a bigger window for speeds on the east course from 1200-1700 ypm with a lot of races on the higher end of that.  Typical to have 1 or 2 1500-1700 ypm races per series. Bird performances were much less consistent on the east course as well I think in large part due to there being so many different mountain ranges and falcons for the birds to deal with.  A bird coming on the first drop in all 4 races never happened in 12 years on the east course and even getting birds to clock on the first drop in 3 (or lately even 2) races was becoming rare.  That to me is a major negative.  Good or bad I like to see consistency and I'm not a fan of randomized race series where different birds are at the top each race.
The south course tends to play out the other way.  It's not an easy course for training but in comparison to the east course it sure comes off as easier.  Training losses are less on the south course.  The races from 250 Miles or less I think are generally fairly comparable to east course races (just slightly worse in returns).  Speeds are almost always in the 1250-1400 range with the absolute max range being 1100-1500s.  More "working race" type speeds but not so good if you like faster races.  As we saw this year the final race on the south course is likely to be much slower and more difficult than the east course.  I don't think it necessarily has to be this difficult as it was this year but it will never be as good for returns as the final on the east course was.  The pigeons are much more consistent on the south course as we saw this year and as I have seen with my own race team the last few years.  It's mostly the same birds at the top every week, same birds in the middle, same birds at the bottom, etc.  I like that and I suspect most breeders do but can't speak for everyone.  
So in general the east course over the sierras has high losses in training, good returns in actual races, generally faster races, great returns on final.  South course in general has better returns in training, slower races, more consistent races, and a difficult final with higher losses.  If you the breeders have a preference as to which  race course let us know.  We've already heard from a few people on each side that prefer one or the other.
Rules for the 2021 series will be posted around the end of this month.  As mentioned if we stick with the south course we will be going to 5 Races and making the first race around 130 to 136 Miles.  Most of the rules will be the same with the same entry fee and perch fees of $110 Each or 6 for $575.
One continued emphasis will be on truly flying a multiple race series and paying the top Overall Ace Pigeons accordingly.  We are one of the few races remaining that actually pays a good portion of the payout and our largest prize to the Overall Ace Pigeons.  I firmly believe that the most consistent pigeons of multiple races should be the larger prize winners and they type of pigeons we all aim to breed.  Unfortunately the trend in the sport is to throw these huge first drop prizes onto the final not leaving many prizes for anything else with average speed being an afterthought.  All too often the final is really difficult and then a bird or two that has performed poorly the entire series walks away with most of the money.  I'd be happy to take the money too and we even had a bird do something like that last year, but is that something we should really all be striving for?  Pigeons that only do well in one race?  I'm not sure when or why this became the trend but nobody is ever going to convince me that a pigeon that has only done well in one race is better than a pigeon that does well in every race.
So in paying a large number of Average Speed prizes in addition to prizes in 3 of the races that does mean the payout is going to be more spreadout and nobody is going to get rich with $250 entry fees anyways.  That means a more affordable race and more ways to win prizes and turn a profit..........but that also means we're not going to be advertising a six-figure gimmick "guaranteed" top prize either.  Gimmicks and "guarantees" (with stipulations usually attached) are not what we are about.   We run a good honest race series where the business model is based on good competitive races with a reasonable number of birds.  It's not going to get us (or you the breeder) rich but at the end of the day it's not just about's about the racing competition and pigeons themselves.
Congratulations to all of the breeders who had great performing pigeons in the 2020 Series (there were many) and thank you to all of those who supported the Gold Country Challenge again.  We hope to see you back along with some new breeders in 2021.  - Matt Hans

Yesterday we flew the 320 Mile Final of the four race series for the 2020 Gold Country Challenge.  With a difficult race station it turned out to be slower and tougher than anticipated.  Returns were good very early but slowed down dramatically after the third drop. We had a big 22 bird drop at 1301 YPM with several of the top performers from the entire series on this drop including what I believe to be one of the greatest one loft Ace Pigeons ever (more on that to follow).  Video of the first drop landing is at the bottom of this post.  Congratulations to all of the winners.  Notably 1st Place in the clock was H & H Flying Circus (Chuck Hughes).  This is the 3rd time now that H & H Flying Circus has won actual 1st Place on the final race.


Also congratulations to Ceyx Torado (Emmalyn & Carelyn) whose 708-CEYX was on the first drop and moved up all the way to 1st in the Nominated Point Bird standings.


Finally as mentioned this drop contained one of the greatest performers ever in One Loft Racing in America.  Portland Loft's 2514-PNW pulled it off and was 1st Drop in all 4 Races and won 1st Overall Average Speed by over 6 Minutes.  Even more impressive this pigeon was on the first drop on all 4 of the longest training tosses including the 101 and 131 Mile activation.  I can't remember reading about or hearing about another bird with a record like this one.  


Record of 2514-PNW (Portland Loft):

1st Drop @ 320 Mile Final Race 4 (1301 YPM)

1st Drop @ 253 Miles Race 3 (1532 YPM)

1st Drop @ 190 Miles Race 2 (1378 YPM)

1st Drop @ 169 Miles Race 1 (1471 YPM

1st Drop @ 131 Mile Activation (1349 YPM)

1st Drop @ 101 Miles Training (1262 YPM)

1st Drop @ 72 Miles Training (1242 YPM)

1st Drop @ 72 Miles Training (1421 YPM)


Prizes listed on the main race page incude Overall Ace Pigeon and Nominated Point Birds.  1st and 2nd AOC Color Bird Ace Pigeon are actually still in play this Sunday morning but 1st Ace Color Ace pigeon should be decided by 9 AM.  

Full Race Recap with more details will be posted in a couple days......   Congratulations to all of the winners and more to come.  - Matt



The final race (320 Miles) of the 2020 Gold Country Challenge was released this morning from Lancaster off Ave. G at 7:15 this morning.  Bryan Schaller came over to watch the release.  Sun was out early in the desert and Jon watered the birds about 45 Minutes before release although it very cold (Mid 20's) before 7 AM so I doubt many birds drank.  Jon did make a video of the release but will have to upload it later this evening or tonight as he's back on the road.


Conditions at release were very cold, clear sunny skies, and a very light NE wind.  As mentioned Jon released the birds at 7:15 and they struggled a bit at one point heading SE towards the sun.  It took them about 9-10 minutes before Jon & Bryan finally lost sight of them but they appeared to be leaving in the right direction.  The most notable thing is they continued to gain elevation before leaving and they left at an incredibly high altitude.  Jon and Bryan both reported that this is the highest they've ever seen pigeons at a release.  High elevation has been a trend of this group of birds all season as they generaly leave the release points higher than my own/club birds have and they've been arriving very high on return from the races.  It sounds like this morning is the highest they've been yet.


This is the first time the birds have been on the other side of the Tehachapi mountain range and this is also the highest mountain range they've had to navigate all season.  It appears they recognized this upon release which would be pretty smart if they knew right away that they needed to gain extra elevation.  Either that or they were just confused........we'll find out this afternoon.


There is a pretty solid east wind around 10-15 MPH blowing in the Tehachapis right now which should hopefully prevent them from drifting too far east towards the sierras.  After that the rest of the course is clear skies (no fog this week), cool, and light winds (mostly a cross to slight headwind).  Winds forecasted for late morning are under 5 MPH most of the course.  Likely they will pickup a light headwind the last 100 Miles or so.  The most wind they will see though will be in the first 75 Miles going through the Tehachapis.  Temperatures at the loft should reach a high in the low 60's.  Based on conditions I'd think a race somewhere around 1380 to 1440 YPM range but will remains to be seen how much the lingering at release affected them.


Points will be updated later in the day most likely after the sun goes down and birds stop clocking.  There are several "races within the race" today besides the race itself with the biggest of course being Overall Average Speed.  Several super birds are in contention for those prizes.  Good luck to everyone today.  - Matt



Happy Thanksgiving,

Race 3 was a bit of a surprise with the speeds 100-150 YPM higher than I thought they'd be and the birds performing better than we could have asked for.  Overall I believe it was the best race so far of the series.  I arrived at the release point in NW Bakersfield (off Reina & Santa Fe) around 6:20 AM.  I drove I-5 down to the release point and I hit very little fog (only at the very end) of the drive but I was aware of some dense fog again on portions of the course.  At the release point itself there was a very light fog/haze that was trying to develop but fortunately with the sun coming up soon that little fog was going to burn off quickly.

Gary Berthiume (who lives 5 minutes away) met me at the release point and helped me water the birds.  I had originally hoped to go out around 7:15 but checking weather and traffic cameras along the course, there was some  thick fog starting around 40 Miles from the release point and extending for about 30 Miles to the north along HWY 99 in essentially the path of the birds.  This denser fog area was only around 10 Miles wide so the birds would have been able to go around it to the east or west if they didn't go above it.  Over the next half hour skies improved at the release point and when I checked the cameras in the foggy areas I was starting to see signs of the fog receding.  Skies weren't real pretty at release as the air has been pretty dirty along the valley portion of the course with so many of the agriculture fields being churned up daily and lack of rain/wind to mix out the air. 
Birds were released at 7:50 under cold hazy skies with a very light east wind.  They did really well at release and for the second race in a row took off quickly heading north.  I was filming them on my phone but my camera app froze up about 2 minutes in and I lost the video.  By the time I got it going again a minute later the birds were barely visible way out to the north.....nearly out of sight just 3 minutes after release.
I left the release point and took I-5 home.  Skies were nice and blue along I-5 and to the west but to the east towards HWY 99 I could see a lot of haze and dirty air.  The air quality in the valley wasn't very good but fortunately the birds likely ended up in the foothills and low mountains for a lot of their flight home.  As I drove to the west of Tulare and Visalia I could also see some fog banks way off in the distance.
Winds were really light to dead calm most of my drive home until I started seeing a headwind around Los Banos, Stockton, and Sacramento (along I-5).  The weather maps and forecasts indicated light winds under 5 MPH for almost the entire course.  I figured the birds would be in the 1375 to 1425 YPM range.  Back at the loft conditions were beautiful with blue skies and calm winds up until about 2:30 before it started clouding up and eventually turned to mostly cloudy around 3:30 to sunset.  I made great time taking I-5 home to Sacramento and figured I'd easily beat the birds home if I didn't stop.  To my surprise when I pulled up at 12:43 the first drop was already home, I had just missed them but right after I got out of the truck the second drop came in.
Jon was back at the loft and wasn't seriously looking for birds yet when he just happened to look up just after 12:40 and saw a small drop coming in high from the south.  A five bird drop clocked in at 12:41 for a speed of 1532 YPM.  Surprising speeds that were a good 100+ yards faster than I figured they'd be.  The early drops must have found just a little bit of help up high.  This was actually the second fastest race I've flown on the south course (including 3 seasons with my own birds).  I don't consider low 1500's a blowhome though.   It's a fairly typical semi-fast race on most courses however on this south course it's about as fast as they can get.
1st Place went to 13322-JEDD from BS Lofts (Bryan Schaller).  Congratulations to Bryan.  This pigeon has been steady in the earlier drops the first two races and is within range for contending for Overall Ace Pigeon going into the final.  Second in the clock went to John & Omelio of New Mexico.  This pigeon was also on the first drop in Race 2 and was just 6 minutes out in Race 1.  Omelio also had another pigeon on the second drop.
3rd in the clock went to 2514-PNW from Portland Loft (Michael Schiele) and what a tremendous pigeon this has turned out to be.  2514 is currently leading Overall Average Speed.  It has been on the first drop in all 3 Races.  Additionally impressive it was also 1st Drop on the 131 Mile Activation, 1st Drop on the 101 Mile, and 1st Drop on both 73 Mile tosses.  That's 7 races and long tosses in a row now and first drop in all of them!  No pigeon has ever done that here before and that's rare for any OLR.  Regardless of what happens in the final race, this is a tremendous obvious leader getting out front every race.  
4th in the clock went to Callahan Loft (Richard Callahan).  Richard has done well in many races including ours such as winning 1st Place in the final race just a couple years ago.  5th in the clock (last bird on first drop) went to 304-EK from E & K Lofts of Texas (Tino Santoyo).  This pigeon is currently sitting in 2nd Average Speed and has been nearly as impressive as 2514-PNW.  This pigeon (304) has been 1st Drop in all 3 Races and was also 1st Drop on the 131 Mile Activation.  Tino's other bird also did well placing on the 3rd drop this week and was on the first drop in Race 1 and Race 2.  Tino entered only 2 pigeons total and so far in 3 Races those 2 pigeons have 5 First Drops and 1 3rd Drop.   Both are already money winners and major contenders for Overall Ace Pigeon going into the final. 
3+ Minutes after the first drop 2 more birds arrived from APC Loft and & Omelio Perez.  7 Minutes after the first drop, a big drop of 31 Birds arrived for the third drop.  They split the remaining prize money.  This thid drop contained several birds that had been leading the standings and had been on the first drop in the first two races.  Most of these birds are now filling the 3rd to 20th+ positions in the overall Ace Pigeon standings.  Two more birds arrived for the fourth drop and then another small drop.  At the 18 minute mark another big drop arrived.  White Arrow Loft (Robert Cole) had the first AOC Optional Color bird clocked in Race 3.  
Just about all of the drops were arriving from the SSE (online) or SW.  There seemed to be two obvious routes most of the birds were arriving from.  We did notice that a small number of the drops were really skittish, so I suspect one group saw or got hit by a falcon.  We even had one bird arrive alone flying real low through the trees like a rocket and then crash into the front porch area of the house.  I don't know if she was being chased by a falcon right down the road or if maybe it happened earlier and she still thought she had something on her tail.
Early returns were good with 138 birds (57%) home within the first 36 Minutes. Birds continued to return well for the first 2 hours before it started to cloud up after 2:30.  By 4 PM it was pretty much overcast at the loft.  We even had a few sprinkles around 9 PM so fortunately the clouds held off just in time to get the race in.  We ended up with 196 Birds (81%) home on the day which is a good percentage for a 250 in Late November.  Monday morning the sun was back out and second day birds arrived well all morning and into the afternoon.  At the end of day 2 returns were at 92.5%
I did notice late on Day 1 that about 10 birds that had been first drop in both Race 1 & Race 2 (and had been doing great on the 101 and 132 Mile  tosses) were still missing.  Some of those birds came back the next morning and a few not until Mid Day on the second day.  A few still still have not returned.  Appears that maybe one of the small lead groups got way off course and/or got hit.  Will be interesting to see if a few of these birds have a big rebound on the final.
Overall standings for Ace Pigeon (Average Speed) are very competitive going into the final.  19 Pigeons are within 8 Minutes of 1st Average Speed and 31 Pigeons are within 18 Minutes of 1st.  All of these birds have a realistic shot at winning 1st Ace Pigeon.  Overall Ace Pigeon pays 14 Positions, on the final race there will be a lot of action not only in the race itself but with birds moving up and down the standings.  Essentially a race within a race.  This in addition to the Nominated Point Bird standings that pays 6 Positions and there are currently about 10 Pigeons that all have a realistic shot at 1st Point Bird.  There are also a few smaller prizes for AOC Nominated Color birds on the line within the final.
Wednesday morning the birds went on a short 26 Mile toss and all of them made it home.  We didn't want to stretch it any further since several birds arrived late Monday afternoon.  Thursday (Thanksgiving) morning as I write this the birds are loft flying.  It's windy this morning 15-20 MPH at the loft and up to 30+ MPH in the foothills around here.  We will make a decision on the final race late today or early tomorrow morning but this may very well be the last loft flight of the 2020 season.
Final Race Info:
The final race will be flown this Saturday or Sunday.  As of right now we are leaning towards Saturday 11/28.  Weather looks similar both days with Saturday just slightly better.  I'm of the view that if the birds are geared up ready to go and you have a good day to race take it.........and don't run the risk of the following day's weather becoming worse.  We are going to shorten the final race slightly from 327 Miles to 320 Miles in Lancaster.  We are 3 weeks behind the original schedule and with the days becoming very short now that 7 Miles equates to about 10 Minutes which could be pivotal late in the day.  320 Miles is plenty with the birds being released on the other side of the Tehachapi's and having to climb 5000' mountain ranges in/around Tehachapi.  This will be the highest and most difficult terrain the birds have had to fly through so far.
Conditions are forecasted to be a light headwind at release, a 10-15 MPH east wind in the Tehachapi's (which should prevent them from venturing too deep into the Sierras to the east) and then very light winds the rest of the course.  Winds should be less than 5 MPH for the last 200+ Miles of the course.  Skies Saturday are forecast to be sunny and mostly sunny to partly cloudy on Sunday.  Temperature at release will be around 26 to 30 with highs at the loft reaching the low 60's this weekend.  WIth all the winds today I think air quality will be better this weekend in the valley along the course.  Should be ideal conditions for the final race.  Conditions are there I think for a 1375 to 1450 YPM type race but I'm not sure how much having to climb the Tehachapi's will affect them.  
As stated a week ago, due to surging COVID-19 cases and restrictions there will be no get together or BBQ for the final race.  Hopefully next year things will get back to normal and all of the OLR's can get back to hosting lunch gatherings for the final races.
Good luck in the upcoming final race that should see a lot of action with so many birds in contention for the overall standings.  Will update again tomorrow as to which day we will be racing the final.  - Matt

Race 3 will be released this morning around 7:45 to 8:00.  It's currently hazy sun at release point but getting better.  There is heavy fog in Tulare and Visalia though about 50-70 miles north of the release point.  I'm waiting a little longer to release to give the skies more time to improve in that area before the birds reach it.  Very cold right now at release area with temps in uppers 30s and light E wind.


Update:  Birds were released at 7:50 in cold hazy/sunny skies with a very light east wind.  They took off very quick and we lost sight of them in less than 3 minutes.  They were headed due north.  There was a section of fog 10 miles wide that extended for about 20-30 Miles North to South from Tulare to about Selma that was narrow enough for the birds to go around it to the west or east.


Release video posted below was shot by Gary Berthiume who lives in Bakersfield and came over to watch and help with the release.  He sent me the video via text/email which is why the resolution is low.  I was 2 minutes into making my own video when the camera app on my phone froze up and I lost the video.  By the time I got it going again the birds were so far out of view that I could barely see them anymore.


Gas Receipt Buttonwillow


Release Video:



[1]2 3 4 5 Next »