Nevada Quail Hunting Forecast 2019

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Nevada offers a hidden gem of opportunity for hunters looking to flush a variety of quail coveys

By Curtis Niedermier

In terms of notoriety, Nevada probably doesn’t rank very high as an upland hunting state. But in terms of opportunity, the Silver State is a gem. Public hunting opportunities blanket the state, and there are three species of quail – mountain, California (valley) and Gambel’s – plus several other upland species worth pursuing (chukar being one of the most popular). It should be on every upland hunter’s list of destinations to visit.

According to Matt Hardinge, the Quail Forever regional rep assigned to the state, the better action for quail hunters comes when focusing on California and Gambel’s. Mountain quail, he says, can be much harder to predict, and their numbers aren’t as strong. California quail, in particular, provide great opportunities. 

“The valley quail are all over the place,” he says. “I run my dog on them every single day, just around town. They’re harder to find out in the middle of nowhere, like where you find chukar. I find them closer to urban centers. Usually where there’s a town in Nevada there’s a river or some kind of water.” 

Gambel’s quail are limited to southern portions of Nevada. Drought has hurt their numbers, but they still provide good hunting for anyone willing to work for it. 
 

Weather conditions, the hatch and broods

Moisture is a key ingredient in quail production, particularly in Western states, but the timing of it is critical, as is the type of precipitation. 

The conditions experienced in winter and spring in Nevada illustrate the importance of timing when it comes to precipitation’s impact on quail production.

“Nevada experienced an above average winter in terms of precipitation and snowpack, with many areas exceeding 150 percent of average,” says Shawn Espinosa, upland game staff specialist with the Nevada Department of Wildlife. “In northern Nevada, snowpack lingered well into April and May. In some more mountainous areas, California quail may have experienced elevated mortality during the late winter and early spring months."

“In southern Nevada, Gambel’s quail should have come through the winter in good shape; however, base populations of this species were very low going into the winter.”

Summer has been more favorable.

“Overall, conditions have been fairly dry,” adds Espinosa. “This being said, upland game birds had ample resources in terms of vegetation and insect availability. Cover conditions were some of the best observed in the last decade. Even though the spring period was fairly harsh, the summer months allowed for opportunities to re-nest and have a successful clutch. Many broods were observed very late in the summer this year.”
 

Habitat and conditions

With ample public land to roam in Nevada (the state is more than 80 percent public-owned) and healthy habitat in most areas, upland hunters should have no issue locating the right cover for a successful quail season. On a more localized basis, Espinosa offers some anecdotal observations.

“Several streams and larger spring systems recovered to a degree in 2019,” he says. “However, the extremely dry summer of 2018 caused some willow, alder and aspen communities to struggle, with some plants even dying, so recovery will take some time. Currently, vegetation is drying very quickly, and many other animals are gravitating toward water and riparian systems. This can cause some habitat degradation where livestock and wild horses congregate during the late hot summer months.”
 

Top Spots

Areas of the state with consistent moisture have, for the most part, enjoyed a productive hatch, and hunters should reap the rewards of good brood-rearing success. 

“The edges of agricultural valleys such as Lahontan Valley, Lovelock Valley, Paradise Valley and Quinn River Valley should offer California quail hunters with some good opportunities to harvest birds this season and have a quality hunt,” says Espinosa. “Brood sizes should be fairly large this year and offer good dog work.”

The previously mentioned areas comprise Espinosa’s top recommendations for in-state or visiting quail hunters. For desert hunters in the Mojave, conditions will be tougher. 

“In southern Nevada, Gambel’s quail populations should recover slightly, but because of almost a decade of drought in this region of the state, it will take at least a couple of average to above average water years for the Mojave and Gambel’s quail to recover.”
 

Insider tips

Pre-season scouting to narrow down ample public lands and an understanding of the needs of the quail species being targeted are the two keys to success for quail hunters in Nevada. 

“For those folks hunting California quail, attempt to find agricultural areas that continue to provide cover, especially through the fall and winter months, and use a land status map or onX to make sure you are hunting on public lands around these areas,” says Espinosa. “These often provide some good opportunities as quail will foray out onto public lands with big sagebrush, quailbush [saltbush] and greasewood. Or, knock on some doors and ask for permission to hunt these areas. California quail hunters should seek out areas of river bottom that have buffalo berry, which offer preferred cover for the species."

“In southern Nevada, Gambel’s quail hunters may want to purchase a water development atlas that provides folks with locations of the development. These are important water sources for this species in southern Nevada.”

Water development maps show hunters and other public land users locations of “guzzlers” that are built to collect rainwater in areas where water resources are otherwise limited.

“Water is the key for any species in Nevada,” adds Hardinge. “It doesn’t matter what you’re hunting. You have to generally focus around springs because there’s not a ton of rivers flowing through some areas. When I go to a new area in Nevada, I always look at onX or a paper map and look for springs and creeks. Even if it’s a dry creek, you know that after winter the water would have accumulated there at one point. Even though it’s not a lot of water, it’s moisture, and there’s grass and bugs there.”

If you do want to target mountain quail, Hardinge says to stay near classic blue grouse habitat.

“They’re mostly along edges, but I find them right in the middle of the forest, too,” he says. “They’re just very adaptable birds. I’ve found them right next to blue grouse, and I’ve found blue grouse in the middle of the forest at 8,000 or 9,000 feet of elevation. I’ve found them down in the basin where you’d find valley quail, and up in the chukar hills where there’s barely any moisture. I usually find them in the waist high vegetation that’s on the edge of pretty heavily forested areas.”
 

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