2016-2017 Midseason Quail Hunting Report

b1c7bdaa-3c83-4886-af38-80af809f066b Several states this year anticipated some of the best quail hunting in recent history and, according to most reports, these predictions are holding up. Some states, such as Iowa and Texas, are even seeing better numbers than initially anticipated. While warmer and dry weather in many states created difficult scenting conditions in the beginning of the season, the general consensus among upland wildlife biologists is that winter temperatures and ample moisture will improve harvest numbers in the remainder of the season. With over a month left in some states, this means upland hunters can hold onto the potential that an exceptional season could only get better.
 

Arizona

Gambel’s and scaled quail numbers, as predicted, remain sporadic in the eastern part of Arizona, according to small game manager Wade Zarlingo with the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “We are seeing the best production and harvest rates, but very spotty, even locally,” he said. “Mearns’ quail numbers are down from what we were seeing last year but still plenty of birds. Seasoned hunters are seeing slightly fewer coveys and smaller numbers per covey.”

Mearns’ preseason predictions were very similar to last year’s numbers based on summer monsoon moisture, number of coveys and birds per covey. “Numbers are a little lower than last year where we were seeing three coveys per hour of hunting,” Zarlingo said. “This year, we are having reports of one covey per hour on average. Gambel’s and scaled quail numbers held true to predictions with exception of more birds being found in the spots where there were good precipitation events.”

Season ends February 12, 2017
 

California

Reports in California indicate quail populations and hunting results remain favorable, according to environmental scientist Katherine Miller, suggesting that most populations are recovering from the drought conditions of the last few years. “California Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists are reporting more birds and larger coveys compared to the last few years,” Miller said

In northern California, precipitation in October was above average, but low in November. In the more arid southeastern portion of the state, precipitation was below average, Miller noted. “Rain in local areas likely affected hunting more than it affected quail populations,” she said.

Hunters continue to experience good harvests numbers of California quail in the foothills of southern California. “Reports of quail numbers on the eastern side of the Sierra suggest good hunting, as well,” Miller said. “Quail hunting should be good in most areas where snowmelt and rain drove vegetative growth for food and brood-rearing. We expect that current levels of hunting will continue, although winter rain likely will have some effect on hunting on the local scale.”

Season ends January 29, 2017
 

Georgia

Like much of the southeast, Georgia has experienced some harsh drought conditions. Even in areas with excellent habitat and good bird numbers, dry conditions have made it very difficult for dogs to locate quail so far this season, according to state quail coordinator Paul Grimes with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.  

“Certain Wildlife Management Areas in the southwestern part of the state continue to undergo intense management practices and habitat restoration efforts through thinning timber, reducing prescribed burn unit size (while still maintaining two-year fire frequency), increasing amount of brood range, and managing hunter harvest at sustainable levels,” Grimes said. “These areas should provide much better public quail hunting opportunities in future seasons.” 

Hunters in Georgia tend to find the most success in areas where the habitat has been managed to allow for sunlight to reach the ground in timber stands. These same prime areas also serve as an adequate brood range during the spring and summer months and are maintained with frequent prescribed fire. Ample standing weedy cover and center-pivot agriculture through winter months are also important elements for quail habitat.  

“However, due to poor hunting conditions, these areas have not seen the success they will likely see in weeks to come under improved conditions,” Grimes said. “Late season should show much improvement over early season simply because of improved weather. Of course, it is important to note that these conditions will likely only improve hunting in areas where the habitat has been managed and cover maintained throughout the year.”

Season ends February 28, 2017 
 

Idaho

Quail numbers in Idaho continue to be solid and initial projections of good-to-excellent numbers appear to be accurate, according to upland game and migratory bird coordinator Jeffrey Knetter with the Idaho Fish and Game Department.

“Recently, we have received a fair bit of snow and are in the midst of a deep freeze for this part of the world,” Knetter said. “Seasons here are open through January 31 and quail will have moved out of previously occupied areas due to snow levels. When temperatures moderate and food becomes more available, late-season hunting should be good.”

Season ends January 31, 2017 in Area 1 (season closed in Area 2) 
 

Iowa

Iowa anticipated some of the best quail numbers they have seen in decades and anecdotal reports are backing up this prediction. Upland wildlife research biologist Todd Bogenschutz continues to hear about people seeing quail where they haven’t seen them in the years. 

“Wherever you find that shrub component, crops interlaced with grasslands, people are finding success—from the Missouri to the Mississippi River,” Bogenschutz said. 

“I expect late season, if weather conditions persist they way they are, could be pretty good,” Bogenschutz said. “Success is all weather-driven. If we have a blizzard come up—one bad winter event—we could lose almost half our numbers. If this type of weather continues all winter, it would make for interesting survey numbers potentially next year. I didn’t think our quail numbers could get much higher, but maybe they could.”

Iowa’s quail range is located in the southern two tiers of counties along the Missouri border, east to west, also referred to as the “banana belt” in Iowa. Crops are mostly harvested in this region and weather remains slightly warmer compared to the rest of the state. Additionally, Bogenschutz noted people have been pleasantly surprised regarding pheasant numbers in and around quail habitat, even though initial survey counts didn’t indicate such high pheasant numbers in the southern region of the state. 

Season ends January 31, 2017.
 

Kansas

 “Based on anecdotal reports from both hunters and farmers, quail numbers appear to be good but, in many areas, hunters have cited tough conditions making it difficult to locate birds,” says small game specialist Jeff Prendergast with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.

While wet spring and summer weather created heavy cover in all habitat types, Kansas has experienced hot and dry patterns during the season thus far, which has created challenging conditions for quail hunting. Scenting conditions for dogs have been poor. However, upcoming weather forecasts indicate several opportunities for precipitation and cooler conditions. “As weather improves, we expect hunting will be better and will concentrate birds, providing a better idea of where densities are greatest and hunting opportunities are best,” Prendergast said. 

Season ends January 31, 2017.
 

Nebraska

Hunters in Nebraska continue to report encountering abundant quail, with the best success occurring in the southwest and panhandle portions of the state. According to Nebraska Game and Parks’ upland game program manager Dr. Jeffrey Lusk, forecast projections indicating an excellent quail season appear to have been accurate. 

“Early in the season, abnormally dry and hot weather conditions adversely affected upland hunting, in general, due to poor scenting conditions and increased fatigue of both hunters and dogs from the heat,” Lusk said. “Effects for bobwhites are likely to have been positive, with reduced cold-stress and energetic needs”. 

Weather conditions in Nebraska have finally turned colder so field conditions should improve for quail hunting. “I expect success to therefore improve some,” Lusk said.

Season ends January 31, 2017.
 

New Mexico

Quail hunting has been about average across the New Mexico. “In southeast New Mexico, reports are still above average as there are a lot of birds,” said resident game bird biologist Casey Cardinal with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. “In southwest and central New Mexico, quail harvest opportunities are a lot more hit and miss.”

In the southeast portion of state, a good number of birds remain spread across the landscape. In the southwest and along the Rio Grande Valley, there are slightly fewer birds than expected, according to Cardinal. “The southeast part of the state has had the best reports of quail across the state,” she said. “Weather patterns have been good here the last 2 years, and populations have responded well.”  
Quail hunting should be above average in the southeast portion of the state, Cardinal indicated, with good numbers of birds dispersed across the region. The southwest and central portions of the state will likely remain average to slightly below average.

Season ends February 15, 2017.
 

Oklahoma

Lower quail numbers, compared to last year, has become the consensus in Oklahoma. While some hunters are finding birds, others are not. “Hunting is still good but hunters tend to feel the road surveys were misleading,” said upland game biologist Derek Wiley with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “However, coveys seem to just now becoming solid with covey numbers increasing. Our surveys showed more birds than last year, but that could be the difference in public versus private land, as the majority of the state is private.”

Oklahoma’s opener was very warm and dry with poor scenting conditions. Western Oklahoma received some moisture and cold weather near the beginning of December, which tended to improve hunting conditions.

Western Oklahoma, both north and south, holds the most quail, according to Wiley. The habitat in these regions remains the most conducive to quail production and is where most hunters visit for quail hunting. “I am anticipating a pretty solid late season harvest on quail,” Wiley said. “As conditions improve, with moisture and cool weather, the hunting will be better.”

Season ends February 15, 2017. 
 

Texas

Texas expected an excellent season for quail. The Rolling Plains region reported their highest numbers of quail in roadside county history (1978-2016). As the season has progressed, hunters are seeing as many or more birds than anticipated, according to Texas Parks & Wildlife’s upland game bird program leader Robert Perez. “Most of the core hunting areas of the state are experiencing a boom year, especially the Rolling Plains region,” he said.

Since most of Texas has only recently experienced the first freeze (mid-December), bird hunting conditions were not ideal up to this point. However, hunters who have been afield are seeing good numbers. “Hunters on public areas have experienced more success in the Texas panhandle than in the south Texas brush country where the opening weekend temperature got into the high 80s,” Perez said. “Panhandle hunters and staff have been steadily reporting good hunts for those that have already been out.” 

Habitat conditions remain good-to-excellent. Most areas have received winter rains that have produced a flush of winter greens. Scenting conditions are not especially great, which is the norm in Texas until after the first freeze. Nevertheless, bird populations have benefitted from weather trends throughout this past fall and winter.

“Most hunters are just now getting started - as we know from hunter surveys the bulk of quail hunting occurs in January and February,” Perez said. “We are expecting an above average to excellent late season for quail.”

Season ends February 26, 2017.
 

Virginia

So far in Virginia, it seems hunters are doing better than last year in places where quail have been recovering, though these reports are preliminary. “I have had several reports from hunters finding quail on some of our public lands in places they had not seen quail in a few years,” said small game project leader Marc Puckett with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Weather throughout the state this year has been far better than last year in terms of hunting conditions. “Last year, the early season was very warm and quail did not have to travel to find as much seed,” Puckett said. “This year it has been colder and hunting conditions have been better.”

Southeastern and peninsular counties are experiencing the most success. “Habitat conditions in these areas continue to be the best in the state,” Puckett said, “but conditions are not uniform even in these areas. Hunters still have to find concentrations of good habitat.

“We continue to encourage bird hunters to focus on diversifying their hunting to include woodcock, grouse, snipe, dove and even turkey,” Puckett said. “There are many ways to enjoy being afield with a bird dog, and good bird hunting can still be found in Virginia for those willing to work at it and think outside the box a bit.”

Season ends January 31, 2017.
 

Washington

Quail hunting reports have indicated good harvest numbers in the lower Yakima Valley, though rates have been fairly low in other parts of the district. Last year’s winter adversely affected birds north of Yakima, while south of Yakima, winter conditions weren’t as severe. Yakama Nation surveys have quail numbers as down slightly from 2015, but there are still good populations. In the northeast, around the Colville area, the successive number of mild winters has prompted an increase in quail numbers.

On private land near the Yakima region, a late corn harvest due to a wet fall made quail hunting difficult for some hunters. “In a few localized areas, hunting will get better as standing corn is harvested,” said small game section manager Angelique Curtis.        

“Hunting conditions have generally good for the dogs,” Curtis said. “However, hunting may have been less productive due to record setting rainfall this autumn throughout Washington State.”

Seasons vary. Consult regulations for specific closing dates.

Photo by Logan Hinners / Quail Forever


Report by Jack Hennessy. Jack is the author of the blog “Braising the Wild.” Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @WildGameJack or on Facebook.