Summer Quail Report

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By Tom Carpenter, Quail Forever
 
As summer reaches its midpoint, every quail hunter’s thoughts start turning to autumn’s prospects. The sun hangs just a titch lower in the sky. Dog work intensifies a smidge. Shooting takes on a notch more significance.
 
While it may be too early for a full-fledged hunting prediction (Quail Forever’s Fall Hunt Forecast, out in September, will take care of that), it is a good time to take a pre-season look at conditions and habitat on the ground, and maybe get a little look at what might be coming this fall and winter.
 
We talked to wildlife managers across quail country and pulled together this comprehensive summer report. As with every year, the news varies from region to region and state by state. This rundown will give you the summer quail fix you need … and help you keep dreaming and start planning.
 

Arizona

“We had a pretty good, above-average hunting season for Mearns or Montezuma quail in 2016-17,” reports Wade Zarlingo, Small Game Program Manager with the Arizona Department of Game and Fish. “It looks like there was good recruitment in 2016. Juvenile: adult ratios in the harvest were about normal. The Gambel’s quail harvest was below our long-term average.”
 
“We didn’t have any events last winter that would produce mortality,” says Zarlingo. “Mearns are especially susceptible to harsh weather, but they did okay. There were some wildfires in our Mearns range. Short-term that could be a localized problem. But long-term it will be a positive for habitat.”
 
“Mearns quail thus far have been receiving summer moisture,” he says, “which they need. That’s good. But I won’t have a full prediction until summer is over.”
 
“For Gambel’s quail, this year’s call counts were 25% above the long-term average, and double last year’s count. That’s good news too … if we can convert those numbers into a good hatch. I am optimistic on Gambel’s, as we’ve taken a good step in the right direction. Winter moisture – December, January, February – is important to them. And we got that moisture. “
 
“Weather has been very conducive to good nesting thus far,” adds Zarlingo. “We have had lots of reports of large broods in urban areas, specifically the Phoenix area and around Tucson as well.”
 
As for best areas to hunt, “I like to suggest areas where hunters can pursue all three species,” says Zarlingo. “The Tucson area is excellent for having three species – Gambel’s, Mearns and scaled – right there or within a couple hours’ drive.”
 
Arizona has good habitat prospects. “We just picked up another Quail Forever biologist to work with landowners,” says Zarlingo. “Now we have one in each Phoenix and Pine Top.” 
 
“We are working with the NRCS on landowner relations in southern Arizona, with a focus on scaled quail and restoring the grasslands they need, by removing brush – chiefly mesquite,” says Zarlingo. “Mearns like brush, but scalies need grass. This is the scaled quail country, and we’re trying to help them.”
 
“There is work to incorporate fuel reduction breaks – 4,000 acres of landscape scale treatment,” adds Zarlingo.” Quail Forever is a part of this. The U.S. Forest Service was going to remove 90% of our oak trees, but 25 to 30% canopy is the right prescription for Mearns.”
 

California

“In the 2016-2017 hunting season, an estimated 51,281 hunters harvested 320,913 quail,” says Katherine Miller, Upland Game Bird Biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Of those, 245,111 were California quail, the most popular quail species for hunters in California.”
 
“Winter rainfall benefitted quail populations by producing vegetation for nests and improving insect abundance, which is critical for young birds,” says Miller. “Harsh snows may have affected those mountain quail that did not move down in elevation. However, overall the winter was beneficial for quail populations.”
 
“The southeastern portion of California has experienced a dry spring and early summer, with temperatures slightly above the 30-year norm.  Alternatively, it has been wetter to the north in the Great Valley, Sierra Nevada, and Cascades of California.  The Sierra Nevada experienced slightly colder temperatures, but throughout most of the state temperatures have been near the 30-year norm.”
 
Miller offer some good insights into California’s top quail areas: “In the last 10 years, mountain quail populations have been best in the Sierra Nevada, from Plumas County south to Fresno County, in Mendocino, and in the higher elevations of southern coastal California -- Santa Barbara, Ventura and Kern counties.”
 
“California quail range throughout the state, but hunters may have better opportunities in southern coastal California (San Luis Obispo, Kern, and King counties) and in the north-central portion of the state (Tehama County),” she says.
 
“Gambel’s quail populations have been higher along the Colorado River in San Bernardino and Imperial counties,” adds Miller.
 

Colorado

“Last year's quail hunt ranged from decent to excellent depending on the location,” reports Ed Gorman, Small Game Manager with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW).  “In most cases birds were plentiful, but not easily accessible in heavy cover.  Statewide, harvest estimates for bobwhites and scaled quail were 6,000 and 7,000 respectively.”
 
“Winter was dry in Colorado,” says Gorman, “with no severe storms impacting quail populations.  Southeast Colorado did have a severe spring blizzard, but it appears that any potential mortality from that storm will be offset by tremendous nesting and brooding conditions.”
 
“As of right now, he general outlook for quail is good, based on very general inference,” says Gorman. “But survey data is not complete at this point. Conditions are very good, as of today, for a good production season for both bobwhites and scaled quail in Colorado.”
 
“Quail hunting (for both species) is expected to be good to very good in southeast Colorado. Of course, this could change if conditions deteriorate as summer progresses,” says Gorman. Look to Quail Forever’s Fall Hunt Forecast, due in just after Labor Day.
 
“Bobwhite hunting in the northeast is often more about access (plains bobwhites) and the impacts of screening cover on hunting success (South Platte River),” adds Gorman. “As southeast Colorado looks to be very good this coming season, hunters can hunt both species in proximity, along with pheasants, in extreme southeastern Baca County, an area that also offers plenty of accessible lands via the Comanche National Grassland or CPW's Walk-In Access Program.”
 

Florida

“The most recent bobwhite harvest data is from a hunter telephone survey which indicated 7,428 hunters harvested approximately 134,266 bobwhites in Florida in 2016,” says Greg Hagan, Northern Bobwhite Coordinator with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
 
“In general, Florida experienced unseasonably warm weather throughout the winter months, which resulted in very difficult hunting conditions,” he says. “On the plus side, that helped in maintaining abundant cover and food resources, and producing excellent over-winter survival. Birds were well positioned going into the breeding season.”  
 

As of mid-summer, the hunting outlook is good in Florida. “Florida continues to provide numerous hunting opportunities on public land throughout the state where bobwhites are featured and management efforts have been increased.” Says Hagan. “In fact, over the past several years, bird numbers have steadily increased on these public land properties.”

Georgia

“Georgia’s 2016-17 quail harvest was comparable to recent years on areas with intensively managed habitat, with some properties seeing increases,” reports Paul Grimes, State Quail Coordinator with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR).  “As expected, on properties where tree canopies have grown closed and hardwood encroachment has been left unchecked, decreases in covey finds and overall harvests were observed.”

“We experienced a relatively mild winter here in Georgia this year,” says Grimes. “Properties with good to great habitat conditions and regulated harvest likely saw good carryover from winter into the spring breeding season.  This can mostly be attributed to the early green-up and supply of insects available.”

“As for spring and early summer, we’ve seen variable rainfall across most of the state, with a little more than we’d like to see in southwestern counties and relatively adequate, evenly distributed rainfall in central and eastern counties,” says Grimes. “We could potentially see reduced survival in areas with too much rain too fast, whereas we might expect to see stable to increased survival rates on areas with adequate, evenly distributed rainfall.”

“Overall, the hunting outlook for this year is good,” says Grimes.  Time, and how the hatch ends up, will tell the final tale. 

“We have six different state-owned properties being intensively managed for bobwhites in Georgia,” says Grimes. “These properties undergo frequent prescribed fire, regular timber thinnings and brood field management.  Some of the properties, such as Di-Lane WMA, are already at or near huntable densities of quail while others are on their way there.”

“Southwest Georgia typically holds the highest densities of bobwhites when it comes to private land acres.  Di-Lane Plantation WMA in east Georgia has traditionally been the top for quail in terms of public land in Georgia. Hunters interested in hunting Di-Lane or other Quail Focal Areas can apply for the Di-Lane WMA Quota Quail Hunt at www.gooutdoorsgeorgia.com.”

“The Bobwhite Quail Initiative and Working Lands for Wildlife 2.0 Bobwhites have collectively supported habitat management on more than 6,000 acres with over $400,000 allocated in the last two years in Georgia,” says Grimes. “These and other programs are available to help landowners interested in management for bobwhites on their properties. Call 478-994-7583 to speak with a Georgia Bobwhite Quail Initiative biologist for more information.”

Idaho

“In general, we had an above average winter and spring was wet in Idaho,” reports Jeff Knetter, Upland Game & Waterfowl Staff Biologist with the Idaho Department of Fish & Game (IDFG). “Moisture on our landscape typically translates to above-average upland game bird populations. I am very optimistic about fall game bird populations.”

“Quail populations have been strong the last few years,” he says. “I anticipate another very good year. Hunting opportunities abound on both public and private lands. In fact, habitat conditions for all game birds throughout the state should be fantastic this year, provided we do not get hit with large wild fires on rangelands.”

Regarding habitat initiatives in Idaho, Sal Palazzo, Private Lands / Farm Bill Program Coordinator with IDFG, says: “We are seeing significant landowner interest in our two SAFE (State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement) initiatives. Our eastern SAFE, which is focused on Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, will reach its acreage cap this fall, at 147,300 acres.  Our western Idaho SAFE, which is focused on pheasants and other gamebirds, is nearing 5,000 acres enrolled, with several more applications in-process.”

Illinois

“We do not have statewide estimates of 2016-17 effort or harvest at this time,” reports Stan McTaggart, Agriculture and Grassland Program Manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). “Data from IDNR Free Upland Permit sites show a small decrease in the number of quail harvested and birds per hunter.”

“For some perspective,” offers MacTaggart, “quail hunters in Illinois shot an estimated 2 million quail in 1971 (about 161,000 hunters). In the 2015-16 season, an estimated 7665 hunters shot 29,000 wild quail.”

“The winter of 2016-17 was relatively mild with very little prolonged snow-cover,” says McTaggart. “Winter weather should not have adversely affected quail populations.”

“Precipitation in spring of 2017 (March, April and May) was above-average statewide with some local areas experiencing heavy rain events. Some nests were likely lost due to heavy rains and flooding, but most quail were not nesting during most of the heavy rain events,” says McTaggart. “Temperature in 2017 has been above average every month except May. It is likely that some birds initiated nesting a little earlier than normal this year.”

“Although we have not analyzed this year’s call-count/survey data (the survey window just ended July 10), the long-term trend in Illinois shows decreasing quail abundance (-4%/year since 1966 and -5.2%/year 2003 – 2013),” says McTaggart. “Land use in the state continues to shift and convert pasture, hayfields and small grains to corn and soybeans.”

“On the positive side,” says McTaggart, “Illinois is second in the country for the number of Pollinator Habitat (CP42) acres enrolled through the USDA, with 96,446 acres as of May 2017. And we have just under 900,000 acres of CRP overall.”

“There are also over 67,000 acres of CP33 (Field Borders),” adds McTaggart, “and we were recently allocated an additional 15,000 acres for the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE or CP38) practice that targets priority areas for grassland restoration.”

“West-central and southern Illinois generally have the best quail populations,” says McTaggart, “but quail can be found in most of the state where quality habitat is found. CRP acres that have been enrolled in the last 2-3 years are generally good places to start if you can gain access to private land. This is especially true for areas seeded to native grasses, forbs and shrubs that can provide nesting, escape and brood cover.”

Iowa

“Bobwhite quail did pretty well in the winter of 2016-17,” says Todd Bogenschutz, Upland Game Biologist/Farm Bill Coordinator with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR).  “Snowfall was normal or below normal for most of the state – up to a foot less. That was good for quail survival. Overall we came into nesting season in good shape, with decent numbers of birds on the ground.”

“Generally, from Interstate 80 southwards is our quail country,” says Bogenschutz. “That’s the lower two tiers of counties. That area also has the brushy and shrubby habitat needed for quail. We are somewhat on the northern edge of bobwhite range, but with the compact and mild winters we have been having, quail are doing fine in Iowa.”

“Nesting begins in April and May. But we came into a March that was like April this year, from some brood reports I have seen and heard,” says Bogenschutz. “Then May got cool and rainy, but June came back sunny and warm. That’s when a lot of the hatch is occurring anyway, and that should bode well. There was good anecdotal evidence of a decent hatch.”

“Last year our quail roadside counts were the highest since 1989,” says Bogenschutz. “I think we could see them go up this year, depending on the hatch. I never thought I’d see that.” Pheasants Forever / Quail Forever is going to make trip down to go on a count survey route in early August, so stay tuned for that report.

“In late June one staff member reported a brood with birds nearly as big as their parents. And quail will double-nest. With good habitat, that’s a great formula for quail production,” says Bogenschutz. 

Kansas

“Last season, about 520,000 quail were harvested in Kansas, which was up from the 2015-16 season. Hunter success was relatively high, and hunter numbers remain below average,” reports Jeff Prendergast, Small Game Specialist with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.

“Winter was relatively mild, and unlikely to have major populations impacts,” says Prendergast. “A heavy snowstorm occurred the first weekend in May in far western Kansas, and is thought to have caused some mortality, particularly in the Southwest.”

“Habitat across the state is generally good to great,” says Prendergast. “But extreme weather events like that have may have localized to regional impacts on fall quail densities.” 

“Thus far this spring and early summer, good rainfall has been heavy providing ample cover for nesting and brood rearing,” adds Prendergast. “But very heavy precipitation may cause increased chick mortality particularly in the eastern regions of Kansas.”  

“In recent years the north-central, south-central and southwest Kansas have generally had the best quail indices,” says Prendergast. “However, all regions are currently above their long term average according to our spring whistle survey.” 

“Extreme drought stressed vegetation communities, but now there are excellent conditions for quail as the grasslands have started to recover,” concludes Prendergast.

Kentucky

“Kentucky experienced a poor quail season last year,” reports John Morgan, Small Game Program Coordinator with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “The preceding breeding season was especially wet and production suffered.  The extraordinarily mild winter minimized bird movements and made localizing them on food and cover more difficult.” 

But the news isn’t all bad. 

“As noted, winter was a misnomer in Kentucky last year,” says Morgan. “Our winter was unusually mild, with only a couple of snow events. Any snow cover that we had was largely gone within 24 hours.  Therefore, we expected well above normal overwinter survivorship.”

“We’ve also had very favorable conditions this spring and summer,” adds Morgan. “The one exception was Tropical Storm Cindy, but it’s too early to tell if that caused reproductive problems. The storm dropped multi-inch rains across the state at a vulnerable time.”

“Our outlook this year is fair statewide, and optimistic in quality habitat,” says Morgan. “Most of the state is comprised of largely of unsuitable habitat making hunting always difficult regardless of annual variation.  Winter survival should have been extraordinarily high, so despite poor production the preceding year, high overwinter survival gives us hope for a prompt rebound.” 

“Kentucky’s best hunting generally occurs west of I-65,” describes Morgan. “Hunters should focus on CREP, CRP, and reclaimed mine lands to find birds.”  

“The Conservation Reserve Enhancement program (CREP) remains one of best private conservation programs in the state’s history,” says Morgan. “It includes a 14 county area generally around Bowling Green. Over 90,000 of habitat were established in those counties. But the condition of that habitat has eroded over the last several years, because habitat management has been insufficient to maintain higher densities of birds.”

“Kentucky also holds approximately 200,000 acres of CRP.  These acres are more scattered across the western part of the state and their condition tends to also be marginal,” adds Morgan. “Nonetheless, they do hold birds particularly when in close proximity to other CRP contracts.”

“Our best public lands area is Peabody WMA,” he concludes. “It provides over 40,000 acres of public hunting on reclaimed mine lands.  The area includes 10,000 acres of significantly enhanced quail habitat on the Ken (quota hunt only) and Sinclair tracts (Monday through Saturday only).”

Mississippi

“The only 2016-17 harvest data available at this time are from Wildlife Management Areas,” reports Rick Hamrick, Habitat/Small Game Biologist with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, & Parks. “Average harvest across all areas reporting quail hunting was a bird per 2.6 days of hunting. Quail harvest was less than last season (bird per 1.4 days of hunting), but similar to two seasons ago.”

“Our winter was very mild (quite warm at times) and relatively dry,” says Hamrick. “These conditions would be expected to generally favor overwinter quail survival where suitable cover was available.  But the prevailing conditions this past winter would typically be what bird hunters consider on the poorer end of hunting conditions, particularly for dog work.”

“We had mild spring temperatures with moderate rainfall,” says Hamrick. “The start of summer saw temperatures rising quickly, and rainfall to this point has been mostly abundant. The southern half of the state in particular received extensive rainfall from Tropical Storm Cindy in late June. It is unknown how the heavy rainfall may affect early nesting attempts. However, good summer rainfall usually supports high insect numbers for brood-rearing food resources. Vegetation condition should be good throughout the state into early summer.”

“I would classify the outlook on quail habitat and populations as steady,” says Hamrick. “Populations statewide remain at low abundance. The greatest limiting factor statewide continues to be lack of quality habitat at sufficient scales to produce and sustain huntable populations of quail.”

“South Mississippi may be considered one of the better areas for quail in recent years, though,” says Hamrick. “There are several large tracts of public land, particularly National Forests, that manage with prescribed fire. However, hunters will need to be prepared to cover a lot of ground to find birds. Where accessible, larger tracts of WRP (Wetlands Reserve Program) or other young hardwood plantings in our Delta region often hold quail for several years after planting.”

Missouri

“Missouri’s Small Game Post-Season Harvest Survey is conducted every other year with results from the 2016/-7 season not available until late summer,” says Dave Hoover, Small Game Coordinator with the Missouri Department of Conservation. “Data from the 2014 survey shows that the average daily bag and total harvest were up from 2012 figures.  The 2015 season was likely as good if not better than 2015, as our summer brood surveys in 2015 were up nearly 37% from 2014.”

“The winter of 2016-17 was very mild, with little or no snowfall and only brief periods of extremely cold temperatures,” says Hoover.
 
“As always, quail numbers will be better in locations with enough good habitat exists,” he says. “We will have to wait and see how early heavy rains (10+ inches over three days) in southwest and central Missouri impacted quail nesting.  In some locations we lost upwards of 17% of the adult quail we had radio-collared as part of an on-going study.  The primary cause of mortality was likely hypothermia.”

“Unfortunately, northwest Missouri also saw untimely heavy rains,” he adds. “In mid-June, as reports of early broods were starting to surface, much of northwest and north-central Missouri received anywhere from 7-13 inches of rain in 48 hours, causing significant flooding.” 
    
“The regions of the state that were historically prairie and currently still are relatively open with a mixture of grassland, shrubby cover and some crop land are still the quail strongholds in the state,” says Hoover. “The potential is still there to have a good hatch in these regions.”

Nebraska

“In the 2016-17 season, 21,790 quail hunters harvested 112,916 bobwhites during 144,026 days afield,” reports Jeff Lusk, Upland Game Program Manager with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. 

“Overall, our winter was moderate. There were some late cool spells this spring regionally that might have slowed things up” for the hatch, he says. “We have had a couple of heavy rainfall events so far this summer, in parts of the quail range in Nebraska.  These could have impacted local populations.

“But quail habitat should be good,” says Lusk. “There’s been adequate early moisture for good vegetative cover.”
 
“The core of the bobwhite quail range in Nebraska is in the Southeast, and it continues north and west from there, to central Nebraska and, in good years, beyond,” says Lusk.

“For bobwhites, we are participating in the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative’s Coordinated Implementation Plan (CIP),” says Lusk. “As such, we’ve developed a focal area in which we are promoting quail management practices in an effort to increase bobwhite abundance.  The CIP is a 10-year commitment and involves both spring and fall population monitoring, and habitat assessments at points along that 10-year span.”

New Mexico

“Last year’s quail hunt was about average,” says Casey Cardinal, Resident Game Bird Biologist with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. “Hunters were still seeing a fair number of birds in the Southeast, while hunters in the Southwest reported that bird numbers were spotty.”  

New Mexico small game harvest reporting is voluntary, but the following figures came in:
*Total quail harvest reported in 2016-17 season (2,342 reports): 36,788
*Total quail harvest reported in 2015-16 season (2,696 reports): 54,785
*Average Birds per reporting hunter: 
     Montezuma Quail: 4.5
     Scaled Quail: 18
     Gambel’s Quail: 9.3
     Bobwhite Quail: 12.9

*Average birds-per-hunter was about 23% lower in 2016 compared to 2015.

“Our winter started dry,” says Cardinal, “with some precipitation arriving at the beginning of 2017. There were no major snowstorms that seemed to substantially increase winter mortality, so there was good overwinter survival of birds into the breeding season.” 
 
“Then New Mexico had a warm spring,” she continues. “The Southeast received some spring precipitation, which helped with grass and forb production. Even with this rain, early spring production has been lower than expected.  There have been a lot of pairs observed this spring, but few coveys. Quail numbers will likely be average in the Southeast this coming fall.”

“New Mexico’s Southwest is dry and has not picked up much precipitation this spring,” she adds. “Quail numbers will likely be spotty there again this year.”

“Quail habitat in New Mexico continues to look good in the East and fair in the Southwest,” says Cardinal. “Precipitation has been more ideal in the last few years on the eastern side of the state, while the western side continues to struggle with drought conditions.  Quail population trends have mirrored these weather patterns with bird numbers being higher in Southeast during the recent years and lower in the southwest.”
  
“Southeastern New Mexico has a good number of scaled quail, as well as bobwhites in some areas,” adds Cardinal. “There is a lot of public land in the Southeast and harvest will likely be highest in this area in 2017.”

As for habitat, Cardinal reports: “The BLM is still working hard on the Restore New Mexico Project, which was launched in 2005.  Together with their partners, they have worked to restore over three million acres across the state.   A large proportion of this habitat improvement occurred in quail habitat.  A graduate student from Oklahoma State University will be starting a study on the impact of BLM prescribed burning on scaled quail in Southeastern New Mexico this coming winter.”

Ohio

“We did not conduct harvest surveys last season, but wild quail hunter numbers remain quite low in Ohio,” reports Mark Wiley, Wildlife Biologist at the Olentangy Wildlife Research Station, Ohio Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “Very few hunters are pursuing wild quail in Ohio. On average, those hunters are harvesting 1-2 birds per season.” 

“Generally speaking, recent land use trends, which shape habitat conditions, do not favor Ohio’s quail populations,” says Wiley. “Some exceptions include landowners making a conscious effort to provide and improve quail habitat on their properties.”  

“That said, other than some heavy rainfall and flooding in a few areas of Ohio, spring and summer weather conditions have been good for nesting,” says Wiley.

“The 16 counties open to bobwhite hunting in southwestern Ohio have traditionally held the strongest quail populations,” he adds. “Within this region, quail seem to be localized in areas containing sufficient suitable habitat.” 

“On private land, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) remains vitally important to quail in Ohio,” says Wiley. “Numerous CRP practices provide benefits, including the recently introduced Quail SAFE (State Acres For Wildlife Enhancement). Habitat work continues on many of the State Wildlife Areas in Ohio’s quail range in southwest Ohio. This includes Fallsville Wildlife Area, at the heart of the Fallsville Quail Heritage Area, a National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative focal area.”

Oklahoma

“We have not yet released the hunter harvest data for the state of Oklahoma for the 2016-17 hunting season,” reports Derek Wiley, Upland Game Biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “As far as quail the harvest, it was hit or miss in places.  Some hunters did exceptionally well while others did not.  We had anticipated an excellent year across the board and many feel that the hunting in the 2016 season was not as good as the 2015 season.”

“Our winter was warm and dry in most areas,” says Wiley. “We did have a few storms come through, but the precipitation did not stick around very long.  Overall it seemed to be a fairly mild winter.”

“Early spring brought decent rainfall to much of Oklahoma,” he says. “However, it has dried up considerably.  Temperatures have soared in some areas.  We are hoping for good production but will not know more until our August/October surveys.  The season outlook will come out at the end of October/beginning of November.”

“The western region of the state has our best bobwhite populations,” says Wiley. “The Southeast has a few large tracts of land that hold good populations of bobwhites.”  
  
“Quail Forever does an excellent job in Oklahoma of supporting our Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs),” he adds. “They have provided multiple thousands of dollars that go to on-the- ground habitat work.”

Oregon

“The 2016-17 California quail harvest in Oregon was estimated at 24,802, which is down 19.1% from last year, and below the long term average,” reports Dave Budeau, Upland Game Bird Coordinator with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “The 2016-17 mountain quail harvest was estimated at 5,604, down 20.4% from last year, and below the long term average.”

“Oregon has those two quail species and both are found statewide,” says Budeau. “However, abundance is not evenly distributed and in some parts of eastern Oregon there is no allowed harvest of mountain quail there.”

As for winter, “Oregon had much more snow and cold weather than has been experienced for many years,” says Budeau. “In some areas, like northeast Oregon, snow persisted for many weeks with extremely cold weather.  We anticipate that quail, and other upland game birds, suffered higher than average winter mortality in areas with deep, persistent snow cover.”

But there can be a flipside. “Oregon had above average precipitation and snowpack over the past year, which should result in good habitat conditions for the eastern two-thirds of the state, where water can be a limiting factor for plant growth and insect abundance.” 

“Overall, spring weather conditions have been fair to good for nesting and early brood rearing.  We did not experience any widespread significant weather events that would negatively affect nest or brood survival,” says Budeau. “However, we’re not expecting a large population response to the habitat conditions because we believe there was a low quail population entering the spring for some of the reasons explained.”

“Southwestern Oregon is always tops for mountain quail,” says Budeau.  “The Columbia Basin, northeastern Oregon, Malheur and Harney Counties account for most of the California quail harvest in Oregon. But the birds are widely distributed and it is possible to find good hunting in any region of the state.”

“Changing forest practices in western Oregon are likely negatively impacting mountain quail populations.” Says Budeau, “while weather is likely the factor influencing quail populations over the short-term.” 

South Carolina

“Winter of 2016-17 started off with the second major flooding event in as many years,” reports Michael W. Hook, Small Game Program Leader with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. “Hurricane Mathew impacted the low-country quail and quail hunters greatly. The piedmont and upstate fared much better in respect to Hurricane Mathew.” 

“In December and January, most of the state was quite warm,” adds Hook. “There were pockets of cool or cold days but there was an abundance of warm days that brought to mind days at the beach as opposed to quail hunting.  These warm days impacted hunters’ desire to get into the field and some dogs’ ability in the field.  But the silver lining to the warm weather is that the warmer winter should have been a positive for the quail.”

“It was an early spring and we have had mild temperatures and received average rainfall right on through June.  Conditions have been excellent for quail and quail broods with the long, early spring and good weather,” says Hook. “And as a result there is an abundance of high quality brooding areas.”  

“For many years the low-country of South Carolina was traditionally the top producing region of the state,” says Hook. “That has changed the last two years with two major flooding events that occurred right before quail season opened.  I fully expect the low-country to rebound quite nicely this year and vie for top spot once again this winter.”

South Carolina is serious about helping its quail. “In the past year, the South Carolina Bobwhite Initiative created four focal areas throughout the state where a great deal of work has begun on public and private lands,” says Hook. “Each focal area has a public land keystone property, where intense habitat management is being implemented.  This is providing great habitat for bobwhites and it is providing a demonstration area for private landowners to come see how they can affect bobwhite populations on their land.”

“In conjunction with these focal areas,” he adds, “several new farm bill biologists and a Quail Forever biologist have been hired to assist private landowners in these focal areas by providing technical assistance with management activities and by helping them navigate the many cost-share assistance programs offered to landowners by our Federal partners and other organizations.” For more information log onto www.facebook.com/scbobwhites or go to www.scbobwhites.org.

Tennessee

“Winter was relatively mild in 2016-17, which certainly supports increased quail numbers,” reports Roger D. Applegate, Small Game Coordinator with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

“The nesting season has seen sufficient moisture to help provide good nesting habitat,” he adds. “Temperatures s have been warm enough to make insect populations abundant. I would anticipate a good hatch.”

“Counts are just being completed on our four quail focus areas,” says Applegate. “What I have seen or heard so far is positive and indicates that numbers are higher or at minimum the same as last year.” Quail Forever’s Fall Hunt Forecast, due out in September, will utilize count data.

“Typically, middle Tennessee is one of the more productive areas for quail,” says Applegate. “West Tennessee can be good, but the more mountainous areas are less productive.” 

“Tennessee is at an important point in quail restoration,” says Applegate, “in that we will be revamping our existing quail plan and working toward stronger implementation of the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative.”

Texas

“Last year was one of the best bobwhite years ever recorded in Texas,” reports Robert Perez, Upland Game Bird Program Leader with Texas Parks and Wildlife. “There were quail everywhere, especially on the rolling plains.” Hunters had a heyday.

Winter could have spoiled all that. But it didn’t. “For Texas quail, the enemy is really summer heat and drought,” says Perez. “Winter is usually not a factor in South Texas, and it was not in the High Plains either in 2016-17.”

“There are still a lot of birds out there,” says Perez. “Some places did get rain and some didn’t, and that will have an effect. But there were excellent populations to start with, coming out of winter and into spring. It promises to be another great year for bobwhites in Texas.”

Texas has a lot of quail country. For bobwhite, Perez recommends “the rolling plains from central through north-central Texas. That’s prime. Picture a wide swath from Fisher County and Sweetwater and surrounding areas, north and east to the Red River and also up the east side of the panhandle.” 

“Texas has scaled quail too,” says Perez, “in true West Texas. We have strong populations, and tens of thousands of acres of public land to hunt them on. If you’re willing to suffer the harsh country and conditions, you will get your quail here.”

“The good weather here in Texas – some decent moisture – has certainly helped scaled quail populations and production. We expect good hunting this year in the Trans Pecos.”

Quail Forever will be keeping tabs on the good news going on in Texas … look for more detail in the Fall Hunt Forecast, due out around Labor Day.

Utah

“Last year’s quail hunt in Utah was about average,” reports Jason Robinson, Upland Game Coordinator with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. 

“We had near record snowfall over the winter,” says Robinson. “That was probably negative for California quail, but has little impact on Gambel's quail.”

Robinson says his overall outlook on habitat conditions and quail in Utah is good, even though California quail might be down a bit, due to the hard winter. He’s taking a wait-and-see approach right now. “We had a really wet spring (which can be good for habitat but tough on chicks), and are now having a hot, dry summer. I’m not sure how all that will affect quail yet.”

As for best regions and zones, Robinson offers up a couple concepts. “The state’s southwest corner is good for Gambel's quail. The Uinta Basin is good for California quail.”

In such a dry place, water is key for quail survival. “Utah’s Watershed Restoration Initiative is important. We have lot of habitat work going on, some of it related to quail.”

Virginia

“Last year our avid quail hunters did slightly better than the year before, but overall the number of hunters was lower,” reports Marc Puckett, Small Game Project Leader with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. “Our long-term harvest numbers are comparable to the last 3 to 5 years.”

“Our winter was extremely mild,” adds Puckett, “and we feel the quail population going into the breeding season was better than in many recent years.”

“The hatching weather and rainfall have been excellent,” he says. “We have had good rains, but not too much. Temperatures have been good, insects seem abundant … we expect a great hatch.”

“Overall, we continue to hear good reports from hunters in areas where habitat work has been done,” says Puckett. “Some pockets of increase have been noted. Habitat is improving in some areas, and we feel optimistic about Virginia bobwhites.”

“Generally speaking, southeast Virginia, and some of what is known as the peninsular counties north of the James River, are best,” says Puckett. “Hunters need to find timber-harvested areas in young regeneration, or properties that have been well managed for quail. We have had some good reports from south-central Virginia – but hunters will need to scout, make local contacts and do some homework to find birds.”

“Our partnership with the NRCS via EQIP and now the Working Lands for Wildlife program have helped quail a great deal,” says Puckett. “We estimate over the last seven years there over 35,000 acres of habitat have been created or maintained under these programs.”

“We also partnered with local soil and water conservation districts where we offered a number of incentives for several years,” adds Puckett. “This program resulted in over 2,500 acres of habitat work and our latest program with our Virginia Department of Forestry has resulted in another 3,500 acres of habitat creation.”

Washington

“The 2016 quail hunt saw an average year,” reports Angelique Curtis, Small Game Section Manager with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“There were 69,782 quail harvested across the state of Washington,” she says. “This is a harvest decrease of 13% from the 2015 hunt season. Hunter numbers also dropped by 10%, from 9,549 in 2015 to 8,635 in 2016. The drop in hunter participation 2016 may explain part of the decline in harvest from the previous season.”

“Washington saw a hard winter for 2016-2017,” says Curtis “The winter crept into spring, which means wet and cold conditions. Snow pack stayed around in the lower elevations through much of May. Quail populations and production may have been negatively affected by the weather.” 

“Overall the general outlook is good,” she says. “In eastern Washington there are NRCS farm bill programs being implemented on private lands which has resulted in healthy riparian buffers and hedge rows which have benefited California quail populations.”

“Washington currently has three species of quail that can be hunted: California quail (statewide), bobwhite quail (statewide), and mountain quail (west of the Cascade crest, season closed on the eastside),” says Curtis.

“Most of Washington’s quail harvest occurs in the eastern part of the state, but there are pockets of birds in western Washington around the southern end of Puget Sound,” she says. “Mountain quail seasons in eastern Washington are closed to protect limited populations, but the introduced population in the Mason/Kitsap County area supports limited harvest for dedicated hunters who put their time in.”

“Based on previous year’s harvest results in eastern Washington,” Curtis adds, “Chelan, Grant, Douglas and Yakima counties look very promising.” 

“Hunters can go to wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/hunting_access/ to search for private property that is open to the public for hunting,” says Curtis. “There are plenty of underutilized sites that house good quail populations for hunters to choose from.”


Pheasant Update

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Tom Carpenter is Digital Content Manager at Quail Forever.

Photo Credit: Steven Earley.