California Quail Hunting Forecast 2020

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Three species of quail, a 10-bird daily limit, long seasons and vast areas of public land make California a destination state, but wildfires and drought are going to make the 2020 Cali quail season soemthing of a challenge.


According to Katherine Miller, an upland game bird biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, winter conditions throughout most of the Golden State were favorable for quail, but dry conditions across large swaths of California put pressure on birds.
“In 2019, quail populations benefited from the previous winter rains, which provided forbs and insects,” says Miller. “However, the summer of 2019 was drier than normal across most of California, and this trend continued through the winter. Notably, the exceptions to this were the Mojave Desert and parts of southern California, which received more rain than normal in November and December." 
Miller says winter temperatures were normal throughout most of the state.  “This suggests that while quail numbers were good going into the summer of 2019, and the populations survived through a mild 2019-2020 winter, prolonged dry conditions stressed the populations in certain areas of the state.”
Miller says in March and April, southern California and the Mojave desert received more rain than normal, which yielded good conditions for the breeding season while the rest of the state continued to experience dry conditions. 
“This continued into the summer, and included southern California and the Mojave,” says Miller. “The dry conditions affected available food for quail, and exacerbated conditions for destructive wildfires. Overall, we expect a breeding season slightly below average, and challenging conditions in late summer, will lead to a slightly lower forecast for the hunting season.”


The big question going into fall, however, is what impact wildfires will have on quail numbers and habitat.
“This season has been particularly challenging in terms of wildfires,” says Miller. “In just those fires larger than 10,000 acres, the fires have burned more than one million acres of shrubland, one million acres of evergreen forest, and 260,000 acres of herbaceous vegetation. There are still good sections of upland/shrubland for California quail and edges of forest clearings for mountain quail that have not burned, however, hunters should be aware of where fires have burned in relation to their favorite hunting areas. Quail that survived the fires will likely be dispersed from the areas they typically use.”
According to Miller, California has not yet implemented a state-wide count for quail. “We model abundance indices (number of birds/route) with the North America Breeding Bird Survey data.  Due to COVID-19, the BBS was cancelled this summer, so future analyses will have skip the 2020 season.”


 For mountain quail, Miller recommends Shasta, El Dorado, and southwestern San Bernardino counties, while for California quail, San Luis Obispo, Tehama, and eastern Kern counties get the nod. For Gambel’s quail, Miller says they can be found throughout their range in southeastern California, which encompasses eastern Imperial, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties.
“Hunters should check with specific land managers in regard to their favorite hunting grounds,” says Miller. “At this time Sierra, Inyo, Sequoia, Los Padres, Angeles, San Bernardino, and Cleveland National Forests remained closed. Other forests, while open, have restricted access due to the fires.”


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