By David Gutierrez
Drought and wildfires will present both challenges and opportunities for the 2021 California quail season.
WEATHER AND CONDITIONS
“The winter of 2020-2021 was milder than usual, with temperatures above 30-year normals,” says Katherine Miller, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Upland Game Bird Biologist. “Quail populations came through winter well, where populations were good.”
The 2020 wildfires caused the National Forest Service to close public lands in California into the fall opener, reducing the mountain and California quail harvest and hunter effort. Quail populations outside burned areas likely benefited from the reduced hunting pressure.
HABITAT, BROODS AND COUNTS
Dry conditions have continued into 2021, leading to another spring with limited nesting cover and food, and another bad fire season. Outside of recent and current fires, upland habitat is in decent condition, albeit very dry. California does not conduct any type of brood survey; however, Miller anticipates that nesting and hatching rates in 2021 were below normal given the drought and 2020 fires.
Quail hunters are cautioned that the US Forest Service has closed national forests in California due to the extremely dangerous conditions for fire in the state. Hunters can find more information on the USFS website. The Department has also closed public lands that are adjacent to these national forests. While this will impact quail hunting, the safety of wildlife and communities takes precedence. Hunters are encouraged to plan accordingly, check for updates frequently, and consider other public land, such as the Bureau of Land Management, and CDFW lands farther away from fires.
For mountain quail, hunters are encouraged to try counties in the central and southern Sierra Nevada (e.g. Tuolumne, Mariposa), also northern coastal CA (Humboldt Co.). For California quail, hunters should try Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Monterey Cos. Hunters trying for Gambel’s quail should try the eastern portions of San Bernardino, Riverside, and Imperial Cos.
“Given the fires and drought, quail hotspots have shifted,” Miller says. “Consider areas that have not burned in the last two years, i.e. areas where there has been vegetation to support the birds through the summer.”