Down on the Chaparral

45325322-8ee3-4758-ae81-f8f91db7af9b By Travis Grahmann
 
Chaparral Wildlife Management Area in south Texas is largely unknown to non-Texans, but the 15,200-acre ranch is one of the best public hunting lands available for the Texas quail hunter. Sporting both bobwhites and scaled quail, the WMA is a fine example of what good quail habitat looks like in the semi-arid scrub brush of south Texas.

And that’s what brings our small group of Quail Forever volunteers here. For those hunters without access to a quality quail lease, this place provides an oasis of opportunity in a state not known for public land. We are here to help preserve and enhance that unique opportunity.  

Our group starts out well before dawn. On our way to a designated starting point we dodge ruts dug out by a resident population of feral hogs. We wait in the early morning as the inky blackness turns to dark blue, then purple, and suddenly a tapestry of red-orange fire. 

At the right time, and following carefully-written instructions, we start our stopwatch and begin our count, listening meticulously for each locater call of a male quail looking for his partner. After three minutes of listening and looking for birds, we move on to the next point, and the next, providing data in a collection that spans over 30 years of research.

The Chaparral WMA has a history of quail monitoring as distinguished as the Chaparral itself.  Since 1969, when the area was established, WMA staff have been collecting quail data. Monitoring began with fall roadside counts. Beginning in 1972, public hunting data was added, with staff recording the total number of bobwhites and scaled quail harvested during each hunt.  

In the late 1980s an annual helicopter survey for deer began that also included counting flushing quail coveys. At roughly the same time biologists began collecting more detailed harvest data, including the age and sex of each bird harvested by a public hunter.  During the 1990s, spring call counts were added to the mix.  There have also been a number of studies conducted by graduate students on the Chaparral that have been either directly focused on quail or topics and issues that apply to quail habitat.

By mid-day we have moved on to the less glamorous part of our task, clearing brush. Armed with a motley collection of loppers, chainsaws, and a particularly effective weed-eater with a circular saw blade attachment, we take to the main south road, stopping at each encroaching mesquite or huisache tree to cut them back. However, fortune has smiled on us. Rather than the customary triple-digit temperatures for late spring in this area, a late-season cool front has knocked the temperature down to a blissful seventy degrees.

After thoroughly wearing ourselves out we take in a guilty pleasure, wondering around taking in God’s handiwork, each person making special note of animals spotted and then quickly pointing them out to the group. Hondo Crouch, the clown prince and father of Luckenbach, Texas called it “pasture worship.” We call it therapy.

Our small group of Quail Forever volunteers – aided by a fine steak dinner and cold drinks – are starting to wind down from the day’s work. No one speaks as we soak up the last few “bob-WHITE” calls of the day and the nighthawks start up their part of the symphony. We are the only people for miles around. It doesn’t get any better than that.