Kansas Quail Hunting Forecast 2018

With almost 1.7 million acres open to public hunting, Kansas is one of the top wingshooting destinations in the country. Although the state saw a loss of 106,000 acres of CRP ground this year, the sting of that loss was somewhat made up by the fact that there are 190,000 new acres enrolled in Kansas’ excellent Walk-In Hunting Area (WIHA) program.
According to Jeff Prendergast, small game specialist with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, quail hunting in Kansas should be good in 2018. 
“Precipitation patterns observed over the past 5 years altered vegetation—increasing both the quality and quantity of habitat—and allowed for a modern quail boom,” says Prendergast. “Last year’s fall harvest was the highest recorded in the country, finishing just above Texas.”

Prendergast says that while total harvest has remained well below average due to lower hunter participation, the average daily bag has remained at some of the best levels observed in 20 years, indicating good success for hunters in the field.
“The bobwhite whistle survey in 2018 showed only a slight decline after reaching the highest recorded values from this effort, which began in 1997. These results were expected, given the high densities observed last hunting season and a mild winter,” reports Prendergast. “Dry weather in the east and wet weather in the west provided optimism for high production and another banner year. Early reports indicated lots of birds along roadsides and throughout wheat fields during harvest.”

Prendergast says that despite a decline on the statewide roadside surveys this year, Kansas maintains one of the best quail populations in the country and harvest will again be among the best this year.
“Densities in the eastern-most regions are not as high, but all regional indices remain near or above their respective long-term averages,” says Prendergast. “Reduced roadside indices suggest densities will be lower than the last few years but opportunities should remain relatively good throughout the state given that densities have been high. The best opportunities will again be found in the central regions, extending east into the northern Flint Hills.”

Here is the regional breakdown of the 2018 Kansas quail forecast.

Northern High Plains  

Public Land: 12,889 acres 
WIHA: 410,184 acres
Quail are limited and are predominantly taken opportunistically by pheasant hunters. The best areas are in the eastern counties of the region, in areas where adequate woody cover is present. This region is at the extreme northwestern edge of bobwhite range in Kansas and densities are relatively low compared to central and southern Kansas. Densities on the summer roadside survey decreased this year and remain the lowest regional density in the state.

Smoky Hills  

Public Land: 75,576 acres 
WIHA: 362,936 acres
Quail hunting should be fair to good throughout the region this year. The spring whistle survey showed a slight decrease this year. Significant decreases were observed on roadside surveys as well. Given there has been very high densities for the past 3 years, the region retained the highest roadside index for quail in 2018, despite the observed losses. While quail in north-central Kansas have seemed ubiquitous across the landscape the past few years, they have historically been spotty in the region. The Smoky Hills will likely offer above-average densities; however, with declines this year, quail will return to more historic patterns. Densities were best in the central portion, extending eastward toward the northern Flint Hills.

Glaciated Plains  

Public Land: 60,559 acres 
WIHA: 66,966 acres
Quail hunters should expect fair to locally good opportunities this year. Bobwhites on the spring whistle count remained stable and above-average. This included a few routes that maintained extraordinarily high counts for the region. Roadside counts indicated a slight decline, although northeastern Kansas will have more similar densities to the western regions this year where larger decreases were observed. While urbanization and succession have deteriorated habitat and caused long-term population declines, carry-over birds from 2017 should maintain above-average opportunity for this area. Opportunities are expected to be similar to last year and above average. Roadside counts were highest in the northwestern portion of the region.

Osage Cuestas  

Public Land: 80,759 acres 
WIHA: 35,336 acres
While long-term trends have been declining, spring surveys have been steadily increasing over the last decade and remained stable this year. Roadside surveys indicated there was a slight increase in 2018, likely in response to dry weather in early summer. This was the only regional increase for quail observed this year. Hunters should expect densities similar to slightly above last year and remaining above average. Areas where birds were found last year should offer the best opportunities, with the best hunting in the northwestern counties in grasslands extending east off the Flint Hills.

Flint Hills 

Public Land: 128,371 acres 
WIHA: 67,497 acres
Quail hunting in the Flint Hills should be fair to good. The region had a slight decrease in the index of whistling bobwhites after record highs last year. Summer roadside counts were lower than 2017. Regional reports indicate good bird numbers, very good cover, and weather that likely promoted production—particularly in the northern half of the region where estimates largely improved. Additionally, carryover birds from high spring densities will help maintain opportunity this year. Quail densities in the core of the Flint Hills should have improved this year, where prolonged drought reduced large-scale annual burning increasing available nesting. The northern half of the region recorded the highest roadside indices this year.

South-Central Plains  

Public Land: 19,534 acres 
WIHA: 61,547 acres
Quail hunting should remain fair to good throughout the region. The spring whistle survey showed a significant decrease, followed by a decline on the summer roadside survey. Despite this decline, the region maintained near average densities, with the second highest regional index on the roadside survey. Like the Flint Hills, reports indicate quail numbers may be better than roadside surveys have indicated. The intermixing of quality cover provides more consistent opportunities in the South-Central Prairies compared to other regions. The roadside counts were highest in northcentral portion of the region, although relatively consistent counts were observed throughout the region and quality opportunities should exist region-wide.

Southern High Plains

Public Land: 111,079 acres 
WIHA: 189,255 acres
Opportunities will remain fair to good. The quail population in this region is highly variable depending on weather. Whistle counts were significantly higher, with populations recovering from losses from a 2017 late-spring blizzard. This increase returned the spring surveys to well above the long-term average and was the highest regional density for the year. Above-average precipitation created good habitat, but poorly timed rainfall events appear to have negatively impacted production. Roadside surveys were down from last year. The highest densities will be found along riparian corridors where adequate woody structure exits. Scaled quail are also found in this region but made up a smaller proportion of quail observations this year than in 2017.