Nebraska Quail Hunting Forecast 2020

3dc3528c-6587-4bd7-ad35-75ed724f2ac7 By Marissa Jensen

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Weather and Conditions

Nebraska continues to be an excellent opportunity for resident and non-resident upland hunters. Transitioning from last season, the 2019-20 winter was typical across the state with no mass mortalities noted. “Although overwinter survival was likely high this past winter, Nebraska’s quail populations are still recovering from the severe winter weather events that impacted adult survival prior to the 2019 nesting season,” shares John Laux, Upland Habitat and Access Program Manager for Nebraska Game & Parks Commission. “Nebraska’s bobwhites are at the northernmost extent of their range, and populations are generally limited by extreme winter weather conditions like we experienced in spring 2019.”

Fortunately, quail are prolific breeders, says Laux, and can rapidly re-populate areas when good habitat and weather conditions persist.

Weather conditions from spring to summer were favorable throughout much of core bobwhite range, including portions of southeastern and south-central Nebraska. Temperatures were unseasonably warm during early to mid-June across the state but returned to more favorable conditions thereafter. Total precipitation was slightly above normal for the southeast portion of the state, with higher rainfall noted along the Kansas border. Rainfall was well-timed across summer months, which aided in producing and maintaining favorable habitat conditions throughout much of the nesting and brood-rearing season.
 

Habitat, Broods and Counts

“Drier conditions have prevailed in many areas of the state more recently, but upland habitat is still looking relatively good across southern Nebraska,” shares Laux. “Emergency haying and grazing will impact CRP in quite a few Nebraska counties this fall, but there shouldn’t be any noticeable impacts within the core of bobwhite range.”

Laux also commented that biologists have reported seeing and hearing good numbers of quail across southern Nebraska, in areas with suitable habitat. Although quail brood observations tend to be limited, broods of various ages have been reported throughout the summer and into early fall. “Timely rains helped maintain good habitat conditions throughout the summer months and this appears to have encouraged some additional nesting efforts by bobwhites during late summer,” remarks Laux. “Calling males and paired adults were being observed in late July and August and there have been several reports of young broods observed in early September.

Anecdotally, production appears to have been relatively good this year overall, which should improve quail hunting opportunities this fall and should help Nebraska’s bobwhite populations rebound.”
Across Nebraska, bobwhite counts through the July Rural Mail Carrier Surveys, along with Whistle Count Surveys, were 14-16% lower when compared to the 2019 statistics and remain below the 5-year averages. Whistle counts declined in all regions except for east-central, northeast, and republican regions, where whistle counts remained the same or slightly increased.

To read more on this year’s survey results, along with the 2020 upland hunting forecast, readers can visit www.OutdoorNebraska.org/upland.

“Despite survey results, this year’s fall population will depend largely on production during the nesting season. As mentioned above, production appears to have been relatively good this year in the core bobwhite range and this likely was not captured in our surveys which are conducted in June and July,” provides Laux.
 

Top Spots

Southeastern and south-central Nebraska remain top regions for upland hunters to focus their efforts. Wildlife Management Areas continue to provide great opportunities and are scattered throughout the southern two tiers of counties, and with Nebraska’s unique Habitat Share program, Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has impacted 36,000 acres with more than $4.6 million spent on habitat improvements increasing public hunting opportunities across the state.

“In this highly fragmented landscape, these areas offer some of the largest blocks of contiguous quail habitat around, but Open Fields and Waters (OFW) sites scattered throughout the same general area should not be overlooked.”

Open Fields and Waters, Nebraska’s public access program developed with the help of many partners, including Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, along with Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, increases public access opportunities on private lands. Through this program, over 346,000 acres are now available for public access for upland hunters to consider.

In south-central Nebraska, Laux recommends that hunters target the southern tier counties (while staying east of U.S. Highway 83) and focus efforts on the edges of CRP fields, unfarmed draws, and crop stubble fields that are enrolled in OFW. Additionally, Wildlife Management Areas and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lands surrounding the region’s irrigation reservoir, supports good numbers of bobwhites while offering large blocks of habitat to explore.
 

Insider Tip

In the east, Laux recommends focusing on field edges and weedy portions of fields with abundant bare ground, annual grasses, and broadleaf plants (such as foxtail, sunflowers and ragweed). Although he warns that this type of habitat is more limiting in eastern Nebraska, it can often be found in areas that were recently disturbed by conservation practices such as fire, grazing and/or discing. “Overall, woody cover is very abundant in the east but hunters should avoid mature woodlots and heavily-wooded drainage. Instead, target areas with native shrub thickets and younger tree growth that are more suitable to bobwhites.”
“As you move west along the southern border of Kansas,” shares Laux, “a drier, more diverse landscape prevails. Weedy cover is still very important but is naturally more abundant. Early in the season, cover and food resources are very abundant and coveys are typically scattered across the landscape. As the season progresses, woody cover and high-energy food become increasingly important to bobwhites.”
With woody cover more limited in the west, Laux recommends keeping close to a good plum thicket, especially late in the year.

For more information on public land opportunities in Nebraska, visit: http://outdoornebraska.gov/wheretohunt/
 

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