Wildlife biologists at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department are cautiously optimistic about quail prospects this season, which gets under way Saturday, Oct. 30 statewide.
This past winter a two-year drought in the major quail hunting areas of the state was finally broken. Range conditions and more importantly, according to TPWD, nesting and brood rearing habitat greatly improved, setting the stage for a marked increase in production. Unfortunately, after two years of unfavorable weather, the number of quail available to breed had become quite low. In general, quail rebound fastest from the remaining pockets of survivors from last season.
“Low carryover is the biggest obstacle to recovering quail populations,” said Robert Perez, TPWD upland game bird program leader. “Quail species are hardwired to take advantage of good reproductive environmental conditions. It's part of their survival strategy. So many are consumed each year, the species relies on a high reproductive output in order to persist on the landscape. We expect a greatly improved season over last year but a hen can only do so much in one year. Given another wet winter and spring we could expect a much stronger rebound next season.”
Perez said ranches that managed habitat for quail during the extended dry spell will likely see more birds this season, which runs Oct. 30-Feb. 27.
The daily bag limit for quail is 15, with 45 in possession. Legal shooting hours for all non-migratory game birds are 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset. The bag limit is the maximum number that may be killed during the legal shooting hours in one day.
Since 1978, TPWD has conducted annual statewide quail surveys to track population trends. This index uses randomly selected, 20-mile roadside survey lines to determine annual quail population trends by ecological region. This trend information helps determine relative quail populations among the regions of Texas. Comparisons can be made between the average number of quail observed per route this year and the long term average for quail seen within an ecological region. The quail survey was not designed to predict relative abundance for any area smaller than the ecological region.
Following are summary prospects for each region this season:
This region received timely winter, spring and summer rainfall resulting in excellent breeding conditions for bobwhite quail. The summer rains extended the window of opportunity for nesting. If a hen failed in her first attempt, there was ample time for a second. The limiting factor was the number of birds available to breed. Field reports indicate that quail have made a strong comeback in areas that held birds last year. Other areas have improved as well but to a lesser extent. It's a good idea to scout ahead to be sure the areas you plan to hunt are holding birds.
The average number of bobwhites observed per route was 8.0 compared to 6.6 last year. This is well below the Long Term Mean of 21.5. Despite low counts, enough young birds and coveys have been anecdotally reported that we suspect hunters will be able to find birds. Public hunting opportunities can be found at the Matador and the Gene Howe Wildlife Management Areas.
South Texas Plains
Although considered one of the last strongholds for quail, South Texas is not immune to drought impacts on quail populations. The 2009 season was no exception and quail numbers were down. Consequently, it will affect the 2010 season.
There should be greater nesting success and production of bobwhite quail this year on properties with an adequate number of carryover birds from last year. Many properties that did not implement the proper management techniques or limit grazing pressure will have fewer birds available for production. In these areas it could possibly take a few above average years to regain populations to normal levels.
This region also experienced a wet winter, spring and summer. South Texas also had very few days 100 degrees or greater. Cool-wet summers are ideal for quail reproduction but similar to the Rolling Plains, carryover was a limiting factor. Overall, TPWD surveys indicate an increase in population compared to last year but still below average across the region. The best opportunities will be on well managed sites that held birds over from last year.
The average number of bobwhites observed per route was 8.61 compared to 5.2 last year. This is well below the Long Term Mean of 18.6 and is predictive of a below average hunting season. The Chaparral and the Daughtrey Wildlife Management Areas provide public quail hunting opportunities.
Portions of the Trans-Pecos ecological region received timely rainfall while other areas either missed the rains completely or received it at times less beneficial to scaled quail. As a result, reproduction varied across the region. Field reports indicate that birds can be found in areas with good range condition. Reports from the western edge of the Edwards Plateau (the Stockton Plateau) indicate an improvement over last year but still below average.
The average number of scaled quail observed per route was 7.2 compared to 16.9 last year. This is below the Long Term Mean of 17.5. Public hunter opportunities can be found at Elephant Mountain and Black Gap Wildlife Management Areas.
TPWD surveys indicate that bobwhite numbers in Gulf Prairies are similar to last season. Hunters should focus on the central and lower coast in native prairie habitats. The Cross Timbers and Edwards Plateau continue to report numbers well below their respective Long Term Means. Although there are certainly areas within each region where some quail hunting opportunity remains, this survey is not designed to detect changes in localized populations, especially in fragmented landscapes.