Quail in Texas: Forecast 2014-2015
Statewide surveys were initiated in 1978 to monitor quail populations. 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 mean (average) number of quail observed per route this year and the long term mean (LTM) 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.
Bobwhite quail hunting can be hit or miss in Texas considering our population strongholds occur on the very western edge of their distribution in the U.S. There are still vast expanses of suitable bobwhite habitat in the rangelands of South Texas and in the Rolling Plains, where in some years over a hundred thousand hunters flock to pursue these wary game birds. Bobs are limited in these regions by rainfall, more specifically the lack thereof.
Carryover From Last Season
Continued drought conditions over much of the core quail hunting areas in the spring and summer of 2013 resulted in only limited production. Many ranches opted to limit hunting last season in hopes to aid recovery. The 2013 season was well below average in most regions but there were some hot spots in parts of both south Texas and the Rolling Plains where good hunts were reported. Fair to good hunts were also reported in the central Gulf Coastal Prairies. Looking forward, most of the core Texas quail hunting regions did in fact receive rainfall in May and June of 2014 which resulted in a flush of vegetation and insects and a corresponding increase in bobwhite reproductive efforts. Although much of the state remains in drought, the degree is far less than the past few years and daily temperatures remained below average for most of the summer. Additional winter rains are needed to provide greens and aid continued population recovery into next spring and summer.
Quail Survey Data in Major Ecological Regions
For quail survey data on a region, click its name in the list below.
Gould Ecological Regions
- Gulf Prairies and Marshes (Bobwhite Quail)
- Post Oak Savanna
- Blackland Prairies
- Cross Timbers and Prairies (Bobwhite Quail)
- South Texas Plains (Scaled Quail, Bobwhite Quail)
- Edwards Plateau (Scaled Quail, Bobwhite Quail)
- Rolling Plains (Scaled Quail, Bobwhite Quail)
- High Plains (Scaled Quail, Bobwhite Quail)
- Trans Pecos, Mountains and Basins (Scaled Quail)
Early and midsummer rains fell over much of the Rolling Plains, triggering calling activity and “green up”. The amount of spring and summer rainfall totals was highly variable but an overall improvement from last year. Many reports of a hearty reproductive response received from areas with significant, timely rains. Differing age classes of young have also been reported. Rangelands are in recovery and where grazing has been reduced, prime nesting habitat is definitely more available than last year. Field reports suggest that many areas have improved enough to support limited hunting. Last year’s hot spots will likely improve this season.
The average number of bobwhites observed per route was 7.5 compared to 2.9 last year. This is well below the LTM of 19.7. Despite below average counts, pockets of quail remain in areas with residual cover that received timely rainfall. Public hunting opportunities can be found at the Gene Howe and Matador Wildlife Management Areas (WMA).
South Texas Plains
The combination of early summer rain, lower than average temperatures, and decent carryover from last season has resulted in a marked improvement in bobwhite numbers over much of south Texas. Similar to the Rolling Plains, many field reports indicate multiple age classes in broods, suggesting a wider window of nesting opportunity. Reports also suggest that our survey may be an underestimate in several areas where ranch level surveys confirm average to slightly above average numbers. The best opportunities will be on well managed sites with good nesting cover.
The average number of bobwhites observed per route was 11.6 compared to 6.0 last year. This is below the LTM of 17.4 and is predictive of a below average hunting season for the region as a whole. The Chaparral and the Daughtrey Wildlife Management Areas provide public quail hunting opportunities.
Scaled quail numbers remain below average with continued drought over most of the Trans-Pecos ecological region. There were enough mid-summer rains to trigger breeding and nesting activity. Overall, field reports indicate fair scaled quail production with reproductive efforts occurring mid to late in the summer after scattered rainfall events.
The average number of scaled quail observed per route was 6.0 compared to 8.4 last year. This is below the LTM of 15.6. Public hunter opportunities can be found at Elephant Mountain and Black Gap Wildlife Management Areas.
Our surveys indicate that bobwhite numbers are well above average in the Gulf Prairies where 19.9 bobwhites were observed per route compared to 11.3 last year. Bobwhite are less dependent on rainfall in this region, where there is usually enough moisture available for nesting. Habitat conditions in areas of native rangeland are in good condition. Hunters should focus on the central and lower coast in native prairie habitats.
The High Plains Timbers and Edwards Plateau report improvement in quail numbers compared to last year. 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.