Quail in Texas: Forecast 2015-2016
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. Weather plays a key role in the annual boom-bust cycle in these semi-arid regions where two to three consecutive years of favorable conditions usually results in a boom year. 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.
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.
OverviewThe 2014 season marked the end of three consecutive years of drought conditions in both south Texas and the Rolling Plains where quail populations began to show signs of recovery. Good hunts were reported in several areas of south Texas and a few areas of the Rolling Plains. Good to excellent hunts were also reported in the central Gulf Coastal Prairies where an all-time high was recorded by the TPWD 2014 survey. Heading into 2015, excellent late winter conditions produced a flush of winter greens providing nutrition for hens prior to the nesting season. The core Texas quail hunting regions received frequent rainfall events from spring through midsummer which produced excellent nesting cover, abundant forbs and countless insects. Summer temperatures remained below the 100 degree mark through the second week of July. The combination of frequent rainfall and below average temperatures resulted in an extended window of breeding and nesting opportunity throughout the Rolling Plains, south Texas and the Trans Pecos. Consequently, the forecast for quail hunting in many areas of Texas is good to excellent. Looking forward, climatologists are predicting an El Nino year which may bring another mild wet winter an excellent breeding conditions heading into the 2016 season which could lead to future record setting survey results.
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)
Excellent conditions in the Rolling Plains have produced a remarkable increase over last year's population. Many reports of a hearty reproductive response have been received from the region with pairs and nesting activity observed across the entire summer. Large broods and multiple age classes suggest high chick survival and re-nesting activity. Bobwhite quail numbers have not been recorded this high since 2005 and the species ability to seemingly "exponentially grow" was clearly demonstrated this past summer.
The average number of bobwhites observed per route was 38.3 compared to 7.5 last year. This five-fold increase is well above the LTM of 20.2 and is predictive of a good to excellent year. Public hunting opportunities can be found at the Gene Howe and the Matador Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) where staff area surveys have documented significant increases in local populations.
South Texas Plains
There was excellent carryover from last season in many parts of the south Texas Plains. This broad base of available breeders combined with the same great weather conditions as other regions has resulted in a strong recovery with many field reports of above average numbers. Similar to the Rolling Plains, large broods and multiple ages classes have been commonly observed across the summer. Reports also suggest that our survey may be an underestimate in several areas including the Coastal Sand Plain where ranch level surveys confirm above average to excellent numbers. The last time the TPWD survey recorded numbers near this level was 1999.
The average number of bobwhites observed per route was 21.1 compared to 11.6 last year. This is above the LTM of 17.5 and is predictive of an above average hunting season for the region as a whole. The Chaparral and the Daughtrey Wildlife Management Areas provide public quail hunting opportunities. Staff surveys on the Chaparral WMA recorded a significant increase in the local population of bobwhite.
In response to excellent weather conditions, scaled quail have made a strong recovery in just one year's time. Drought conditions have definitely come to an end in the Trans-Pecos, where the desert has been in bloom, green and growing for much of the summer. Overall, field reports indicate extraordinary scaled quail production and similar to south Texas and the Rolling Plains, large broods and multiple age classes have been observed suggesting a wide window of nesting opportunity and high chick survival. The last time numbers have been recorded near this level was 2007.
The average number of scaled quail observed per route was 28.4 compared to 6.0 last year. This well above the LTM of 16.0 and is predictive of a good to excellent year in the Trans Pecos. Public hunter opportunities can be found at Elephant Mountain and Black Gap Wildlife Management Areas where staff have observed a notable increase in scale quail populations.
Our surveys indicate that bobwhite numbers remain above average in the Gulf Prairies where 14.9 bobwhites were observed per route compared to 19.9 last year. Bobwhites are less dependent on rainfall in this region, where there is usually enough moisture available for nesting. Heavy rains and flooding may have had a negative effect on localized populations but not over the region as a whole. Habitat conditions in areas of native rangeland are in great condition. Hunters should focus on the central and lower coast in native prairie habitats.
The High Plains and Edwards Plateau also report marked improvement in quail numbers. It has been over ten years since these levels have been recorded. 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.