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TPWD Predicting Another Banner Year for Quail Hunting
AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has documented quail population trends since 1978 and long-term patterns reflect a history of "boom and bust" cycles for Texas quail. Veteran biologists and quail aficionados point to 1982 as "The Year of the Quail" in Texas, but now they are saying 2004 may be the new benchmark.
"Everyone should have a great year hunting quail this time around. This will be a year to remember," said Mike Berger, wildlife division director at TPWD.
"No other place in the country will have the birds South Texas will have this year," stated Robert Perez, TPWD quail program leader. "Past research has shown that in certain years, well-managed properties can support more than one quail per acre and this is one of those years. Reports from field staff indicate that flushed coveys are flushing other coveys when they try to land. This is indicative of high population levels."
Perez points to textbook-perfect conditions for quail reproduction for the second straight year throughout South Texas and above-average conditions across the Rolling Plains and in the Trans Pecos.
The two factors that are most important for good quail production, according to Perez, are habitat and weather. Weather can account for between 65-90 percent of annual variation in quail populations. Weather is responsible for a big chunk in the change from year to year in bobwhite numbers, but habitat accounts for the rest.
"You have to have habitat and we have habitat," said Perez. "The last strongholds for bobwhite quail in the world are South Texas, the Rolling Plains and western Oklahoma and the reason is habitat. What we’re seeing this year are quail spilling over into habitat that’s marginal at best, while those properties that manage for quail have phenomenal numbers of birds."
Ideal quail production occurs in years that remain wet and cool during the spring and early summer months because it extends the window of opportunity for reproduction, according to Perez. He noted hens typically would make as many nesting attempts as conditions allow until they pull off a successful clutch. This year, conditions remained good from April through September and some hens that were successful early in the year will conceivably produce a second clutch with a new mate.
Hunters who have never had the opportunity to swing on a flushing covey of bobwhites or who’ve allowed their scattergun to collect dust are urged to don a bird vest and take to the fields this season. "With quail, there’s no guarantee of carryover of birds from one year to the next," explained Perez. "We’ve been blessed with two straight years of good conditions, but if we get a cold, dry winter with as many birds as there are on the ground this year, there won’t be enough food to sustain them all. When you have conditions like this, you ought to take advantage of them."
For those who don’t have access to private land or are on a budget, there are ample opportunities to take part in the upcoming quail season on public land. Wildlife biologists at the Chaparral and James Daughtrey Wildlife Management Areas in South Texas point to banner bobwhite quail production, while the Gene Howe and Matador WMAs in the Panhandle should also offer excellent public hunting opportunities. Access to hunting at these WMAs and others is available with the purchase of a $48 Annual Public Hunting Permit, which can be bought wherever hunting licenses are sold, online at (http://tpwd.texas.gov/licenses/online_sales/) or by calling toll free (800) 895-4248. There is a $5 convenience fee for online and phone purchases.
In addition to ideal bobwhite quail hunting conditions this year, hunters should not overlook opportunities to pursue scaled quail, also known as blue quail, which occur in the arid desert regions of the Trans Pecos. Scaled quail surveys this year were the highest in 12 years and biologists on the Elephant Mountain and Black Gap WMAs are noting excellent numbers of birds. "If you’ve ever hoped to hunt blue quail in West Texas, this is the year to get it done," said Perez.
While overall population trends have increased, survey results don’t always equate with hunting success in specific locations. Perez recommends drawing from past success in the field to determine likely quail haunts this year. "I’d suggest going back to the same areas that held birds last year, because that’s where you’re likely to find them this year," said Perez. "But what’s been surprising this year is some landowners who haven’t seen quail in a long time are suddenly seeing them on their property so you can’t rule out anything."
The statewide quail season runs from Oct. 30-Feb. 27. The daily bag limit is 15, 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.
"Annual quail population changes can be dramatic and our surveys indicate you may have to wait several years for another great year," he added. "We came off a terrible drought three years ago and are now seeing two consecutive banner years in South Texas. It is extremely rare to have those kinds of conditions repeat. I’m excited about what we have right now."
For more information on quail hunting in Texas, visit the Web (http://tpwd.texas.gov/hunt/) or call (512) 389-4505.
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