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Quail Hunting Outlook Bright for Parts of Texas
AUSTIN, Texas — Quail hunters have enjoyed the rewards of ideal range conditions and above normal bird production during the last couple of years. Although hunting prospects are still favorable heading into the 2005-06 season, they probably won't measure up to recent years in a few locales where it has gotten dry over the summer.
Except for the Rolling Plains region, which continues to shine thanks to lush habitat and above normal bobwhite quail production, expectations this season should be tempered, according to state wildlife biologists, due to hot and dry conditions throughout much of the southern and central parts of Texas.
"I think we got spoiled the last two years with cool, moist summers and we're not likely to have that again for awhile," said Robert Perez, quail program leader with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. "Given the base of birds, with carryover from last year, we should have an average year. But, an average year in Texas is still better than most anywhere."
The statewide quail season runs from Oct. 29-Feb. 26. 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.
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 became hot and dry from late spring through September over a good portion of the state, which could have an impact on extended nesting success.
"Based on field reports, Texas had a regular spring with moisture and quail paired up on time," he noted. "Emily provided some needed moisture in July, but that moisture didn't stay around long. I wouldn't say it's been an extended hatch, but we had a hatch."
South Texas is truly a semi-arid region where much of the annual variation in bobwhite quail populations can be attributed to the timing and amount of rainfall. Over much of South Texas, especially the western half, there was not enough soil moisture (significant rainfall events) to result in successful nesting, Perez noted. The eastern and northern portions of the region did receive enough spring moisture for normal spring nesting to occur and in areas under proper range management should have huntable numbers of bobs. TPWD field staff reported very little production in the mid to latter parts of the summer.
"Based on numerous reports, the best bobwhite hunter opportunities will be found in the pockets of good quail habitat under proper range management, which received adequate rainfall," he said. "I would recommend looking for healthy stands of native bunch grasses and an abundance of forbs."
Much of the Rolling Plains region of Texas experienced excellent range conditions for the majority of the spring and summer. There were was also a good amount of carry-over birds from last season and nesting conditions remained good to excellent over most of the summer. There are plenty of forbs (weeds) and insects (chick food) on the ground and hunting conditions should be excellent. Numerous field staff reported seeing differing size classes of broods throughout the summer, indicating a significant reproductive effort.
Bobwhite hunter opportunities should be plentiful, especially in the southern half of the region, which received the most favorable weather conditions.
In addition to the Rolling Plains region, the Trans-Pecos has received a third year of timely spring and summer rains. As a result, the number of scaled quail observed during annual TPWD quail counts is the highest for the region since 1981. Field staff report excellent production over the better part of the summer and are expecting an excellent season.
The western edge of the Edwards Plateau transitions into the Trans Pecos in an area called the Stockton Plateau where above average scaled quail production has been reported, as well.
Elsewhere around the state quail numbers in the Cross Timbers increased slightly from last year but still remain far below the long-term average for the region. During the past decade, cumulative effects of changes in the quality and quantity of bobwhite habitat have negatively impacted the abundance of quail at the regional level. However, there a certainly hunting opportunities at the local level where good quail habitat remains, especially in the westernmost counties of the region.
TPWD quail surveys also indicate bobwhite numbers in Gulf Prairies are also below the long-term average, but do not reflect bobwhite abundance in the southern Gulf Prairies (south of Victoria) where there are still larger landholdings of native rangeland. According to field reports these areas should have an above average quail crop.
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 predict there will be quality quail hunts early in the season. The Matador and Gene Howe WMAs in the Rolling Plains are predicting above average public hunting opportunity.
Public hunter opportunities can also be found at Elephant Mountain and Black Gap WMAs in the Trans Pecos. "If you did not get a chance to chase some blues last year, you definitely have another shot at it this year," said Perez. "Sturdy boots, dog boots, and a lot of stamina are recommended."
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.
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