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Range Conditions Bring Favorable Quail Outlook
AUSTIN, Texas — While tempering expectations, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists say favorable range conditions should make for good quail hunting this season, particularly in areas that held birds last year.
The statewide quail season runs Oct. 27–Feb. 24. The daily bag limit 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.
With quail hunting, opportunity is tied directly to production and this year’s crop of birds looks to be above average, according to TPWD quail census data.
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 TPWD quail program leader Robert Perez.
Because quail production is "density dependent" as birds are striving to recover from hard times in recent years, Perez noted hens typically will make as many nesting attempts as conditions allow until they are successful or run out of time.
This year, most of the state experienced an unseasonably wet spring and summer with below-normal summer temperatures. For these reasons quail production was expanded in some areas as evidenced by reports of differing size classes of chicks observed by biologists during the summer.
"It’s hit or miss; if you had some birds last year then you likely will have a great season," Perez noted. "If every bird seemed to disappear last year then you can only get so much better in one reproductive effort, so you will have a better season but not a great one. The Rolling Plains seemed to bounce back better than most of South Texas, although down along the coast looks great."
Below is a summary of quail production around the state, based on annual census surveys conducted by TPWD and what hunters can expect to find this season.
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.
An unusually cool and wet spring and summer resulted in an extended breeding season for bobwhites in the Rolling Plains. This is evidenced by field reports of differing size classes of chicks observed throughout the summer. Although they were impacted by dry conditions last year, much of the region seemed to carry over enough birds to make a decent rebound. Survey results and field staff observations predict a slightly below-average to average year.
According to Chip Ruthven, a lack of adult broodstock will be a limiting factor in production this year. Those birds that did survive are doing their part, however, with the average number of bobwhites observed per route at 21 compared to 14 last year. This is slightly below the LTM of 22.5. Despite low carry over from last year’s drought, enough young birds have been produced to offer good bobwhite hunter opportunity, especially in areas under proper range management. Public hunting opportunities can be found at the Matador and the Gene Howe Wildlife Management Areas.
South Texas Plains
This region also experienced an extended breeding season but seems to have had even fewer breeders available in the spring than the Rolling Plains. Flooding was also an issue in some counties. Pairs will re-nest if chicks or eggs are lost to exposure or flooding, but it’s just one more hurdle for the birds to overcome. Habitat conditions are extremely lush, by south Texas standards, and roadside visibility was poor during our quail surveys. As a consequence, TPWD results are likely an underestimate of the quail population, admitted Perez. Field staff reported good production and confirmed that certain areas, especially in the eastern half (more coastal areas) were holding fair to good numbers of birds. These areas will offer good hunter opportunity.
The average number of bobwhites observed per route was 7 compared to 3 last year. This is well below the LTM of 19.8 and is predictive of a below-average hunting season. However, as mentioned, this is likely an underestimate. The Chaparral and the Daughtrey Wildlife Management Areas provide public quail hunting opportunities.
The Trans-Pecos ecological region of Texas has experienced above-average populations of scale quail for the past four years. Favorable weather conditions during the summer set up good nesting conditions over much of the region. Reports from the western edge of the Edwards Plateau (the Stockton Plateau) also indicate average to above-average populations of scaled quail.
The average number of scaled quail observed per route was 28 compared to 19 last year. This is well above the LTM of 18 and for those hunters willing to chase these birds it should be a very good season. Public hunter opportunities can be found at Elephant Mountain and Black Gap Wildlife Management Areas.
Access to hunting on TPWD managed public land is available with the purchase of a $48 Annual Public Hunting Permit, which can be bought wherever hunting licenses are sold, online or by calling toll free (800) 895-4248. There is a $5 convenience fee for online and phone purchases.
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