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Dry-Weather Bobs
Rainfall -- or the lack of it -- can make a definite impact on Texas quail populations, but the area west of Fort Worth always seems to turn out good hunting. Here's why. ... [+] Full Article
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Texas Sportsman
The Quail Comeback
The quality of the quail hunting west of Fort Worth this year serves as proof that our bird population can do a fast turnaround from drought. (December 2007)

Photo by Ron Sinfelt.

One of my favorite places to hunt quail anywhere on the face of this earth is the area west of Fort Worth.

As far as sheer numbers go, I've probably seen more coveys per day in jungle-thick cactus in South Texas -- but down there the intimidating brush often limits my ability to hunt and to find kills after I do shoot. By contrast, the rolling hills and semiopen terrain around towns like Abilene, Albany, Haskell and Aspermont is better suited to watching dogs work and getting clear shots at flushed coveys.

The appeal of land around San Angelo is much the same. The birds are plentiful there: In the right year, 10- to 20-covey days are possible on well-managed ranches. And farther north, around places like Childress, McLean and Amarillo, similarly open terrain flanked by wooded creek bottoms makes for some worthy action. This whole area, from just west of Fort Worth up to Amarillo and even to the Oklahoma Panhandle offers excellent hunting for wild bobwhites.

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Go even farther west, into the desert Trans-Pecos region, and you'll find primarily blue quail. In most years, the hunting's good throughout that part of Texas -- but 2006 wasn't like most years.

A severe drought bedeviled this region in 2006. Out-of-control wildfires, Texas' worst in recorded history, burned close to a million acres in the northeastern Texas Panhandle alone, and then the drought following the fires crippled the quail population. The absence of moisture resulted in the absence of nesting cover for hens, green grasses and weeds to eat, and insects for newborn chicks. Turkeys were similarly afflicted, with little to no hatch in the area for spring 2006.

Even though some of these areas received substantial moisture in the second half of 2006, it was too late to help that fall's crop of wild birds. For those reasons, the 2006-07 quail season was one many that Texans would just as soon forget.

The good news: Rain and snow started to fall at average to above-average levels in many of these western counties in late 2006 and into early 2007. In many counties, above-average precipitation continued through the late-winter and spring months, when ground moisture is so critical for the quail hatch. In the spring, this country's look differed from last year's desolate spectacle as much as desert from rain forest. Wildflowers were abundant, weeds everywhere, grasses tall: The stage was set for quail to make a comeback.

In late summer, I polled several quail experts here in Texas. Ty Bartoskewitz, a technical guidance biologist for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department based near Weatherford, was the first to comment on the effects of wet and dry years on quail, and on the prospects for a rebound west of Fort Worth this season.

"Good quail years usually have generous amounts of rainfall at the proper times," he began. "Too much rain at the wrong time can have negative impacts, too. Winter rains usually will set up conditions in the springtime for good forb (weed) and insect production. Continued rainfall in the spring will help perpetuate cover, insect production and nesting structure. An abundance of insects and seeds provide quail with energy and required nutrients to nest, lay eggs, incubate and successfully raise a clutch.

"Quail chicks feed heavily on insects during the first stages of their life cycle. Rainfall provides ground moisture used for grass and for forb growth. This herbaceous layer is important in food, cover and nesting structure. Additionally, cover provides an escape from predators and helps to shield against intense summer heat. Wet spring and summer months usually offer respite from the normal 100-plus-degree heat.

"Why are dry years hard for quail? The main reason is a loss of the opportunity to nest. Dry years will have fewer forbs available, which reduces seed and insect abundance and overall bird fitness. Dry years do not promote grass growth, which offers cover from predators, nesting structure in the form of bunchgrasses, and the thermal cover from hot summer days. Dry years generally decrease the number of times a hen will attempt to nest, and thereby decrease overall quail numbers. This is exactly what happened in 2006. Very little moisture in the winter, spring and summer of 2006 led to less than ideal conditions if you are a bobwhite.

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