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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

"However, I would also say that quail numbers should be higher in the burned area within the next 2 to 5 years. Fire is good for quail at the right intensity and size because of the increase in plant production and diversity. The areas along the edges of those wildfires should be phenomenal for quail this year. The Texas Ag Extension Service is conducting some research on quail abundance outside the burn, along the edge and into the interior."

Dr. Dale Rollins, a wildlife specialist with the Extension Service in San Angelo, gave his thoughts on the coming year, and on the reaction of blue quail to wet and dry years.

"Quail season is poised to rebound nicely across most of West Texas from last year's disappointing showing," he offered. "I've been receiving numerous reports of broods since early June, and June hatches make or break a quail season in North Texas. Our simulated (dummy) quail nests at Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch enjoyed a 90 percent survival rate at 14 days, suggesting that hatch rates should be high, at least nesting where cover is good.

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"My research in the Trans-Pecos suggests that blues enjoy higher survival rates than bobwhites, but I don't think 'boom' quite as well during good times as bobs do; however, they don't 'bust' as poorly as bobs during hard years. As a rule, I don't think desert habitats (more prone to blues) have the predator 'context' (number and diversity of nest predators) as bobwhite range does; hence, hatching rate tends to be greater."

Greg Simons, owner of Wildlife Systems Inc. in San Angelo, directs a variety of hunts on ranches around west-central Texas and in the Trans-Pecos. He thinks the 2007-08 quail season should be a good one.

"We could not ask for a better rebound year for quail," he said. "Conditions since April have been exceptionally good. There are more pairs and more birds calling than I anticipated we would have, considering such few sightings last fall. We are already hatching a good many blue quail in the Trans-Pecos, and I suspect we will have a boom year out there. Our seed supply of blues was a bit better than bobs, so I expect to see a greater rebound on blues than bobs."

Wayne Zachary, owner of Trans-Pecos Guide Service out of El Paso, also shared some views on blue quail hunting prospects in far West Texas. "At the Circle Ranch near Van Horn, one of the properties where we hunt, habitat improvements along with late-winter and early-spring rains have really benefited the quail populations," he stated. "Even in dry years we have huntable populations of blues, but this year should prove exceptional. We anticipate increased quail numbers for this fall, which will result in some tremendous quail hunting action this season."

We've obviously established strong grounds for asserting that the 2007-08 quail season could be a fruitful one in areas that received decent levels of precipitation. What will it take for the 2008-09 season to be another boom quail year? Given the ideal conditions in spring 2007, solid numbers of birds should have hatched and survived into the fall. If a substantial number of those adult birds survive through early 2008 to breed, the stage is set for another great year to follow. Then, the final ingredient will be moisture: If we get more moisture in winter 2007 and at the right times in winter and spring 2008, that could make for another excellent hatch -- and a season with above-average quail numbers.

But if 2008 turns out hot and dry with low precipitation -- such as that we suffered through in 2006 -- expect quail numbers to dip again. The boom-or-bust cycle makes sense when you look at the direct connection of rainfall to the conditions needed for success of ground-nesting birds in the spring.

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