Texas quail hunting forecast improves over last season, biologists say

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Since 1980 bobwhite populations in Texas have declined at a rate of about 5.6 percent per year.

Quail are a rainfall-dependent species, and thanks in large part to increased moisture during the right life cycles, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists say this fall and winter season should be improved.

Lingering drought across much of the core quail hunting areas in spring and summer 2013 resulted in below average production and many ranches opted to limit hunting in hopes to aid recovery. TPWD quail surveys show modest recovery this year, thanks to adequate range conditions during the nesting season. Biologists stress that additional winter rains are needed to aid continued population recovery into next spring and summer, according to a news release.

One region indicative of a positive shift is the Gulf Prairies where TPWD quail surveys showed 19.9 bobwhites were observed per route compared with 11.3 last year. It’s a record high.

“Bobwhite are less dependent on rainfall in this region, where there is usually enough moisture available for nesting,” said TPWD wildlife biologist Robert Perez, in the release. “Habitat conditions in areas of native rangeland are in good condition. Hunters should focus on the central and lower coast in native prairie habitats.”

Quail season opens statewide Oct. 25 and runs through Feb. 20.The daily bag is 15, with a 45-bird possession limit. Legal shooting hours for nonmigratory 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 a day.

Most of the quail country around the state saw similar improvement in quail numbers compared with last year, although below the long-term average since quail surveys began in 1978, according to the release. In South Texas surveys showed 11.6 birds per route compared with 6 last year. That is below the long-term average of 17.4 and is predictive of a below-average hunting season for the region. However, field staff and ranch-level surveys on private and public lands are reporting above-average numbers in many areas.

In the Rolling Plains rangelands are in recovery and where grazing has been reduced, Perez said prime nesting habitat is more available than last year. Field reports suggest that many areas have improved enough to support limited hunting and last year’s hot spots likely will improve.

“Although there are certainly areas within each region where some quail hunting opportunity remains, this survey is not designed to detect changes in localized populations, especially in fragmented landscapes,” said Perez, in the release. “Looking forward, most of the core Texas quail hunting regions did get a flush of vegetation and insects and a corresponding increase in bobwhite reproductive efforts.”

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Will Leschper is founder of The Texas Outdoor Digest. He has been recognized for Excellence in Craft by the Outdoor Writers Association of America and the Texas Outdoor Writers Association. He is Conservation Editor of Texas Fish & Game Magazine and is a regular contributor to the Journal of the Texas Trophy Hunters, in addition to writing for plenty of of now-defunct publications.

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