The winter of 2015-2016 was the best in many in Hudspeth County, far-West Texas
NOTE: post originally appeared on SAExpressNews.com on January 7, 2016
Excellent bird numbers attributed to wet weather
A wet spring, wet winter and few summertime temperatures topping 100 degrees have provided the right combination to offer Texas quail hunters with some high-quality shooting action this year.
With a little luck, next year might even be better.
“This is just the nature of the bird,” said Robert Perez, upland game bird program leader for the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. “The past year has been nearly perfect as far as being fantastic for good quail production. The birds had ample opportunity for making good nests and the chick survival rate was really high.
“After the extended drought, we had nowhere to go but up.”
Reports from across the state have indicated both bobwhites and scaled quail, commonly called blues, are being found in numbers that have nearly reached the high-water mark for Texas quail populations set back in the late 1980s.
“In some South Texas areas, we have hunters reporting they are flushing a covey of bobwhites and that group of birds landing sets off another covey,” Perez said. “We are seeing that kind of density in many areas.”
Similar numbers of blues have been reported at West Texas ranches such as the 13,500-acres owned by Mac Stringfellow just outside of Marfa.
“We have been seeing coveys of as many as 100 birds, and there were chicks on the ground in late October,” Stringfellow said. “This is the best quail year we have seen in a long time.”
The president of the Sportsman Club of San Antonio, which hosts an annual hunt for club members each November, said good rainfall at the right time caused a blue quail explosion throughout the area.
This year’s hunt during the third week in November was one of the best in recent memory for club members who busted brush and braved cactus thorns for some prime-time blue quail shooting.
“It is hard to imagine it getting any better than this,” Stringfellow said after the three-day hunt filled game bags with 180 blues.
In conjunction with the blue quail bonanza in West Texas and bountiful bobwhites across South Texas, outfitters such as Roger Braune at the Braune Quail Farm near Three Rivers said hunting over pen-raised birds also has been a booming business this year.
“I’m booked every weekend in January and February,” Braune said. “We have seen just a little reduction because of the decline in the oil-field business, but that is tied to the economy and not with having more wild birds.
“With the increase in wild bird numbers, I have been getting a lot of calls from guys who want me to come down south and hunt wild birds that had not been there in the past several years. I don’t really like to go down south because it is pretty rough country with a lot of brush and snakes this year.”
In addition to finding a greater number of wild birds in his hunting areas, Braune said better habitat conditions have also affected the way he conducts his hunts.
“It is easier to put out the birds because there is a lot more cover,” Braune said. “My birds also seem to be flying a lot better. I had one preserve owner near Hondo who asked me if I was feeding my birds Teflon because his hunters couldn’t bring them down.”
Braune said another plus to having a lot of wild birds in a hunting area is the wild quail will often form up with the pen-raised birds in large coveys — providing a target-rich opportunity for his hunters.
“The wild birds will hook up with them pretty quick,” he said. “The birds don’t know the difference and while I can tell them apart, most of the hunters can’t tell the difference.”
Perez said while hunting pressure has little impact on the quail numbers, particularly in a high-quality year such as this season, there are some steps can be taken to help insure a healthy base population is ready for spring nesting.
“Quail hunters are probably the best bird hunters for self regulation,” Perez said. “A lot of them will take steps like only shooting two birds per covey; letting some pastures rest (without hunting pressure); and not taking any birds out of coveys of six to eight or smaller.
“Holding off on the late-afternoon hunts to allow the quail to get to their roosting areas is another good idea.”
Unless weather conditions take a turn for the worse, the TP&W biologist said hunters can expect excellent wild-bird hunting opportunities until the end of the season.
Ralph Winingham is a freelance outdoors writer. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Unfortunately, the El Nino effect which is thought to produce wet conditions is forecast to fade.
For more on El Nino, CLICK HERE.