Bobwhite Quail Forecast 2015
The Traveling Wingshooter 2015: Bobwhite Quail Forecast
by Dave Smith
Bobwhite populations in the western portion of the range are on the road to recovery after several years of extreme drought and plummeting populations. The fantastic conditions of 2014 were followed by an El Nino weather pattern that is all good for Texas quail.
In the Rolling Plains and South Texas Plains Regions of Texas, bobwhite populations increased last year about halfway from their dismal 2013 numbers to their long-term averages, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. A steady stream of moisture this spring and summer produced excellent vegetative conditions and lots of insects for quail. As a result, enthusiasm is sky-high.
“We turned the corner last year and had a pretty good season,” said Texas quail expert Dr. Dale Rollins, Director of the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch in Roby, Texas. “We’ve had twenty-five inches of rain here in my area so far this year (as of mid-July). For perspective, back in 2011, we had only two and a half inches. The cover is beautiful and we’re seeing lots of quail. This season should be every bit of a seven out ten, and maybe an eight or nine.” Rollins also received reports of fabulous quail production in South Texas, particularly in Brooks and Jim Hogg counties.
In Oklahoma, Scott Cox, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation anticipates a stellar bobwhite season: “The past two summers have been very favorable to reproduction and our research and quail roadside surveys have been showing the same. We are currently having another summer that could be very conducive to great reproduction. We had no significant winter weather in 2014-15 that may have been detrimental to quail in the field. Every region in the state is green and lush, with increased insect production [needed by chicks].” In 2014, Oklahoma quail hunters harvested 273,449 birds, a dramatic increase from the 116,719 estimate taken in 2013. This spring’s great conditions predict a tremendous year for bobwhites in the Sooner State.
The quail picture across the Deep South and Midwest is likewise improved, almost across the board, due to the mild winter and good spring conditions; but most quail experts point to a limited base of bobwhite habitat. As Reggie Thackston, Georgia Department of Natural Resources says: “If you want quail down here now you have to intentionally plan for it and be in the right landscape context. It doesn’t happen accidentally like it did in the past.” For example, incredible bobwhite hunting is expected this fall on the Di-Lane Wildlife Management in Georgia and Murphy Brown Corporate CURE area in southeastern North Carolina. Check out the Georgia DNR and North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission websites, respectively, for drawing instructions. Despite the habitat limitations, Thackston and his counterparts from Florida, Mississippi, Missouri, Kansas, New Mexico, Nebraska, and Iowa all predict that bobwhite numbers in areas of suitable habitat will be better than last year!
In Texas, the bobwhite rebound is officially in full swing! The combination of above-average rainfall and cooler summer temperatures has resulted in vegetation and insect abundance like we haven’t seen in many years, particularly in South Texas and the Rolling Plains. Reports from South Texas sound most dramatic, according to Robert Perez, Texas Wildlife & Parks’ quail authority, with broods observed all summer long, multiple age classes, and large-sized broods. Conditions in the Rolling Plains were outstanding as we reported in the magazine Forecast, but this region was hit the hardest by the drought and may still be another good year away from a quail boom.