Now that it is December, it is time to talk quail hunting in Texas.
Sure the season opened in November and some enthusiasts ventured out during the record-warm month to hunt, but for most seasoned veterans the action really does not begin until a few freezes kill the last of the summer vegetation and dog work gets good.
Texas quail hunters are facing a unique situation. Although production was below average in a lot of the state’s best quail country because of rainfall timing last summer, hunting should still be pretty good.
“Overall we expect decent to good hunts in areas of both South Texas and the Rolling Plains. Numbers were so high in the Rolling Plains last year that we expect a good amount of carry-over birds to this season,” said Robert Perez, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s quail program leader.
After years of suffering through horribly low quail numbers, hunters around the state were rewarded with good years in 2015 and 2016. The peak actually hit South Texas two years ago and the Rolling Plains last year, and now another dive may have begun.
However, with counts last year more than double the long-term average and still higher than the average, this year Rolling Plains hunters may not feel the drop as much as those in South Texas.
According to early reports, that is what is happening. Hunters in the Rolling Plains are having to work harder, but still finding three to five coveys in morning hunts at best. Hunters in South Texas tend to wait until after Christmas to open their season because of warm weather.
Last year, TPWD counts in the Rolling Plains were slightly above 50 per route. That compares to a 23 bird per route, long-term average. That resulted in good hunting throughout the season. Perez said the climb was the result of three perfect weather years in a row, and that it would be hard to imagine numbers getting any higher.
“Even though numbers came down, they still remain above average in the Rolling Plains. South Texas was really good two seasons ago. I thought that we would see an uptick in numbers this year, but our surveys did not reflect this. Could be our survey is too course or maybe mid-summer heat and lack of rain hurt broods. We initially had good reports on production, but then brood size really shrank. The late summer rainfall might spur some nesting activity and this would not be detected on our August survey,” Perez said.
While most hunters have been focused on bobwhite quail, the blue quail population has been building back up in the Rolling Plains and far western Texas as well.
“The surprising comeback of blues in the rolling plains has been great news and we continue to receive reports from that region that they are being seen more often and in areas they have not been in for many years. We will see, I don’t really have a good explanation for the uptick trend there,” Perez explained.
While South Texas blue quail numbers have been low since 2004, the Rolling Plains has been above the long-term average the last three years. Perez said hunters in the Stockton Plateau and the Midland-Odessa area could see increased numbers of blue quail this season, based on reports.
Farther to the west in the western portion of the Edwards Plateau, numbers were two to three times higher than the long-term average last year and this year. In the Trans Pecos region, numbers were extremely high the last two years, but dipped almost half this year while still remaining above the long-term average.
“Blues in the Trans Pecos remain stable. Should be some great hunts again this year at Black Gap and Elephant Mountain,” Perez said.
Quail season runs through Feb. 25. The daily bag limit for quail is 15, with 45 in possession. Legal shooting hours for all non-migratory game birds are 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset.