Posted via Western Outdoor News
August 5, 2014
Even though the upland game bird season for the southern portion of this state and clear on down to the prime hunting Mecca of Baja Norte, is going to fall well short of expectations for any kind of good quail gunning this fall, our neighboring state of Arizona will reap many of the benefits of those monsoonal rains that have been pushing up from Mexico for the past couple of weeks.
Over a half a decade ago there was excellent Mearns’ quail hunting in the Santa Rita Mountain range southeast of the rural town of Sonoita. Once cattle were taken off the mountains and bunch grass and other native plants were allowed to mature the population of native Mearns’ quail was very huntable. Many upland game bird hunters, especially those with a good gun dog doing most of the work of locating tight holding quail, walked off a mountain covered with a savannah of oaks were rewarded with an 8 bird limit. A couple of years with not much in the way of monsoonal summer rains reduced the hatch to a low level with just small coveys to hunt in this very rugged quail country.
All that has changed during the last two seasons as Mearns’ quail numbers have bounced back. Last year produced fair to good hunting for both adult and last year’s summer hatch of chicks with wing shooters putting forth a little extra effort being rewarded with near limit shooting and numerous trips back canyons that offered up good cover, a reliable food source and water.
Western Outdoor News checked in with Randy Babb, a wildlife biologist with the Arizona Department of Game and Fish and author of Hunting Arizona’s Small Game, to find out how things are currently developing with the Arizona quail populations.
“Jim, We had a very dry winter and desert quail, especially Gambel’s, rely on winter rain for reproduction. In addition the previous several years have seen poor reproduction for Gambel’s quail. Hunters should expect hunting for this species of quail to be poor (at best). Scaled quail fare best when winter rains are generous, but can take advantage of summer precipitation too. On the other hand it is our summer rains that have the most impact on our Montezuma (Mearns) quail populations. Over the past several years we have had ample monsoonal moisture, which has benefited primarily Montezuma quail,” stated Babb.
Babb went on to add, “Our summer rains started right on time this year, but took a 2 week hiatus in mid-July. It is unclear how this will impact scaled and Montezuma quail populations. Currently the southern portions of the state are receiving rains and provided they continue and are of sufficient amount, both scaled and Montezuma quail should fare well. The long-term precipitation forecasts area for average to above average rain for the next several months. Should this prove correct, hunters should find fair numbers of scaled quail and good numbers of Montezuma quail. Birds may be spotty depending on how generous and widespread the rain is.”
Another very knowledgeable Arizona Game and Fish Department wildlife biologist is Kirby Bristow. WON has hunted with Bristow numerous times for quail and dove, tapping his knowledge of finding Mearns’ quail and hunting behind his fine team of pointing gun dogs. Bristow gained much of his understanding of these beautiful quail by actually camping right among coveys of Mearns’ quail for long periods of time in order to learn more about their habitat and other unique qualities that make the Mearns’ quail so unique among quail species worldwide.
When asked to comment on this year’s Mearns’ quail hunting the follow is how Bristow summed things up, “I agree wholeheartedly with what Randy(Babb) has already said. I think the Montezuma quail numbers will be good this year even if the monsoon turns out to be average. If the long term predictions are average to above average hold true we should be in for a Mearns’ season more similar to those we experienced in the 2005-2006 season. Gambel’s quail are at a long term low that I fear will take several good wet winters from which to recover. Similarly scaled quail numbers are low and we’ll need some good winter precip before numbers are back up. Once Mearns’ quail season starts, I doubt I will spend much time hunting Gambel’s or scaled quail.”
For more information on hunting and licensing log on to their web site a arizonagameandfish.gov.