2014 - 2015 Quail Season

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  • Central Arizona unit-by-unit, species-by-species small game forecast by Randy Babb
  • Small Game Hunting Tips by Randy Babb


    Central Arizona unit-by-unit, species-by-species small game forecast
    By Randy Babb, AZ Game & Fish Information & Education Program Manager

    Some of the most popular locations for hunting for small game are located in Region 6. Here is a detailed unit-by-unit, by species forecast along with some basic tips on how to approach hunting them.

    Last winterís rains ended early over much of Arizona. Only a few places received precipitation after January. Typically our winter rainy season extends into late February or early March. This early end to our winter rains has negatively affected much of our central Arizona quail populations. Additionally unusual late May rains may have adversely impacted survival of Gambelís quail chicks. All observations at this time indicate that Gambelís quail were marginally successful this nesting season and this bodes poorly for quail hunters over much of central Arizona. However there may be a few moderately bright spots in an otherwise dark quail hunting forecast.

    The Globe area received rains after January, creating much more typical conditions for Gambelís quail reproduction but reports from the area are indicating below average reproduction. Hunters in the Roosevelt Lake area, one of central Arizonaís most reliable quail producing areas, can expect to encounter coveys numbering 12-15 birds early in the season. These numbers will likely drop as the season progresses.

    As is typical of poor years, Gambelís quail nested late into the summer. Recruitment from these late nesting efforts is typically poor and this year appears to be no exception. However hunters may encounter some very young birds during the opening weeks of the quail season and may want to let these little birds grow a bit before hunting them. Regardless, most of the birds hunters will be encountering in central Arizona this season will likely be adult birds and provide challenging hunting.

    Some areas understandably have fared better than others and hunters should spend time scouting before committing much time to hunting an area. Hunters will likely find quail populations to be spotty with some areas holding more birds than others. The interface between burned and unburned lands could be some of our most productive hunting areas and are worth checking out. Hunters can expect quail coveys to average 6 - 12 birds over much of the Region this year. Beginning hunts near water sources such as ponds, rivers, streams, and guzzlers is always a good idea when hunting desert quail.

    Mearnsí quail should have experienced a moderate to poor nesting season over much of their range. Summer rains have been spotty and poor over much of their habitat this year and summer moisture makes all the difference in this speciesí numbers. Last year hunters encountered above average numbers of this sporty bird and this year they will most likely find Mearnís quail harder to come by. If you intend to hunt this species concentrate your efforts on areas that received good summer rains. High carry-over of adult birds from last year and several years of generous summer rains in southern Arizona prior to this year should make for average to below average Mearnís quail hunting.

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    Small Game Hunting Tips:
    By Randy Babb, Information & Education Program Manager

    QUAIL:
    Gambelís quail are reliant primarily on winter rains for their production, while mearns (also known as Montezuma) quail, and to a lesser degree scaled quail, key their nesting to summer rain amounts. This yearís poor winter and summer rains will make for largely poor quail hunting in central Arizona. From what biologists have seen, hunters should be able to expect below average bird numbers in most places they visit. Gambel quail broods averaged much smaller this season when compared to last. This season we saw many late broods which are typical in bad years. Chicks late in the year are usually indicative of conditions being less than optimal for reproduction and typically have a high mortality rate. Try starting your quail hunt early in the morning when itís cooler and birds are more vocal and moving about. Also consider using a quail call and listen for coveys to answer; this will save walking and time. Quail calls may be purchased at most sporting goods stores. While walking in the field, stop frequently to listen for birds. Gambelís and scaled quail make a variety of sounds; learn to recognize these calls. Once birds are found, attempt to split the covey up and work cover for single birds, this is where you're likely to get most of your birds. Estimate the number of birds on a covey rise and keep count of the number of single birds that are flushed while working for singles. This way you can make sure you've worked the covey thoroughly. If you have hunted through the area where the scattered birds settled and have only gotten up half the number of the birds that were counted on the covey rise, you know that there are still more birds in the area and can work the surrounding cover appropriately.

    Gambelís quail like to run and if the cover is not heavy enough will literally out run hunters and dogs alike. Minimize your frustration while hunting these birds by choosing areas that have good ground cover in the way of grasses and shrubs. This vegetation provides hiding places for scattered birds. On birds that want to run ahead of you, put pressure on them by unloading your firearm and trotting after the birds until you have flushed the covey enough times for the birds to be sufficiently scattered to hold. Then work the area for singles. Avoid hunting areas with little ground cover. For quail to hold (not flush at a distance too far for the hunter to shoot at them) there must be adequate ground cover for the birds to hide in (e.g. grass, shrubs, etc.). In sparsely vegetated areas quail tend to run and flush at excessive distances. This can be a problem in years of poor production as the hunter is faced with pursuing older "educated" birds. There should be plenty of young birds this season so running birds will likely not be a problem this season. Young birds hold better so it is worth the effort to find those areas that experienced better hatches.

    Once the birds are scattered and holding a hunter will flush more birds if they walk in a zigzag fashion through the cover, occasionally pausing for a few seconds. Waiting can be as important as walking in areas where there is good cover and where you know there are birds. It is not uncommon to walk into an area, stop for a few seconds, and have a bird flush right behind you after you resume walking. Be ready for this. Attempt to read the cover and terrain to predict where birds may be hiding. Groups of closely growing shrubs, shallow draws lined with dense vegetation, or low thickets, should be investigated. If a hunter has a partner, develop a game plan and move through an area about 20 to 30 yards apart covering the area thoroughly. If birds are holding tightly it is not unusual to cover the same ground many times and still flush birds. Quail will often hold closely in inclement weather. Once a bird is knocked down, stay at the ready for a second or two to make sure the quail is not crippled and runs off. Also mark downed birds carefully and walk directly to the spot and retrieve the bird. If the downed bird is not found immediately take the time to carefully search the surrounding area within about a 15 yard, or more, radius. Gambel quail are remarkably tough and can take a lot of punishment. Crippled birds will run down mammal burrows, into packrat nests, or hide in most any suitable cover. Resist the temptation to shoot at additional birds once a bird has been downed. This will translate to fewer lost birds and more game in the bag.

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  • An Introduction to Hunting Arizona's Small Game
    by Randall D. Babb

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