History of Quail in Arizona

Natural History
The sexes of all Arizona quails show some differences in plumage, and all of the species form seasonal pair bonds that last through incubation and brood-raising. Clutch and brood sizes are often large, ranging up to a dozen or more chicks, and both the cock and the hen care for the young. Individual birds have short life spans, however, and population sizes tend to fluctuate widely from year to year. All Arizona species form fall and winter coveys that are likely to remain in the same general area where they are raised.

Hunt History
By the turn of the century, quail hunting had become a popular pastime in Arizona, and a generous season and lack of bag limit gave the state a reputation for harboring “game-hogs.” Then, in 1909, the territorial legislature limited quail hunting to an open season of October 16 through January 31, an arrangement that was retained in the state game code of 1912 along with a bag limit of 25 quail. In 1929 quail numbers must have been thought to be in need of improvement, as the season was shortened to November 1 through December 31, and the following year the newly appointed Arizona Game and Fish Commission reduced the bag limit to 15 quail per day. There was no season on Mearns’ or “fool quail” as this species was commonly known.

During the years that followed, quail season and bag limits varied in response to quail numbers and the success of the hatch, which in some years, such as 1946-48, was so poor that no season was authorized. It was believed that unless the ratio of young to adult quail observed on summer surveys was less that 2.1:1 a hunt could not be justified, and even where there was a season, it might be only two days long with a five-bird bag limit. Then, in the 1950s and early 1960s, research showed that hunting mortality was compensatory to natural mortality, and a standardized season from mid-October through the end of the month, followed by another season from November 1 through the end of January, gradually became the norm, along with a 15-bird bag limit. Later, the month of November was also opened to quail hunting and the closing date delayed until mid-February. This season, which applies to both Gambel’s and scaled quail, has continued to the present day.

In 1960 a two-day season on Mearns’ quail was authorized for a limited area in the Santa Rita Mountains. Hunting was shown to have a negligible effect on this species also, and this season too was gradually expanded. Today, the season opens in mid-November in deference to the bird’s late nesting habits, and continues to mid-February. This bird and season has become so popular with bird dog hunters that recent Commission meetings have often entertained proposals to lower the 15-bird bag limit to a lesser number in an attempt to “spread out the harvest.”

Quail hunting in Arizona has always had its ups and downs. The top year in recent times was in 1979 when nearly 100,000 hunters reported harvesting more than 2.5 million quail. Since then, quail numbers and hunter interest have fallen off, with hunter numbers ranging from 44,000 to 75,000 each year between 1990 and 1999. The reported harvest of Gambel’s quail during this same period has fluctuated from slightly more than 300,000 to just over 1.3 million, causing some hunters and wildlife managers to wonder if long-term decline in quail numbers may have occurred.

Natural and Hunt History © April 2008 Hunt Arizona 2008. Published by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Information and Education Division, Information Branch, Publication Section.