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 winter’s 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 Gambel’s quail chicks. All observations at this time indicate that Gambel’s 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 Gambel’s quail reproduction but reports from the area are indicating below average reproduction. Hunters in the Roosevelt Lake area, one of central Arizona’s 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, Gambel’s 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.
Mearns’ 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 species’ numbers. Last year hunters encountered above average numbers of this sporty bird and this year they will most likely find Mearn’s 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 Mearn’s quail hunting.