Most of the time over the years, quail hunting has been a boom or bust affair in the prickly pear flats, mesquite patches, and grassy fields scattered across the great state of Texas.
A bust in the years of horrific drought that sears upland habitat across the state’s Panhandle, Rolling Plains, and South Texas Brush Country regions where bobwhite quail — and some scaled quail, or blue quail — typically thrive in some of the country’s best remaining quail habitat.
Boom in seasons like 2016-17 when a couple of years of robust rainfall and solid habitat conditions came together to produce a veritable explosion of the small tan-and-brown game birds that can cause bird dogs to lock in a quivering point as shotgun toting hunters move in quickly for the explosive covey rise.
In fact, the convergence of precipitation and great habitat was so good last fall that the Rolling Plains quail season was described as a record breaking “super boom” year for production, producing multiple covey hunts day after day after day, something not seen for a number of years across that portion of the Lone Star State.
On the eve of this year’s Oct. 28, 2017 to Feb. 25, 2018 quail season kicking off across Texas, this season’s forecast is somewhere between the boom-and-bust extremes according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists.
According to TPWD, this year’s quail production isn’t as prolific as it was a year ago, although carryover birds from last fall and winter should help make the upcoming season a solid one.
Why not an epic quail hunting campaign? Biologists say that despite good winter and spring rains, which brought good habitat, ample forage and solid insect numbers early on in the year, a lack of rainfall this summer has likely hurt quail chick survival rates in a number of areas across the state.
“Portions of South Texas and the Rolling Plains regions were in moderate drought during mid-summer, which may have negatively impacted brood survival,” said Robert Perez, TPWD quail program leader, in an agency news release.
“Hunters will likely see more adult bobwhites in the bag compared to more productive years,” he added.
Such a prediction is based on TPWD’s annual statewide quail surveys, which were started in 1978 to keep tabs on the Lone Star State’s quail population trends in various ecological regions.
Specifically, TPWD says that “…the index uses randomly selected, 20-mile roadside survey lines to determine annual quail population trends by ecological region. This trend information helps determine relative quail populations among the regions of Texas.”
The agency goes on to say that the annual survey across different ecological regions allows biologists to make comparisons from one year to the next on the mean, or average, number of quail observed per route. Likewise, biologists can see how a current year’s numbers compare to the long term mean (LTM).
With a daily bag limit of 15 quail in place this year, what are quail survey numbers like across the Lone Star State?
TPWD says that in the Cross Timbers and Prairie Region of North Texas, this year’s average of birds observed was 4.03 quail per route as compared to last year’s 6.14 figure and the long term mean number of 11.08.
In the Rolling Plains out near Abilene, TPWD reports an average of 23.16 birds per survey route in 2017 as compared to an amazing 50.24 birds last season. Even though this year’s survey number is down from a year ago in this Lone Star State quail hotspot, it still checks in higher than the 20.97 bird per survey route observed over the long term mean.
Out in the High Plains of the Texas Panhandle, TPWD reports that this year’s average of quail per survey route checks in at 9.22 birds per route. While considerably above the 4.29 birds per route in the long term mean, this year’s figure is well below last year’s great count of 21.36 quail per survey route.
Finally, down in South Texas, another of the state’s most fabled quail hunting regions, this year’s average of 10.16 birds per survey route is down slightly from last year’s number of 13.97, not to mention down from the long term mean figure of 17.19 quail. This year’s quail figure in South Texas is also well below the superb number of 20.57 quail per survey route that was recorded in 2015.
All in all, this year’s Texas quail season should be a fair to good one in many portions of Texas, just not the epic boom years seen last year in the Rolling Plains and Panhandle and in South Texas during the 2015 season.
Hunters should also keep in mind that such surveys don’t mean that good hunting can’t be found on their property, especially where localized conditions produced better hatches and chick recruitment.
The bottom line is that there is still plenty of reason to load up the bird dogs into the trailer, to find your favorite upland shotgun, and to head out into the brush to see what kind of hunting you can find this year.
Because while this year’s quail hunting action across the state might not be as good as it can get in some years, it will still be pretty dog gone good.
Just ask that bird dog locked on point in front of you, the one quivering with wide-eyed excitement as his canine nose gets a snootful of Mr. Bobwhite Quail.
When the birds flush, as they will again and again across Texas this season, don’t miss.