With a little luck, this weekend will be for the birds…quite literally.
That’s because two wingshooting seasons open up across the Red River Valley, the Texas’ North Zone first split of duck season (Nov. 9-Dec. 1) and the 2019-20 quail season across the state of Oklahoma (Nov. 9-Feb. 15).
While the duck hunting in this immediate region is only a shadow of what it used to be in the glory days of peanut farming here in Grayson County, the hunting can still be pretty good if you’re in the right spot. And if you are, all signs point to a good opening bell and first week of waterfowling action.
That’s because water is pretty good in the area, thanks to heavy rains earlier this year and again this week. Add in the biting north wind bringing a chill to the air — and the weatherman promising even more significant Arctic cold early next week — and there should be a strong southward push of ducks this weekend into the southern reaches of the Central Flyway.
With fair to good habitat conditions existing throughout much of Texas, ducks should find much to their liking as they wing their way into the Lone Star State. That even includes the Gulf Coast and East Texas, where conditions aren’t as wet. Perhaps there’s enough water in those regions to lure in ducks, but not enough to spread them out too much.
“Overall habitat conditions are good for ducks and duck hunters for many parts of Texas,” said Kevin Kraai, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department waterfowl program coordinator, in a news release a few days ago.
On the eve of the South Zone opener last weekend, Kraai added: “We just need some timely cold fonts and moisture this fall, and I believe many folks will get the opportunity to enjoy the young ducks the Dakotas produced this summer.”
With temperatures forecast to top out in the upper 30s and low 40s early next week, not to mention the beneficial rainfall over the last couple of days, I believe Kraai got his wish. Now it remains to be seen if area duck hunters will get their wish, which is a solid start to the first split here in North Texas.
Across the Red River in Oklahoma, duck hunters got off to a good start last weekend as the state’s Zone 2 duck opener took place. This weekend, upland bird hunters who are letting pointing dogs spill forth from the dog kennels in the back of their trucks are hoping for similar results as the Sooner State’s quail season opens up.
What those upland bird hunters actually find in the field should be some pretty fair quail hunting this year. That idea comes after this year’s Quail Roadside Surveys were conducted across Oklahoma, surveys that indicate a statewide population index of observed quail that is up some 23.6 percent over 2018 figures.
According to an Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation news release, last spring’s flooding rainfall across much of the Sooner State led to a delayed start to the nesting season for upland game birds. But the tradeoff was excellent forbs production and insect hatches for those young quail that did hatch.
That led to some encouraging quail survey results this year with the northeastern, southeastern and southwestern regions of Oklahoma showing higher numbers of bobwhites than they did a year ago. While there were slight decreases in quail numbers in the northwestern and central parts of the state, ODWC officials remain optimistic that hunters should find better quail hunting in most areas than they did in 2018.
In fact, there may be even more quail on the ground this year than the surveys actually indicate. Biologists attribute that hope to poor conditions for observing quail this year, something brought on by the wet conditions of spring that created unseasonably thick vegetation that hindered the viewing efforts of surveyors.
And with the possibility of late hatches this year, there’s even more reason for quail hunters to cross their fingers and hope for a good season.
“We had a delayed hatch this year, but signs are pointing to multiple later hatches,” said Tell Judkins, upland game biologist for ODWC, in a news release. “The later hatches should provide improved numbers statewide as we head into season.”
Whatever the hunting results are this year, biologists are hopeful that the uptick in quail numbers in much of Oklahoma is suggestive of another upward trend in the historically boom-and-bust cyclical nature of quail hatches.
“Ultimately, if we want to see these numbers improve, it’s going to take two things: great weather and suitable habitat,” said Judkins. “While we can’t control the weather, properties around the state can be improved for quail. Then, when we have great weather, the quail will also have a great year.”
The bottom line is that a better quail hunting season appears to be forthcoming for Oklahoma wingshooters this year as compared to last season. While things will vary from region to region and property to property, there’s enough reason to hope…and to get the bird dogs out into the field.
“It will definitely be worth going out,” said Judkins. “We’ve got a lot of great public areas to go quail hunting. Work some ground, trust your dog, and make a memory!”
And with a little luck, not only make a great memory in the field, but also later on when family and friends gather over dinner to sample some of Creation’s best table fare.
As the 2019-20 quail season opens up in Oklahoma, there is ample reason to believe that plenty of both — hunting memories made over locked up bird dogs and good eating afterwards — is going to be a frequent occurrence this season.
Even as an unusually chilly north wind blows across the Sooner State’s late autumn landscape for this weekend’s opening bell.