Quail Forever's 2008 Quail Hunting Forecast

Click here to see the Pheasants Hunting Forecast.

Overview

Bobwhite quail numbers across the board are mixed depending on location and weather conditions, but generally speaking appear to be stable or slightly better than last year, when drought coupled with the declining availability of habitat gave the birds a double whammy. However, looking at the larger picture, bobs still remain a bird in severe decline due first and foremost to massive losses of suitable habitat. Quail hunters and enthusiasts have been begging for some good news lately, and there is finally some from quail country to report. First, habitat initiatives are working - states all across the map reported federal conservation practices like the Conservation Reserve Program's (CRP) Conservation Practice 33 (CP-33, or "bobwhite buffers") and state-designed programs for bobwhites are yielding results. Second, the new CRP practice State Acres For wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) program -practices targeted at various species within specific states - allocates over 130,000 acres in 21 initial projects over 20 states that hold the potential to establish quality habitat targeted specifically for bobs. Finally, the 2008 federal Farm Bill includes provisions that will provide incentives for thinning and burning of CRP tree plantings, perhaps the biggest news for quail and quail hunters in a generation and the biggest quail-related news to come out of Washington, D.C., during Quail Forever's three-year existence. And how about Quail Forever! There are now over 105 QF chapters in 25 states, and habitat projects are starting to hit the ground. Looking at available habitat tools including CP-33, SAFE, thinning and burning incentives and the continued growth of QF, we're merely starting to scratch the surface of what it will take to restore this great game bird to prominence.

Always consult state hunting regulations for rules and season dates before taking to the field. Find your state agency by logging onto www.QuailForever.org/page/StateAgencies.

Alabama

Alabama

Improved and timely rainfall helped the nesting effort as compared to the past two years, but prospects still aren't great. The southern third of the state, in particular the Black Belt Prairie region, was historically Alabama's best quail region, and this area still harbors managed plantations attractive to hunters. Bobs look to benefit from the Alabama Black Belt Prairie Restoration SAFE project and its goal of enrolling 2,500 acres in CRP. Prospects on public land can best be described as grim. That said, the future looks brighter thanks to the many partners and initiatives working to bring the bobs back, including the Alabama Quail Council and the state's four QF chapters.

Arizona

Arizona

Mearns quail reproduction is tied to the summer monsoon rains, and for the second year in a row Arizona received above average summer rains. Mearns hunting is expected to be excellent, and hunters should focus southeast of Tucson in the area around Patagonia. Following good winter precipitation, Gambel's quail hunting should be average to above average for most of the state, the exception being the southeast portion of the state where below average precipitation last winter and overall numbers of Gambel's and scaled quail are expected to be low. For Gambel's quail, try hunting in the Tonto Basin area in the central portion of the state. Scaled quail hunters should try the southeast area of the state south of Willcox.

Arkansas

Arkansas

Quail hunters in Arkansas can expect a season comparable to last year. Though brood surveys were down, state Quail Program Coordinator Steve Fowler says that can be attributed to improved cover. Fowler also pointed out that the goal of the state's approved SAFE project - the Arkansas Grass SAFE - is to enroll 3,700 acres in CRP to restore early successional habitat that will benefit bobs as the focused species. On the public side of things, The Fort Chaffee WMA remains an excellent public hunting destination.

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California

For the third consecutive year, Gambel's numbers are down, but if that doesn't discourage you, try the riparian areas along the Colorado River. As for California and Mountain quail, reproduction doesn't look like it was spectacular according to Jesse Garcia with the state's Upland Game Program. The foothills of the Southern Coastal range and Sierra Nevada range are still the best bet for California quail, as is the Western Mojave Desert. Move to the higher elevations of the Coastal range for Mountain quail.

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Colorado

Last year, Colorado hunters harvested an estimated 9,000 scaled quail, 3,500 bobwhite quail, and 900 Gambel's quail. Populations and harvest for scaled and bobwhite are significantly lower than just a few years ago, as a result of a severe 2006 blizzard. In fact, most of Colorado's quail populations are recovering from that blizzard, which was followed by approximately 75 days of snow cover. In northeast Colorado, the quail range is the South Platte River within the counties of Weld, Morgan, Washington, Logan and Sedgwick counties. Bobwhite quail within this area are slowly recovering, but should be improved over 2007. But Colorado's core quail range is southeast Colorado, where both scaled quail and bobwhite quail are found. Isolated areas are doing very well, however, most populations are slowly recovering from the 2006 blizzard. The onset of severe drought over much of southeast Colorado likely hampered nesting and brood survival in 2008. Gambel's quail do exist in western Colorado, although they occur mostly within urban areas along the west slope of Colorado. If targeting Colorado, make note of the 200,000 acres available for public use through the Walk-In Access Program, which requires a hunter to purchase a $20 permit to access enrolled lands. Of this acreage, approximately 30 percent targets scaled quail hunting opportunities in southeast Colorado.

Florida

Florida

Florida was poised to have really good quail numbers, perhaps one of the two or three best seasons in the last decade. However, tropical storm Fay dumped between 12" - 30" of rain throughout Florida, which caused some mortality and diminished the outlook in the state to more of an average year. There are some WMAs in Florida that offer quality quail hunting, most notably the Babcock Webb WMA, Triple N Ranch WMA, Bull Creek WMA, Three Lakes WMA, Babcock Webb/Yucca Pens Unit and Allapattah Flats WMA. Along with the two QF chapters, the state continues working hard to improve quail numbers, and has an Upland Ecosystem Restoration Project (UERP) that will target public lands that have significant potential for restoration/recovery of grassland ecosystems. Seven UERP focal areas have officially been established on properties throughout the state to be managed with increased fire frequency and appropriate timber management.

Georgia

Georgia

There is a more optimistic outlook for the Georgia quail season than last year, thanks in part to a better distribution of rainfall. Bobs are responding well to edge rows and buffers in central and southwest Georgia, essentially improving as the number of habitat projects do. The 15-county area in Georgia's Upper Coastal Plain is being helped by the state's Bobwhite Quail Initiative, where biologists are providing much-needed habitat guidance.

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Illinois

Last fall, 24,600 Illinois hunters bagged nearly 189,000 bobs. Though call counts were down statewide by 7.6 percent, the reality is that percentage represents a non-significant change, so hunters should expect another year similar to last. There is good news to report in that the CP-33 buffers have brought about dramatic increases in bobwhite abundance locally. Several counties have between 1,000 and 2,000 acres of field borders, and Illinois has enrolled 41,000 acres statewide. However, more acres are needed to see statewide increase. If targeting quail in Illinois, head to the west-central and south-central parts of the state.

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Indiana

Flooding in the south-central part of the state didn't help early nesting at all, and quail populations could be slightly decreased in that region. As a whole, however, spring whistle counts were up in southern Indiana, rebounding 30 percent after a 30 percent decrease last year. The southwest area of the state - particularly Posey and Gibson Counties - remains the best area to hunt. The decline of quail in the north portion of the state continues, but pockets do remain, particularly in Pulaski and Fulton Counties. Around 30,000 quail have been harvested annually the past few years, and overall, hunters can expect similar numbers this year. On the habitat front, Indiana's SAFE project, the Indiana Northern Bobwhite SAFE, has been allocated nearly 4,000 acres of CRP to restore grassland and shrubland habitats for the northern bobwhite quail.

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Iowa

Iowa's quail population has been in a long-term decline, and a severe winter didn't do the birds any favors. Because of that, a decline was expected, and that's how it's shaped up, with statewide bobwhite quail numbers down 45 percent. This year's index is 27 percent below the 10 year average of 0.6 quail per route and well below the historic figure of 1.5 quail per route. Iowa's primary quail range spans the southwest, south-central, and southeast regions of the state. Populations showed a significant decrease in the southeast region, a downward trend in the south-central region, and an increasing trend in the southwest region. In fact, pockets of quail will likely only be found in the best habitat across these three regions this fall, so it's safe to assume hunters won't bag near the 54,400 bobs they harvested last year.

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Kansas

An estimated 481,000 quail were taken in Kansas in 2007, the second lowest number ever recorded. This dramatic slide was caused substantially by extremely heavy rains late last June, the normal peak of hatching. These rains were most severe in southeastern Kansas. Generally, the state will have improved quail hunting prospects this fall. Most of this improvement will be seen in north central and south-central sections of the state. This will include areas bounded by and including the following counties: Norton south-southeast to Rush, Rush south to Comanche, Comanche east to Cowley, Cowley northeast to Greenwood, Greenwood north-northwest to Washington, and Washington west to Norton. Counties in the southern half of this block may exceed the northern half, but all should be good. Southeast Kansas experienced very heavy rains in June of 2007 and again in 2008 and will, with local exceptions, provide no better than fair hunting. Traditionally strong quail counties along the Oklahoma border in far southwest Kansas were hard hit by drought this spring and summer and, consequently, production was poor. Kansas has had excellent success with CP-33 all across the state and these areas are providing good habitat.

Kentucky

Kentucky

The 2008 mail carrier survey results showed quail numbers continuing to decline across much of the state, thus hunters should expect a season comparable to last year. The western agricultural region of the state continues to hold the most quail. The Peabody WMA continues to be the public land hot spot with reclaimed mine ground in eastern Kentucky following close behind. State small game biologist Ben Robinson also reported that Kentucky recently embarked on a massive 10-year quail restoration plan across the state.

Louisiana

Louisiana

Production looks good, so it's not farfetched to think that this year will surpass 2007, when 1,200 hunters harvested approximately 5,800 bobs. It remains to be seen how the recent hurricane season will impact bobs in Louisiana. In the north, the Jackson Bienville WMA is the best bet as far as public land is concerned, thanks in part to thinning and burning management practices. Private lands in the south-central sugar cane region are also looking solid. One of Louisiana's approved SAFE projects, the Gulf Coast Prairies SAFE, has a goal of enrolling 3,500 acres in CRP, restoration that would certainly help bobwhites.

Maryland

Maryland

Quail numbers are low in most of Maryland, but some areas still harbor a fair number of birds and are hunted by a small but dedicated group of quail enthusiasts. Though no formal surveys are conducted, Bob Long, Upland Gamebird Project Manager with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources stated that anecdotal reports indicated quail may have had a good nesting/brood-rearing season. Favorable weather coupled with increased habitat may provide more birds for the upcoming season in localized areas. However, populations continue to decline in areas where habitat is scarce. The Eastern Region, known as the Eastern Shore, is the only area in the state that maintains huntable populations of quail with the exception of a few isolated pockets in Southern Maryland. In fact, several WMAs in the Eastern Region hold a fair number of quail. Most quail are found on private lands that are being specifically managed for quail, and local increases have been observed in some areas where CRP land is abundant.

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Michigan

According to the most recent data from 2006, 3,000 bobwhite quail hunters harvested approximately 2,000 quail. Though some regional winter ice storms may have impacted small, localized populations of quail, state Wildlife Biologist Al Stewart expects this year to match those numbers.

Mississippi

Mississippi

Results from the 2007-2008 season indicated that hunters flushed 0.24 coveys per hour and bagged 0.15 quail per hour of hunting. Weather-wise, this year was better than last year in terms of shaping the nesting and brood-rearing season, and Rick Hamrick, Small Game Program Leader with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks reported that more broods were being seen. Thus, hunter success should be a little better this year. Overall, Mississippi is still dealing with fairly low quail populations statewide, but there are still decent hunting opportunities, particularly on the state's national forest land and state properties that are intensively managed for quail.

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Missouri

The 2007 season continued the negative trend in quail hunting with record lows in both number of hunters and quail harvested in Missouri, with 27,830 hunters (a 7.6 percent decrease from 2006) harvesting 258,448 bobs (an 11.5 percent decrease from the 2006 season). This year, several ice storms occurred in the northwest and Bootheel regions of the state that likely impacted winter survival for bobs. Coupled with an unusually wet spring, production was hampered, and preliminary data collected from the 2008 August roadside surveys show the quail index was down statewide about 13 percent, from 3.3 birds/route to 2.9 birds/route. Areas higher than the statewide average include the northeast, west-central, and central portions of the state. National CRP programs, especially CP-33 are continuing to add suitable habitat to the Missouri landscape. SAFE acres are just getting off the ground and will provide additional habitat for bobwhite in the future. The Missouri Department of Conservation also has 19 public areas designated as "Quail Emphasis Areas" where habitat improvement is a main priority.

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Nebraska

Jeff Lusk, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commissions upland game program manager, reported that signs are leading to a good bobwhite season in the state. Results from the Whistle Count Survey were generally higher than in 2007, most notably in Nebraska's North Central and Republican regions. Bobwhites also made gains in the North Central region on the July Rural Mail Carrier Survey. The Southeast region showed consistent gains on both surveys compared to 2007, and the Northeast showed consistent losses. Once again, the Southeast (Gage, Otoe, Pawnee, Richardson and Saline Counties) and the East Central regions (Butler, Clay, Hamilton, Seward and Thayer Counties) had the highest abundances, based on the summer surveys.

Nevada

Nevada

Nevada is home to three species of quail. Last year's harvest totals included 29,400 California quail by 4,100 hunters, 14,800 Gambel's quail by 3,900 hunters and 1,000 mountain quail by 400 hunters. California quail numbers should be improved from last season in the northern portion of the state, although last season's harvest was better than the 10-year average. This species responded favorably to late spring precipitation that could very well have saved the season. Look for a fair to good number of young birds this season, especially in Churchill, Douglas, Lyon, Pershing, Humboldt and Washoe Counties. Gambel's quail populations in the Mojave Desert in the southern portion of the state are dealing with extended drought conditions and bird numbers are expected to remain low. Mountain quail are mostly concentrated in western and central portion of the Silver State. Look for birds around the Carson Range near Reno and Carson City, and in Churchill and Lyon Counties. Efforts are underway to restore mountain quail into historic locations and also to expand their range.

New Mexico

New Mexico

With virtually no moisture from September 2007 until July 2008, followed by a period of monsoon-like weather, it looks like the southwest area of the state will be poor for scaled and Gambel's quail, with the possibility of upgrading to fair if the late-season nesting success was improved. Hunting for Mearns' quail, however, should be good as there was a strong population last year with what appears to be good carryover. Head to the Gila and San Mateo Mountains for Mearns'.

North Carolina

North Carolina

Quail populations in North Carolina should be similar to those observed over the last five years. The last available data from 2005-2006 showed 30,000 hunters harvested 143,000 quail, and harvests have been fairly consistent since the mid-1990s. The agricultural areas of the eastern portion of the state remain the best places to target. On the habitat front, field borders are proving to be an effective method for restoring quail numbers.

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Ohio

Though Ohio's bobwhite populations have experienced about a 10 percent annual decline during the past two decades because of habitat loss and urbanization, local hotspots do provide opportunities for quality flushes. Currently, less than 14,000 quail are harvested annually. Southwest and southern Ohio, especially Preble, Butler, and Brown Counties, have been stronger than other areas in recent years. Newer habitats established under Scioto CREP and CP-33 may offer good opportunities in Scioto and Ross counties of southern Ohio. Spring whistle call count surveys suggest that Vinton County in southeast Ohio also has a good population. The CP-33 program has certainly been popular and successful in some parts of Ohio.

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Oklahoma

After what could be described as a down year last year with a harvest of an estimated 579,000 bobs, quail numbers should have rebounded slightly this year thanks to favorable weather which helped reproduction. Helping improve numbers is the Quail Habitat Restoration Initiative (QHRI), which was developed to benefit quail and farmers in specific areas of the state. To date, 40,000 acres are under contract, and 18,000 of those have already undergone prescribed burns, mostly in western Oklahoma. Western Okie remains the best for quail, and it offers some fine public land. Packsaddle WMA is 17,000 contiguous acres - you'll have to walk a lot, maybe a mile or more to find birds, but they're there. Black Kettle WMA is also a dandy.

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Oregon

Poor production in 2007 resulted in below-average harvest and participation, with a harvest of 26,700 California quail (average is 80,000) and 20,400 mountain quail (average is 35,000). Success this year will vary considerably depending on the geographic area and the targeted quail species. Generally speaking, southwest Oregon will be the most productive for mountain quail and eastern Oregon for California quail. California quail are found statewide from the temperate western part of the state to the high desert sage country of eastern Oregon. Harney and Malheur Counties generally report the highest harvest followed by the Columbia Basin counties. Mountain quail are also found in every county of the state, but there is no open season in some counties, and 75 percent of the statewide harvest occurs in the southwest part of the state. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has an active mountain quail translocation project in an attempt to restore the bird to its historical habitat.

South Carolina

South Carolina

After a severe growing season drought in 2007, bird numbers were suppressed in most areas of the state. This year has seen better weather conditions, resulting in improved nesting and brood-rearing conditions. Hunters should expect slightly improved bird numbers and hunting success over last year's disappointing season, when hunters averaged 0.55 coveys/hour. The Upper Coastal plain counties contain higher quail densities than the rest of the state due to the prevalence of row-crop agriculture. Crackerneck WMA, Manchester State Forest WMA, Draper WMA, James W. Webb WMA, Hamilton Ridge WMA, Marsh WMA and Santee Coastal Reserve WMA are among the better public lands for quail hunting (these properties have specified dates and times for quail hunting - see South Carolina Rules and Regulations for details). Also of note is that approximately 6,100 acres of CP-33 buffers have been installed on working agricultural landscapes in South Carolina, and quail populations are approximately two times higher on farms with buffers than farms without buffers.

South Dakota

South Dakota lies at the extreme northern range of bobwhite quail and population numbers are easily influenced by winter weather conditions from year to year. Bobs are found primarily in south-central and southeastern South Dakota. Based on hunter surveys, over 1,200 hunters harvested an estimated 1,000 quail in South Dakota last year. As in recent years, the winter conditions of the past year were mild from a quail survival perspective. While much of South Dakota experienced heavy snow cover and blizzard conditions during late March and early April, these events were short lived given spring-like temperatures and little mortality was reported. Spring whistle count surveys indicated quail decreased by 56 percent compared to last year.

Tennessee

Tennessee

State Small Game Coordinator Roger Applegate noted that observers have reported hearing and seeing a few more quail this year than last, and that the better numbers will occur in the western part of the state, especially where CP-33 buffers have been implemented.

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Texas

A very dry winter for a majority of Texas meant there wasn't a large selection of food sources for quail to eat. This dry spell caused a large drop-off in the number of breeders, especially in the southern portions of the state, and rain didn't begin to fall until July. Although this was hard on the quail populations, signs show a late hatch did occur and there will be young birds in the air once the season opens. Expect good to average bobwhite numbers in the southern and rolling plains portions of the state. Scaled quail numbers have continued their climb as the big bend region (from Midland to El Paso) is reporting yet another upswing in birds. Texas is working hard to raise bird populations all across the board and the Texas Quail Initiative will help with this. Aiming to provide more habitat the Texas Quail Initiative looks to work with other conservation organizations in the strategic planning and implementation of conservation practices that will benefit quail located all across the state.

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Utah

Quail populations in Utah have done well the past couple of years, and 2008 is shaping up to be another solid season. Utah's southwest desert is host to Gambel's Quail, and this spring provided good moisture in many of these areas. Populations of California quail, although closely associated with the urban areas, have been good. Finding an area to hunt is the key to success when it comes to California quail, but should you be able to accomplish this expect a reasonable amount of success.

Virginia

Virginia

Couple already poor habitat conditions with the fact that much of the state is bordering on a severe drought, and it doesn't bode well for Virginia quail or quail hunters this year. Statewide, call counts were down slightly compared to last year. Despite call counts down 40%, the Tidewater region east of I-95 still holds the most bobs. The only regions indicating increases in call counts were the Northern region, up 20 percent, and the West Piedmont region, which was up 15 percent. One bright note to report is that the Virginia Quail Action Plan (QAP) draft has just been completed and is set to be adopted this fall.

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Washington

Last year, over 14,000 Washington quail hunters harvested 128,000 birds. Weather was variable across the state over the past year, with heavy, cold rains hard on some areas and a dry, cold early summer hard on others. Re-nesting, however, did show some success. Hunter success will likely be lower than the 25-year high seen in 2003, but still above the 10-year average. Chelan, Okanogan, Douglas, Grant and Yakima Counties all have good quail populations. For California quail, look to eastern and western Washington. For mountain quail, the option is western Washington as the season is closed in the eastern part of the state.

West Virginia

West Virginia

- With approximately three-quarters of the state in forested land, marginal habitat and limited agricultural production, bobwhite opportunities in the Mountain State remain limited. The best quail habitat lies in the Greenbrier River Valley, the eastern panhandle and in isolated pockets along the Ohio River Valley. West Virginia hunters can again expect to see a harvest of less than 1,000 bobs.

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Wisconsin

The long-term decline in Wisconsin bobwhite populations certainly wasn't helped by poor weather conditions, including a large snowfall followed by an extremely wet spring. Thus, hunters can expect to find fewer coveys afield this year. That said, there are still smaller pockets, in particular in Green, Iowa and Grant Counties, that continue to provide some decent hunting opportunities. Sharon Fandel, Assistant Upland Game Ecologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, did note that the state is working to update its quail management plan in order to sustain and improve remaining quail numbers.