Field Reports Point to 2016 Okla. Quail Boom

13f3a63e-3fc1-4bd6-b75a-a2d11efd9b4e This report comes from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Could this be the boom year for bobwhites in Oklahoma? There are signs it could happen -- at least in the western half of the state.

Research has shown that two or three consecutive years of favorable weather and habitat conditions are necessary to produce a respectable crop of quail. And 2016 proved to be the third consecutive year in Oklahoma in which habitat, rainfall and temperatures have been favorable for quail.

"Spring and summer were textbook for producing lots of quail," said Wade Free, assistant director of operations for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and avid quail hunter. The ideal conditions often allow quail to nest several times during summer, which adds even more to the population.

In general, annual roadside surveys conducted by the Wildlife Department show that quail numbers are higher this year over 2015 in all regions of the state except north-central Oklahoma. Overall, Oklahoma's quail population index is up 38.48 percent from 2015, and is now 44.6 percent higher than the 27-year statewide average.

Derek Wiley, upland game biologist with the Wildlife Department, said the recovery in quail numbers this year continues a trend that began in the summer of 2013. "There will be plenty of opportunity to harvest quail all across Oklahoma this hunting season," he said.

So, if a hunter saw some good bird hunting last year, he or she might have better success this year.

To give quail hunters a general idea of conditions they can expect to see on opening day Saturday, Nov. 12, biologists with the Wildlife Department of have submitted their observations for this 2016 Whistle Report.

NORTHWEST REGION
Reported by Eddie Wilson, senior biologist

CURRENT ASSESSMENT: Quail numbers are looking good throughout the northwest and eastern Panhandle again this year. Most of the region appears to have quail populations as good as last year. Numbers are reported down slightly at Canton and Drummond wildlife management areas.

HABITAT CONDITIONS: Conditions are good. Plenty of cover and native food sources are available. Most of the WMAs received good rainfall throughout summer. But currently, much of the region is very dry, with little to no rainfall since early September.

LANDOWNER REPORTS: Landowners and WMA hunters are seeing and hearing good numbers of quail this fall.

PUBLIC LAND BEST BETS: WMAs in the Northwest that will offer good quail numbers this season include Beaver, Cooper, Fort Supply and Cimarron Hills. Note that quail hunting closes at 4:30 p.m. on most Northwest Region WMAs. Hunting hours close at noon daily at Cimarron Hills WMA.

TIPS: Hunting will likely be best during morning hours, if the high temperatures, winds and dry conditions persist. Most areas produced a good sandbur crop again this year, so be prepared to boot the dogs. Porcupine populations are also doing well, so hunters may encounter one.

SEASON OUTLOOK: The overall outlook appears to be on pace for another good year of quail hunting in northwestern Oklahoma. Hopefully we can get some cool temperatures and moisture by opening weekend. Good luck!

SOUTHWEST REGION
Reported by Ron Smith, senior biologist

CURRENT ASSESSMENT: The Southwest Region shows a variety of production, from down slightly to increased. Overall, 2016 numbers will be very close to last year's. Much of the region is reporting better distribution than 2015. Much-improved production last year led to areas of very high numbers with some areas still lagging. Good winter survival and great nesting conditions allowed the birds to fill in thin spots.

HABITAT CONDITIONS: Two years of above-average rainfall greatly improved habitat conditions. Good nesting cover produced in 2015 provided a great start for the birds. Insect production throughout the summer aided brood success. General cover and forb production will make the transition into winter as productive as possible.

LANDOWNER REPORTS: Landowners are reporting good quail numbers. Early work getting dogs in shape has many hunters encouraged.

PUBLIC LAND BEST BETS: Packsaddle, Black Kettle, Sandy Sanders.

TIPS: Spend some time scouting. Putting on a few miles and comparing different areas will pay off. Above-average rainfall has produced areas of very heavy cover. Early season hunting may be tough, but it will show where the birds are. Increased hunter numbers will put an even greater emphasis on safety. Remember to be courteous to others in the field.

SEASON OUTLOOK: 2016 should be a memorable year for quail hunters.

CENTRAL REGION
Reported by Jeff Pennington, regional wildlife supervisor

CURRENT ASSESSMENT: Roadside quail counts do not show a positive trend for the region this year. Portions of the region with the best quality habitat will have a decent number of birds.

HABITAT CONDITIONS: Summer temperatures were mild overall, but rainfall varied a great deal during the growing season. While there are some exceptions in drier areas, lands with moderately grazed native grassland look good in most locations.

LANDOWNER REPORTS: Landowners with significant habitat report seeing quail this year.

PUBLIC LAND BEST BETS: Kaw WMA in the north, Grady County WMA in central, and Cross Timbers WMA in the south. (Note: Cross Timbers closed to quail hunting until Nov. 28.)

TIPS: Hunters will have the best success in areas with quality habitat. Since populations are spotty and at a lower density than in western Oklahoma, hunters will usually have better luck early in the season before quail numbers are reduced due to natural mortality.

SEASON OUTLOOK: Quail hunting opportunity will mimic habitat quality in the region, which can be summarized as spotty. Best hunting will be found in areas with the highest amounts of moderately grazed, native grasslands on the landscape.

NORTHEAST REGION
Reported by Scott Cox, wildlife biologist

CURRENT ASSESSMENT: Quail numbers remain far below the statewide average numbers and may never come back to the historic numbers of 25 to 30 years ago. However, quail numbers are up 5 percent this year. Across much of the region, large-scale land use changes over the past several decades have fragmented or degraded much of the historical bobwhite habitat. Fescue, Bermuda and heavily timbered areas dominate the landscape in the northeast. There are pockets of birds where habitat is favorable.

HABITAT CONDITIONS: Where suitable quail habitat exists, the extensive rainfall in the late spring and summer has generally promoted good habitat with a bumper crop of grasses and forbs. Birds can be found in those areas where habitat is favorable.

LANDOWNER REPORTS: Quail reports from landowners indicate more birds than in recent years, but still relatively few compared to western portions of the state. There have been few reports from scouting hunters. Field personnel have heard and seen a limited number of birds where habitat is favorable.

PUBLIC LAND BEST BETS: Upland areas of some of the northeast region WMAs such as Osage, Hulah, Copan and Oologah might be the most productive, especially in "edge" habitat areas and those portions that stayed above the summer floodwaters. Each WMA has its own regulations; hunters should consult the "Oklahoma Hunting and Fishing Regulations Guide" before heading afield.

TIPS: Hunters planning to visit the Northeast Region for quail should plan on a difficult hunt as bird densities are still low across much of the region. Hunters should concentrate on areas with native grasses, forbs and shrubs interspersed with lots of bare ground. Also, concentrate along weedy fencerows, field borders and natural or manmade openings.

SEASON OUTLOOK: Generally poor overall, although likely improved from past several years. Northeast Region quail roadside surveys have reported light increases of birds each of the past three to four years, is up 5 percent from 2015, but is still 34.4 percent below the 27-year average.

SOUTHEAST REGION
Reported by Dakota Christian, wildlife biologist,
and Jack Waymire, senior biologist

CURRENT ASSESSMENT: Quail numbers have been steadily on the rise in southeastern Oklahoma for the past three years. This past summer, numerous coveys of quail and a lot of chicks have been seen. During surveys, it seemed like every young plantation or clear-cut we would survey would have birds whistling. Deer hunters have seen several coveys of birds as well. We have definitely seen more successful nest hatches and more birds this summer and fall compared to last year.

It appears there were several hatches during the summer.

HABITAT CONDITIONS: Clear-cuts from 1 to 5 years old along a mature pine hard edge are the best places to find birds. These clearcuts offer an abundance of grasses for birds to feed and plenty of cover from lay-down trees to small shrubby oaks for roosting cover.

Habitat conditions are good. Quail are feeding on post oak acorns and seeds from forbs. Visibility is limited due to tall prairie grasses.

LANDOWNER REPORTS: Deer hunters are seeing several coveys of birds on the WMAs. Some have reported coveys with as many as 30 birds.

Archery hunters are seeing coveys ranging from eight birds to as large as 25 birds.

PUBLIC LAND BEST BETS: Three Rivers, Honobia Creek, Pushmataha.

TIPS: Look for clear-cuts that have a mature pine hard edge on at least one side. Clear-cuts older than 5 years normally are choked out by blackberries and don't offer as much food as cuts younger than 5. The prime clear-cuts will have pine trees from waist up to chest high.

You might want to have GPS collars on your bird dogs because of limited visibility due to tall prairie grasses

SEASON OUTLOOK: Quail numbers will be good going into the season. Habitat is still great from August rains.

The outlook for quail season is probably the best it has been in the last 20 years.

Quail season will open Saturday, Nov. 14, statewide. Be sure to check the special area regulations for public hunting areas before hunting; this information can be found in the "2016 Oklahoma Hunting and Fishing Regulations Guide" available online, in a mobile app for Android and Apple, or in print at license dealers statewide.

Bird hunters are invited to share their field reports and photos on the Wildlife Department's Facebook page at facebook.com/wildlifedepartment. For more information about the Wildlife Department's quail roadside surveys, read the 2016 Quail Season Outlook online at wildlifedepartment.com.