Quail Hunting Forecast 2022: Texas
Drought continues to hit quail hard in the Lone Star State
By Greg Breining
Maybe the results reported by the August roadside surveys aren’t an accurate reflection of reality. Last year, after all, Texas quail hunters reported hunting that was quite a bit better than the surveys had indicated.
But unless the numbers are way off—probably not a reasonable hope—Texas quail hunters, especially public land hunters, are likely to be disappointed.
“If you are a public land hunter, there are not going to be many great options for bobwhite this year,” says John McLaughlin, upland gamebird program leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Bobwhite numbers are way below the long-term average in all state ecoregions.
The reason? Drought.
Says McLaughlin, “We’re pretty much in the position that a lot of western states are in this year. We’ve been in drought conditions since late last fall. About September–October the spigot kind of shut off.”
The fall-off was especially bad in the Rolling Plains. Says McLaughlin, I think we set dozens of records in terms of how hot and dry it was. So unfortunately, this will be our lowest bobwhite count ever recorded since we began the surveys back in the 1970s.”
The region that fared the best in a bad year? The South Texas Plains, which saw a rise in bobwhites observed per route from 3.10 to 5.26, but still far short of the 15-year mean of 9.01.
BEST BET: SOUTH TEXAS PLAINS
Despite predictions of below-average bobwhite numbers last year, hunters in South Texas Plains jumped a lot more birds than expected. The survivors provided good carryover to this year’s breeding season, providing a strong head start to production, says McLaughlin.
Then drought took hold and habitat withered. But that good start counted for something. The South Texas Plains scored higher in the roadside count than any other region by far.
Says McLaughlin, “I would tell you that if you were looking to hunt bobwhite that South Texas is the place to be.” Several counties, including Bee, Duval, Live Oak, and McMullen posted particularly good numbers, though the region as a whole produced far fewer birds than the 15-year average. According to the department quail forecast, “We expect average hunting conditions across the region, with certain ranches and counties outperforming our forecast as usual.”
A drawback to the South Texas Plains, says McLaughlin, is that it is largely in private hands. “There’s very little public land in that part of the state.” Find public hunting at the Chaparral and James E. Daughtrey wildlife management areas.
BIG DROP: ROLLING PLAINS
The Rolling Plains, normally the region with the greatest number of bobwhite spotted per route, set a record this year—and not a good kind. The Rolling Hills recorded its lowest number of birds per route ever recorded—handily beating the previous record, set the year before. This year’s 0.86 bobwhites per route fell way below the 15-year average of 12.10.
Again, drought is the culprit. According to the report, areas along the Canadian River, including Gene Howe Wildlife Management Area, got some early rain and as a result have higher bird numbers and healthier habitat. Otherwise, the prognosis is grim. “As such, we expect below average hunting conditions across the region, and while there are certain to be scattered pockets of good hunting, the overall outlook is less promising,” says the report.
Brad Kubecka, executive director of Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch northwest of Abilene, was a bit more encouraging.
Kubecka says be expects bird numbers at the ranch “to be similar to last year (which weren’t great; they were slightly below average). Rainfall during nesting season was below average. Nesting attempts were moderate and so has been adult survival.”
During dog-training on the ranch recently, Kubecka was flushing coveys at the rate of about three per hour. (Remember, of course, he’s looking at land managed for bobwhite.) “September is the time of year when we see the highest densities (right after nesting season). By the time January rolls around, most folks in similar country (with good management and those that had experienced decent rainfall) can expect about two coveys per hour; most likely less on areas not managed specifically for quail.”
According to McLaughlin, public hunting opportunities can be found at the Gene Howe and Matador wildlife management areas, though hunting will likely be below average.
For the second year in a row, he says, Texas Parks and Wildlife is offering a Private Lands Quail Hunt in Lipscomb County. Applications are due Oct. 15.
Quail numbers dropped dramatically, 0.11 per route compared to 1.00 last year. This is below the 15-year mean of 2.75. Limited public hunting opportunities are available through the annual public hunting permit.
Dry conditions hurt even the Gulf Prairies, where rain is normally more than adequate. An average 2.50 bobwhite were seen per route, compared with 4.40 last year—far below the 15-year mean of 7.82.
CROSS TIMBERS AND PRAIRIES
McLaughlin says below-average abundance and hunting opportunities are expected in the Cross Timbers and Prairies. The average number of bobwhites seen per route was 0.23 compared with 0.51 last year, well below the 15-year mean of 1.59.
the High Plains was particularly hard-hit by drought. An average 0.78 bobwhite were seen, compared with 2.33 last year and an average 6.17 during the last 15 years.
HERE'S AN IDEA - TRY SCALED QUAIL
Texas bobwhite hunters may want to pack the dog in the truck, drive west to the Trans-Pecos, and concentrate on scaled quail instead.
The Trans-Pecos was blessed with some well-timed rainfall. According to the forecast, the average number of quail observed per route was 13.06, compared with 4.33 in 2021 and not far off the 15-year mean of 16.26.
Says McLaughlin, “I would say out in West Texas in the Trans-Pecos region, scaled quail hunting we expect is going to be good in that part of the state—an area like Black Gap Wildlife Management Area. We saw a large increase in the number of birds in our roadside count of scaled quail. So we feel there will be good numbers and good public land opportunities for folks willing to go out to one of our more remote and picturesque regions.”
IF YOU GO
The Texas season for bobwhite and scaled and Gambel’s quail runs Oct. 29–Feb. 26, 2023. There’s no open season for Mearn's (Montezuma) quail. The daily bag for all species is 15 birds. Possession limit is 45.
A good investment is the $48 annual public hunting (APH) permit, which allows holders access to more than 180 hunting areas, including wildlife management areas, state parks, and about 120 dove and small game areas leased from private landowners.
McLaughlin recommends that traveling hunters contact local biologists for updates. “They can provide local insights into habitat conditions, bird conditions, and lease options in those areas,” he says. “Those folks are on the ground every single day, living, breathing those areas.”