Quail Hunting Forecast 2023: New Mexico
Drought conditions persist in the Land of Enchantment — but this year may still be better than some
By Brad Trumbo
New Mexico has it all when it comes to quail hunting. Bobwhite, scaled, Mearns, and Gambel’s quail all reside in the state and offer something a bit different with each hunt. And this season should be a good one, with New Mexico Department of Game and Fish wildlife biologists reporting encouraging results from late-summer quail call surveys.
Weather and Conditions
Precipitation was good over winter with some additional rain in the spring. No precipitation events negatively affected nesting or brood-rearing. That was followed by hot, dry summer conditions, which persisted across much of the state but with minor potential impacts to broods. Overall, continued drought has affected the habitat for several years, but 2023 has been a better year.
“Southeastern New Mexico has suffered poorer conditions over past years, but precipitation and residual vegetation were good coming into the spring and summer. Late summer brought a fair monsoon season to the state, providing decent conditions and food sources for Mearns quail nesting and brood rearing in the southwestern part of the state,” says Casey Cardinal with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.
Habitat, Broods, and Counts
Hatch and brood-rearing conditions were acceptable this year. Spring and fall quail call surveys suggest that 2023 is an average year for bobwhite, scaled, and Gambel’s quail. The monsoon season provided good conditions for Mearns quail as well, meaning the late summer hatch is expected to be average or better.
Overall, Cardinal says the 2023 call counts, which were in progress when this forecast was drafted, were “showing improvement over recent years. Hunters may experience more opportunities this year compared to the past few.”
For bobwhite quail, focus on bunchgrasses and sand sagebrush in the easternmost counties of the state, namely Eddy, Lea, Chaves, and Roosevelt Counties.
Gambel’s quail are generally found in the southwestern portion of the state and seem to be doing well in Hidalgo, Grant, and Luna counties, according to Cardinal. Water and shrub cover are key for Gambel’s quail. Look for drainages and darker areas on the map that show high shrub density.
Scaled quail is the most widespread species in New Mexico, occupying approximately two-thirds of the state. Southeastern New Mexico is a good focal area. Scaled quail rely on a composition of shrubs, forbs, and grasses with a good amount of bare dirt and rocks. “Avoid habitats with dense creosote bushes as scaled quail are not likely to be found there,” Cardinal said.
Mearns quail occupy the mountainous areas in Catron, Sierra, Grant, and Hidalgo counties in the southwest, and Lincoln, Chavez, Otero, and Eddy counties in the southcentral part of the state. Pinion-juniper tree cover between about 30 to 70 percent with good grasses and rolling terrain is optimal for Mearns.
Range overlap among Mearns, scaled, and Gamble’s quail in the southwestern corner, and scaled, bobwhite, and possibly Mearns in central and southern Eddy County provide opportunities to encounter all three species in close proximity, albeit among different habitats. Encountering at least two species anywhere in the state is likely.
The Bureau of Land Management and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish have collaborated to provide hunt maps through the “CarryMap” application. This map contains surface ownership, officer contacts, roads, and much more.
Cactus and rattlesnakes can be problematic for hunting dogs here, and mesquite can be thorny as well. Additionally, rocky soil can wear on a dog’s paw pads. Hunting after the New Year can help you avoid snakes. Be sure to run your dog with boots to save their feet and extend the hunt.