By Greg Breining
Oklahoma’s quail season is shaping up to be a lot like last year’s, with two important exceptions. Two important quail areas—the northwest and Panhandle, and the southwest—are likely to be much better, says Tell Judkins, upland game biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
Habitat, Broods, and Counts
With nearly all his roadside survey data reported, the statewide average of quail reported per route dipped from 1.68 quail last year to 1.58 quail this year—only a 6 percent drop. “So, pretty comparable to last year,” says Judkins.
But the northwest region of the state, including the Panhandle, is up—2.88 quail per route, compared with 1.81 last year. “August roadside survey are not always reliable,” he says, but that’s a considerable jump.
The western end of the Panhandle is also home to scaled quail. Unfortunately, the small number of routes through scaled quail territory are not enough to give a good sense of their abundance. “I have gotten more anecdotal phone call reports of scaled quail this year than I did last year,” he says. “This time last year I was saying I was cautiously optimistic for the season. This year now I’m saying I’m hopefully optimistic.”
The southwest is another historically good quail region that experienced a bump from last year—from 1 quail per route to 2.66. “Last year was extreme drought. This year there has been quite a bit of rainfall in Oklahoma,” says Judkins. “It should be better hunting this year than it was last year.”
The quail season is looking good despite a snowy, cold snap in late February, when the temperature dropped well below zero. “When you get those sharp turns in events, it can be really traumatizing for quail,” says Judkins. “But realistically as long as the habitat was there, the birds should have done OK.”
The birds benefitted from a moderate spring and summer with adequate moisture. Says Judkins, “The go-to line has been, it’s as green as you’ll ever see it down here.”
The numbers would seem to point hunters toward either northwestern or southwestern Oklahoma. But “if I was a hunter coming in from out of state, I don’t know that I would key in necessarily on one place,” says Judkins.
Instead, he might travel to a large town in western Oklahoma—some place like Woodward—with hotels, restaurants, and vets. “Within about an hour and a half in any direction from Woodward you have opportunity to hunt—a lot of WMAs out there, a lot of OLAP properties.” Oklahoma Land Access Program sites are private lands on which public access is leased.
Hunters interested primarily in scaled quail should plan to drive west. “The farther you go out into the Panhandle, the more likely you are to get into scaled quail than you are bobwhite,” says Judkins. You’ll know you’re there when “instead of seeing a brown blur in front of you, you see a gray blur.”
If You Go
Before the quail season begins, hunters will be able to review the completed 2021 Quail Season Outlook on the Department of Wildlife Conservation website.
Judkins will also be collecting data on several game bird species via a citizen science app developed in conjunction with Oklahoma State University that will be provide a fuller picture of the season to come. Stay tuned for updates.
The quail season this year runs Nov. 13–Feb. 15, 2022. Limit is 10 daily with 20 in possession after the first day.