The bulls-eye of the U.S. Drought Monitor this summer covered some of New Mexico and Arizona’s better scaled, Mearns’, and, Gambel’s quail country. At first glance, it looks like a tough year for quail in the Southwest.
But leave it to the always insightful desert quail expert, Jonathan O’Dell of the Arizona Game & Fish Department, to give the issue some color: “The habitat is very dry right now, but you have to remember – Gambel’s quail are the only true desert bird, so this is normal. Scaled quail are an arid grassland bird, and Mearns’ quail are a sub-neotropical bird.” In Arizona, O’Dell explained that spring call counts for Gambel’s were down 50 percent coming off a pretty tough hunting season, and populations will be lower this year. However, he’s optimistic that the summer monsoons may result in good Mearns’ production. Likewise, scaled quail may have delayed nesting due to the drought, and will benefit from the monsoons.
In New Mexico, the outlook is bleak according to Casey Cardinal, New Mexico Game & Fish Department. “Chick survival will likely be low this year as drought conditions reduce the amount of forbs and insects available on the landscape. We entered 2018 with decent numbers of quail, but the drought will hurt reproduction. There may be some decent hunting opportunities in pockets across the southern portion of the state, but harvest will likely be lower than the last few years.” Populations of valley (California) quail will be low in Oregon and Utah, as is the case for scaled quail in southeastern Colorado and west Texas, due to drought, according to the state fish and wildlife agencies.
The upside is that weather conditions have set up valley quail for a productive year in west-central Nevada and associated agricultural valleys, including the Mason and Lahontan Valleys, according to Shawn Espinosa, Nevada Department of Wildlife. Jeff Knetter, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, reports that quail recruitment should be good in portions of western Idaho. Lastly, California could be the sleeper this year. In 2016-’17, an estimated 33,577 hunters harvested 245,111 valley quail, with the most successful hunting in San Luis Obispo, Monterey, and Kern counties. The winter of 2017-’18 was drier, but moisture was pretty good during the breeding season. And if you are looking to harvest an additional quail species, there’s some good mountain quail hunting in Siskiyou and El Dorado counties.