Quail forecast 2015
For the last two issues I’ve written about good things to come. In June I was “almost giddy”, and nothings changed to make me recant my optimism . . . not even the past 60 days of hot, dry weather. Reports of “megabroods” (25+ birds) and August hatches are still coming in. As I ran my trapline of quail forecasters in late-July, they too (almost across the board) were singing the quail praises.
First, here’s a preview of TPWD’s annual roadside counts. Results for the High Plains were unavailable (still under review).
Plains South Texas
2015 1.17 6.06 14.90 38.29 21.05
LTM 11.40 5.73 10.71 20.16 17.50
Plains South Texas
2015 4.56 3.09 1.00 28.44
LTM 6.61 3.28 6.87 15.96
A nice rebound was noted, especially for bobwhites in the Rolling Plains and blues in the Trans-Pecos. But I was hoping for a more resounding chorus.
Now for the forecast from my quail trapline. For the most part these are anecdotal observations form various “Students of Quail.” Their forecast reminds me of perusing the shotshells at the discount store: 7½s, 8s, and 9s! And if Bo Derek sparks any memories of a certain number, indeed there were a few “10s” proclaimed. These abridged comments were received a month ago, and in most cases, current conditions would be a bit higher in most situations. But you’ll also hear a caveat of déjà vu 2010, i.e., there are no old, bold quail forecasters 2010.
Dan Bolin, Eagle Wind Ranch, reports from Clay County. “Much of my prime nesting area flooded, so we lost many nests. Have seen several large broods from non-flooded birds. My quests for the season is a “5”; should be better than last year. I hate to say that the rain hurt us, but we did lose many nests. Seems like it's always something.”
Jay O’Brien reports from his Swamp Ranch in Donley County. “I honestly don’t know. Conditions tell me it should be a “wow” and we had lots of seed from last year. Just to be safe, I would say 8-9, but hope for 10. In any case, it’s going to take good dogs to find them in all the cover.”
Wayne Winters reports from near Wellington. “I’ll give it a 9.25 hoping for WOW! Based on my personal view and other hunters, farmers and ranchers reporting near me. What’s interesting is I have had several (longtime residents) say that they would be plowing, shredding, cutting hay or just driving down a dirt road and say that they saw quail with babies and they either stopped, turned around or just sat and watched as the quail moved off. Our neighbors are very aware of how critical our losses were and they would try not to disrupt any new broods.”
George Allen with the Circle A Ranch in Archer County says “I am predicting a 6 this year. The only reason my prediction is not higher is because our spring call counts were down from last year. I think we may have had too much rain in May and as a result lost some of our nests. We are just now seeing broods of young birds. The cover is the best we have ever had so we plan to turn a few steers out as early as September so we can hunt in November.”
Jerry Bob Daniel, Circle Bar Ranch, ranches in northern Knox Co. “We are seeing the best quail numbers and sightings in 10 years. Cover hasn't been this good since 2004 when it rained all summer. I would rate the quail at 9 or 10. I haven't shot a bird in five years but definitely look forward to this year’s hunt.”
Chip Ruthven is the manager for TPWD’s Matador WMA in Cottle County. “After our first run of roadside quail surveys, I will bump it up to a solid “8”. On a 10-mile route I saw 2 pair and 13 coveys for a total of 196 birds. Most birds were full to ¾ grown, but still a lot of young (< ¼ grown chicks) out there. We’re averaging about 14 birds/mile. We will see if this trend continues on subsequent runs of our routes through September.”
Butch Nuding reports from the Patterson Ranch in northern Stonewall County. “We are at a 10+ right now! Unbelievable! The cover is so thick, birds land in trees rather than ground! We have seen several coveys of blues; have not had any of those in 8 to 10 years! Coveys are in the 20 to 30 bird range. Let’s see what October brings.”
Rick Snipes reports from the sandhills northwest of Aspermont. “Hard to say with all the cover and lack of roads.....we just don't see them here like places in the tight land. I will venture a 7, which, if it materializes, will be truly spectacular.”
Buddy Baldridge reports from the Mesquite Grove Ranch in Kent County. “Pasture conditions are better than we have seen in over 5 years, maybe better than any in the last 20 years. We are seeing plants grow that we haven't seen in many years. As far as a number, I'm going to go with 7.5-8.0. It feels like a 10+ but I think it's just because we are comparing to some really poor years. Guess we'll know the real information when we turn out the bird dogs in the fall. Our hunters are really excited to have birds again. We are too!”
Roy Wilson reports from two ranches. “It looks too good to be true!!!!! There are lots of twenty plus bird coveys. If broomweed is any indicator, (as I was told it was many years ago by a certain quail biologist, LOL!) then this should be a great year! Conservatively, I give a rating of 7 to 9 at both of these locations (Hutchinson County Harvey Ranch] and Stonewall County [T - Diamond Ranch]. It has been such a long time since I have seen a "10", I'm not sure what to look for. If the long range weather holds true into the next spring, we may get to see a "10"!!”
Les Woolsey reports from the Matador Ranch in Motley County. “I would have to call it a 6 – 7 right now. I may be a little conservative now , but hope to give you a better update in a few more weeks. The habitat really is great this year across the ranch. We have been blessed here in Motley county! Can I have an Amen?”
James Lewis is a range conservationisht for NRCS in Dickens County. “I’ve had several brood sightings of 8 to 15 birds, and have heard talk from others that have seen a few megabroods”. Last year was somewhat of a disappointment for me in the area that I roam around in, so I’m going to forecast a “6” or “7”, but hope it turns out to be an “8”.
Trent Long also reports from Dickens County. “I would say about a 7. About half the coveys I see have 24 or more birds.”
Russell Ueckert reports from western Jones County. They are predicting an “8.”
Paul Melton reports from Fisher County. “I am calling for a 9.5 quail year here.... a large carryover of birds, earlier than normal nesting activity, perfect conditions, brood sightings three weeks earlier than normal (consistent with last season) and continuing whistle activity by males even through our triple digit days recently. Hoping to see another 1987.”
A. V. Jones reports from Shackelford County. “Most of the articles you read say you can't increase the count over double in one year. I gave last year a 1 and had a hard time doing that. We are seeing good numbers on all our ranches, right now I would say a 3 and there are lots of pairs still trying. It will be interesting to see if the counts will hold up until November 1st.”
Alan Heirman also has a long history of quail hunting in Shackelford County. “Habitat is nothing short of outstanding. I give the quail an 8. But, we still don't have the cattle in the trailer. Very promising to say the least.”
Justin Trail also reports from just south of Albany. “Conditions in Shackelford County are as good as we can hope for during this time of year. We are seeing several megabroods of 20-30 birds and, while highly frowned upon in human society, we greatly appreciated the hen's willingness to drop the kids off with the neighbors in an effort to go have more babies! If we can avoid a major negative event between now and November, I would expect to point 5 coveys per hour which would be about 2X of last year. I am predicting an 8. An 8 for me is 30 coveys a day." (Note: we will be touring Trail’s Ranch on Wednesday, Sept. 16 as part of the statewide quail symposium.
Joe Pat Hemphill reports from Coleman County. “All in all I am certainly hoping that the conditions have in fact produced the number of birds one would expect and that they are hiding under the broomweeds. I do know that some short birddogs are going to face a real challenge this season!”
Steve Mayer repors from northwestern Runnels County. “We are seeing an explosion of quail numbers. We already had a generous carryover from last season and this year is shaping up to be as close to a 10 as I have seen in a long time. We have a bumper crop of broomweed and the best nesting conditions in my memory. I’m seeing huge coveys of bobwhites numbering from 20-30 birds and I’m pretty sure there have been two hatches.”
Rick Barnett reports from two ranches in Runnels County. “Large numbers of birds; I see 20 to 25 coveys on our roadside counts on the River Ranch, and the average covey is 18 birds. Calling this year a 10/WOW!!! Spring Hollow Ranch a little further east, we’re seeing average of 15 coveys with an average of 16 birds per covey Calling this an 8.”
Gary Bomar from the Little Grape Ranch south of Talpa. “It’s looking great. Great cover, heavy broomweed, above average rainfall. Will go out on limb and report an 8, Been decades since I have rated the quail crop that high.”
Jack Garey is Bomar’s neighbor to the southeast. “We think there are more birds there than at any time since I purchased the ranch approximately eight or ten years ago. Very encouraging for old farts who have limited quail hunts in our future. I still have three very good big running dogs and a new Kubota (air conditioned and heated) to keep up with them so I am ready for my dogs and the weather.”
Hollis Ferris manages the Wildcat Mountain Ranch in Coke County. “It is the best I ever seen. there is more broomweed than I ever seen. I’ll give it a 9-10.”
Rob Hailey ranches just northeast of Abilene. “Quail forecast is a 9 for the Hailey Ranch in western Shackelford County. We are seeing many coveys in the 20 bird size, some even larger. Habitat conditions are outstanding...croton (from disking) is incredible, broomweed (the Rollins’ indicator) is off the charts, and sunflowers and grasshoppers are plentiful.”
Mike Petter lives in Atascosa County, and offers reports from several sites. “Victoria/Goliad counties rank at a 7 with coveys of 15 to 18 birds. Atascosa County has nice large coveys with 18 to 20 birds flushing. Covey counts are up possibly double from past couple of years. This will be a great year here scoring an 8. Western Frio/Southwestern Medina Counties are really blowing it up! More rain, better nesting conditions, and forb production is really high. Results are huge coveys, seemingly earlier start in breeding so birds seem larger in coveys of 18 to 22 birds. I think the covey counts are also at least double here. If you are a hunter/predator you will enjoy this region! I did take the opportunity in the barbershop this morning to check in with a couple ranchers who were also getting their ears lowered….. This report would mimic what I heard for southern Atascosa, as well as Webb County. Everyone seems excited about range conditions. Stocking rates have been pretty low, so the conditions for wildlife have been improved from that perspective.”
Kirk Feuerbacher is with The Nature Conservancy. “At the Refugio Goliad Prairie it will be a 7-8. Last year was our wow year as most ranches were getting up 26-30+covies a day in the latter part of January and into February. Heavy rains mid-May and then Tropical storm Bill dumped so much rain, 10+ inches one day, on us in June that nests were compromised and then nesting sites were on limited high areas.”
Irvin Welch reports from Jim Hogg and Duval counties. “Considering the number of birds we carried over from last year's good season and the apparent nesting and brood success we are experiencing this year, I expect to be a "10". I believe this will be the best population of birds I have seen anywhere in my professional career.”
Bill Rauch manages a ranch south of Hebbronville. He reports “I believe as of 8/18/2014, I will give this upcoming season a 7. If we continue to be fortunate, and catch a few timely rains yet this fall, we may be better than the “7” I am predicting. Brood size is large averaging 12-15 birds. We have seen some groups as large as 25. It has been since the 07/08 season that I have felt this confident going into hunting season. We are in South Texas where everything can change in an instant! 2003-2005 were the best years I have experienced since I have been in Texas. These are the best years I have to make a comparison to. I don’t know if this season will trump either of those years, but it may be close.”
Ronnie Howard has managed a lease in Brooks County for more than 30 years. “Seeing as many or more coveys as I can remember seeing in the last 36 years and am currently seeing as many pairs as coveys. Some mega-coveys (25+ birds) but majority are normal 10-15 bird coveys. Driving roads in the afternoon or early morning I generally have a pair or a covey sin sight 70-80% of the time in my better quail country. I predict a 10 on a scale of 10. Would be a good year to retire, pat yourself on the back, and thank the good Lord for his grace!”
Jack Fields with the Dos Angeles Ranch in Kinney County. “We are definitely a 10…with abundant rainfall this year, we are seeing quail everywhere…more so, than in any year since I bought the ranch over 10 years ago. This should be a fantastic quail season.”
Will Smith reports from Sutton County. “We have about 2,400 acres in the very SW corner of Sutton County (all Bobwhites, no Blues). We are seeing more quail than in years past, but that isn’t saying much. This is the first year that we have actually had a huntable population. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would say we are a 5.”
My hunting buddy from San Angelo, Steve Sherrod, reports from northwest Tom Green county. “Ranch was about a 5 last year, terrific cover, broomweed everywhere and ranch has not been overgrazed in years past. We are starting with an 8.5 at this time, 5-7 calling roosters at each stop between 7:00 and 8:45…. I think this number will increase as the season gets upon us.”
Cal Hendrick reports from the KickBACK Ranch in Tom Green County. “We have never heard so many quail. Quite frankly, it is a little unbelievable, especially after the last 10 years. We have seen literally 10-20X the number of quail as in the past 5-10 years (since 2005). It looks incredible right now, the quail have rebounded to almost unheard of numbers, but we would be foolish to ignore the realities of the tough life living in the desert. If conditions persist, it should be the best quail year in the past 20-25 years. I would have to rank it a 9.0+, right now.”
West Tx (Permian Basin and Trans-Pecos)
A.J. Brune reports from near Garden City. “I am cautiously optimistic about the coming quail season. My estimated overall rating for this year is an 8.”
George Strickhausen reports from the Apache Ranch in Culberson County. “Best early hatch quantity and numbers of broods I have ever seen. As I write this and for last 30 days still seeing bumble bee size babies everyday…though brood sizes seem smaller as you move into drier areas. Hopefully this high pressure will move away and allow us to have our real hatching season.”
Ron Helm also reports from Culbertson County. “IF (I hate that word) something catastrophic doesn't happen, this may turn out to be the most notable quail year I have ever seen out here. THAT is notable but what might truly be amazing is that just two years ago, it was HARD to find A quail out here. I was really almost believing that we might be seeing the demise of blue quail out here like much of the bobwhite country. I did not think we even had enough for a comeback seedstock. I won't ever give a 10, but as of this date and what I'm seeing, I certainly have to go with a 9. Praise the Lord!”
Barry Beal reports from Jeff Davis County. “Blue Quail in Jeff Davis County is at least an 8. We have never seen more pairs and chicks.”
Chris Gill reports from the Circle Ranch in Hudspeth County. “I think our shooting will be a seven out of 10 in parts of the ranch and maybe a 3 out of 10 in other parts. There will be decent shooting.”
Tom Waddell reports from the Armendaris Ranch in south-central New Mexico. “For scaled quail we are at 9-10 and for Gambel’s quail it is very good also. One feeder at the edge of salt cedars at times has 100's of birds. This is our second great year for both reproductive and brood survival.”
Michael McCulloch DVM reports from Pecos and Brewster counties. “I am seeing a lot of birds. This week every pair of blues I saw had babies form 3 days to two weeks old. The herbaceous cover is unbelievable at both ranches, but I have never seen our Pecos County ranch look so good.”
Brad Bates reports from south-central Midland County. I’ll give it a 7 on scale of one to ten. A lot of country can be covered by driving these roads quickly. I have used this method for many years to estimate quail abundance and believe it works well for this open “Blue Quail“ country. On July 5th at sunrise I drove from 7:05 AM to 8:05 AM and moved four coveys of juveniles, one of which had over 30, ten pairs and six. I call each of these sightings a family unit, giving a total of twenty family units. That is a find every three minutes. On July 19, 2015 at 7:10 AM, I drove until 8:25 AM and observed nine coveys, three of which had over 20 juveniles, eight pairs and seven singles, a total of 24 family units in 75 minutes. That is a sighting every 3.125 minutes. The reason for a “7” is some of the 32,000 acres has not recovered yet from recent droughts.
Johnny Lannom of Ft. Stockkton (he makes the “ranch buggies so popular in the Trans-Pecos) gets reports form many of the ranchers in the area. “From what I’m hearing, I’d give it a 10.”
Billy Cole reports from the the Flag Ranch near Notrees. “I’m seeing large hatches and many pairs of Blues! I would rate it a solid 7.”
Philip Dickerson is the District Leader for TPWD in Midland. He queried his local biologists and received these reports.
Austin Stolte, “Seems to be very high nesting success. I have seen large broods of chicks all over Terrell County especially south of US 90 (which in my eyes is our primo scaled quail habitat). Brood sizes seem to all be large; greater than 10. I’ll give it a 7.”
Dewey Stockbridge reports from the Elephant Mountain WMA. “First hatch was noticed on June 11, and since then it is no trouble seeing hatches numbering 20+. It looks like this year will be an above average year once again for quail here at the mountain. I would give it a 7-8 right now
Travis Smith, “Here at Black Gap WMA we are seeing many broods regularly of about 20-30 birds. I would rate this year a 7 or 8.”
Mike Janis reports for Brewster County. "I would have to give Brewster County a 9 or 10 right now. Habitat conditions are great and I’ve had several reports of coveys of 40+ blue quail.”