Bird dogs will be in high demand across much of Oklahoma in the next few months, based on findings from the Wildlife Department’s annual roadside quail surveys. Populations of northern bobwhites and scaled quail appear to be making great strides this year in recovering after severe drought parched the state from 2010-13.
Roadside surveys conducted in August and October indicate the statewide quail population index is up 59.5 percent over last year. Even more astounding is that the quail population index is up 353.9 percent from the 2013 survey results.
Elated is the mood of many quail hunters, including Alan Peoples, chief of wildlife for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
“It would really surprise me if we don’t have one of the best quail seasons that we’ve had in a long time,” Peoples said. He anticipates this year’s quail hunting season will be the best the state has seen in 10 years, even though he’s talked to many landowners in western Oklahoma and “a lot of them say it will be the best in 20 years.”
Scott Cox, upland game biologist with the Wildlife Department, said the recovery in quail numbers this year continues a trend that began in the summer of 2013. “This year marks the second year in a row for ideal rainfall and cooler weather during the spring and summer months,” Cox said.
The statewide quail population index is now 6.9 percent higher than the 26-year statewide average, which is great news for the state’s estimated 20,700 bird hunters. “The index has risen significantly in the past three years with improved conditions,” he said.
While the overall state quail population index is higher this year, a regional breakdown shows that not all areas of the state are experiencing a quail population boom. Two of the state’s six regions, the north-central and the south-central, recorded declines in the number of birds counted. “These regions endured severe flooding events during May, followed by dry and hot conditions over the next three months … the most important for reproduction and chick development,” Cox said.
The Wildlife Department has conducted annual roadside surveys since 1990 to index the quail population across Oklahoma. A total of 84 survey routes, each 20 miles long, are driven in every county except Oklahoma and Tulsa. Observers record the number of quail seen along the route to provide an index of quail abundance.
Peoples urged anyone who is undecided about going afield to avail themselves of the possibility of some good quail hunting this season. “What this year shows us, like we’ve always said, that quail populations are directly related to weather and habitat.
“There are quail to be had. This year, if hunters don’t find success, they just need to find another spot to try.”
Quail season will open Nov. 14 statewide, and bird hunters are invited to share their field reports and photos on the Wildlife Department’s Facebook page atfacebook.com/wildlifedepartment. Read the full 2015 Quail Season Outlook online atwildlifedepartment.com.
Photo credit: Larry Smith