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And the rains came at the right time for upland game birds
It had been a very dry winter and things weren't looking all that good for another good hatch of chukar and quail, but thankfully that changed last week when those two storm fronts pushed through Southern California. There wasn't much in the way of lots of inches of rain in the foot hills or desert region and not a significant amount of snow at higher elevations, but what we got might have staved off a drastic breeding season ahead.

Western Outdoor News had planned on a season ending quail hunt with High Desert Guide Service, but the winds were howling in the desert as this editor dropped down into the Lucerne Valley after driving through pouring down rain and fog that early Saturday morning.

"Jim, we have decided to call off today's quail hunt. We would just be dodging blowing tumble weeds around as winds gusts in excess of 50 mph are predicted for the entire desert region. Those kind of conditions would just not lend to a good quail hunt and the dogs would have a very difficult time pointing quail with the swirling winds and birds holding tight in dense cover," said guide Harold Horner.

With the hunt canceled it was a good time to talk with Horner about the high desert region, habitat and breeding conditions for chukar and quail.

"The high desert really needed this rain. Remember my talking to you before Christmas that we needed more rain to make things right for chukar. Those early rains did result in a greening of cheat grass at higher elevations and added to some of the springs, but we needed what we are just starting to get here in the desert. The grass is still green on the mountains and chukar have been getting most of their daily water needs from grass and not going to springs as often as they did early in the season. I would think that we'll get at least enough rain out of these two weather systems to help the chukar habitat and contribute to another good hatch of birds come late spring," said Horner.

Horner went to tell WON, "It has been a pretty good season but coveys have been holding at higher elevations and not coming to water all that much. Our last outing was better than most when I let the dogs out and they just went up a canyon a few hundred yards and locked up with solid points on a covey that turned out to number in excess of 50 birds. Most of our other guided hunts required lots of walking in some pretty rugged terrain to jump just a few smaller coveys, but at least there are enough adult chukar out there to produce what hopefully will be a very strong breeding season. More rain will be needed to ensure big broods and the survival of chicks once they are on the ground. Right now there appears to be enough native cover to protect young birds, but they will really need bugs(protein) and available water to make it through the hot summer months."

Even though there wasn't a lot of rain that fell in Southern California it all helps. Western Outdoor News checked in with Roger Miller, master guide for Miller Bros Expeditions to find out about habitat and conditions in the Parkfield area.

"We finally got some good rain, not enough to make up for those weeks of dry weather, but at least enough for some of it to soak into the hard ground. Rain totals for the weekend storms was about 2.5 inches in the valley and little more on the surrounding mountains. This part of the central coast range will need at least another 6 to 7 inches of rain before spring in order provide big game animals and upland game birds with enough water and food to sustain the growing populations," said Miller.

Miller went on to report, "Our quail season was good, not as good as last year due to the scattering of birds when those earlier storms dumped so much rain and the country greened up. There are lots of valley quail out there, but finding coveys of more than a dozen birds was kind of tough. Fortunately our turkeys did well and there are lots of jakes out there on the ranches we hunt, which bodes well for the future. Another good result of all the rain we had last winter and what rain we have received so far is that the wild hog population continues to grow. Right now sows are having lots of piglets and those pigs from the early spring breeding season are gaining weight pretty fast and could be huntable by the time summer gets here."

The desert regions of Imperial Valley and along the lower Colorado River didn't get any significant rain from this last series of storms according to information received by WON. Rick Francis, who lives in Cibola but is a wildlife tech at Wister Wildlife Refuge, said that it was cloudy and windy but that very little, if any, showers occurred over the weekend. Gambel's quail really need rain now to bring about a good hatch this spring.

The adult population is strong along the river, but a little spotty in the desert regions between eastern California and southwestern Arizona. Quail hunters fared pretty good during the first couple of weeks of the season, but very few successful hunts were reported during the second half of the season. WON hunted the Cibola valley a couple of days right after Christmas and only jumped two small coveys of very wild and running quail that produced no birds in the game bag.

successful valley quail

SUCCESSFUL VALLEY QUAIL HUNT — Frank Theodoropoulos of Tustin holds up a game strap loaded with California valley quail that were shot on public land in the vast Mojave desert during an extended winter drought that hit most all of Central and Southern California. Recent rains has helped heal dry conditions, but more rain will be needed to sustain good habitat and provide ideal nesting conditions for upland game birds. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC

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