- The rains didn't drop much moisture in the Sierrita or Huachuca mountain ranges of southwestern Arizona just prior to Christmas and this didn't help hunting conditions for the elusive Mearns' quail. Although monsoonal rains early this summer did produce enough water to help get off a fair hatch, the adult numbers were down from past breeding seasons and the overall broods were significantly smaller.
Prior to heading over to Arizona for WON's annual trek into the rugged mountains in quest of this prized member of the upland game bird family, we had a chance to plan the hunt with Kirby Bristow and Randy Babb, wildlife biologists for the AZ Game and Fish Department.
"Jim, to be honest with you I have not been hearing good reports from the field on successful Mearn's quail hunts since the season opener a couple of weeks ago. I have taken my dogs out a couple of times and we are seeing far fewer coveys of quail and the covey size is way down from the past two seasons. We should think about other quail options to back up the Mearn's quail this year," stated Bristow.
About a week later, a winter storm blasted through the southwest and Bristow up-dated his weekly report to say, "Had better hunting this weekend and dogs worked good with dew on the ground. Let's stay with our plan to camp out in Gardner Canyon (right in the middle of Mearns' quail country) and we'll give it our best shot with a fine team of pointers."
WON teamed up with Captain Buzz Brizendine of San Diego for the drive over to Tucson and we arrived at hunt camp late in the afternoon. While pitching a tent and getting the camp ready for what was going to be a very cold night, the evening was highlighted by the calling of a nearby covey of Mearns' quail, as the cock bird gathered the covey together to circle up for the cold night that lay ahead.
It got well below freezing at 5,500 feet and we woke up to frozen water dishes for the dogs and a thin layer of frost on the ground. The plan was to break up into three parties and meet up at the head of a big canyon at noon to compare notes and adjust the hunt accordingly.
While this hunting editor joined Bristow and his fine dogs, Brizendine teamed up with Mike Richins of Tucson and group number three was made up of Babb and Doug Burt, information officer for the department.
Due to a lack of moisture in the ground and the fact that Mearns' quail like to scratch up under oak trees looking for tubers and other wild plants, most of the hunts would take place in the bottom of a canyon and each branch would be walked out or at least run through by the pointers.
With no scent, zero wind and a warm day you couldn't have asked for tougher hunting conditions and the results of the mornings hunt were a good indicator of the lower numbers of quail.
Even though the dogs worked hard covey flushes were far and few in between. If you were in the right spot during a covey rise then a killing shot was available, but unlike the past three years the coveys were very small and only offered up limited shooting opportunities at best.
The first day's hunt ended with two limits bagged (8-birds), while this shooter bagged only 4 birds and Brizendine had a couple of birds in his game vest, although he admitted to missing a number of shots at flushing quail.
That night the temp dropped significantly into the high twenties and the morning hunt got off to a much later start, allowing the sun to possibly get the birds moving a little better in the deep pockets of Hog Canyon. Unfortunately, the quail were not cooperative that morning and our minimal harvest was a testament to tough hunting conditions, smaller coveys and an overall low population of Mearns' quail.
WON asked Bristow, who monitored Mearns' quail for three years, about the prospects for the remainder of the season and what he expects for next year's bird population.
"I think that there are enough adult birds to produce a good hatch come next summer, providing we get the right amount of monsoonal rains. Currently we are looking at a mild to medium El Nino and that's not too bad for these quail either. As you can see from the amount of bunch grass on the ground, especially in areas where the cattle have been kept from grazing, we have good ground cover in most of our prime Mearns' quail country. I would be hopeful that the right mix of rains will make it all come together. I am not too worried about the lack of birds that we harvested on our hunt this time around. I believe there are still enough birds out there to produce good broods come next summer. It might be that the birds won't be in the bottom of canyons, but rather under the oak savannahs and that should make for much easier hunts once you top out on the flatter terrain," stated Bristow.
The Mearn's quail season runs through Feb. 7, 2010 as do the seasons for Gambel's and scaled quail. The bag limit on Mearns' quail is 8 birds, and the combined daily bag limit for an aggregate of all Arizona quail is 15 birds. A three day non-resident upland game bird license runs $61.25, but there is also an apprentice license that can only be obtained at a AZ Department and Fish and Game office. For additional information on hunting Arizona log on to their extensive information web site at azgfd.gov.BAJA NORTE EXTENDS QUAIL SEASON
- WON just received word from Rolando Torres of Wildlife Advisory Services that the California valley quail season for Baja Norte will likely be extended.
"Hopefully the date of Feb. 14 will be the new closing date for hunting quail in Baja Norte. It was set to end on Jan. 10, but the Mexican government has determined that based on the number of birds that resulted from a double hatch this past spring, that there are enough birds in this region to justify extending the season. We will be offering packaged quail hunt starting at $440, and there will be other options that might appeal to some upland game bird hunters that include plenty of birds, but no lodging or meals. For more information hunters should log on to my web site at firstname.lastname@example.org
," reported Torres.