Only the most dedicated of small-game hunters will turn out for the quail season when it begins Oct. 11. That's because Arizona Game and Fish biologists are predicting a grim hunting year.
Last spring's drought took its toll on Gambel's, Scaled and California quail populations. The lack of precipitation also resulted in low hatches for most species.
South of Payson near Punkin Center, Tonto Basin and Roosevelt Lake few chicks have been spotted by the hunters who have scouted the area.
About the best hope for hunters is to find birds that are left over from last year's season. Those older birds, however, are tough to find and doubly tough to hunt.
On the bright side, most local hunters have favorite pockets where small quail populations can survive the droughts.
Game and Fish officials' best advice is to hunt early in the season at higher elevations. In a recent report, biologists wrote, "the areas around Prescott and Payson and up to the edge of junipers will be cooler and may hold birds."
More advice from the experts is that "quail are creatures of comfort. If there is a good prickly pear fruit in an area, make sure you check those areas out."
Last season, that's exactly where my sons, Gerry and Ryan, and I found good numbers of birds. A Gambel's quail with a purple beak is a sure sign they are feeding on the prickly pear fruit.
We are planning an outing on opening day south of Payson and a week later to the San Carlos reservation. We'll couple that hunt with a bass fishing trip with local fishing guide Clifford Pirch.
Hunting conditions at San Carlos usually mirror what they are in Tonto Basin. Often, there is less hunting pressure on the reservation because a permit is required. For those who wish to hunt on the San Carlos, stop at the Circle K on the east side of Globe to purchase a permit. In Units A, B and C on the reservation, permits are $15 per day. In Unit D, permits are $25 a day.
Last year, guides were required for Unit D hunts. That rule has been rescinded by tribal officials.
Gambel's, Scaled and California quail season ends Feb. 10, 2003. Mearns quail season is Nov. 22 to Feb. 10.
Before going hunting, be sure to check the 2002-2003 Arizona Hunting Regulations booklet that is free at many local retail outlets.
Planning for homecoming
At Payson High School, Lisa Jackson and her classmates are gearing up for homecoming activities. The homecoming football game will kickoff at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25 against the Blue Ridge Yellow Jackets.
Jackson is promising an exciting game and, believe it or not, "a victory."
The homecoming parade will begin at 1 p.m. at Julia Randall Elementary School and proceed east on Main Street. The Sludge to the Judge homecoming cross country meet will follow the parade.