The outlook for Gambel's quail hunting is better this year, compared to last year. The season is Oct. 10, 2003 to Feb. 9, 2004 statewide.
"This year, we had last-minute winter rains that triggered some Gambel's quail reproduction," said Mike Rabe, Arizona Game and Fish Department biologist. "But since populations were starting from such a low point, quail populations are likely to be only fair in most areas."
Rabe says that the late winter, early spring precipitation was spotty, which means all areas will not be equal. "Central deserts, with Phoenix at the low center, will be the best bet. Concentrate on washes in early morning and evening," he says.
Gambel's quail coveys will average six to 10 birds in poorer areas and up to 20 birds or more in spots that received sufficient amounts of moisture last winter and spring.
Scouting could help tremendously for locating quail concentrations.
Randy Babb, a department biologist and avid quail hunter, agrees that hunters will find quail populations spotty. "You will likely have to do some homework and some walking to find decent shooting. Quail hunters should expect to encounter adult ‘educated' birds in many areas, which translates into poor holding birds that will run more or flush early," he said.
Babb advises concentrating on areas that experienced better winter rains and held birds, even uncooperative ones, last year.
Jim Heffelfinger, a biologist in the department's Tucson region, says the area around Tucson is looking good. "We have about normal rainfall amounts for the year, which makes me happy after what we have been dealing with in recent years."
Heffelfinger says the winter rains were late, but the Gambel's probably did fairly well in the reproduction department.
"I'll be able to trade my crystal ball for data after reviewing the information from check stations on opening weekend," Heffelfinger said.
Things aren't looking as good farther south. "We are still dry near Douglas, Willcox and Sierra Vista. This may affect scaled quail reproduction," says Heffelfinger.
Like the desert quail, Mearns' populations have also been affected by the drought. Summer rains largely determine the success of the Mearns' hatch. "Early indications are that some areas look good and some look as bad as, or worse, than they did last year," says Rabe. So Mearns' distributions are likely to be spotty and inconsistent. "Your best bet is to look at the traditional Mearns' quail hunting areas in southern Arizona and then go someplace else that looks similar," Rabe advises.
Part of the dilemma with Mearns' is that some areas get hit hard because they have a reputation for holding birds, while other areas remain untouched. Rabe suggests looking for habitats with a 6-inch grass cover and a 25-percent oak over-story.
"Don't be afraid to climb some hills as the birds can climb too," Rabe says.
Mearns' quail season runs from Nov. 21, 2003 through Feb. 9, 2004.