This year’s Quail Roadside Surveys across all of Oklahoma show a statewide population index of observed birds that is 54 percent lower than the average index over the previous 10 years.
One major factor in the overall drop is likely the effects of a severe drought for most of the year in the southwestern region of the state, an area that traditionally sees quail numbers closer to the long-term average. Quail in the southwest probably lost any opportunity to reproduce during spring and early summer.
However, the surveys show some encouraging results for the south-central region, where this year’s quail index is higher than the average index from the previous 10 years. And the northwestern and northeastern regions showed quail numbers stable as compared to 2017, so hunters should find conditions in those areas similar to what they encountered last year.
Wade Free, assistant director of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and an avid quail hunter, said bird hunters in western Oklahoma should find some birds. “Some counties in western Oklahoma are as good or better than last year.”
The actual number of quail on the ground could easily be higher than the surveys indicate, due to poor conditions for observing in most regions. Wet conditions in most regions since June created unseasonably thick vegetation, which makes seeing quail much harder for surveyors.
Alan Peoples, chief of wildlife for the Wildlife Department, said hunters should find similar conditions as last year in the northwest and west.
“We think that we had a not-so-good early hatch, but we are pretty sure we had a late hatch. A lot of times, those late-hatch birds — those August and September hatched birds — are the difference between an OK season and a total bust.”
During the August and October surveys, observers note the growth status of birds they see. In August, 4.3 percent of observed quail were half grown, 50.4 percent were three-fourths grown; and 45.3 percent were full grown. None of the birds seen during August were one-fourth grown.
In the October survey, 4.3 percent were half grown, 40.2 percent were three-fourths grown, and 55.5 percent were full grown.
Quail populations are historically cyclical; bird numbers often boom for several years then decline. A more-accurate assessment of the health of quail populations is not based on year-to-year comparisons, but rather on longer-term averages that better account for the natural boom-bust cycles, biologists said.
“Quail are like fruit; it’s an annual crop. It will all depend on the weather and the habitat,” Peoples said.
The take-away from the 2018 quail surveys for hunters is that harvest success will be affected by where they choose to hunt.
“It will definitely be worth going out. We’ve got a lot of public areas to go quail hunting on,” he said. “You don’t feed that dog year round just to leave it in the pen. The dog wants to go! Finding the quail is a bonus.”
Biologists will get a better idea of the real population numbers after hearing reports from quail hunters this winter. And despite what surveys indicate, hunters are urged to get out in the fields, enjoy the beauty of nature, and learn for themselves how the quail hunting stacks up this year.
Quail hunting season in Oklahoma will run from Nov. 10 to Feb. 15, 2019. For complete regulations, consult the current Oklahoma Hunting and Fishing Regulations Guide found online at wildlifedepartment.com or in print across the state wherever hunting and fishing licenses are sold.
HOW TO HELP
This year, the Wildlife Department is again collecting quail wings from selected public hunting areas to better evaluate the state’s quail population. If you harvest a quail at a wildlife management area where wing collection boxes are located, please take the time to place one wing (right wing preferred) in a collection box. If the right wing is in poor condition, please donate the left wing, but only donate one wing from each quail. The WMAs that will have wing collection boxes are Beaver River, Cooper, Cross Timbers, Kaw, Packsaddle, Pushmataha, and Sandy Sanders. Hunters are also asked to complete a short survey about their donated wings. Biologists will study the donated wings to further understand the status of quail in each area.
ABOUT THE SURVEYS
The Wildlife Department has conducted annual roadside surveys in August and October since 1990 to track quail populations across Oklahoma. The surveys provide an index of annual quail population fluctuations. Surveyors report the number of quail observed to create an index of quail abundance (number of quail seen per 20-mile route) and an indication of reproductive success in each of six regions of the state. Surveyors drive 83 routes in 75 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties. Some larger counties have two routes.