PHOENIX — Those record-setting rains that soaked most of the state, including the Valley, over the first two weeks of October?
If you’re an Arizona bird hunter, keep your fingers crossed there’s even more on the way over the next few months to help give quail populations a desperately needed boost in 2019-2020.
As for the 2018-2019 season, which begins Friday, “well below average” might be the best way to describe statewide quail-hunting prospects. On second thought, it might be too kind.
“The winter precipitation patterns (last year) were not good for Arizona’s desert quail (Gambel’s and scaled),” said Wade Zarlingo, small game program manager for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “Gambel’s quail spring call counts were 50 percent below our 10-year averages, meaning breeding activity was poor.
“We had good monsoon moisture throughout Arizona and habitat conditions to support chick development and survival. With poor winter rains and good monsoon moisture, we usually see very spread-out hatches with low brood survival for Gambel’s and scaled quail.”
So, where are the quail?
“Overall, desert quail numbers seem to be much lower than we typically see,” Zarlingo said. “Gambel’s quail are very widespread south of the Mogollon Rim, and there will be pockets where it will be possible to harvest a fair number of birds.
“Keep in mind that Gambel’s and scaled quail populations have been very depressed for a number of years, and it will take consecutive years of timely winter precipitation to bring back those populations to where they were in the late 1980s.”
When it comes to scaled quail, found mainly in Cochise and southern Graham counties, Zarlingo said populations have been hit hard by drought and habitat degradation from tree and shrub invasion into grassland areas.