Arizona Quail Making Sweet Sounds for Hunters
There's a chorus of quail calling out there, especially in the central part of the state. That's sweet music for hunters, say quail experts at the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

"Many of our wildlife managers couldn't hardly find a Gambel's quail a few months ago. The birds had seemingly disappeared from the face of the planet. Now there's quail magically appearing everywhere," says Small Game Program manager Mike Rabe.

Rabe explains that the older and smarter age-class of quail weren't seen as readily during the dry times because those veteran birds are adept at running and hiding — especially from people. Times have changed, though. Abundant spring rains have created excellent sources of food, water and cover. The breeding season is underway. Quail have "appeared as if by magic" and are actively vocalizing.

Rabe has high hopes for the upcoming quail season that starts in the fall. "We're looking good so far. There is a serious green-up this year, especially around the Phoenix area in the central part of the state." It's a biological fact of life — winter and spring rains will determine how many quail we have and where. It's not just the amount of rain but the timing and frequency too. Yes, it's been "raining quail" again this week, but don't count your quail until they are hatched.

"Everything is looking great right now but it all depends on what happens next. If there is hot, dry weather the rest of this spring and everything dries up, we won't see high survival rates for this year's young," Rabe cautions.

He explains that insects are an extremely important food source for the survival and growth of young quail. A lot of insect production is tied to vegetation and soil moisture levels. "If you want good quail numbers this fall, hope for a buggy spring."

On the bright side, some quail are probably on nests in the lower elevations. You could start seeing some young quail in the next couple of weeks or so — especially in urban areas. Expect most quail hatches to show up in the next month or two — if conditions remain favorable. However, don't expect a "bumper crop" of Gambel's quail this year.

"Last year was probably our worst quail year in 20 to 50 years — we'll know more when we get the results back from our small game hunter questionnaire. But last year was awful, awful, awful. So we are starting from a pretty small quail population to build upon this year," Rabe explains.

The story is a little different in southern Arizona. The southern part of the state did not receive the abundant rainfall so far this spring that blessed the central part of the state. "We didn't get the great rains the Phoenix area did, but the rains we got were well-timed. We're seeing a pretty nice green-up for a change. Quail are calling up a storm out there, especially in the Oracle area and around Tucson," says Ron Olding, Tucson regional wildlife program manager.

Olding, an avid quail hunter, is predicting a slightly below average quail year. "That's not all bad: Our average quail year is actually pretty good hunting, especially compared to other states." Olding cautions that the habitat and quail outlook aren't as good farther south. "The decent rainfall amounts seemed to skirt the southernmost areas like Douglas and Wilcox this spring." For all of you Mearns' quail fans, however, the jury is still out: Mearns' reproduction is more dependent on summer rains.

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