Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Quail Season 2011-2012

 It is no secret that South Texas is in the middle of one of the worst quail seasons in a long time. The quail numbers at the ranch are the lowest we have recorded in 20 years. For this reason, we have done very little quail shooting. 

Many ranches and camps have shut down for the season or reduced their hunting significantly. It is a good example of hunters self-regulating their season to fit the conditions. Over the years, this is very common in South Texas. Most quail hunters don't need anyone in Austin to tell them to do the right thing.

There is a good explanation for the low quail numbers in South Texas. It is a direct result of La Nina and the record drought and heat in Texas during the last year. A large part of Jim Hogg County had 7 inches of rain in 2011 which is less than 40% of the average rainfall. Even the best range and quail management can not overcome that lack of rain.

Any bad season gives the critics and experts a chance to express their opinions. Recently, Mike Leggett, who writes an outdoor column for the Austin American Statesman, called for a multi-year ban on quail hunting. Here is an except from that article:
"I spent a miserable afternoon last week trying to hunt quail in a driving rain at Hidden Lakes, near Lake Fork Reservoir east of Dallas. 
The reality of the situation is this: If you're going to shoot a quail this year, you're probably going to have to do it at some kind of shooting resort. 
If you don't want to do that — I'm serious — put the guns in the safe and the dogs on Craigslist and move on. 
Quail are done. 
Blame the weather, land fragmentation, coastal bermuda, aflatoxin in deer corn, drought, fire ants or pesticides. It doesn't really matter, because quail, bless their little hearts, are hurting, down so low they may never get up. 
Texas Parks and Wildlife biologists know it, and they plan to suggest to the commission that it shorten the season by about a month and set up an eastern hunting zone with more restrictive limits. 
It's not enough. My own modest proposal: Close the season. No quail hunting in Texas for at least a year, if not two or even three. Give nature a chance to get back into a rainy cycle — and for the tiny numbers of surviving quail to repopulate where they can. 
I know. I can hear the complaints now. An overreaction. But these are hard times. 
Quail numbers are at an all-time low. Quail hunter numbers are at an all-time low. If that doesn't call for drastic measures to interrupt the slide into oblivion, what would?"

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but Mike is taking it a little too far. In the first place, to address the situation in terms of the entire state of Texas makes no sense. Texas is a big place and South Texas is very different than most other parts of the state. There has been no overall decline in the bird population in the Hebbronville-Falfurrias area. In fact, we recorded the best quail numbers in 30 years during the 2004-2005 season.  Ranches in this area have been managing their quail for decades with great success. We don't need any help or suggestions like that.

 Many of these ranches can afford to manage for quail because of the income that comes from hunters and hunting leases. Take this income away for multiple years and you will see a negative effect on the habitat and the quail population.

More importantly, local economy depends on the annual boost that comes from quail hunters. Jobs at hunting camps would be reduced, as well as revenue at motels, gas stations, convience stores and Frank's Cafe. Make the hunters stay home for a few years and it will not be a pretty picture in many of our small towns.

I know Mike is worried about the decline of quail in many parts of Texas and I share his concern. I don't think he needs to worry about South Texas. With a little rain, things are going to be fine.


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