Quail hunting this season may present a challenge, but the strategic and persistent hunter will likely see success! Don’t be afraid to get out and do some hiking to find birds. Talk to others about why you love quail hunting and take someone along to share your enthusiasm for the outdoors! When you go, teach by example with ethical hunting practices, like only taking a few birds in a covey (so the others can keep making more for later), talk about the valuable role hunters play in conservation, and how you enjoy harvesting and eating clean, organic meat. Maybe you love the fancy dishes and tasty stews made with quail, maybe you enjoy the time out hiking some of the most beautiful and rugged country in the Southwest, or maybe you just enjoy working with your dog when it goes “birdie” … whatever the reason, get out and enjoy the desert quail season!
- Hunters age 18 and older need a valid Arizona Hunting License (or combination hunt and fish license).
- Hunters aged 10-17 only need the youth combination hunt and fish license.
- Youth under age 10 can hunt quail without a license if accompanied by a licensed adult age 18 or older (a maximum of two unlicensed children may accompany one adult licensed hunter).
- The daily bag limit is 15 quail per day in the aggregate, of which no more than 8 may be Mearns’ quail. Mearns’ quail may only be taken on or after December 3, 2021, when their season opens.
- The possession limit is 45 quail in the aggregate after opening day, of which no more than 15 Gambel’s, Scaled, or California quail in the aggregate may be taken in any one day. After Mearns’ season opens, the 45 possession limit may include 24 Mearns’ quail, of which no more than 8 may be taken in any one day.
- Falconry-only season for quail started September 1. Falconers may take up to 3 quail per day, with a 9 quail possession limit, of which no more than 3 may be taken in any one day.
Desert Quail (Gambel’s, Scaled)
Most of Arizona saw little to no precipitation for ~18 months of ongoing excessively dry conditions. Following two very wet winters (2018, 2019), the 2020-21 winter produced very little or highly localized moisture, so desert quail likely struggled this past spring to nest or rear broods because the land didn’t ‘green up’ to trigger breeding activities or support the insects that chicks eat. Our Gambel’s quail call counts this past spring (Mar-May 2021) were significantly lower across a majority of survey routes. For example, in two of our longest running survey routes through prime desert quail habitats in southeastern Arizona, we observed up to an 80% decrease in calling activity this spring compared to last spring. In the same two areas, we did have a higher ratio of juvenile birds in the fall harvest last year (~72%) compared to the long-term average (~49%), so we may have more adult birds on the landscape this fall just as a result of higher production in spring 2020 and carry-over through this last winter.
Coupled with the extreme and excessive drought conditions and poor green-up, Arizona warmed up quickly this spring and then had an excessive heat wave that lingered ~2 weeks in late May/early June. Anecdotal observations suggested that Gambel’s quail appeared to delay breeding or laying this spring, with birds calling later and fewer broods running around. The heat wave seems to have taken a severe toll on many young birds before they could get large enough to effectively thermoregulate. Since the July rains, folks have reported seeing a few new broods with very young chicks and a few surviving older chicks, suggesting Gambel’s nesting/brooding activities spread out temporally, and that usually allows predators to have a larger influence because they can target a few broods rather than hunting a landscape flush with chicks to dampen predation impacts. So we expect quail reproduction and juvenile survival in Gambel’s and scaled quail were relatively low this year.
Still, quail numbers and where you’ll find them will depend on where you are because of carry-over and spotty moisture the past 18+ months; if precipitation fell in areas and in times when desert quail could take advantage of a local green-up, birds there have probably fared better than in our drier regions. The storms we got in July may have come too late to produce a large flush in desert quail reproduction. But there were some new late broods and we’ve got a lot of tough birds who seem to persist against the odds, so we’re hoping if we can get more moisture in the coming months, we’ll see quail numbers respond more favorably in the future. Hunting desert quail will probably be mediocre generally, but all that said, there are still pockets where you can find quail, and most of those are probably carry-over birds from previous years instead of a fresh crop of young birds.
Montezuma Quail (Mearns’)
Montezuma (Mearns’) quail numbers have been low since we’ve not had a really good monsoon since 2018, and they respond to summer moisture for nesting and brooding chicks. Birds on the landscape now are primarily carry-over from the past years; our wing barrel data showed a significant decline of juvenile birds harvested in the 2019-20 and again in 2020-21 seasons, suggesting low reproduction occurred prior to both quail hunting seasons. However, with the great monsoon rains that covered most of Montezuma range in July 2021, we’re hopeful that if there were birds on the ground, they should be going gangbusters with the lush habitats that summer storms produced! We expect there should be a good crop of young birds on the landscape this fall, but it will take more than one season for Montezuma quail numbers to rebound. Try hunting areas that see lower hunter visitation this year and you’ll likely see success.
Check out Johnathan O’Dell’s video: How to clean quail
Tips in the COVID-19 Era
If you’re traveling from out of state, or even within the state to hunt quail, here are a few helpful tips to make it the best experience it can be this year:
- Reduce exposure. It can’t be overstated: To ensure public health and safety protocols are observed, the Arizona Game and Fish Department urges all quail hunters to purchase their Arizona hunting license online at www.azgfd.gov/license.
- Practice physical distancing. When out in the field, give other hunters space. Arizona is the nation’s sixth-largest state, and with 60 percent of it being public lands, there’s plenty of room to spread out. So while staying socially connected and sharing fun hunting experiences, remember to stay physically distant from other groups or hunters not in your party or household.
- Wash your hands. Quail is some of the finest and cleanest game meat available. Keep it that way by keeping your hands and the meat clean while preparing it for storage or a meal.