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Any quail hunter can tell you there’s nothing that compares to the heart-pounding moment when a covey of birds thunders into the air from underfoot. Unfortunately, it’s an adrenaline rush that fewer outdoors enthusiasts are experiencing in the past few decades.
But whatever you might have heard, there are still quail out there waiting to be harvested. In fact, Oklahoma remains among the premier destinations for quail hunters nationwide.
Most bird hunters won’t be able to find five or six coveys during a morning hunt, as used to be the case, but they will be able to locate a covey or two during a hunting trip.
Variables including unfavorable weather and diminishing habitat have taken a toll on quail numbers over the past several decades. Biologists know that the population of bobwhites runs in cycles over the years, with weather being a driving factor in these numbers.
Oklahoma’s quail season started Saturday, November 14, 2020, until Monday, February 15, 2021.
More than 30 years ago, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation began conducting roadside surveys to monitor quail numbers.
In August and October, 1,660 miles are surveyed across all counties except Oklahoma and Tulsa.
Since 2010, survey numbers have cycled. Lower quail numbers were seen early on, slowly rising to a peak in 2016, then quickly falling back to previous lows later in the decade. The 2020 statewide quail index average is down slightly from last year.
The bright spot in this year’s surveys is that quail numbers were up in three of the six survey regions: Northeast, North-Central and South-Central.
So, quail hunters this year will likely find pockets of fair to good populations of quail where reproduction was not as severely impacted by drought, and where habitat remains good.
Hunting will not be what it was like in the 2016 peak, but birds are out there to be found throughout the state.
This year, the Wildlife Department is again asking hunters to donate quail wings from public lands to better evaluate the quail population.
If you harvest birds at a Wildlife Management Area that has a wing box at the entrance, please take time to fill out an envelope for each bird and place the least-damaged wing in the envelope, then put it in the box.
Wildlife Management Area’s with wing boxes are Beaver River, Canton, Cooper, Cross Timbers, Kaw, Packsaddle, Pushmataha, and Sandy Sanders.
Hunter participation in this data collection effort provides vital information about nesting success and timing, and helps improve the management of Oklahoma’s quail for all to enjoy.