posted on October 01, 2004 00:00
Golden State Quail Forecast
Ample spring rains and good hatches of birds point toward a banner season for quail hunters throughout California in 2004.
Tejon Ranch game manager Don Geivet has his hands full of valley quail. Photo by Jim Niemiec
Mother Nature was kind to quail and other upland game birds this past spring. Timely rain and an above-average snow pack in the higher mountains brought the promise of full stock ponds, running creeks and enough cool water escaping from foothill seeps and springs to provide avian species an expansive growth of native seed crops, enhanced quail habitat and ample protective chaparral to hide newly hatched chicks.
What it all means is that quail hunters can look forward to a good quail hunting season this fall. Here's the region-by-region outlook.
The willows and cottonwoods around New Pine Creek on the California/Oregon border will be a hotspot to hunt this fall, as will much of the public land in Surprise Valley. The sagebrush country in the Alturas valley should also be a place to head with a good pointing dog. The wide valley received little hunting pressure last season, and quail were pairing up early due to excellent breeding conditions.
Last fall I enjoyed a tremendous valley quail hunt along the shoreline of Goose Lake with licensed guide Bob Suacci, owner of Honker Inn Lodge. As I turned off Highway 395, a covey of 50 quail ran across the road in front of me. And, at a turn-around spot at the lake's edge, another covey of birds exploded from a stand of willows. The area was loaded with quail and my yellow Lab, Timber, went into a full hunt mode when I loosed him from the RV. The next morning's hunt produced limits of valley quail for our party as we hunted the Cloud Ranch and leased pasture land alongside the railroad tracks.
There is an abundance of non-posted land in northeastern California that holds big coveys of valley quail. The flat top of Devil's Garden is home to lots of quail and can often produce limits for those who spend a little time scouting springs and prime quail habitat. Look for coveys of quail to stick around available water, and make sure to carry along a current forest service map that pinpoints creeks, springs and reservoirs.
Crowder Flats Road could be a good place to begin looking for quail and then take any of the spurs off this main road to get into the more rugged terrain of the Garden.
This is 4x4 country. Don't even think about heading onto Devil's Garden without a cell phone. This is mean country. A simple wrong turn in a meadow can result in mud swallowing your vehicle.
Tough Hunting Valley & Mountain Quail
Quail were in pairs in early March in the Redding area, and prime quail hunting should be on tap for upland game bird hunters heading into the oak-covered foothills on both the eastern and western sides of the Sacramento River. Public land offers unlimited hunting opportunities for valley quail below Mount Lassen, and there is also limited unposted land closer to the river. Much of the valley is made up of ranches, some of which are open for single-day hunts.
The 2,000-acre Dash Ranch near Oak Run is a quail hunter's dream. Lush, rolling, oak-studded foothills laden with numerous brush piles offer upland hunters a rich valley quail hunting experience. Ranch owner Dave Morrow predicts that the 2004-2005 quail season will be exceptional. "We have a very strong population of carryover adult birds, prime habitat and excellent nesting conditions," Morrow said. "With a little luck we could even see some birds getting off double hatches based on the early start they got in March and the high grass on the ranch and adjoining properties."
All is looking bright for the northwestern mountains as well. Lots of spring rain in the mountains heightened conditions for successful mountain quail nesting, a boon for those willing to walk the vertical mountains in quest of this highly prized quail.
Conditions in low-elevation areas of northwestern California are ideal, especially along river bottoms, adjacent meadows and sloping oak tree hillsides. Expect to find big coveys of valley quail and yet little hunting pressure.
Lots of unincorporated land and national forest assure the attention of serious upland game bird shooters, but there's plenty of room and plenty of birds that will never see the first spent shotshell.
Good Quail Hunting Options
The huge Las Padres National Forest provides excellent quail hunting opportunities for unattached hunters.
Easy access to the forest off major highways without having to cross through gates or private ranches makes this region a popular destination among quail hunters. Much of the land in the valleys along the Central Coast is controlled by guide services or is posted by ranch owners, but those willing to spend a little time checking out forest service and county maps should be able to find plenty of good hunting with public access.
There is a mix of valley and mountain quail in the oak- and pine-covered mountain terrain of this forest. Ample spring rains laid the groundwork for good numbers of birds for the coming fall season.
The cover this year will be thick, with lots of live oak, manzanita, sage and shoulder-high chaparral making for tough hunting. Poison oak is also a problem in the bottoms of canyons and along streambeds where you are most likely to bust a tight-holding covey of valley quail.
The higher elevations of the Los Padres mountains are where you can expect to jump small coveys of mountain quail. These secretive quail prefer to run rather than flush, and you will have to be fast on your shotgun to get a shot off before they disappear over the top of a ridge or into nearby cover.
The publicly accessible mountains above Frazier Park produced pretty consistent mountain quail hunting last fall. The open area is accessed via Frazier Mountain Road and straddles the Kern and Ventura county lines. Dirt roads will get you partway into the backcountry and then you will need to go on foot. A good pointing dog will improve your odds on mountain quail.
Light Quail Hunting Pressure
The Bishop Creek drainage has been getting lots of attention from quail hunters the past couple of seasons. Lots of public land and good valley quail hatches the past two years have attracted hunters who want to get away from heavily pressured hunting areas.
Just about every creek and spring in this vast drainage above the town of Bishop will hold a covey or two of birds. Access is restricted to maintained county and forest service roads, and often it will take a pretty good hike to get into some of the more virgin hunting areas.
The Buttermilk area, north of Bishop Creek Road, is home to small coveys of quail. Chukar can be hunted in the higher elevations here. Lots of hiking through canyons and along hillsides is required to break up coveys of quail in this rugged terrain.
A little farther south on Highway 395, the mountains and little creeks surrounding the small town of Big Pine are home to valley quail. There are lots of dirt roads along the base of the Eastern Sierra where quail can be spotted going from water to feeding areas. This is thick sagebrush country. Being able to get on these quail in a hurry will make all the difference in how many birds end up on your game strap by the end of the day.
Roy's Gun & Tackle in Big Pine would be a good place to visit for information about hunting quail in this area.
Valley & Gambel's Look Strong
The High Desert encompassing Victorville and Barstow received an above average amount of rain this spring, which should be good for valley and Gambel's quail.
There are thousands of acres of public land to hunt in the Mojave Desert, but gaining access to prime quail areas is restricted by federal regulations, private ranches, development, and in some areas by the Bureau of Land Management.
As is the case when checking out any new hunting area, make sure you know where the springs are and how much green grass grew at those locations during the late spring months. Water will be the key to how successful the hatch was. You can also be sure that quail will not be too far away from a drink or protective cover once the hunting season begins.
One man who has made a business of knowing where quail can be found in the High Desert is Harold Horner, outfitter of High Desert Guide Service, based out of Victorville. "It's not unusual to drive a couple hundred miles a day and only spot a couple of small coveys of quail. This year things are really looking good, and it should make finding a huntable covey a little easier," Horner said. "Every storm that pushed through southern California dropped at least a little moisture in the desert."
Popular quail hunting areas can be reached via dirt BLM roads heading off Highway 395 and Interstate 15. With thousands of acres of public land and not much water, quail hunters will have to work hard to locate coveys. Last December Horner and I enjoyed good valley quail gunning in an area southwest of Kramer Junction. The first covey we found was close to an abandoned farm near Palmdale, and then we moved to a higher elevation rock pile and jumped a covey of 50 birds that made for interesting hunting as we pushed them up and down the rugged mountain.
Rainfall likewise helped boost Gambel's quail numbers. Hunters shot relatively few of these desert quail in southern California last year. A few bright spots along the Colorado River, near Blythe and some of the unposted farmlands adjacent to canals that flow through Imperial Valley, produced the best bird counts.
Quail hunters who did their homework by studying maps and pinpointing springs and washes that traditionally hold huntable populations of desert quail had better success than those hunters who just headed out into the southern deserts without a game plan. The vast desert was pretty green on the road to Las Vegas in early April, but extreme heat a few weeks later turned everything brown. These conditions during the peak of the nesting season might not be good for Gambel's quail.
Department of Fish and Game biologists keep close tabs on quail populations in the deserts. Prior to scouting, make it a point to talk to one of these dedicated staff members or a DFG volunteer. You might be surprised at how much they are willing to share with you about the status of quail in certain areas.
Unfortunately, quail hunters don't often share their secret spots with many people. Trying to get anything more than general hunting information from a local gun shop or sporting goods store is highly unlikely. One of the surest ways of obtaining insider information is to get involved with a local chapter of Quail Unlimited. By becoming a member of QU, you will meet with people who help DFG biologists work on guzzlers, provide and enhance quail habitat and take brood counts in the desert. You might even want to help with some of that work! Your donations go to the cause we all support.
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GOT THE RIGHT LICENSE?
To hunt quail in 2004, hunters must have a valid California hunting license, which costs $32.80 for adults or $8.65 for junior hunters, and a 2004-05 upland game bird stamp.
Quail hunting on federal wildlife refuges requires the use of non-toxic shot.
Department of Fish and Game offices: License and Revenue Branch, Sacramento — 916-227-2245; regional offices — Redding, 530-225-2300; Cordova, 916-358-2900; Napa, 707-944-5500; Fresno, 559-243-4005; San Diego, 858-467-4201; and Chino Hills, 909-597-9823. The California DFG Web site can be accessed at www.dfg.ca.gov. — Jim Niemiec
HUNTING BAJA QUAIL
Mother Nature was kind to Baja California this year, leading to another successful hatch of valley quail chicks. More than two inches of rain fell in early April in the foothills east of San Telmo, and the higher coastal mountain ranges received even more rainfall.
A visit to the 120,000-acre Rancho El Coyote Meling gave me first-hand observation of those spring conditions and the hunting potential for this fall. Lots of birds were paired up at the lower elevations, and coveys of a dozen or more quail were spotted in the high ranges of the ranch. The Meling hacienda, which has been converted into a charming old-Mexico hunting lodge, recently added new cottages to accommodate groups of hunters.
Esteban and Alfredo Meling had just come in off the ranch after spending the day rounding up stray cattle and checking a new spring they have developed. “We are seeing quail everywhere. This coming season should be even better than last year. Our clients shot lots of valley quail, but we are confident that this fall will have more quail on the ground,” Esteban told me.
“We are working with biologists and will be submitting our findings to the authorities in Mexico City. The government will issue bird and big game hunting permits for the ranch,” added Alfredo. “Last season our permit allowed us to harvest 12,000 quail on this ranch and adjoining properties where we have exclusive hunting leases for our clients. We only shot a little over 3,000 quail, so there should be lots of adult quail to make our breeding season successful.”
There are about 15 arroyos and drainages that offer up excellent quail hunting on the ranch. Hunting areas will be rotated to rest the birds. For more information on quail hunts on Rancho El Coyote Meling, call 714-832-9871 or for reservations call 619-390-0905. — Jim Niemiec