Mixed bag — Public land quail hunting offers plenty of birds, but tough hunting

Written by Conor Harrison, Lone Star Outdoor News

The rains finally came to several west Texas wildlife management areas this fall, and although it was great for the region, it has made quail hunting tough so far this season.

“The birds are out there,” said Chip Ruthven, a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist who overseas Matador and Gene Howe WMAs in the Panhandle. “Bird numbers are the best they’ve been since 2010, so we do have some, but it has been tough to find them.”

Ruthven said Gene Howe hunters have had better success than hunters on the Matador.

“Gene Howe is good from the surveys the hunters have turned in,” he said. “I’d say it has been good at Gene Howe and fair at the Matador. Hunter success is about double what it was last year, but that still only gets it to fair based on historical averages.”

Ruthven said as the weather gets colder and cover becomes scarcer, the hunting should pick up.

In West Texas, hunters at Elephant Mountain and Black Gap WMAs are also finding the hunting to be tough, despite good numbers of blue quail.

“The number of harvested blues at Elephant Mountain is not good,” said Area Manager Mark Garrett. “Survey numbers are up, but harvest is down. We got good rain this year and the quail had two or three clutches in many areas. There is so much cover right now and the birds just aren’t flushing. Hunters without dogs and a lot of luck are having a hard time.”

Garrett said hunter turnout has been lower this season, leaving plenty of birds still available for hunters who want to hunt public land.

“Black Gap is much better,” he said. “We had a little less rain there and because of that, hunters are faring a little bit better.”

Garrett said those planning on a hunt should be ready to cover some ground in search of coveys.

“There is lots of ground to cover,” he said. “We have all blue quail and a few Montezuma quail at higher elevations. We are sure hoping it gets better later in the season.”

The West Texas WMAs require a public lands permit, and Garrett encourages quail hunters to call before coming to hunt, as the area shuts down on some weeks because of mule deer hunting.

“Check the website and call us to make sure, but we have a lot of land and a lot of birds,” he said.