Editor’s note: Click here for an update to this article.
Hunting is not considered a culprit in the continuing decline of bobwhite quail in Texas.
That blame is fixed on fragmented habitat, predators and drought. Also, researchers are trying to determine if diseases have played a role.
But pursuers of upland game could see changes next season in how and when they hunt.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission is expected consider a slate of recommendations that could alter the season’s length and bag limits.
These measures are intended to help more breeding pairs make it to the end of each season, setting the stage for a population rebound, if other factors like weather also cooperate.
“What we want to facilitate is a faster turnaround,” said Robert Perez, TPWD’s upland game bird program leader. “Birds will come back fastest where they have the greatest brood numbers.
“Each pair contributes to next year’s population.”
Perez said quail regulations have been largely unchanged since the mid 1980s. The seasons have basically run about four months, with bag limits of 15 birds a day and 45 in possession.
He said several recommendations would be presented to the commission’s regulations committee on Jan. 25.
They could involve fewer birds in the bag and a shorter season, possibly shaving it by a month.
Also, there could be designated regional zones for quail hunting, similar to the ones in place for dove and turkey.
Perez noted, however, that those zones are north and south and the proposed quail areas would be east and west. Also, different quail rules could used, from zone to zone.
Interstate 35 could be used as a dividing line, Perez said.
That’s because quail populations differ from east to west, with the fewest being in the Piney Woods and Blackland Prairies.
No formal action was planned for the Jan. 25-26 commission meetings.
The earliest any decision could happen would be when the commission convenes again in March. But first, plenty of “scoping” meetings would be held first around the state to allow public comment, Perez said.
The commission, he added, could embrace any of the proposals or even send the TPWD staff “back to the drawing board.”
“Not every idea will have every person jumping for joy,” Perez said. “(But) the vast majority of people agree something should be done.”
People may disagree on which month to end quail season.
It has traditionally run from the last weekend of October through the last weekend of February. The current one ends Feb. 26.
Some hunters may be nostalgic for days afield during the second month of the year, when days are cool and crisp. November, according to some, can be warm with snakes not yet hibernating.
“I’d hate to lose February,” said Dr. Dale Rollins of the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch. “It’s a great quail hunting opportunity.”
Perez, however, said birds would pair up better with no hunting pressure in February.
“The ones most valuable are the ones that survive winter,” he said.
Charles Hodges of Dallas, co-founder of Quail Tech Alliance at Texas Tech University, suggested a compromise: running the season Nov. 15-Feb. 15.
“That way you don’t hammer them when mating starts in March,” Hodges said.