Oklahoma's upcoming quail season is expected to be solid, but not spectacular.
After four straight years where much of the state saw a rise in the bobwhite quail population, the overall numbers in 2017 have returned to close to the 10-year average, said Derek Wiley, upland bird biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
“Based on our roadside surveys, we are about two-thirds down pretty well across the state from last year,” Wiley said. “It's back down to about average. We've been lucky the last two years to have pretty good numbers, but we are back to about average for the last 10 years.”
Quail season opens Saturday statewide and runs through Feb. 15.
The southeast region of Oklahoma saw a slight increase in quail population but all other regions in the state were about the same or have fewer birds than last year, he said.
Wiley said quail hunters will find birds but shouldn't expect to move the same number of coveys as the past three seasons.
“It won't be what it was in 2014, '15 and '16, but it is going to be decent,” he said. “This year we didn't have quite the good breeding conditions the whole year that we've had the last couple of summers. You need April and May for good production, and May rainfall kind of quit.”
Laura McIver, Quail Forever regional representative for Oklahoma, said she has heard varying reports from southwest and northwest Oklahoma on quail populations.
“When the nesting shut down in the southwest corner of the state because it got so dry and hot in May and June, I was afraid it was going to be a pretty dramatic difference from last year's glowing reports,” McIver said. “However, the August rains and cooler weather seemed to help get nesting started again throughout the state.”
In northwest Oklahoma, some areas are better and others are worse than last season, depending upon how each place fared with temperatures and rainfall this past year, she said.
“The birds are there, but I'm hearing additional reports that they have moved around quite a bit and that you very well may not find them in the same places as you did last year,” McIver said.
“I think it will still be a great season to hunt quail this year — it may not be as spectacular as it was two seasons ago, and you may have to work a little harder for them; but still much better than the drought years.”
The one region that did see a population increase from the roadside counts was southeast Oklahoma.
“Southeast will be a sleeper this year,” said John Bellah, president of the Central Oklahoma 89er chapter of Quail Forever. “I think the few that hunt down there will be pleased where there is still good habitat. I am hearing a mixed bag out west. Probably an average season is expected with good to excellent hunting in spots.”
Several of the state's wildlife management areas will have wing boxes where hunters will be asked to donate a right wing from any quail harvested on the public hunting area. State wildlife officials use the wings to help determine age, peak productions and harvest numbers of quail on the wildlife management areas.
Many of the state's wildlife management areas are closed to quail hunting for the first nine days of deer gun season.