Down, But Not Out

Those are wild bobwhite quail, aka Nature’s Nachos.

I shot this image two weeks ago in the southwest corner of Texas on a ranch that was char-broiled by the recent drought of record. From 2009 through this past June (when it rained a foot in six hours) this particular ranch received less than 10% of its average annual rainfall. For two full years there was no surface water and no nesting cover to speak of. There was a skeleton crew of quail hanging around the deer feeders, but they looked like scraggly Mad Max refugees in a post-apocalyptic death zone.

Biologists tell us that most quail never see their second birthday. Beyond the merciless toll of predation, parasites and fire ants, they also need abundant forage, screening, and nesting cover. And cover requires rain. And since Texas rain rarely falls in abundance for two consecutive years, we therefore have a bird that is subject to extreme boom and bust cycles. This graph from Texas Parks & Wildlife illustrates their plight with startling clarity.

While the recent rains have tempered the drought in many Texas counties, I’m not yet hearing any bold predictions on the return of those halcyon 30-covey days that we all hang our hats upon. Some quail pastures will have huntable birds this year, most will not. I haven’t shot a quail since 2007 (yes, that hurts) but based on the image above, I’m hopeful that I’ll get to flush a few wild coveys in the near future. This scene proves that bobwhite quail are nothing shy of relentless when their populace is on the line. If they can survive THIS drought, then there’s hope for the specie.

Below you’ll find a selection of my favorite quail hunting images from years past. With a little luck, perhaps I’ll have some new material to show you by season’s end. To see more images from my upland bird hunting archive, please click here.

Blue quail whistling perch near Marfa

Big times in bird-dog land

Not from a gunny sack

Up and out, near Guthrie

From 2006, a good quail year

Junior locked down at Ballinger

Scaled elegance

Feeder covey

Blast-off on the Pitchfork Ranch

Rooted from a tasajillo clump

Has YOUR son or daughter ever hunted wild quail?

Here’s hoping…

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