Upland bird hunters in for tough season
Valley quail numbers are down all across Southern California nd hunting for upland birds will be difficult this season.
By JIM MATTHEWS
Poor production of young quail and chukar for the third consecutive year across much of Southern California points to a tough hunting season this fall. The general quail and chukar opener is set for Saturday, Oct. 17.
The most popular hunting regions for chukar look particularly bad for this gamebird. The Red Mountain region, which includes the Rand and El Paso mountain ranges south of Inyokern and Ridgecrest along with the southern Sierra Nevada south of Olancha, looks very poor with almost no young produced and very low numbers of holdover birds. The grim news for chukar hunters continues further south into the west Mojave Desert region from Barstow to Lucerne Valley and west Highway 14.
Volunteers from Quail Forever chapters who do brood counts throughout this broad swath of country have reported poor production and few holdover birds in these popular hunting areas.
The only place there has been fair chukar production is in the far eastern portion of San Bernardino County in the higher elevation desert mountains on the Mojave National Preserve. This area had more holdover birds and those chukar produced a fair number of chicks this season.
Valley quail news is also poor throughout most of the Southern California hunting regions, with just a couple of exceptions where the production of young was decent and hunting should be better.
The entire southern Sierra Nevada from Olancha south is going to be very tough, just like chukar in this region. Rainfall was scanty and came at the wrong times to help quail production this year. Poor production was also the case through the southern San Joaquin Valley, Carrizo Plain region, and most of the Los Padres National Forest areas from Ventura to San Luis Obispo to Bakersfield to Fraiser Park.
The west Mojave desert continues to have few quail thanks to several years of dismal production, and bird numbers in the foothill regions on the north side of the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountains remain very depressed. Production was a little better at the higher elevations in these two mountain ranges, but because of low holdover numbers from last year, the hunting will be difficult.
Valley quail numbers, while below well average everywhere, have improved a little in pockets of habitat across San Diego County (mostly higher elevation lands or where rainfall was better) and the Santa Ana Mountains.
Gambel’s quail that live in the vast Mojave and Colorado River deserts are one of the few bright spots in a dismal upland bird hunting season. But even that bright spot is limited. In the far eastern portions of their range, especially in the higher elevations on the Mojave National Preserve and in the corridor along the Colorado River, holdover numbers and production of Gambel’s quail have been fair to good. These areas have had better monsoon rains and decent winter rains for two years in a row, which have allowed the bird numbers to recover. But throughout this vast region, the improvements have been spotty due to rain patterns. Hunters who stay above 4,500 feet in the Preserve or stay close to the Colorado River (or agricultural fields along the river) will see the most birds.
With warm weather forecast through opening weekend, all birds will still be visiting water sources daily, so hunting within a mile or two of water will be critical to finding quail and chukar.
Mountain quail, which live in higher elevation habitat in Southern California and the Sierra, have populations that remain stable in most of the southern part of their range, slightly less impacted by the drought, but still below ideal levels. These quail occur in smaller numbers than valley or Gambel’s quail, but there will be huntable numbers of these birds – the largest quail in the state – in places in the San Bernardino, San Jacinto, Santa Ana mountain ranges, and most of the higher ranges in San Diego county. In the southern Sierra, mountain quail numbers are still depressed, even though there was a little better production this year.
This year’s general quail and chukar season runs from October 17 through January 31, 2015. The limit on quail is 10 per day in aggregate for all species (not 10 per species). The limit on chukar is six per day. Hunters may not have more than triple the daily bag in their possession at any time during the season.
[Editor’s note: Hunters are encouraged to report their success, or lack of success, to Jim Matthews after opening weekend. You can e-mail reports and photos to firstname.lastname@example.org or call Matthews at 909-887-3444.]