Field reports from across Southern California paint a moderate to gloomy picture for this fall’s upland bird hunting seasons that kick off Oct. 20. Quail and chukar production was very low in most desert and foothill regions from Bakersfield to Las Vegas to the Imperial Valley, and most places in between. The one saving grace is that most areas have pretty good numbers of holdover birds from last year’s excellent hatch.
On the Mojave Preserve, Cliff McDonald with the Water for Wildlife group that repairs guzzlers and springs in the region, said the special youth hunt the end of September was generally pretty tough with very few young birds.
“We had 46 junior hunters and I think they managed to get 25 birds,î said McDonald. “It was just tough. I spoke with [rancher] Rob Blair and he saw eight quail chicks total and he covers a lot of ground in the desert.î
Similar reports are coming from most of the popular bird hunting areas in the region.
Harold Horner, a chukar guide in the Barstow region of the West Mojave, said the chukar hatch was pretty dismal this year.
“I’ve seen a few young of the year birds, but not a lot,î said Horner. “There are a lot of holdover birds, but you’re gonna earn ëem. There are not going to be any freebie chukar this season.î
Horner said the rains that danced across the desert Wednesday and Thursday this week have just added to the green-up that was started by heavy thunderstorms during the summer. He said the birds are not going to be stacked up on traditional water sources like some hot years, but they will have already retreated to the high slopes on the north side of the ridges where the hunting it difficult for chukar.
Rick Bean with the High Desert Chapter of Quail Forever in Victorville said the club’s members are pretty glum about the prospects.
“What I’m hearing from guys who are getting out is they’re not seeing any birds — not just no young birds, they’re not seeing any chukar. There’s not even any sign at many of the guzzlers,î said Bean, suggesting the birds have already moved away from water to the higher elevation spots.
Will Liebscher, who lives in Red Mountain, said the contrast between this year and last year is pretty dramatic. Last season he was seeing hundreds of both chukar and quail in his rides around the desert in the Rand and El Paso mountain ranges, but this year it’s different.
“I’m hearing the chukar, but I’m not seeing them like I did last year. There just aren’t near as many birds,î said Liebscher. He didn’t see any young chukar in his yard or out in the field this season, and the quail numbers are also down after two years of solid population growth. But he did say there were still quite a few mature, holdover birds for last year’s big hatch.
Leon Lessica with Desert Wildlife Unlimited in the Imperial Valley said the quail numbers in the valley around the agriculture and in the desert regions were pretty average for that area, with the broods in the valley “just OK,î and the quail broods in the desert below average.
Similar reports are coming from all along the Colorado River in the Blythe to Yuma region, and hunters participating in Arizona’s quail opener last weekend, all say the same thing: Average or below average numbers of birds, and mostly mature birds that are harder to hunt.
When I was scouting on the Carrizo National Monument in June (west of Maricopa), I saw a total of two chicks with one pair of birds. Most of the valley quail were already back together in large coveys, having given up on nesting in the parched landscape. The good news in this region is that last year’s hatch was so spectacular that there are still sizeable coveys of holdover birds.
The consensus was that it won’t be a dismal upland hunting year, but the birds that end up in hunters’ bags will be earned.