Oklahoma’s quail season opens Nov. 12 and runs through Feb. 15, providing hunters with an opportunity to hunt one of the most popular game birds in Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has conducted annual roadside surveys in August and October since 1990 to index quail populations across Oklahoma. Department employees run 83 different 20-mile routes in all counties except Oklahoma and Tulsa, and large counties like Beaver, Ellis, LeFlore, McCurtain, Osage, Pittsburg and Roger Mills have two routes.

“The 2011 statewide index decreased 37 percent from 2010, which was already down from the 21-year average,” said Doug Schoeling, upland game bird biologist for the Wildlife Department.

The continued decline in quail numbers is believed to be a result of the continued drought and the record number of days above 100 degrees this summer, which are known to negatively impact quail nesting attempts and success. The only region where the number of quail observed increased from the 2010 survey was in the south-central region, where quail numbers only slightly increased over 2010 numbers.”

Even though the survey shows quail numbers down, Schoeling still encourages hunters to get out this season. Some areas of the state experienced rain in August that could have contributed to successful late nesting attempts that may not necessarily be reflected in the survey results. There are always those areas that have good habitat that experienced favorable nesting conditions where there will be opportunity for some good hunts. Wildlife management areas (WMAs) in western Oklahoma probably will offer hunters the best opportunity to find birds on public land. Quail season shooting hours and regulations on some public lands may vary from statewide seasons, so hunters should consult the current “Oklahoma Hunting Guide” for specific area details. To view the current Hunting Guide or find contact information for the WMAs, log on to wildlifedepartment.com.

Oklahoma still remains one of the strongest holdouts of native bobwhite quail populations and habitat. However, seeking to address quail population declines, the Department has launched several major research efforts to try to identify the factors contributing to their decline.

As part of the initiative, the Wildlife Department is working with the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch, Texas A&M, Texas A&M-Kingsville and Texas Tech universities on a project called Operation Idiopathic Decline. Wildlife Department biologists are trapping quail and sending biological samples to Texas Tech University where researchers are investigating the potential impact of disease, parasitism, pesticides, toxins and contaminants on quail.

The Wildlife Department is also starting an upland game bird initiative that will provide extensive information on matters that could lead to improvements in the quail population and quail habitat management.

“We’re working with Oklahoma State University to implement a long-term, well-designed telemetry study that’s going to look at the dynamics of reproduction, recruitment and the movements of quail,” Schoeling said. These key aspects of quail ecology will be evaluated in relation to habitat management, weather patterns and events, vegetation and insect abundance, predators and hunting.

Although the research will focus on Packsaddle and Beaver River WMAs — where intensive quail habitat management is being done such as strip disking, patch burning and regulated grazing — research findings will also be used to assist landowners in managing quail on their properties. Quail populations will be closely monitored before and after the application of these management efforts, and their response carefully documented. Quail will be leg-banded and fitted with radio tracking devices where biologists can track movements, reproductive success and survival. Hunters harvesting banded or radio-tagged quail are asked to contact the Wildlife Department or Oklahoma State University. Signs will be posted on the areas detailing how hunters can report banded and tagged birds. Researchers will also use weather stations on the two WMAs to intensively monitor and collect information on localized weather events in order to correlate the relationship between weather, vegetation and insect abundance and intensive management habitat efforts.

The Wildlife Department will be working to improve methods for monitoring quail populations on a yearly basis.

“Effectively monitoring the quail population is critical to evaluating management efforts, tracking annual fluctuations in the quail population and informing hunters,” Schoeling said.

Limited supplies of a Wildlife Department publication called “Upland Urgency” are available free for those wanting to learn more about quail research in Oklahoma. To request a copy, call the Wildlife Department at (405) 521-3856 or visit the headquarters office at 1801 North Lincoln in Oklahoma City.

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