Quail Populations Recovering, Strongest in Years
AUSTIN —Texas quail hunting season opens Oct. 28, and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) surveys indicate an increased number of bobwhite and scaled quail in the field thanks to a combination of cooler temperatures and spring rainfall during the start of nesting season.
“Statewide, we are still far from where we would like to be, and drought conditions this summer caused us to temper expectations,” said John Mclaughlin, TPWD Upland Game Bird Program Leader. “But with that said, quail populations are likely in their strongest position since 2018-19 and primed to grow if winter and spring conditions are favorable again in 2024.”
Despite the summer heat, bobwhite numbers exceeded expectations as birds took advantage of early-season nesting opportunities. Thanks to the weather reprieve during that crucial time, TPWD biologists recorded the most promising population survey results of the last five years.
“Birds were abundant and widely distributed in South Texas and the Gulf Coast Prairies, indicating that the wet-dry cycle we experienced this year was beneficial along the coast and further inland,” said Mclaughlin.
TPWD observed good numbers in the Texas Panhandle.
“While bobwhite populations are still recovering in these regions, and drought has threatened progress in the short-term, there should be good opportunities to put dogs on the ground and enjoy a hunt with family and friends this season,” Added Mclaughlin.
Further west, the Trans-Pecos continues to be the standard bearer for scaled quail populations in Texas. Building off a good nesting season in 2022, birds picked up where they left off and quickly got to work this year.
“Much like with bobwhites, a combination of cooler temperatures and spring rainfall led to reports of early hatches,” added Mclaughlin. “Large broods were seen throughout the spring and into the summer. As habitat conditions improved, birds could take advantage and put chicks on the ground. The only speed bump for scaled quail this year was the summer heat, which settled in and enveloped much of the state through July and August.”
While Texas works out of the current drought, the winter outlook favors an ongoing El Nino cycle, which should bring average temperatures and above-average rainfall. If conditions hold, both should equate to good hunting conditions in the near term and favorable conditions for quail populations heading into next spring.
Hunters taking advantage of Texas Public Hunting Lands must have an Annual Public Hunting Permit. Public land hunters must consult the Public Hunting Lands Map Booklet to review regulations that may apply to specific areas. You can use the My Texas Hunt Harvest app to complete on-site registration electronically at a public hunting area.
Texas Deer Population Forecasted to Rebound from Drought Conditions
AUSTIN —Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) biologists expect deer hunters statewide to have plenty of opportunities to fill freezers this season thanks to widespread, improved habitat conditions.
“Overall, TPWD expects the 2023-24 deer hunting season to be good in terms of harvest numbers and opportunities, so don’t let the chance to spend time afield with family, friends, and fellow hunters pass you by,” said TPWD White-tailed Deer Program Leader Blaise Korzekwa. “Texas has one of the longest deer seasons in the nation, so take some time this fall and winter and enjoy one of the best deer herds in the country, right here in your home state.”
Much of the state received drought-quenching rain in the spring, which allowed for excellent habitat growth during the initial part of the growing season. Spring forb (weeds and flowering plants) production, a critical component of a deer’s diet coming out of winter, was abundant and offered essential nutrients to growing bucks, lactating does, and new fawns. Additionally, the improved habitat conditions earlier this year helped keep fawns healthy enough to survive their first six months (also known as fawn recruitment).
The few areas of the state that missed the spring rainfall should expect average antler quality, which TPWD expects to exceed expectations from the 2022 season.
Additionally, reduced harvest numbers last season should pay off this year. Those bucks had a chance to reach older age classes and benefit from the spring bounty.
Landowners and hunters are critical in managing Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). Before heading to the field, TPWD reminds hunters that several new CWD zones are in place for the 2023-24 season. New carcass movement restrictions are also in place this license year. Texas hunters harvesting deer, elk, moose, and other susceptible species in CWD-positive states must comply with carcass movement restrictions when bringing harvested animals home.
The most effective way to help slow the spread of CWD is by reporting sick deer, properly disposing of inedible carcass parts, and voluntarily testing harvests. You can find more information about zone boundaries and requirements, and you can find check station dates and hours of operations on TPWD’s website.
Hunters taking advantage of Texas Public Hunting Lands must have an Annual Public Hunting Permit. It’s also essential for public land hunters to consult the Public Hunting Lands Map Booklet to review regulations that may apply to specific areas. You can use the My Texas Hunt Harvest app to complete on-site registration electronically at a public hunting area.
Below is the white-tailed deer season forecast by ecological region:
The Cross Timbers ecoregion in north Texas has the second-highest deer population in Texas, with more than 820,000 animals, just behind the Edwards Plateau region. TPWD generally finds Higher densities of deer in the central part of the region. Because of the relatively consistent fawn production, Texas’ well-distributed buck age structure is across all age classes. Hunters focusing on mature bucks should be satisfied with the upcoming season.
Edwards Plateau/Hill Country
Surveys show the Edwards Plateau has the highest deer population in the state, with an estimated 1.6 million animals. Hunters looking for opportunities to see lots of deer when afield should put this area on the priority list to hunt this fall.
Harvesting around Llano and Mason counties will be critical to relieve browsing pressure on habitats by lowering deer densities and bringing the doe-to-buck ratio more in balance.
Western Edwards Plateau-area landowners and hunters are encouraged to limit the number of does harvested this year in the hopes of increasing the population in the area. This part of the Hill Country saw a population decline from an expansive anthrax outbreak in 2019 and has yet to recover fully.
Hunters should expect an increase in two-and-a-half-year-old to four-and-a-half-year-old bucks due to past fawn recruitment years. Hunters looking for older age-class bucks should focus on the area between Hondo and Del Rio and north of Highway 90.
Pineywood’s population surveys estimate more than 330,000 deer throughout the region this season, higher than the previous three years. Habitat management is critical to sustaining deer populations in the Pineywoods. Properties that manage for quality habitat year-round often see more deer taking advantage of the environment during hunting season.
Initial estimates show a lower density of deer between Houston and Beaumont, with improved population numbers near Tyler.
Hunters should expect a few more bucks in the five-and-a-half-year-old range compared to the younger age bucks.
Post Oak Savannah
The Post Oak Savannah ecoregion enjoyed an excellent spring, which should contribute to average fawn production this year. You could find higher deer populations along the Interstate 10 corridor between San Antonio and Houston.
Population densities will be lower east of Dallas due to habitat fragmentation. Relative to other age classes, there should be more bucks in the four-and-a-half-year-old class.
The Eastern and Western Rolling Plains generally have fewer deer populations than other regions. Severe drought conditions and low fawn recruitment in 2022 have led to a slight decline in the estimated population in this portion of the state.
Sporadic fawn production over the last several years may create age gaps in some middle-aged groups, but mature buck numbers remain steady. These regions should expect an excellent season for mature buck harvest and antler quality.
TPWD expects antler production to be above average, especially on properties with limited resource competition during previous hunting seasons.
South Texas Plains
The South Texas Plains are known for mature bucks and above-average antler quality relative to most other areas in the state. TPWD expects harvest to be up for 2023 with average to above-average antler quality.
Despite drought conditions in 2022 impacting the number of fawns surviving their first six months, the deer population has remained steady in South Texas. Many hunters passed on harvesting trophy bucks last season, hoping to improve habitat conditions in 2023. Biologists expect the two-and-a-half-year-old to five-and-a-half-year-old age classes to be abundant and offer plenty of opportunities to see mature bucks.