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AZ is expecting the best Mearns' quail hunting in a decade


Arizona is expecting the best Mearns' quail hunting in a decade


Clean out the dog carrier, oil up the shotgun and get ready to work off that second (or third) helping of mashed potatoes and gravy -- Mearns' quail season opens Nov. 23 (the day after Thanksgiving).

To many, Mearns' quail are Arizona's more prized game bird. By all accounts, this is going to be a great year for these remarkable-looking quail in southeastern Arizona. In fact, the Mearns' quail hunting opportunities this year are expected to eclipse both Gambel's and scaled quail.

Here's why.

Gambel's quail, and to a lesser extent scaled quail, rely on winter and summer precipitation for their reproductive efforts. Last year Arizona experienced an exceptionally dry winter and spring, except for some sections of southern Arizona.

However Mearns' quail rely on summer rain for their reproductive efforts. Southeastern Arizona had abundant summer rainfall this past year and the year before. By September, the rolling hills and grasslands of southeastern Arizona looked like Ireland -- again.

With back-to-back years of very good to excellent reproduction, and decent reproduction the preceding two years, this could be the best Mearns' quail hunting in decades. Can you say "bumper crop."

Keep in mind that for Mearns' hunting, the oak-grassland habitat type is where you will find most of these tight-holding birds that are prized by hunters with bird dogs. Look for about a 30-percent over-story of oak combined with a good grass understory.

This might also be a good year for a triple: Mearns', scaled and Gambel's quail, especially in Cochise County along the New Mexico line. Try areas near the Chiricahua Mountains, Dos Cabezas and the San Bernardino Valley.

Wildlife manager Kurt Bahti said the Mearns' quail population is looking pretty robust in the Patagonia-Sonoita area and around the Huachuca Mountains.

Those looking for a combination hunting-and-fishing trip should try Patagonia Lake or Parker Canyon Lake - they are both stocked with trout during winter. Patagonia Lake is also a renowned bass lake.

For those who don't know the area, Bahti recommends exploring along the Ruby Road, which passes through lots of prime quail habitat.

Mearns' quail are the largest and most striking, yet also the most secretive of Arizona's quail species. Male Mearns' quail have white and black harlequin-marked heads, capped by a russet shock of feathers that form an ill-fitting crest. These cock quail also possess handsome brown and black checkered backs interlaced with white darts, and white-spotted black flanks similar to a guinea fowl's. Their breasts and under-parts are a rich mahogany that turns to black at the rump, which terminates in a stubby, almost non-existent tail. The hens are cinnamon colored with brown, black and buff markings.

In winter, the males average about 6.9 ounces, the females about 6.2 ounces. Long, scythe-shaped claws that are used for digging show that these birds are ground-dwellers. Mearns' hold so well to a dog that this species has come to be known as Arizona's greatest game bird.

Randy Babb, a Game and Fish biologists who is also an ardent quail small game hunter, said the stock tanks in southeastern Arizona are full of water and more importantly, full of ducks as well. So take along a box or two shells with non-toxic shot. By the way, there are rabbits galore.

By the way, the quail bag limit is 15 quail per day in the aggregate of which no more than eight may be Mearns' quail. Be sure to keep on a wing for proof of legality.

Media Contact:
Rory Aikens (602) 789-3214

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