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Quail season off to slow start

Hunters search for quail on the Beaver River Wildlife Management Area in the Oklahoma Panhandle. The state's quail hunting season hasn't lived up to the preseason hype, but it should improve with the arrival of colder weather and precipitation. [Photo by Josh Dahlstrom, Quail/Pheasants Forever]

Hunters search for quail on the Beaver River Wildlife Management Area in the Oklahoma Panhandle. The state's quail hunting season hasn't lived up to the preseason hype, but it should improve with the arrival of colder weather and precipitation. [Photo by Josh Dahlstrom, Quail/Pheasants Forever]

Some bird hunters in Oklahoma think the quail season forecast was much like the presidential election predictions. Way off.

Judging by reports, some hunters had very little or no success on the opening weekend of the season, leading to the belief that this year's prediction of a booming quail population was greatly exaggerated.

Quail hunting hasn't lived up to its preseason expectations thus far, but before any protesting begins, hunters should wait and see if the results get better.

Seasoned quail hunters believe the bobwhites are out there in big numbers in western Oklahoma, but it's been so hot and dry during the first week of the season that it has been difficult for the bird dogs to smell ‘em.

“We were not as productive as last year (on opening weekend), but saw quite a few birds,” said James Dietsch, founding chairman of the Central Oklahoma 89er Chapter of Quail Forever.

“Weather for the most of the weekend was not very good for scenting conditions with low humidity, dry, and warm temps most of the day peaking near 70 degrees. It was a much different opener last year with recent rains, humidity and average temps.”

John Bellah, president of the chapter, agrees.

“I am still confident things will shape up as we get better weather,” Bellah said.

Bob St. Pierre, vice president of marketing for the national conservation groups Quail Forever and Pheasants Forever, was hunting quail for the first time in Oklahoma last weekend in the Panhandle.

“I think you are going to have to wait for the temperatures to cool down a little bit more before you know, truly, if the preseason estimates were overblown,” St. Pierre said.

“We could hear them whistling all around us, but we had a hard time finding them, even with seasoned bird dogs. It was so dry and so hot. I think the jury is out on whether the numbers are overblown.”

Pierre and two other hunters from the Quail Forever national organization were in Oklahoma last weekend as part of the organization's annual “Rooster Roadtrip.” It began in 2010 with three hunters and two bird dogs hitting five states in five days as a way to showcase public hunting areas and promote conservation.

The trio will typically hunt in the mornings and then drive to find a place with wireless internet where they can post blogs, photos and videos from their trips.

“Our laptops ride shotgun next to our shotguns,” St. Pierre said.

Sometimes, they will have to drive 100 miles or more to find a place with internet to write and edit.

“It's gotten better from 2010,” St. Pierre said. “In 2010, we really had to cover some miles to find wireless.”

In the beginning, the “Rooster Roadtrip” primarily focused on pheasant hunting, but with the rise in quail populations, the trio began this year's adventure with a quail hunt in Oklahoma.

They always highlight public hunting areas and made a 15½-hour drive from Minnesota to Oklahoma in one day so they could hunt on the Beaver River Wildlife Management Area on the opening day of quail season.

“We averaged five coveys a day for the three days we were there,” St. Pierre said. “We were somewhere in the neighborhood of a covey an hour or maybe a little less.”

Viewers can see videos and read reports of the “Rooster Roadtrip” by following the organization on Facebook and Twitter. St. Pierre's impressions of Oklahoma's quail country?

“Everything wants to poke you or stick you,” he said. “It was a beautiful landscape that was a challenge to hunt for a person not used to quail country. Not knowing what to expect, I was thrilled. The coveys were big.”

One of St. Pierre's colleagues and hunting partners last weekend, Jared Wiklund, had quail hunted last year on Beaver River on opening weekend, but not as part of the “Rooster Roadtrip.”

He found more coveys last year during the opening weekend, but he said the size of the coveys this year was much bigger. But it was much hotter this year than last year for the opener, he said.

“The birds are there, but the weather conditions have not been ideal,” Wiklund said. “I think that whole northwest corner (of Oklahoma) and the Panhandle are going to have some great quail hunting opportunities this (season). In my eyes (Oklahoma) is really a premier destination for quail, especially in a boom year like 2016. A lot of people are interested.”

Wiklund has been encouraging the “Rooster Roadtrip” followers to take a quail hunting adventure to Oklahoma later this season.

“When it's colder and maybe there is some snow on the ground, that's when you are really going to get into quail in Oklahoma,” he said.

Ed Godfrey

Ed Godfrey was born in Muskogee and raised in Stigler. He has worked at The Oklahoman for 25 years. During that time, he has worked a myriad of beats for The Oklahoman including both the federal and county courthouse in Oklahoma City for more... Read more ›

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