(Don't miss the excellent photos below)
July 31st, 2001 we headed out to look at leases and get an idea of quail counts/covey sizes.
I was hoping to find that North Texas and the Big Country had benefited from scattered thundershowers this summer but they have not. It is desperately dry. The only grasses that can be found are those in CRP fields. Pastures being grazed are not in good shape.
Most of Texas had good Spring showers so there is good, albeit not great, CRP grasses.
Cow's ruminate (chew a cud) so they must have bulk in order to do this. Normally a cow will acquire both food value and bulk by eating protein rich grasses or hay. When quality grasses and hay aren't available, A cow is placed on high protein supplements such as liquid protein, cubes, and lick tubs to get its' food value. High protein supplements Drive The Cow to eat non-food value filler such as the dead grasses, etc. Any pasture grasses that are available are eaten.
Any rancher with cattle is already feeding hay and supplementing with protein. So, with no summer rain, you have only minimal dead grasses, weeds, leaves, etc. with cows being driven to eating them. Result: Scalded pasture (no grass - looks like a pool table) with no grasses that offer cover for quail. One pasture we saw didn't even have any wild sunflowers as the cows had been driven to eat those too. Normally cows don't eat sunflowers a matter of preference.
Can it get even worse? YES! I've seen ranchers take propane torches to prickly pear cactus patches to burn off the needles so that the cows can eat the succulent cactus. Sound extreme? It is. And guess what Bobwhite Quail hide in when the grasses are gone? That's right, prickly pear cactus!
One lease we looked at yesterday was terrible. All that was left standing in the pastures that hold cattle were scattered ragweed and cactus. All grasses were gone! Only CRP had grasses and you could tell by looking at it that they just had an average Spring and No Summer Rain.
Your thinking, "Are their quail?". Yes and no. You won't find quail in scalded pastures that offer no cover and no food source. Also, many tanks (ponds) are dry or going dry. It looks bad. Fortunately, I have found quail in scalded pastures that has ample prickly pear cactus. The prickly pear protects small amounts of native grasses from otherwise hungry cows. Quail will hide in these. Also, Quail will eat the pears themselves as a source of food as we have witnessed it...purple stained beaks and all!
If you are a rancher, I am not discrediting you. A rancher makes a hard living and your (the rancher) business comes before hunting.
The prices that the ranchers are getting at market now are good. I saw a herd of black baldies go for as much as 1.15 per pound on the hoof! Sounds good but remember the rancher has to pay for that herd to live not to mention overhead. I should mention here that I too raise some cattle.
Some good news for Quail hunters is that many ranchers have reduced their herd numbers or sold them all which results in under grazing which can sustain marginal pasture in a drought for quail.
So my Quail report is mixed. I believe that the Big Country and Northern Texas will hold average to above average Quail numbers on well managed pastures. GO LOOK AT YOUR LEASE NOW! Feeders are a good idea! Hopefully we'll get some rain soon and hopefully your rancher is able to preserve pasture grasses!
Now more on my trip yesterday. I did look at one lease that had decent CRP land and the grazed pastures were in good shape because the Rancher had reduced his herd numbers. The quail there were vibrant and healthy. We flushed a couple good coveys with lots of younger birds, evidence of a good first hatch.
We parked our truck near a tank where two pastures met. One pasture was CRP and the other was planted in cotton. A barbed wire fence separated the two.
I walked over towards the fence and two quail flushed from the edge of the CRP into the Cotton. One was a male and the other a female. Almost immediately and much to my surprise, about 14 small one week old wild quail chicks raced in a single file over to the cotton where their mom and dad were. My wife, who had remembered to bring the camera, quickly handed it to me and I got this great picture of the chicks.
When I walked over to get the picture of the chicks, the male flushed again as did the female but this time she acted as if wounded to try and draw me away from her chicks! What a thrill!!! We took our photo and the chick that is (center) alone above, turned and left further into the cotton and all the other chicks followed quickly too. We left the area so that mom and dad could go back and attend to their babies.
It was over 100 degrees yesterday but the 'chick event' just made our day! In a recent outing, we took pictures of a hen. See the photo below.
In parting let me reiterate this advice: Go look at your lease now! Also, the "going rate" may have been 3.00 dollars an acre for a top quality, quail only, entire season lease last year but I don't think it fair to charge that for a lease that has been reduced to 'no cover' for birds before the season even gets underway! I think poor land with no cover and marginal birds is worth more like 1.00 an acre, especially if the quail numbers are reduced. And if they're that reduced, it shouldn't be leased anyway!
It's kinda like buying a car, if it's new and pristine that's one thing but if it's used, well...fair should be fair.
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P.S. update: Here's a pic I took on August 11th of a hen overseeing her young babies: