Monday, October 7, 2013

The Importance of Rain...

I live along the 100th Meridian, that historical fence-straddle between the truly arid shortgrass prairie to the west and the generally lusher, wetter, mixed-grass prairie to the east. It's a semi-arid transition zone that, depending on the whims of the weather gods, vacillates between drought, drought, more drought, and sometimes rain. And for the past few years, it's been strongly trending drought. Prolonged, multi-year drought. Historical drought. Kick-the-region-in-the-nuts drought.

And the past two years have been especially brutal, on farmers, ranchers, and quail. "Plummet" doesn't adequately describe what's happened to our quail populations. Not enough - if any - spring rains, no rain at all during the summer months and extremely dry falls translated into poor nesting success, virtually no cover, and poor survival. And moonscape-like hunting conditions for those of us stupid or desperate enough to try.

Last year at this time I distinctly remember taking the dogs out to run on our local public hunting area and watching them quite literally kick up dust trails behind them as they ran over sand hills mostly denuded of live vegetation.

But what a difference is made by a year, milder temps and a little rain...

Actual live vegetation! Engaged in actual photosynthesis! Providing actual cover and food! Now, to those of you residing in garden states, this may still look pretty damn brown and desolate, but remember, this isn't westen Ohio, it's western Oklahoma. Trust me, this is fairly lush by our standards.

Here's a better example of what I'm talking about, complete with a somewhat lackluster point and back on a covey of... ornate box turtles.

OK, so my dogs obviously lack style on reptile points, but just look at that cover! It's so thick that in many areas I actually have trouble seeing the dogs run through it, and it's difficult to walk through. But hell, last year I often had trouble even finding any cover to hunt, so I 'll take it.

The good news is, it looks like this was - if not a good year - then at least a non-disastrous year for quail reproduction and survival. The bad news is, there were so few quail last year that even with a good hatch there simply aren't going to be many quail out there. Quail season is still going to be dismal this year, no matter how you slice it. But I'm highly optimistic that it's going to be less dismal than the past three years. And I'll gladly take that. And who knows, if we luck out and get another couple years like this one, there may be a reason to stay in this state, after all...


  1. Having the same issue , flying our Hawks. It's great its happened but it's making hunting that much more challenging. Can't see the Rabbits and the Hawks are struggerling to crash the brush

  2. Maybe it's time to embrace the drought and move to Nevada.. 85% accessible public land and about half of that holds the devil bird. Just a thought. It's also pretty cheap.

  3. Same here. After years of drought BUCKETS of rain, first huntable population of quail for the gun in 3 or 4 years, even bigger rabbit population for hawk...

    When you say "It's so GREEN" to a coastal visitor be prepared for shaking heads and queries about color blindness.

  4. I'm hesitant to get my hopes too high, despite a wonderfully wet month and the lush verdure of new growth all over the southern Edwards Plateau... but man, I'm loving it. It's going to take more than a green-up to restore quail down here, but the deer and turkeys are already showing benefits. My horses aren't complaining either. The pastures are finally green(ish), instead of the grey-brown rocky desert that they were most of the past two years.

    The weatherguessers are suggesting that we've got a long ways to go (as much as 15 more years of the drought cycle... if you buy their models), but interruptions like this one are a reminder of how things could be.

  5. Chad,

    I love the blog, particularly the writing. I wish it was updated more often though.

    You should check out the song "At the Hundredth Meridian" by the Tragically Hip (Canadian band). Good song. A lot of road trip music by the Hip.

  6. Like you and Steve, we're seeing enough quail to be interesting in this corner of NM as well. Last weekend we saw four coveys in one morning, a couple of them pushing two dozen birds.