Quail Hunting in Texas: Bobwhite Quail Surveys Helpful

Go back in time about 50 years ago and the “old timers” will tell you that bobwhite quail were an abundant species in Texas. This secretive upland game bird thrived during a time when good quail habitat was being dotted with new, productive farming practices. Little did they realize, the good bobwhite quail hunting and bird population in Texas was riding on the coattails of the disappearing native bunch grasses that these seed-eating birds so desperately need. Not so much for food, but more importantly for nesting and overhead protective cover while traveling.

Quail Surveys in Texas

Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD) designed the roadside quail survey in 1976 to track quail production trends at only the statewide and ecoregion spatial scales. The 20 mile routes were randomly assigned and most counties have either zero or one route. Staff runs each route only once during the first two weeks of August. Biologists record the number of singles, pairs, coveys, and number of quail within coveys for each quail species by 1 mile increments. The relative age of broods also is recorded.

Due to legislatively mandated budget cuts in 1988, all routes were discontinued in the Pineywoods, Post Oak Savannah, Blackland Prairies, and High Plains ecological areas. Certain quail routes in other ecological areas also were discontinued at this time. In 1993, many High Plains routes were once again reinitiated.

Quail Surveys and Quail Hunting in Texas

Roadside-Route Scale for Quail Surveys

Route counts are not replicated within a given year. For this reason, the number of quail observed during any single observation is not necessarily indicative of quail abundance in the general area of the route. For example, when routes are run on consecutive days it is common to see 3 birds one day and 30 the next. This occurs because quail often occur in groups (coveys). In reality, the observer just happened to see a pair and a single on the first day, and two coveys the next. For this same reason, observing 3 quail one year and 30 the next on a single route run once annually does not mean there are more quail in the area during year two. If the State wanted to track trends in quail abundance associated with a single route, they would have to run that route 20 to 30 times during the month of August.

Quail Surveys at the County Scale

Similarly, if one wanted to understand quail abundance trends in individual Texas counties, 20 to 30 routes scattered randomly through each county would be required. In that way, routes would be representative of the habitat types in the county. Additionally, enough routes would be used to avoid the problems associated with running routes only once (see above). Alternatively, one could run fewer routes multiple times. Data collected at this scale would be valuable to hunters, but the Department does not require such information for quail management purposes or the regulatory process. At any rate, TPWD does not have the resources to run thousands of routes.

Quail Surveys at the Ecological Area Scale

Instead, TPWD made the decision in the late 1970s to run 20-30 randomly chosen routes in each ecological area. By having several routes in a given ecoregion, the fact that any given route might have 3 quail one day and 30 the next does not matter—you see a hump-shaped distribution of quail abundance for the region. By chance, a few unusually low and high values are returned, but most observations occur somewhere in the middle. In this way, TPWD obtains reliable information on quail trends at this spatial scale. These data are then combined and used at the statewide scale. An independent perspective can be obtained via hunter surveys. Approximated 90% of the variation in the number of northern bobwhite and scaled quail bagged annually can be explained by the mean number of quail observed per survey route in a given ecological area.

Unfortunately, many folks have incorrectly assumed that data collected to provide information at the scale of ecoregions also are directly applicable at finer spatial scales (counties, habitat associated with a given route). For reasons described above, this is not so. This issue has confused the public and many wildlife biologists alike. One can glean only limited reliable information from these data at spatial scales finer than an ecoregion level.

Quail Surveys: Quail Abundance Data at Fine Scales

Quail hunters can obtain useful anecdotal information on quail abundance for counties or groups of counties from the TPWD District Leader responsible for that area. These individuals have their thumb on quail abundance in their District and will gladly share this knowledge with you. To find the District Leader responsible for your area of interest, please call TPWD Wildlife Information at 800-792-1112.

Without a doubt, the best way to obtain reliable data on quail abundance for individual pastures and ranches is to implement quail surveys designed for this purpose. Site-specific data will help with estimating numbers on on ranches and can help with quail hunting strategies. Numerous wildlife biologists are able and willing to help design and implement survey protocols to meet specific needs. Wildlife extension specialists from universities or TPWD can help. Additionally, private wildlife management consultants abound. Lastly, several excellent publications outline these survey methods. For example, see Dr. Fred Guthery’s “Beef, Brush, and Bobwhites: Quail Management in Cattle Country” (1986, CKWRI, Texas A&M University, Kingsville, pp. 132-145).

If you love Texas, you will LOVE this video!

Garner State Park Hunting

The 1,484 acre Garner State Park is operated by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and is located in the Texas Hill Country in Uvalde County. The park participates in TPWD’s public hunting lands program and usually offers hunting for white-tailed deer and other exotic deer species such as axis and fallow. The park is located 31 miles north of Uvalde and 7 miles north of Concan on U.S. Highway 83 to FM 1050.

Hunters from across the state know that Garner State Park hold lots of wildlife, so it is a coveted hunting area for public hunters. The area surrounding the park is also known for great whitetail hunting, turkey hunting, and dove hunting.

Hunting at Garner State Park

Because the park is located along the Frio River, this area usually serves as a haven for for animals located in this bottomland-dominated habitat, except during the Special Permit (draw) hunts held each fall.

The habitat found within the park consists of steep limestone hills and dense juniper and oak woodlands. The river is the dominant feature running through the park, but game will “sink” into this area from the surrounding uplands. Every part of this park offers great public hunting for native and non-native deer species.

It is also a great place to vacation and relax outside of hunting season. Camping within Garner State Park will be available for the hunters during hunts. For information of public hunting or Garner State Park, contact the park at 830-232-6132.

Deer Management Permit (DMP) for Whitetail Deer in Texas

The Deer Management Permit

The Deer Management Permit (DMP) is a permit issued by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) that allows for the more-controlled breeding of wild deer. The DMP authorizes owners of high-fenced properties to temporarily detain white-tailed deer in breeding pens located on the property for the purpose of natural breeding. Deer may not be detained for purposes that do not include natural breeding, such as the “soft release” of bred TTT deer.

Landowners can use DMP’s to “trap” deer within a portion of their ranch, typically 5 to 60 acres, to facilitate breeding using a specific whitetail buck, even breeder deer that are placed in the permitted area. All ranch facilities (DMP pastures) must be completed prior to submitting the application and deer management plan to the local TPWD Wildlife Biologist for review and approval. The application and deer management plan must be approved and signed by an authorized TPWD Wildlife Biologist.

The Deer Management Permit (DMP) in Texas

Deer Management Permit Participation & Application

Participation in the DMP program requires a written Deer Management Plan that details the proposed breeding operation. The Deer Management Plan is incorporated into the DMP Application, which can be completed online using the Texas Wildlife Information System (TWIMS). No other forms may be substituted for the Deer Management Plan.

TPWD does require is a non-refundable application processing fee of $1,000. Applications for a Deer Management Permit must be made in consultation with an authorized TPWD Wildlife Biologist. To contact the appropriate TPWD Wildlife Biologist`s in your area landowners should call the Wildlife Division District Leader for their county. Follow this link to select the appropriate county and the District Leader contact information will appear on that page.

Specific Information on the Deer Management Permit

DMP breeding pens/pastures must be between five and 100 acres in size. There may be multiple breeding pens on a property. Up to 20 does and one buck may be detained in each breeding pen. The following types of deer may be placed into the breeding pen: (1) wild deer captured on the high-fenced property, (2) wild unbred deer transported under a valid TTT permit from an approved ranch, (3) deer purchased from a permitted Deer Breeder facility that will be liberated on the property after breeding, and (4) buck deer from a permitted Deer Breeder facility that will be temporarily placed into the pen for breeding and subsequently returned to the Deer Breeder.

Wild unbred deer from the high-fenced property may be trapped and placed in the breeding facility between September 1 and December 14 depending on ecoregion.

Deer Management Pen (DMP) Trapping & Release Dates

Deer may be transported from another ranch directly into DMP pens with a valid TTT permit between October 1 and December 14 depending on ecoregion . Please be advised that neither bucks nor does may not be trapped for purposes of TTT from tracts of land where Deer Management Permit (DMP) deer have been released during the same permit year.

To facilitate release, a minimum of 20 feet of fence or gate must be removed and all supplemental food and water must be removed from the pen for at least 30 days. Pens may contain multiple openings to meet this 20-ft requirement; however, no such opening may be less than 10 feet in width. Each gate or fence opening to facilitate release of deer from the DMP pen must open directly to the pasture from which they were captured (except for deer that entered the DMP facility via TTT permit) and not through another pen. Deer that entered the DMP facility via TTT must be released directly to the release site indicated on the TTT Release Site form, and not through another pen. Deer must be released no later than 45 days prior to the trapping deadline of the subsequent DMP trapping season.

All deer mortalities must be kept in an edible condition and donated to a charitable institution. Accurate records documenting the number and origin of deer in breeding pens must be maintained by the deer management permittee. Deer Management Plan facilities and records may be inspected by an authorized TPWD employee at any time and without warrant.

Chaparral WMA Research Examines Buck Antler Restrictions

The Chaparral Wildlife Management Area is a 15,000 acre state-owned research and demonstration area located in LaSalle and Dimmit counties in the heart of the South Texas brush country. White-tailed deer hunting on the WMA is by lottery special permit drawing. The area has an abundance of mature bucks and is well known by Texas hunters for the quality of its buck harvest. Due to its popularity, the Chaparral WMA receives more than three times as many applications for either sex hunts than any other public hunting area in Texas!

From 1991 to 1994, deer hunters were allowed to harvest one buck. Under these harvest regime hunters most often selected mature bucks exhibiting above average antler development – or high grading of the buck segment of the deer herd. Harvest regulations were modified in 1995 to increase the harvest of bucks with poor antler development. The bag limit was increased to two bucks and a buck harvest antler restriction was implemented for the public hunts.

Whitetail Bucks at Chaparral WMA

Under these antler restrictions, one of the two bucks must have less than 8 points and the other buck must have inside spread greater than the tip-to-tip ear spread. The objective of these regulations was to increase the harvest of bucks exhibiting poor antler development. These bucks included yearling spikes and medium age and mature bucks with less than 7 antler points. Prior to heading out into the field, hunters were given a pre-hunt orientation explaining the objectives and the rationale behind the antler restriction regulations. Hunters were encouraged to harvest spikes and mature bucks with less than 8 points.

Under antler restrictions the harvest of whitetail bucks with poor antler development increased from less than 20% of the annual buck harvest to about 50%. However, a modest decrease (35% to 25%) in the percentage of mature bucks in the herd was observed as result of the increased harvest of spikes and any other young cull buck. The number of trophy bucks – with gross antler score of greater than or equal to 140 Gross Boone & Crockett points – harvested each year has remained stable. Interestingly enough, a trend of decreasing inside spread in mature bucks has been observed at the Chaparral WMA while average gross Boone & Crockett score for mature bucks has remained stable since the implementation of antler restrictions.

Texas public hunting lands have long been used for research and demonstration to aid in developing hunting regulations and assisting private landowners with habitat and deer management. The Chaparral WMA buck harvest study is ongoing.

Mad Island Wildlife Management Area Hunting

The Mad Island Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is 7,281 acres of fresh water to brackish water marsh. This property is managed by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and offers good hog hunting, duck hunting, and alligator hunting. The Mad Island WMA is located about 6 miles east of Collegeport, Texas, in Matagorda County. This WMA is right off the Gulf of Mexico, and the Gulf Intracoastal Water Way forms the southern boundary of the area.

Hunts held at Mad Island WMA include waterfowl hunting for Annual Public Hunting (APH) Permit holders (no daily fee) and computer drawn Special Permits hunts for alligator hunting ($3 application, $130 if selected) and hog hunting ($3 application, $80 if selected). Typically, the WMA is open Saturday and Sunday during teal season and the regular season for South Zone Duck. Alligator hunts always take place during Texas’ alligator hunting season, which is September 10-30 each year.

Regular permits are issued on the morning of scheduled waterfowl hunts at the check station beginning 2 hours before sunrise until 30 minutes before legal shooting time. Hunting areas are selected by hunters on a first-come, first-served basis. On most days that the area is open for duck and goose hunting, vehicles will begin lining up outside the gate the evening prior to the hunt. The gate on C.R. 374 is unlocked during times of scheduled public use.

For those not familiar with Texas’s WMAs, each of these areas has their rules and regulations for hunting. Of course, hunters must possess a valid hunting license, the appropriate tags and stamps, as well as the proper public hunting permit. Hunters 16 years of age and younger are not required to have a hunting permit while at Mad Island WMA, but must have a hunting license and be supervised by a licensed, permitted adult, 18 years of age or older.

Hunters should be prepared to walk up to 1/2 mile in wetland habitat to reach their waterfowl or alligator hunting areas. Small boats, suitable for hand launch and operated by electric motors, can be used in compartments 9 and 10 during the waterfowl hunts. No trailers or outboard motors are allowed on Mad Island WMA. In addition, no permanent blinds may be constructed on the area.

No camping or open fires are allowed on the wildlife management area. The closest commercial facilities are available in Bay City. Hunting along the coast is much different than most other places in Texas. Expect mosquitos, and lots of them. This area offers great hunting, and it’s well known for it’s high hog hunting success rate. For further information on public hunting at Mad Island WMA, contact the field office at 979-244-6804 or 979-244-6805.

Mason Mountain WMA Info

The Mason Mountain Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is found in the Llano Uplift in Mason County. The Mason Mountain WMA was a high fenced, working exotic game ranch before Texas Parks and Wildlife Department acquired the tract in 1997. Today, 14 species of exotic ungulate (hooved) animals provide opportunities to study the effects of African ungulates on wildlife habitat and interactions between exotic and native wildlife such as white-tailed deer. The resources of Mason Mountain WMA are dedicated to research concerning the ecology of the Central Mineral Region and Edwards Plateau and its application to wildlife management on private lands. Because the Mason Mountain WMA is found in a transition area between two distinct ecoregions, a variety of wildlife habitats are represented. About two-thirds of the area consists of granite derived soils supporting a community of post oak and blackjack oak. The remainder of the Area is dominated by live oak and Texas oak on limestone derived soils.

Mason Mountain WMA Info

The topography of the Mason Mountain area is rough, with steep canyons, caliche hills, and granite outcrops. Again, an 8-foot fence to facilitate scientific investigations encloses the area. Numerous studies involving white-tailed deer have taken place on this WMA. In order to properly manage the habitat found on this site, deer populations are maintained at approximately one deer to 12-15 acres. Several high fenced pastures are found within the management area, allowing several research investigations to occur concurrently. Check this out for much more information about Mason Mountain WMA Hunting.

Deer Hunting in Ohio: Crossbow Hunter Drills Monster Buck!

The past deer hunting season may be over, but the stories will live on! As usual, I suspect there were many big, smart bucks that got away, many that died due to fighting, and a number of bruisers that also dropped guard during the rut. That is exactly what happened while Ohio’s Heather Hollar was deer hunting this past year. Heather had a big whitetail buck close the distance as the rut was in full swing.

“Hi, my name is Heather Hollar, 26 years old from Newark, Ohio. I live not far from a little town called Toboso. I killed this 14 point buck on Thanksgiving morning in 2009 with my Horton crossbow. I had seen your many deer hunting stories and thought maybe you would be interested in taking a look at mine. This giant Ohio buck followed a doe right in to my stand at about 22 yards.

I watched the whitetail buck follow her for about 15 minutes. I kept thinking to myself no way no way, is she really coming this way? And here come the monster buck not far behind her. The brute came in to about 22 yards and then turned broadside. I told myself, calm down, calm down. Slowly, I squeezed the trigger and took the shot. The buck took off immediately as the bolt pierced his lungs!

Deer Hunting in Ohio: Heather Hollar with her 14 point whitetail buck!

I felt really good about the shot, and then I heard him crash in some brush not too far from the stand. I remained in the deer stand for about an hour, then I got down I went to get my boyfriend to help me. We went back down into the woods and I told him about where I heard the buck crash, we locked-in on the blood trail and walked… and looked… and sure enough he says THERE HE IS!!!!!!

This buck was no joke an Absolute Giant! Did I shake the whole time in my stand, you better believe I did! I have been whitetail hunting since I have been a little girl with my father, and have never killed a whitetail buck this big. I used to go deer hunting with a gun a lot, and when I got into bow hunting, it was a whole different ball game and a lot more exciting.

What actually tops this story is this 14 point buck that I killed, a guy that we know had trail camera pictures of him from about 6 miles away 3 or 4 days before I killed him. He showed us the trail camera pictures of the buck and it was him, and we now have them in frames right beside him on the wall. One of the coolest deer hunting stories of my life!

Please let me know what you think. I wanted to give the story and submit my photo. Sincerely, Heather Hollar.”

Quail Distribution in Texas

In the past, the bobwhite quail was taken for granted in Texas, distributed far and wide and good numbers. Fast forward about a quarter century and now researchers are wondering “what went wrong?” Quail populations have shown marked declines over several decades with no real cure in sight. Many not-so-old-timers will tell you that quail were bountiful around farm fields and ranches. Will quail numbers rebound? It seems difficult to say for sure, but here is a little about what we do know about quail distribution in Texas:

Source: “Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) are found throughout the Central and eastern United States from Minnesota and Massachusetts south to Florida and the Gulf Coast; and from Wyoming and southern Ontario, Mexico, parts of Central America, and Cuba. In Texas, Bobwhites have been found in every county of the Texas Panhandle and in every month of the year, although populations and habitat quality varies throughout the High Plains and Northern Rolling Plains physiographic regions. Annual populations fluctuate considerably and follow long-term cyclic rainfall patterns. Rainfall patterns throughout the year also influence vegetative growth of perennial grasses that provide nesting cover and forbs that produce seed important to bobwhites in their diet.

Quail Distribution in Texas

Insects are also an important food item, particularly for young quail. Woody escape cover is vital for quail to escape predators and for protection from the elements. In general, Northern Bobwhite are found in riparian and riverine bottom habitats, where tree thickets grow adjacent to pasture lands and relatively dense ground-level cover exists. In the eastern Panhandle, Northern Bobwhite typically occur in scrub oak woodland, riparian woodland, and in juniper-oak woodland. Although largely overlapping in their range, the Northern Bobwhite is replaced by the Scaled Quail in more xeric uplands, tributary canyons, and mesa slopes above river bottoms in association with mesquite or juniper savanna habitats.

Various land use practices influences the ability of habitat in the Panhandle to support populations of bobwhites (i.e., livestock grazing, farming practices, herbicide use, habitat management, predators, conversion of native rangelands to improved pastures. Higher populations of quail are traditionally found in the rangelands of the Northern Rolling Plains that in more arid rangeland characteristic of the High Plains. Large ranches with extensive contiguous acreages of varied and quality habitat offer the best opportunity to manage viable populations of this species and to sustain annual huntable populations. Standardized Roadside quail survey lines are counted each year by Wildlife Biologists in District 2 to gather information on annual and long term population trends.”

Las Palomas Wildlife Management Area (WMA) Hunting

The Las Palomas Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is made up of 3,311 acres of native habitat in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Both farm land and wetlands were purchased by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) to preserve nesting habitat for white-winged doves. Many of the units also provide excellent public hunting opportunities. The Las Palomas WMA is comprised of 18 different units in Cameron County, Hidalgo County and Presido County.

The units range in size from two acres up to 604 acres. They are open to public access throughout the year, except when closed for TPWD Special Permit hunts. Hunting is generally allowed for mourning and white-winged doves, quail, rabbits and hares. Dove hunting is the main use of the WMA. Public hunts are scheduled when conditions warrant. Contact the area manager for hunting and other information.

Dove Hunting

The units of the Las Palomas WMA are located in the area where the Special Season White-Winged Dove hunts are designated. Check the Outdoor Annual for the current dates and bag limits. Three units that have offer special permit public hunting opportunities in the past are the Anacua Unit, Arroyo Colorado Unit and the Longoria Unit of Las Palomas WMA.

The Las Palomas WMA Anacua Unit is 220 acres located just south of Santa Maria south off of US Hwy 281. The unit is divided into two separate sections with the hunter check station located in the north parking lot. There are designated hunting areas for doves in both the north and south sections of the unit. More information on the Anacua Unit.

The Arroyo Colorado Unit is 761 acres of native brush. The unit is located in Cameron County. Primitive camping is allowed for permitted hunters selected for the drawn youth whitetail deer hunts. However, there are no restroom facilities or potable water available. More information on public hunting at the Arroyo Colorado Unit.

The Las Palomas WMA Longoria Unit is 373 acres of mature dove habit mixed with re-growth and food plots. The unit is located approximately 4 miles west and south from Sebastian and 4 miles north of Santa Rosa. The property has excellent dove hunting. More information on public hunting at the the Longoria Unit.

Texas Prescribed Burning Associations

For landowners interested in wildlife management, habitat management is the key to success. One of the best management practices out there is prescribed burning. There are Prescribed Burning Associations (PBA) located throughout the state of Texas, and landowners can obtain a lot of knowledge by joining and helping. PBAs are non-profit organizations that are owned and operated by landowners to expand the use of prescribed burning across the landscape.

Prescribed Burning Associations share resources, knowledge and expertise to increase the application of planned prescribed fires to enhance agricultural production and wildlife habitat. Burning is one of the most powerful practices for managing wildlife habitats on a property. It may seem simple to light a match and watch a place burn, but specific habitat management goals with this powerful tool takes considerable study and knowledge.

Texas Prescribed Burning Associations - Burning for Wildlife Habitat Management

The first thing to know about prescribed burning is that safety and fire control are absolutely essential. Learning fire behavior takes time, though it may never be fully understood. Education should be the first step in using prescribed fire. A landowner considering prescribed burning for wildlife and habitat should learn about fire behavior, fire and smoke management, burning laws, plant responses, animal needs, and animal responses.

Landowners who use fire as a management tool should continually strive to increase their knowledge about fire and habitat management. There is much to learn, but it’s a hot topic. No person should ever attempt to conduct a prescribed burn until he or she has intensively studied burning and gained burning experience by assisting educated and experienced burn managers. There are several classes and workshops provided annually by a number of organizations. Additionally, a prescribed burning association can educate you while acquiring skills and receiving on-the-ground experience.