With quail season here at long last, it’s time to get busy scouting areas you may have hunted before as well as other areas that fit the bill. In the Yuma area, Gambel’s quail is by far the best known. Found throughout the state, this bird is often hunted in open desert country where they are more apt to run or flush than hold for a dog. The Gambel’s jaunty, plumed topknot, carried by both sexes, makes for ready identification, along with the male’s bright russet cap, black face and bib, and cream-colored belly marked with a black horseshoe. As with all species of quail, the young of the year can be distinguished through their first winter by their spotted secondary wing coverts. Adult males average only about 6 ounces; the slightly smaller females between 5.7 and 5.9 ounces.
Each species has its own habitat preferences. The Gambel’s quail is found throughout the Sonoran and Mojave deserts upward in elevation through semi-desert grassland and chaparral to the edges of pinyon-juniper woodland and pine forest.
Although all three major species of Arizona quail have formed pair bonds by March, they each have different breeding seasons. Gambel’s quail breed in spring and early summer, and breeding intensity and success are directly related to the amount of rainfall received during the previous October through March.
Good doses of timely precipitation during cooler months are what give the state’s Gambel’s quail populations a much-needed boost which usually points to better hunting in the fall. Johnathan O’Dell, small game biologist for the Arizona Game and Fish Department has said, “Strong winter precipitation patterns should have concentrated hatch dates for quail clutches. More quail chicks on the ground at the same time usually correlates to better overall brood survival and more birds in coveys in the fall.”
While scouting for quail or on your actual hunt for any wild animal or bird, always take special care to be aware of your surroundings. Remember, our desert is snake country – so beware. While locating downed birds, never reach into any crevice or growth by hand without checking it out thoroughly first so you’re not confronted with a disagreeable surprise.
Desert area quail can be found in many grassland habitats where land is flat to gently rolling. Drive along drainage ditches, low areas and other potential quail habitats in the early morning, stopping every quarter of a mile to use a quail call or begin listening for quail at daybreak at dusty arroyos and dried out washes. During the heat of the day, quail will seek shade in the thickets and dense vegetation such as creosote bush, mesquite, cholla cactus and prickly pear. When you locate a covey, try working in pairs – while one person is shooting, the other should be watching the quail, marking where they land. Also, a very good idea to check with Game and Fish personnel at our Region IV office, who are constantly scouring our desert areas for one reason or another, for an update on where to find this tasty bird prior to heading out for your hunt. If your hunt should take you from Yuma, be sure to check areas north of Oracle up to Florence.
Note that sexes of all Arizona quails show some differences in plumage, and all of the species form seasonal pair bonds that last through incubation and brood-raising. Clutch and brood sizes are often large, ranging up to a dozen or more chicks, and both the cock and the hen care for the young. As noted above, quail populations are dependent on seasonal rainfall and may fluctuate greatly from year to year. Gambel’s and scaled quail from fall and winter coveys that are likely to remain in the same general area where they were raised.
The best method for cooking quail is to skin the bird and remove legs (but leave legs attached to each other). Remove back of bird with game shears, break wishbone and flatten into butterfly shape. Clean thoroughly and pat dry. Melt a stick of butter and add juice of 1 lemon to baste each 8 birds.
Place breasts backside down on grill and baste well with lemon butter. Cook on medium heat for 3 minutes or so, then place legs on grill and baste. When breasts begin to turn brown, baste with lemon butter and turn on grill. Turn legs as needed. Take breasts off as soon as they start to brown and baste heavily. Quail, because of their size, are best eaten with hands rather than knife and fork. Having wet paper towels close by comes in handy for hand cleaning once done.
There is also an archery-only season for pheasant beginning for our Yuma area. Game and Fish reports they are now considered in the small game species. Several attempts have been made to establish these natives of Asia as resident game birds in Arizona, the most recent being in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the small white-winged race of the ring-necked pheasant found in Afghanistan was released in farmlands along the Gila, San Pedro, and other river valleys. A handsome, unmistakable bird, both sexes of this pheasant have long pointed tails, but it is the cocks or roosters that are unrivaled in their plumage. Possessing iridescent green heads offset by ear-tufts and a crimson-wattled cheek patch, the rooster also has a purplish chest, a soot-colored belly, distinctively dotted golden flanks, white wing epaulets, and a handsomely barred tail. Cocks usually weigh more than 2.5 pounds, while the beige- and sand-colored hens average between 1.5 and 2 pounds. Both sexes, but especially the males, typically give a cackle on being flushed that once heard is always remembered.
Pheasant populations persisting in Arizona are largely confined to agricultural areas having a relatively high humidity (e.g., citrus orchards in the Yuma and Mesa areas) or high enough in elevation to escape the desiccating heat of Sonoran Desert summers (e.g., the Virgin River and Verde River valleys). In such locations, a rooster will acquire a harem of from one to three hens, with mating commencing in early April. By mid-May, most of the hens are nesting and of no further interest to him, and he will abandon his territorial patrols by the end of the month. The peak of hatching is during the last week of May, the most arid time in Arizona, which is one of the reasons why pheasants have not become established here. The youngsters are covered with yellow and brown down, striped in brown and black, and are remarkably self-sufficient. After only about two weeks, they are capable of flight and remain with the hen for only another two months or so before making their own way in the world. Pheasants roost on the ground or the low branches of trees, and the typical hiding cover is a patch of rank weeds, a stand of cattails, or a dense jungle of salt-cedars. Primary foods are cultivated greens and grains-alfalfa, barley sprouts, and kernels of maize, barley, and corn.
If you want to hunt pheasants a bit earlier in Arizona with a shotgun, you may only hunt in game management unit 40B near Yuma. This hunt is already done for this year so note for next year 2021: A limited number of permits are available and are issued through the draw. Consult the current 2020-21 Arizona hunting regulations for details. The archery or falconry pheasant season typically runs concurrent with the Gambel’s quail season and is open statewide. Once again, consult the annual hunt regulations for specifics.
Check here next week for some tricks of the trade for winter archery deer hunts. I found a great story with a lot of good stuff you’ll enjoy.
• Yuma Valley Rod and Gun Club: I checked with David Parrish who let me know, “Yes, there will be a small game camp this year.” I’ll get all the information from him and report details within the next two weeks, promise!
• AZGFD sponsors grant funding to improve public boating facilities, final reminder: The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) anticipates offering $200,000 in federal grant money to enhance and improve public boating facilities at Arizona lakes and waterways over the next two years. The funds are anticipated to be available during the next two state fiscal years through the federal Clean Vessel Act grant.
This federal program has a focus on public boating facilities specifically intended to accommodate sewage associated with boating activities. Funding for the grant is provided by federal taxes on the sale of equipment related to fishing and boating, and on motorboat fuel. Under this program, anglers and boaters who pay these fees and taxes directly benefit from the grant funding. These funds are allocated annually back to each state to support and develop facilities used by these same anglers and boaters. Agencies, marinas and individuals eligible for the grant funds are those with legal ownership or control of public boating facilities on any Arizona public waterway where pumpouts, pumpout boats, dump stations or floating restrooms are common or needed.
Grant funds are awarded through a competitive application process, and applications are reviewed and rated on the basis of department priorities, project feasibility, and overall merit as they relate to the current needs of the boating public. Actual federal funds available will vary depending on the number of applications received. Multiple grant awards are anticipated. No state funding is currently available through these programs. Grant applications must be received at AZGFD’s Phoenix headquarters no later than 5 p.m. Nov. 4, 2020. For more information on eligibility, scoring criteria and how to apply for the grants, visit the department’s boating facilities webpage at azgfd.gov/boatingfacilities.
• Yuma Valley Rod and Gun Club: The club held their first open meeting last week with a limited membership present for the first time since the virus problems came about. Hopefully, this can continue in a controlled presence but needs to be undertaken as meeting dates (1st Wednesday of each month) come up. It’s hoped to make a virtual arrangement as well so the entire membership along with other outdoors men and women/families can attend to know what’s going on along with what work is needing to be done. Check with membership chair, Becky May-Pope at 803-463-3655, email email@example.com or contact president Pat Headington at 928-257-8143 or visit firstname.lastname@example.org. Let me add that the Youth Fishing Clinic previously planned for last March at Mittry Lake (the pandemic stopped that) is being re-planned for December this year – I’ll report more on that very soon with more details.
• American Bass-Yuma division: Check this column next Sunday for the latest bass dual tournaments results and final event for 2020 plus the kick-off tournament for the 2021 season. The next tournament will be launching out of Fisher’s Landing on Nov. 21. Visit American Bass and click on Yuma Regional Page to go directly to information and entry form to place your entry to fish. Call Billy Clothier at 928-919-0304 for details. To limit interactions and make the registration go even smoother, have your entry-fee payment in an envelope with the name of your team and enclose your check or exact cash. Our “safer” procedures will be in effect. Face coverings will be required at registration and weigh-in.
• Yuma Fishing Clubs: To learn about fishing tournaments that may be coming up, here are the contacts needed: Yuma Valley Rod and Gun Club, Travis Hurley, 803-163-3655; Desert Anglers, Michael Obney, 928-750-7081. There still might be anglers interested in someone handling a Pro/Am tournament series. If you are interested, give Obney a call for information. Don’t forget to check with The Hideaway Bait & Tackle Shop, on east 16th Street heading out of Yuma – they keep tournaments happening most every month. Give them a call at 928-783-0010, visit them online or at the store to see what’s going on this month. The same for the High School Bass Fishing Club, Terry Hurt, school sponsor, 928-580-6567 or David Parrish 928-941-6188. Keep fishing by yourself (when necessary), keep the designated distance from other anglers, wear your mask and enjoy!
Conducting shooting matches may be in the same boat as fishing tournaments because of the pandemic that is affecting all of us. I’ll continue to include information on each shooting club for your information until I learn otherwise.
• Yuma 4-H Shooting Sports: Update as of this week for shooting sports: There will not be an end of the year activities now. The UofA and our county extension office still have the final say-so, so if you have questions, contact Stanley Gourley at 928-388-8995. In the meantime, if you’re interested in shooting sports with 4-H, contact the Yuma 4-H office to learn about a club you might join to get in on the season coming up.
• Yuma Trap and Skeet Club: Shooting matches have resumed with new hours from 7 to 11 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays, with the following conditions until such time as it becomes necessary to close again due to virus concerns. Members use the range at their own risk. If you are sick or don’t feel well, stay home. Protect yourself and others. It’s recommended members have their own supply of hand sanitizing wipes/spray or lotion. Wearing of face masks is encouraged but not required. Maintain a minimum of 6 feet from others. Disinfect voice release equipment after each use. Limit five persons per range. Clubhouse and classroom are closed; bathrooms are open during club hours. When paying, use small bills or checks. Soda, Gatorade and water are available. Check this column for necessary changes or call Bob Avila at 928-919-0304.
• The Yuma Young Guns Shooting Program: If you are age 9-25 and enrolled in elementary, middle, junior, high school or college and interested in becoming a team member, call head coach H. McNutt at 928-580-0918 for complete information.
• Yuma Territorial Longrifles Club: Call Roger Bickel at 928-726-7453 with questions about shooting at the black powder range at Adair Park.
• Cholla Gun Club: Scheduled matches are over until fall, but the range is open daylight to dusk for shooting practice. Call president Rick Kelley at 928-502-0736 or visit email@example.com with questions.
• High Power Rifle and Pistol Club of Yuma: Call Joseph Murek at 928-627-4556 with questions or check club information on the club website at hprifleyuma.com.
• Yuma Matchmasters: Call Irene Snyder at 920-613-4598 to learn what their shooting plans are.
• Southwest Bowhunters Archery Club: Get in on archery shoots from 7 to 10 a.m. each Sunday with monthly meetings at 9 a.m. the first Sunday of each month at Adair Park archery range. Archers are welcome to attend to learn what shooting will be done during the month. If you haven’t done so already, here’s a reminder to renew your 2020 membership dues and bring a friend or young one. Call president Rick Bielke at 928-750-6279 to learn about possible changes to current shooting plans, or email the club for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org; also visit southwestbowhunters.net.
If you cannot reach any of the Adair Park maintaining clubs but want to learn about shooting events being planned, call Ron Gissendaner at 726-0022.
Contact Jean Wilson at email@example.com or call 928-247-4450.