The forecast for quail and pheasant hunting looks good for 2017 and it's just in the nick of time. After several down years, hunters are overdue for some good news. Until last year, drought wreaked havoc with western bird populations and CRP had been in a downward spiral since 2007. The CRP program dropped from 40-million to just 24-million acres nationwide.
But those losses have now stabilized, and some states are adapting to the new normal by creating their own programs to improve habitat on private lands. And, thanks be to God, the drought has ended throughout the West. Only some areas of the Southeast now are suffering drought as this goes to press.
Additionally, birds throughout the country enjoyed their second mild winter in a row. As a result, with few exceptions, quail and pheasant populations are up across most of their range. This should be a pretty good year for hunting.
Of course, this forecast is being written just as the birds begin their spring nesting. Check each state's website in early fall for up-to-date reports on nesting success, but here's a state-by-state breakdown of what you can expect across key bird hunting states.
QUAIL SEASON: Tentatively November 4 — February 28; 8 daily limit
OUTLOOK: Bobwhite quail management in Alabama has been mostly handed over to the private sector. When you click on "quail" at the Alabama Department of Conservation & Natural Resources website, about all you get is a pamphlet on how to improve quail habitat on your property. That is a telling indicator of the status of the bobwhite quail in Alabama. If you're looking for quail in Alabama, look for lands — either private or public — where longleaf pine restoration is occurring, through the use of controlled burns and other management techniques.
QUAIL SEASON: October 6 — February 11, except Mearns quail season begins on December 8. Daily limit is 15 quail, of which no more than 8 may be Mearns quail.
OUTLOOK: Quail hunting has been slowly but steadily improving in Arizona for the past couple of years, thanks to better monsoonal moisture patterns. However, the weather patterns have been spotty, so, pockets of good hunting may be surrounded by areas that are still struggling.
Some of the best outlooks are in southern Arizona (south of Tucson), where scaled and Mearns quail have benefited the most from improved conditions.
For the most up-to-date information, see the state's season forecast at this link: https://www.azgfd.com/hunting/species/smallgame/forecast/
QUAIL SEASON: Not set at press time. Likely November 1 — February 5; 6 daily limit
OUTLOOK: Quail have become a relatively low priority on Arkansas' conservation agenda. For remnant bobwhite hunting opportunities in Arkansas, look to the Oachita National Forest where quail habitat restoration has been underway for several years on certain units.
QUAIL SEASON: Not yet posted at press time, and generally vary widely by zone. Daily limit is generally 10 quail. See website in late summer for the most current regulations.
PHEASANT SEASON: Season usually runs from mid-November until Christmas.
OUTLOOK: Pheasants have all but disappeared from California, but remnant populations exist in the Klamath Basin of northern California, as well as the Central Valley. For the best chances, look to the Klamath. Thanks to some drought relief, quail populations in California have rebounded slightly over the past two years. Best hunting in 2017 will be found along stream and river corridors in the central and northern parts of the state.
QUAIL SEASON: Vary by region, and set in mid-July. Generally second Saturday in November through early January in some units, and extending through January 31 in others. Limits also vary by species and unit.
PHEASANT SEASON: Vary by region, and set in mid-July. Generally second Saturday in November through early January west of I-25, and extending through January 31 east of I-25.
OUTLOOK: Thanks to good weather, quail in Colorado rebounded significantly in 2016 and hunters enjoyed good action wherever habitat was suitable. For best public land opportunities in 2017, look to the Comanche National Grassland. Pheasants have also been on the upswing in Colorado. Best prospects this year, as in past years, will be found in Sedgwick, Phillips, Yuma, Kit Carson and Logan Counties.
QUAIL SEASON: November 11 — March 4; 12 daily limit
OUTLOOK: Florida has some of the better wild bobwhite hunting in the southeastern United States. Best public land opportunities are found on the Blackwater River State Forest, Apalachicola National Forest, and the Twin Rivers State Forest. But quail may be found anywhere in northern Florida where good habitat exists.
Check out some of the limited quota hunts listed on the website, as they provide a high quality experience with reduced hunting pressure. North Florida is awfully dry as this goes to press, but it is too early to tell if that will adversely affect the fall hunting outlook.
QUAIL SEASON: Not set at press time, but usually mid-November through the end of February with a 12-bird daily limit
OUTLOOK: Few states have a longer and richer quail hunting history than Georgia. Today, bobwhites are just hanging on in the Peach State. Best quail populations are in east-central, central and southwestern Georgia, with The Di-Lane WMA offering the best public hunting in the state, but you'll compete for a limited-quota opportunity there.
The Chattahoochee Fall Line WMA in Marion and Talbot Counties is another up-and-comer, and should continue to show improvement as recent habitat work matures.
As this goes to press, southern Georgia is dealing with extreme drought conditions, but it was too early to tell how severely this will affect fall quail prospects.
QUAIL SEASON: September 16 — January 31; 10 daily limit. Quail hunting is allowed only in upland game management Area 1, which is essentially the western half of the state. See web site for unit boundaries. Valley quail and bobwhites are hunted in Idaho, with valley quail by far the more numerous.
PHEASANT SEASON: Area 1 (Panhandle), October 14 — December 31; Area 2 (Southeastern Idaho), October 21 — November 30; Area 3 (Southwestern Idaho), October 21 — December 31; 3 cock daily limit statewide.
See website for precise Area boundaries.
OUTLOOK: Idaho hunters enjoy an enviable slate of opportunities. Quail hunting along the Snake River and tributaries west of Twin Falls should be excellent again this year. Pheasant numbers have also improved recently in Idaho, with the best hunting occurring between Moscow and Lewiston. In addition to abundant public land throughout the state, Idaho now has over 300,000 acres of private lands enrolled in the Access Yes! Program. For more information on that program, see the Idaho Fish and Game website.
QUAIL SEASON: Not set at press time. Usually first Saturday in November thru early January in northern Illinois, and extending through mid-January in southern Illinois.
PHEASANT SEASON: Same dates as quail season; 2 cock daily limit
OUTLOOK: A string of wet years has driven Illinois' already-low quail and pheasant populations even lower. For pheasants, look to the state's lottery system for hunts on Controlled Pheasant Hunting Areas. Good bets include the Eldon Hazlet State Recreation Area (Clinton County), Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish & Wildlife Area (Cass County), and the Wayne Fitzgerrell State Recreation Area (Franklin & Jefferson Counties). Only scattered remnants of wild quail remain in Illinois, primarily on private lands in the southern counties.
QUAIL SEASON: North of I-74, November 1 — December 15 with 4 daily limit; South of I-74, November 1 — January 10 with 8 daily limit.
PHEASANT SEASON: November 1 — December 15; 2 cock limit
OUTLOOK: Wild pheasants and quail are now all but extirpated from Indiana, due to long-term weather patterns and habitat loss. For pheasants, look for some fun put-and-take hunting on state fish and wildlife areas like Atterbury, Glendale, J. E. Roush Lake, Pigeon River and Winamac. Reservations must be submitted online starting September 1.
QUAIL SEASON: October 28 — January 31; 8 daily limit
PHEASANT SEASON: October 28 — January 10; 3 cock daily limit
OUTLOOK: Quail numbers have increased dramatically for the last few seasons in Iowa's southern two tiers of counties. Quail entered last season in great shape, and the recent winter was very mild. Pheasants have also responded well to good conditions. Iowa is my home state, and I enjoyed some excellent hunting in northcentral Iowa last fall on public lands. April 2017 was quite cold and wet, but it is still too early to tell if this hurt nesting success.
The growing Iowa Habitat & Access Program (IHAP) now has more than 20,000 acres of private lands enrolled in 51 of the state's 99 counties. More info on the program is available on the website.
QUAIL SEASON: Not set at press time, but usually mid-November — January 31; 8 daily limit
PHEASANT SEASON: Same dates as quail; 4 cock limit
OUTLOOK: Quail numbers have been on the increase in Kansas for three consecutive years. Coming out of a mild winter, hunting should be good again in 2017. Pheasants have also been holding steady to slightly increasing. For good pheasant action, check out public areas in Mitchell, Norton and Osborne Counties. Quail hunting should be good statewide, but south-central Kansas is the best of the best.
QUAIL SEASON: November 1 — January 31 in the eastern zone, except for the first two days of gun deer season. In the western zone, season runs from the third day of gun deer season (mid-November) through February 10. Daily limit is 8 quail statewide.
OUTLOOK: You have to admire Kentucky's ongoing attempts to restore quail. Bobwhites have appreciated the gesture, and have generally held steady or slightly increased despite terrible weather conditions. Look for decent but not spectacular hunting again this season. Kentucky's best quail hunting continues to be found on reclaimed mining lands and properties enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) in the south-central and western parts of the state. One example is the massive Peabody WMA, where quail habitat has been actively managed for a long time.
QUAIL SEASON: Not set at press time, but last year was October 20 — November 14; 5 daily limit. Quail hunting allowed only in 27 counties in southern Michigan.
PHEASANT SEASON: Three zones with widely varying seasons. All have 2 cock daily limit.
OUTLOOK: Thanks to a couple of years of favorable nesting conditions, pheasants have been on the upswing in Michigan. And thanks to a mild winter, 2017 should continue this pattern. Still, hunters generally average only one rooster pheasant flushed for every couple of hours of hunting.
Look for the best pheasant hunting wherever CRP or CREP program acres exist in the southern Lower Peninsula. Quail hunting in Michigan hardly warrants mentioning, and the state has not posted a status report on the species since 2013.
PHEASANT SEASON: October 145 — January 1; 2 cock daily limit.
MOST PROMISING: Last year, Minnesota was one of the rare exceptions to the decline of CRP acres in the United States. After several consecutive years of losses, Minnesota saw a net increase of more than 35,000 acres of grassland habitat in 2016. Weather has also been favorable, so pheasant populations have seen a modest boost in Minnesota. Biggest gains have occurred in the central and south-central regions, yet southwestern Minnesota is still tops for total population density.
Look for 2017 to be at least as good as 2016, but keep things in perspective. Minnesota's pheasant population is still almost 50 percent below its long-term average.
QUAIL SEASON: Not set at press time, but usually late November through early March; 8 daily limit.
OUTLOOK: How bad is the quail hunting in Mississippi? Well, Illinois hunters harvest more quail than Mississippi hunters do. The Delta region will have the "best" populations of birds this year, but even there a hard day of hunting may turn up only a covey or two. Look for areas where young hardwood habitat is actively maintained by prescribed burning.
PHEASANT SEASON: October 7 — January 1; 3 daily limit.
OUTLOOK: Although CRP loss has hurt Montana pheasants, the weather has been almost ideal for winter survival and nesting success in recent years. Consequently, 2017 should be a pretty good year. Pheasants are found throughout Montana wherever agricultural lands exist, and all areas of the state reported increased bird populations in 2016.
To stem the tide of CRP loss, the state enrolls CRP lands in the Open Fields for Game Bird Hunters program. Program lands are open to hunting. The program prioritizes the prime pheasant range of northcentral and northeastern Montana. For maps and info, see the following link: http://fwp.mt.gov/hunting/hunterAccess/openFields.
QUAIL SEASON: November 1 — January 15; 8 daily limit.
PHEASANT SEASON: Same as quail season; 2 cock daily limit.
OUTLOOK: There may be a few wild pheasants remaining in the "boot heel" region of far southeastern Missouri, but the state's pheasant range is generally restricted to the northern three tiers of counties. Within that area, the northwestern corner of the state will be tops for pheasants in 2017. But don't expect to see abundant pheasants anywhere in Missouri; ringnecks have fallen on hard times here.
Quail populations have been rebounding for the past few years in Missouri. Good hunting will be enjoyed in localized areas wherever prime habitat exists, especially in northwestern Missouri. For public land quail action, go to the MDC quail page and click "Where to Hunt." There you'll find info on 21 Quail Emphasis Areas around the state.
QUAIL & PHEASANT SEASON: Not set at press time, but likely October 28 — January 31; 3 daily limit on pheasants, 6 daily limit on quail.
OUTLOOK: Kansas and South Dakota get more press, but Nebraska offers good hunting for pheasants and quail. Best pheasant hunting in 2017 will likely be in the Panhandle and Southwest regions.
Pockets of pheasants can be found virtually statewide wherever good habitat exists, but the population thins out steadily as you go southeast.
Best quail populations right now are in the Republican, Southeast and East Central regions. Nebraska now has some of the best and most user-friendly "Where to Hunt" online mapping in the nation.
For a comprehensive guide to public lands in all regions, including interactive maps, go to http://outdoornebraska.gov/wheretohunt/.
QUAIL SEASON: Not set at press time, but typically November 15 — February 15 with a 15 bird daily limit (only 5 may be Mearns' quail)
OUTLOOK: Moderate drought still persists in southwestern New Mexico as this goes to press. However, quail are in good shape in the prime southeastern portion of the state. New Mexico hunters can choose from scaled, Gambel's and Mearns' quail. Gambel's and scaled quail can be found in greatest abundance on BLM lands south of Deming. For Mearns' quail, look to the Sacramento and Capitan mountains or the Gila National Forest.
QUAIL SEASON: November 18 — February 28; 6 daily limit.
OUTLOOK: Recent years have not exactly been the glory days of North Carolina quail hunting, and 2017 will not reverse that trend. However, a glimmer of hope can be glimpsed in the state's Cooperative Upland Habitat Restoration and Enhancement program (CURE).
CURE has boosted bobwhites most notably in Bladen, Cumberland, Duplin and Sampson counties. For public land in the program, check out the Suggs Mill Pond Game Lands.
Maps to all public hunting lands in North Carolina can be found at the following link: http://www.ncwildlife.org/Hunting/WheretoHunt/PublicPlaces.aspx.
PHEASANT SEASON: October 7 — January 1; 3 cock daily limit. However, be aware that recent legislation prohibits nonresidents from hunting for the first seven days of the season on any public lands or private lands enrolled in public access programs.
OUTLOOK: North Dakota pheasant hunters historically enjoy one of the highest harvest rates per hunter in the nation. Pheasant populations dipped in 2016 due to wacky weather, with one exception. The northwest corner of the state saw dramatic increases in brood counts. With that momentum carried into this year, McLean and Sheridan counties are worth a look in 2017. For access, check out the Private Land Open to Sportsmen (PLOTS) program. http://gf.nd.gov/hunting/private-land-open-sportsmen
QUAIL SEASON: Not finalized at press time, but last year was October 8 — February 5, with daily limit of 10 quail. See website for special harvest regulations on mountain quail.
OUTLOOK: Drought relief had already commenced when we wrote last year's forecast, and good moisture continued over the ensuing months. Today, the drought has ended throughout most of Nevada. Gambel's quail remain at low levels, due to many years of drought conditions.
Better hunting should be available in 2017 for California (valley) quail. The Northern Great Basin encompasses much of the bird's range.
The Nevada Division of Wildlife publishes a thorough annual report on the status of upland bird populations. Look for the "Small Game Status Book" link on the Upland Game section of the website.
PHEASANT SEASON: December 1 — January 31; 3-cock daily limit (Open only in designated areas. See regulation guide for more information.)
QUAIL SEASON: November 11 — February 15; 10 daily limit
OUTLOOK: Oklahoma is one of the nation's top wild quail states, with an annual harvest consistently in excess of a million birds. Additionally, the Sooner State is one of the few places in the nation where quail populations are at their highest levels in almost three decades. Western Oklahoma will have the best quail action in 2017, and the Sandy Sanders WMA is a good place to start. Pheasants also surged in 2016, so this year's nesting season got off to a good start. Beaver, Grant and Noble counties are tops for pheasants in Oklahoma, but consider pheasants a nice and unexpected bonus to quail hunting.
PHEASANT SEASON: Not set at press time, but usually early October through December 31 with 2-cock daily limit.
QUAIL SEASON: Season dates and limits vary dramatically by zone. Check website in late summer for details.
OUTLOOK: The drought is over in Oregon, but quail and pheasants are still in recovery mode. Thus far, quail seem to be doing a bit better than pheasants. Good valley quail hunting can be had throughout the western two thirds of the state along brushy stream courses.
Top pheasant prospects in 2017 will be found in the eastern part of the Columbia River basin, unless nesting birds in Malheur County bounce back from the low numbers of 2016. Be sure to check out the "Columbia Basin Bird Hunting Guide" on the above website.
PHEASANT SEASON: Split season with dates varying widely among several units; 2 daily limit. See website for season dates in each unit.
OUTLOOK: Pennsylvania continues its uphill battle to revive wild pheasants with the Wild Pheasant Recovery Area (WPRA) program, begun in 2007. Hunting is still not allowed on program areas, so pheasant hunting in Pennsylvania remains a put-and-take proposition for pen-raised birds. The Pennsylvania Game Commission stocks huge numbers of pheasants every year on State Game Lands.
For regional stocking information and maps of the Game Lands, see the PGC website. Pennsylvania does have a management plan to revive bobwhite quail. However, quail are so rare in Pennsylvania now, we probably should leave them alone and hope for the future.
QUAIL SEASON: Seasons and regulations vary by game management zone. Additionally, season dates for private and public lands are not the same in many cases. Consult the online regulation booklet when published late summer.
OUTLOOK: In 2016, quail whistle counts increased in South Carolina for the first time in a long time. The Piedmont and the upper coastal plain should be tops for quail in the Palmetto state this year. Be advised, however, that South Carolina's best wild quail hunting occurs on private plantations.
In coming years, stay tuned to South Carolina's "Quail Focal Areas," a new initiative to increase quail populations in targeted areas. Until then, you may stand a chance for a covey flush on the Francis Marion National Forest in Berkeley and Charleston counties, or the Sumter National
Forest in Newberry and Union counties. See http://www.fs.usda.gov/scnfs/ for more info.
QUAIL SEASON: Not set at press time, but likely November 4 — February 28 with a daily limit of 6 quail.
OUTLOOK: Tennessee has gotten a later start at quail habitat restoration than some other states. Last year we reported on Tennessee's launch of a quail restoration plan on four "anchor" WMAs. These are the Wolf River WMA (Fayette County), Bark Camp Barrens WMA (Coffee County), Bridgestone/Firestone Centennial Wilderness WMA (White County), and Lick Creek Bottoms (Greene County).
The University of Tennessee will conduct its first monitoring of those areas this year. Meanwhile, expect quail prospects ranging from poor to fair in Tennessee until the program reaches maturity.
PHEASANT SEASON: October 21 — January 7; 3 daily limit.
OUTLOOK: South Dakota boasts that its pheasant harvest has exceeded a million birds for 17 of the past 20 seasons. Even in the down years, the harvest has topped 900,000 roosters. Pheasant numbers last year were less than half the amazing peak year of 2008, but still good compared to most states in the country.
We reported last year that South Dakota has lost two million acres of CRP lands over the past 10 years. Now the state has launched an aggressive five-year pheasant management plan. Its goal is "to maintain abundant populations of pheasants€¦by fostering a partnership-driven approach for habitat development." I foresee a bright future for pheasants in South Dakota.
QUAIL SEASON: Not set at press time but likely October 28 — February 25 with a 15 daily limit.
OUTLOOK: Despite summer flooding last year, 2016 turned into a fabulous quail hunting year in Texas. Bird populations were strong statewide, and that bodes well for this year also. Public land is scarce in Texas, but the Chaparral and Daughtrey WMAs in South Texas are good for bobwhites.
Texas also holds a December pheasant season in the 37-county panhandle region, but populations are still rebounding from the drought recently ended. Best bets for ringnecks in 2017 will be Dallam, Hartley, Hansford, Sherman, Ochiltree, Moore, Carson, and Roberts counties.
QUAIL SEASON: Not set at press time. See website in late summer.
PHEASANT SEASON: Not set a press time. See website in late summer.
OUTLOOK: Utah has Gambel's and valley quail, and both continue to rebound from the drought of the past several years. Look to the areas that carried strong populations through the 2016 season. Those include Washington County for Gambel's quail, and Uintah, Utah, Weber, Duchesne and Emery counties for valley quail.
Wild pheasant populations in Utah are best in Box Elder, Cache, and Utah Counties. Additionally, the state releases thousands of pen-raised pheasants on dozens of public hunting areas throughout the state. For a map of those areas, see the upland game website above.
WEBSITE: www.dgif.virginia.gov/ hunting
QUAIL SEASON: Not set at press time, but typically mid-November — January 31; 6 daily limit.
OUTLOOK: Quail reports in Virginia these days are a mixed bag of hope and disappointment. Birds are popping up in areas where they haven't been seen for years, but the statewide trend is still a decline. Most of the state's WMAs east of the Blue Ridge mountains have some quail, which make an occasional bonus for woodcock hunters. Still, private lands — which are managed for quail — in the southeast tidewater region remain the last real stronghold for bobwhites in Virginia.
QUAIL SEASON: Dates and limits vary widely by zone. See website for details.
PHEASANT SEASON: Dates and limits vary widely by zone. See website for details.
OUTLOOK: Pheasant habitat work has been underway in Washington, and it started paying off in 2016. Nice bumps in wild pheasant populations were seen in Grant, Whitman, Garfield, Columbia, and Walla Walla counties. The state has a new cooperative program with more than 600 landowners, which improves habitat and creates access for hunters.
You can download a comprehensive booklet on hunting access at the website. Valley quail hunting was also good in 2016, and is shaping up well for this year. Top counties for quail in Washington are Grant, Douglas and Kittitas.
PHEASANT SEASON: October 14 — December 31; usually 1 daily limit on opening weekend, 2 thereafter.
OUTLOOK: Torrential rains in 2016 were disastrous for Wisconsin pheasants. Additionally, the state has lost almost 70% of its former CRP acreage. In most years, Fond du Lac, Waukesha, and Jefferson counties are tops for wild pheasants in Wisconsin, but don't expect great hunting there in 2017 unless the spring and summer weather turn out ideal.
To console today's pheasant hunters, the Wisconsin DNR stocks about 75,000 pheasants for put-and-take hunting on 90 public hunting lands throughout western and southeastern Wisconsin. See the website for a map of stocked parcels.