There hasn't been much to look forward to on the second Saturday in November for quail hunters in recent years.
With the quail population at an all-time low in the state, there has been little incentive to release the bird dogs from their pens.
But there is some good news and bad news about this year's quail season, which opens statewide on Saturday.
The good news? The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's roadside quail surveys show a 31 percent increase from last year.
The bad news? A 31 percent increase from nothing still isn't much, but at least the arrow is pointing upward this year, which is encouraging for quail hunters.
“This was the best summer we've had in seven years in terms of favorable quail conditions,” said Alan Peoples, chief of the wildlife division for ODWC.
“While our birds have been hit hard in recent years with record heat and drought, we got a break this year that brought us greener habitat and mild temperatures.”
Western Oklahoma finally received some rain, and timely rain for quail, but the brood stock was low. It will take two or three years of favorable weather for the population to bounce back.
While quail numbers are up over last year, they are still 78 percent below the 23-year average of roadside surveys.
Still, this quail season looks to be more promising than the last two. The roadside surveys show an 8 percent increase over two years ago.
Also, birds were still nesting as of last week, Peoples said.
“That's encouraging,” said Peoples, who also is an avid quail hunter.
ODWC is spending millions of dollars to try to learn why bobwhite quail have been disappearing from the state.
Two buildings nearing completion on the Packsaddle and Beaver River Wildlife Management Areas will be primarily used for quail research.
The buildings will be manned mostly by Oklahoma State University researchers under contract with ODWC.
ODWC has tagged quail on those public hunting areas with radio transmitters and leg bands to learn more about their mortality.
Quail hunters on those wildlife management areas are being asked to assist in the research by leaving the wings and heads of the birds in donor barrels.
Current research in Texas shows that parasitic worms have been found at record high levels in the eyes and intestines of quail. The parasites are suspected of being at least partly to blame for the birds' demise.
The worms also have been discovered in Oklahoma bobwhites, Peoples said.
“We do think parasites have been magnified because of the drought situation,” Peoples said. “We think it is just one contributing factor to the decline, but it could be significant in certain situations.”
No conclusions have been reached so far about why quail are disappearing from the prairie. The most common theory is because the prairies are disappearing as well.
ODWC is just two years into what will be a long-term study of the issues.
“We are in it for the long haul,” he said of the quail research. “Quail are near and dear to the hearts of many Oklahomans.
“Our mission is to regain some of that nostalgic value. Everybody grew up quail hunting in Oklahoma. Now, there are very few of us left.
“I am still feeding bird dogs. They don't care if there is very little quail out there. They want to go (quail hunting), and I want to go, too.”
If you're going
What: Quail Season
When: Nov. 9 through Feb. 15, statewide