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Late rains good for birds, rabbits, but probably won’t mean a better hunt

Recent rainstorms have greenery popping up across much of Southern Nevada, and that should provide a nourishing boost to the area’s quail, chukar and rabbit populations. The rains probably came a little late for hunters hoping to put a few of those critters on the dinner table this hunting season.

Ongoing drought conditions have made it tough for hunters to find birds and rabbits for several years. The key to good bird years is rainfall from November through February. Wet winters provide habitat that recruits young birds in the spring. When we have dry winters, the opposite is true.

The last really good hunting season was in 2006. Birds were plentiful and could be found in large coveys throughout many areas of Clark County. Since then, consecutive dry winters have reduced bird populations in many areas. While hunting remains excellent, finding game presents a challenge.

Begin your search in places where you have found birds or rabbits in the past. They were there for a reason and most likely will be again, unless there has been a significant change to the habitat. Hunters with a few seasons under their belt generally have a collection of places they hunt every year. Experience shows certain areas have birds, but hunters also will branch out and try new country if needed.

Quail like to eat the tender blades of emerging grass, the type found in or near the old corrals scattered throughout the desert. Oftentimes you also will find old watering troughs or tanks that will collect and hold rainwater. Combine the water and grass in one place, and you have a location worth checking.

If you are unsuccessful at a promising spot, don’t give up right away. Come back another day or at different times of day. One way to tell whether birds or rabbits are frequenting an area is to look for tracks in the bottom of nearby sandy washes. Animals tend to use those washes as travel corridors.

On one occasion, my partner and I followed tracks down a wash until they abruptly disappeared. We could hear the birds chattering but couldn’t see them. Then birds began emerging at full speed from the bank along the wash. That was something I never had seen before.

Gambel’s quail generally can be found from the southern tip of Nevada to as far north as southern Lincoln County and from Utah on the east to California in the west. Anything within an hour of downtown Las Vegas gets hunted hard, especially early in the season. That can make birds skittish, and they will start running at the slightest provocation, so be prepared to cover ground or use stratagem to bag your birds.

As the season wears on, however, hunting pressure wanes. That is when hunting is most enjoyable, and the birds settle down, a little bit anyway.

When it comes to chukar, Southern Nevada long has offered limited hunting opportunity, but there are birds to be had. The north and south ends of the Spring Mountain Range hold chukar. Look around Mount Stirling on the north and Mount Potosi on the south. Other areas that have birds are the mountain ranges near Beatty, the Delemar range, the Mormon Mountains and Gold Butte south of Mesquite. Quail can be found in these areas as well.

Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. He can be reached at intheoutdoorslv@gmail.com.

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