Opener for quail, chukar produces mixed results

Upland game bird hunters experienced mixed results Saturday when they took to the field for the opening day of quail and chukar season. Some hunters managed to put a few birds in their game bag, but they had to work for it.

After spending much of the opener beating the brush, Rick Welter sent me an e-mail about his exploits: ”I hunted … and managed to scrape out a few birds and one cottontail. It was the only rabbit I saw all day. Lots and lots of walking/hunting.”

From the pictures he sent, it appears Welter bagged three roosters and three hens with his trusty pump. Not a bad reward for his efforts.

Don Iglinski, host of the Fishing and Hunting Southern Nevada radio show, and two friends each managed to bag a limit of chukar, but the trio hunted from early morning until almost dark.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about using binoculars to save some walking when hunting big game. Iglinski uses them to hunt chukar.

”Why spend the time and energy climbing a ridge to see if chukars are up there when you can find them with your binoculars if they are there?” he said.

While other hunters were chasing quail and chukar, I was doing my best to survive yet another Boy Scout overnighter. I must admit, however, that when I heard the sounds of shotguns in the distance, I felt a little bit like a bird dog that gets excited at the mere sound of the shot or the pump of a shotgun.

”Not to worry,” I thought to myself as we prepared to return home later that morning, ”you can still get out for the afternoon hunt.”

That’s when I heard an audible snap, followed by the sound of air rushing from one of my truck’s tires and the collective gasp of a dozen young men who know how protective I am of my truck. Someone stepped on one of my valve stems, and that meant my afternoon was spent waiting while the tire shop replaced not only the broken valve stem but the rubber stems on my other tires. This time I went with steel.

For waterfowl hunters, this weekend’s opener could be much more productive than the quail and chukar opener. Cold, wet storms that have been battering the northern reaches of Idaho, Washington and parts of Montana could have more birds headed our way. According to results of the 2009 Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey conducted by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, there are more birds this year. The key now will be getting some to fly this direction.

According to the survey results, the total estimated duck population was 42 million when the survey was conducted by USFWS pilot biologists. That’s an overall increase of 13 percent over the 2008 estimate and 25 percent more than the 1955 to 2008 average, according to the USFWS. This increase in bird numbers is due in part to improved habitat conditions.

”Overall, habitat conditions for breeding waterfowl in 2009 were better than conditions in 2008. The total pond estimate (prairie Canada and United States combined) was 6.4 million. This was 45 percent above last year’s estimate of 4.4 million ponds and 31 percent above the long-term average of 4.9 million ponds,” the report said.

Each year, biologists who double as pilots survey transects covering more than 2 million square miles of waterfowl habitat stretching across the north central and northeastern United States, Canada and Alaska. The survey’s purpose is to help biologists estimate the number of ducks on the continent’s primary nesting grounds. Waterfowl hunting regulations, hunting season lengths and dates and bag limits are determined using data collected through this process.

That data shows the estimated mallard population to be about 8.5 million birds, an increase of 10 percent over 2008 figures. Also up are blue-winged teal and green-winged teal numbers. Blue-winged teal are at their second-highest number on record, and green-winged teal are at an all-time high of 3.4 million birds, figures measuring 60 percent and 79 percent higher than their long-term averages.

Pintails, on the other hand, showed an increase of 23 percent but remain 20 percent below the long-term average.

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 dougnielsen@att.net.

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