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Time to take aim at chukar, quail, duck

Throughout most of Nevada, Saturday is opening day of the chukar partridge, quail and duck seasons. The one exception is in the Overton Wildlife Management Area, where duck season won’t open until Nov. 1.

That quail, chukar and duck open on the same day should serve to spread hunting pressure over much of Southern Nevada and between species, but nothing guarantees you will have your favorite haunts to yourself.

Following last year’s disappointing chukar and quail seasons, we’re hoping 2008 provides better hunting opportunities and success. Northwestern Nevada is projected to be the one significant bright spot for chukar. Well-timed rains improved habitat conditions enough to increase bird numbers and provide a boost in the number of young birds.

Conditions are looking up in central and southern Nevada for chukar hunters. Chukar can be found at the north and south ends of the Spring Mountain Range, though numbers are not huge. Hunters also can find chukar in the mountains near Beatty and in the mountains north and east of Tonopah.

Chukar, a native of the Middle East, is a challenging bird that will test a hunter’s physical fitness because they love to run, often uphill. Not just any hill, mind you, but the steepest, rockiest slope they can find. Have good boots and be ready to burn shoe leather in tough terrain. A good dog will help. I recommend high-base loads of No. 6 shot and a modified choke to bring down these tough birds.

Chukar will hold in cover if they think they can get away with it, but they will fly if they deem it necessary. They love to fly back down the hill you just climbed to reach them. And when the birds reach the bottom of the hill, they will stop and laugh at you to rub salt on your wounded pride.

Gambel’s quail numbers can swing dramatically. Such was the case from the 2006 hunting season to the 2007 season, and my guess is hunters will see only a slight improvement this fall. During the past couple of weeks, I have visited with hunters who have been out looking for quail. Some have seen a few birds, but the coveys have been relatively small, with only 10 to 20 birds.

I would start out by working the rolling country and washes in the vicinity of upland game guzzlers or natural water sources. Quail usually water first thing in the morning, then feed away from the water source. If it’s hot, they might come back during midday. Since the coveys are small, we probably should use discretion and be careful not to overharvest a particular covey. Take a couple of birds and move on.

Serious quail hunters might want to keep Arizona on their short list of places to hunt this year. Rory Aiken of the Arizona Game & Fish Department said good spring precipitation gave Gambel’s quail in the northwestern corner of the state a good jump-start. Some spots are holding a good number of birds, but hunters will have to look for them, he said.

Arizona also is home to the tight-holding Mearns’ quail. Aiken said 2008 could be the best year Arizona has had for hunting Mearns’ quail.

Duck hunters can expect to see good bird numbers at the Key Pittman and Kirch wildlife management areas. Ron Mills, manager at Key Pittman, said he is seeing a good number of birds on Nesbitt Lake as well as Frenchy. Early migrating species like teal, shovelers and widgeon comprise the largest percentage of the nearly 4,000 birds using the management area, but he also has seen a few mallards, pintails, ruddy ducks, redheads and canvasbacks. Be careful what you shoot; canvasbacks are off limits this year.

With the upper lake at Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge being dry, ducks are holding in the lower lake and in the middle marshes.

Doug Nielsen is an award-winning freelance writer and a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. He can be reached at doug@takinitoutside.com.

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