Hunting outlook

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August 8th, 2005

Hunting outlook
By Mark Zornes, small game biologist, and Brian Wakeling, big game program supervisor, Arizona Game and Fish Department
Map of regions

Interested in going after some of Arizona’s abundant small game, such as quail or cottontail? Planning a fall deer or elk hunt? Here are our regional forecasts for these species.

Hunters are expected to be pleased with the 2005-2006 quail season, particularly for Gambel’s quail. Brood size and chick survival generally increased this year in response to favorable precipitation levels and milder summer temperatures. Look to central Arizona, the eastern portions of the Yuma region, and the Kingman region for the best Gambel’s quail hunting. Quail will likely be well dispersed throughout suitable habitats due to increased cover and winter-spring precipitation (see map). Monitor local precipitation levels when planning a trip. Be aware that portions of central Arizona were impacted by large wildfires, particularly north and northeast of Phoenix. Do your homework prior to the season to find birds in unburned areas or along the periphery of some of these large fires.

Region I (Pinetop)
Quail hunting is rarely good in this region, with the exception of the south end of game management Unit 27. Both Gambel’s quail and Mearns’ quail can be found in appropriate habitats. Since much of the region is unsuitable as quail habitat, finding huntable numbers of birds can be a challenge.

Region II (Flagstaff)
Field personnel expect some good Gambel’s quail hunting in the southern portion of Region II in Units 6A, 6B, and 8. For hunters who frequent the Arizona Strip, lower elevation habitats in Units 13A and 13B should produce some decent Gambel’s quail hunting.

Region III (Kingman)
Gambel’s hunting should be good to excellent, particularly in the Hualapai, Peacock, Music, Cerbat, Black and Aquarius Mountain ranges. Bird numbers were up in many of these areas last year, post-season carryover was good, and a very good hatch occurred. Expect some productive trips.

Region IV (Yuma)
Region IV is expecting the best quail hunting in a decade. Gambel’s quail will be particularly good in northern and eastern game management units like Units 20A, 39, 42, 44A, and 44B. Quail post-season carryover was good in many of these areas, and well-above-average winter-spring precipitation produced a good hatch.

Region V (Tucson)
While most of Arizona received above-average precipitation last winter and spring, southeastern Arizona was not so fortunate. Local areas of above-average precipitation occurred, but most areas received average precipitation. Survey data suggests this year will be average in Region V for Gambel’s quail, with pockets of better hunting. Scaled quail hunting is likely to vary from good to poor, depending on location. The Sulphur Springs Valley will yield the best scaled quail hunting. Mearns’ quail populations were impacted by the late monsoon. Expect some young birds in the bag during the early portion of the Mearns’ season. Bird abundance will be spotty, and should correlate well with areas that received adequate precipitation.

Region VI (Mesa)
Central Arizona should offer some good to very good Gambel’s quail hunting this year. Much of the region was impacted this year by large wildfires, so pre-scouting is a must. Pockets of exceptional chick production were noted this year, and quail numbers should be higher than during the past few years. Good Gambel’s quail hunting will be found this year in game management Units 21, 22, 23, and portions of Units 24A and 24B. Be prepared to work those unburned areas and expect to find pockets of very good hunting in many locations.

Desert cottontail rabbitCottontail
Expect some of the best cottontail rabbit hunting in more than a decade. Cottontail numbers exploded due to increased precipitation and cover throughout much of the state. This often overlooked, great-tasting game animal provides a welcome addition to the hunter’s bag, whether alone or in combination with dove and quail. If you spend any time in washes, rocky foothills, or areas of dense brush, you will encounter this species regularly this year. Cottontails offer a great opportunity to introduce a youngster to hunting, and provide a challenging hunt for old and young alike. Still-hunting (i.e., “sneaking”) along desert or mountain washes, ridgelines, or in areas of dense brush armed with a .22-caliber rifle, a shotgun, or archery equipment can provide hours of enjoyment, hone your big game hunting skills and yield a great tasting meal.

Region I (Pinetop)
Hunters should encounter good to excellent cottontail hunting in 2005-2006. Forecasts from all game management units rated cottontail hunting at least good, with the exception of Unit 3A, where hunting will likely be fair.

Region II (Flagstaff)
Hunting will be above average. Expect good to excellent hunting throughout, with fair hunting forecasted for Unit 7.

Region III (Kingman)
Much of the region is suitable habitat for cottontails. Abundant numbers have been reported, perhaps yielding the best cottontail hunting in the state this year, so opportunities will be numerous.

Region IV (Yuma)
Good to excellent cottontail hunting will be available this year. Cottontails prefer certain habitat characteristics, and hunters should focus their attention on these for highest success. Any big washes or areas near agriculture or the rivers should hold a lot of cottontails.

Region V (Tucson)
Cottontail hunting will be excellent this year in the lower- to mid-elevations. Get out early and enjoy some of the best hunting of the year. Rabbit hunting before quail season gives an opportunity to scout for other species and hunt without much competition. Combine this species with a quail or dove hunt for added fun. To increase the challenge, try hunting cottontails during the early morning hours along desert washes with a .22-caliber rifle or archery equipment.

Region VI (Mesa)
Central Arizona should offer some good to excellent cottontail hunting this year. Concentrate your efforts around desert washes and in the rocky foothills. As with quail hunting, avoid those severely burned areas when hunting for this species.

White-tailed buckStatewide, deer fawn recruitment increased for both white-tailed deer and mule deer this past year. What that means to hunters is that more yearling bucks (spikes and forkhorns) will be available this year than in the recent past. Do not expect droves of deer, but you should note a moderate improvement in numbers, and possibly in size.

Regions I–IV are known mainly for mule deer, and provide good hunting opportunities for this species. Regions I–III have seen improved recruitment, and populations are slightly increasing. Even with recent improvement, Region IV mule deer tend to be low-density herds, so plan to wear out the seat of your pants while using binoculars rather than your boots if you want to be successful. This can be an important strategy regardless of where you are hunting, but it can be more difficult in forested areas. Mule deer in Regions V–VI are also stable to slightly increasing. Unit 21 deer hunters should not be discouraged by the Cave Creek Complex fires: Fresh green growth can be a powerful attractant for deer.

Regions V–VI have the most popular white-tailed deer units, and glassing is essential for finding these elusive ghosts. Increases in fawn recruitment from last year should translate into more young bucks this year. Look closely: Many “skin heads” turn out to be young bucks on closer scrutiny. Regions I–II have some excellent white-tailed deer hunts that are somewhat lesser known. Areas recovering from recent fires can be productive areas to hunt, especially near steep terrain and canyons that white-tails seem to favor.

Regardless of where you were drawn this year, know the boundaries of your unit. Check your tag to be certain of the area for which you were drawn. Every year a few hunters assume they were drawn for their first choice when they were actually drawn for an alternate unit, but don’t find out otherwise until they get to camp or (worse yet) until a wildlife manager checks their harvested deer. It can be an expensive mistake. And don’t forget to sign your tag.

Although our fall survey data is preliminary, many areas are reporting high calf numbers. Elk habitat that suffered from fires two to five years ago is producing good herbaceous vegetation as a result of recent rains, and elk herds are responding to last winter’s favorable conditions. In addition to recruitment, favorable forage conditions are also good for antler development. Those with antlerless permits may be in luck. Mountain men in the 1800s were convinced that “fat cow” was far better than “poor bull” for table fare, and younger animals are more tender and generally easier (lighter) to pack out. For those looking for larger antlered bulls, search somewhat off the beaten path. Herds that are expanding their range often include more mature bulls. Some of the largest bulls we have seen were at lower elevations in what many consider to be pronghorn habitat.

Regions I and II (Pinetop, Flagstaff)
Wildfires did not play a large role this year. Older burned areas are going to be attractive to elk. Elk often respond to early accumulations of snowfall by moving to lower elevations, but a single snowfall event will not immediately drive all elk out of an area. Rainfall and snow can cause unfavorable road conditions. Always try to minimize the impact you have on primitive roads.

Region 3 (Kingman)
Elk populations have been productive and wide-ranging. Much of the elk habitats are large landscapes with interspersed pinyon-juniper woodland. These animals can be highly mobile and may seem to vaporize once hunts begin. Being in the field early and late can be important, especially later in the hunt. This strategy can be critical regardless of your unit and region.

Region V (Tucson) and Region VI (Mesa)
Although Region V has elk hunts in Units 28 and 31, these areas are managed for elk at low densities. These can be tough hunts in nontraditional areas. You may need more than your share of good luck to be successful. Region VI elk populations are doing well. Units 22 and 23 continue to be good producers of quality animals.

Virtually any unit in Arizona has the potential to produce a record book bull. To make the most of your opportunity, be certain that your rifle is shooting accurately before you get to the field. Judging distances can be more challenging with elk hunting than with virtually any other hunt. Distances in forested habitat just seem closer than they really are; you expect long distances with pronghorn or deer hunting, but mistakes that change the outcome of a hunt are easy to make when pursuing elk.

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