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Early forecast – small game hunting
Story and photos by Rory Aikens, public information officer,
Arizona Game and Fish Department
There is some good news for dove hunters. Super abundant winter and early spring rains last year resulted in a robust seed crop in the desert. This should result in a nice fat population of dispersed mourning doves.
A tremendous crop of saguaro blossoms that turned into seed pods also provided white-winged doves a good later spring and early summer treat. If storms don’t chase them south, we should see lots of healthy fat whitewings.
As usual, expect doves to be concentrated around agricultural areas. But scout the adjoining desert areas as well; you might find some good dove shooting opportunities and much lower hunter densities. For many of us, that registers higher on the quality-hunt index.
Don’t forget, that although adults are relegated to half day (morning) shooting for doves during the early season, youth get to hunt all day. We have some of the best dove hunting in the nation – get the kids in on it.
In fact, gather up the neighborhood kids, nieces and nephews or whomever and get them out too – dove hunting is light years more exciting than blasting space aliens in a computer game. Do it for the future of these kids, the future of hunting, and by golly, a little self pride in making a contribution for the betterment of mankind.
Okay, on to the subject near and dear to a small game hunter’s heart: quail.
Abundant winter and early spring rainfall in central Arizona had lots of hunters and biologists anticipating superb Gambel’s quail reproduction and recruitment, but then nature threw a knuckle ball on Memorial Day weekend.
Right when lots of newly-hatched quail were full of down, a cold, wet storm drenched most of the state. Downy baby quail can die of hypothermia when wet. But then again, many areas had superb ground cover that could have sheltered some susceptible poults – maybe!
Bottom line: The jury is still out until the fat quail sings, or in this case, until the young quail flush.
The most likely scenario for Gambel’s quail in central Arizona is there will be more young on the ground this year compared to last year, with last year being terrible. We might be near average, possibly not. Some isolated areas might have above-average quail numbers.
The key? Scout your favorite quail area, then your second favorite, and maybe even your third. . . if you look enough, you should be able to locate decent quail populations.
Now southern Arizona is a bird of a different feather.
Spring call counts indicated some areas were experiencing near average reproduction, and other areas well below average. Expect Gambel’s quail to be spotty – so once again, scouting is the key.
However, the jury is out on Mearns’ quail. Last year we had our best Mearns’ quail hunting in decades. It was awesome. The year before was pretty good also. Can it happen three years in a row? Possibly – whether global warming or not, weather patterns have been unpredictable.
If you are reading this after a wet summer in southern Arizona, buy stock in Mearns’ quail futures – which is basically abundant boxes of shotgun shells mixed with liberal doses of Hoppes Gun Oil.
Now for you waterfowl fans. Mormon Lake near Flagstaff was almost full last spring. By summer, the water level was dwindling but the marshy areas turned lush green and full of insects – duck heaven.
Due to abundant snowpack for a change, other high mountain areas also experienced a return of wetlands that have been dry for some time. Plus Roosevelt filled.
We have the habitat to hold the waterfowl, now it really depends on weather to the north pushing them our way. It’s looking good, but who knows. At the very least, early season teal shooting in the high country could be spectacular.
For the low lands – once again, we have water in places we haven’t had in years. If they come down the flyway, they might stick around and visit us a little longer. As always in Arizona, waterfowl is a wait-and-see proposition.
Give your spinning rods a twirl and whip up your fly rods for some of the best fishing action of the year – you might even catch some magnificent fall colors as well in the high country.
Sport fish will be feeding aggressively to put on fat before winter conditions arrive. Hungry, active fish will put a satisfied grin on your autumn face.
For the high country, it doesn’t get much better. Changing fall colors creeping down the elevation zones can provide a colorful stage for some of the best trout fishing acts of the year – life and fishing doesn’t get much better.
Big Lake typically wears the high country fall fishing crown each year – if the ‘bows aren’t biting, the cuts probably will. If those ‘bows and cuts are bashful, you might hook into gregarious brookies staging for the spawn.
Another great choice is Willow Springs Lake along the Mogollon Rim where the trout and largemouth bass can both be active. Don’t ignore the sister lakes of Fool Hollow and Show Low Lake where record walleye are waiting for an angler invite to fame and piscatorial glory.
Hey, for all you high country trouters – take along the trusty .22. Bagging a squirrel or two during your fall fishing trip is a way to maximize your recreational dollar and fun at the same time. You might even take along a shotgun for the ducks – it should be pretty good in the high country this year thanks to last year’s superb snow pack.
One fall fishing hole with superb, world-class fishing that is ignored by hordes of anglers is Lees Ferry in northern Arizona.
In the warmwater lakes, expect to find lots of topwater action for largemouth bass, smallmouth bass and striped bass. My top picks are: Lake Powell, Roosevelt Lake and Lake Pleasant. But on any given day, you might find spectacular action at Alamo, Mead, Saguaro, Bartlett or Patagonia.