BY JIM MATTHEWS
The quail and chukar hunting season opener was slow to fair for most bird hunters across the southern half of the state because of a dismal spring hatch this year. The saving grace was a decent number of holdover birds from the past two pretty good hatch years. This meant there were still small coveys of educated birds out there.
Hunters who focused on permanent natural sources had the best success. Many guzzlers which had been dry until late summer monsoon rains were not holding birds, so areas around natural springs or per- manent stream riparian areas containing open water produced the best hunting.
In the greater Red Mountain region, chukar hunters found a fair number of birds, but most were holdover mature birds from previous years and hunting was pretty tough. Still many hard-hunting hunters reported one or two birds for their efforts.
Jeremy Corselli, along with his daughter Grace and his son Lucas, all of Norco, managed to all get limits of six chukar on opening day hunting in this region, and they also had eight bonus quail in the bag. Corselli said there were a few young chukar in his bag, which surprised him, but that the quail were all mature birds.
The trio hunted hard and noted that “birds were all concentrated in a canyon where a spring was located,” said Corselli.
“It really helps when you have a daughter who is going away to college on an athletic scholarship for sporting clays and a 15-year-old son who is at the top of his class in every tournament he enters. Not many birds escape.”
In the same general area, Brandon Strong of Mission Viejo wrote in an e-mail that he was able to locate one large covey of about 40 chukar, and man- aged to get his first bird on Sun- day. He said his party “tried to look for natural springs hoping they might hold more [birds] than the guzzlers.”
“At the spot we found a covey of about 40 birds. We chased them for a long time and managed to get one bird in the bag. They seemed like mature birds, and they acted like they had been chased the previous day and already very wise to the hunting pressure,” he wrote.
Jeremiah Watt of Dana Point also reported tough chukar hunting in this region with his group only bagging four birds for a tough opener of hard hunting.
In the west Mojave region around Barstow to Lucerne Valley, the chukar numbers were also just fair with almost exclusively mature birds in the few reported bagged. Many hunters were skunked for their efforts.
Brian Roberts of Phelan wrote that he didn’t get out until Sunday in the West Mojave region.
“I missed Saturday due to work and went out Sunday. Birds are thin this year. We are just going to enjoy the hikes and hopefully bag one or two each trip and not over-hunt the birds. We bagged a couple chukar, and as a bonus got some great pics of some mountain sheep in the Ord Mountains. We hunted for almost six hours, had to cover some miles and it was pretty warm. We even and ran out of water.”
Ricardo Alamo of Fontana also hunted chukar the West Mojave region and reported his first-ever success on these birds.
“I finally got a pair of chukar. I missed opening day because of work, but Sunday morning I was up on those hills chasing those dang birds,” wrote Alamo via e-mail. His birds were both big, mature birds that required plenty of effort.
Quail hunting success was generally poor to fair in the East Mojave Desert region (Mojave Preserve), west Mojave and foothills of the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountains and the Carrizo Plain region. Most hunters reported almost no young-of-the-year birds. This meant hunting mature birds that seemed to be spooky from first light opening morning. Skunks were common across the region, and those successful had to work diligently for their birds. Not a single limit was reported.
Eric Devore of San Juan Capistrano said he hunted to low desert near Borrego Springs and managed to bag seven birds opening day, but it took him all day and he logged about 10 miles on foot.
“They were really, really spooky — almost like they were hunted the day before,” said Devore. “The coveys were a lot smaller than last year, which was amazing because there was just so much action.”
Devore said he moved seven or eight coveys but they were all small groups of 10 to 15 birds each. Both numbers reflected big declines from his observations last year.
Jorge Ramirez of Upland Jitzu reported on his Instagram account that the 2021 opener “was a tough one” in the foothills of the Ventura region. “Not a ton of birds but we put in the miles in the valleys/hills and bumped a few decent sized coveys. I even had clear view of some mountain quail but miffed my shot.”
The east Mojave was also generally tough. Derek Fretheim of Riverside wrote that it was slow where they hunted in this region. “[We] Only busted one covey of quail and chukar. The quail covey consisted of 15 birds and the chukar had about 10,” he wrote.
My group hunted on the south edge of the Mojave Preserve in three spots opening day — all spots that held a lot of Gambel’s quail last year — and we didn’t see a covey. We did see bighorn sheep, however. On Sunday, we hunted in the Cajon Pass region and bumped two coveys of valley quail and Kyle Matthews tripled on one covey rise, making that our total bag for opening weekend.
Only one other report came in for mountain quail in our local mountains, and Nick Spurlock of Big Bear said he hunted near home in an e-mail.
“I went out for mountain quail in a spot I usually see birds, and I only saw one bird the pup bumped while running and couldn’t get a shot. The numbers are not looking good, but it’s still nice to get out,” wrote Spurlock.
The 2021-22 season continues through Jan. 30, 2022 in most of the state.