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Small Game Hunting Season Information

2013 - 2014 Small Game Outlook
By Johnathan O’Dell, small game biologist, Arizona Game and Fish Department

All small game populations have their ups and downs. Weather conditions and more specifically rain patterns play the biggest role in these swings. We’ve got some species that are up and some down.

SQUIRRELS

The past year provided favorable conditions for both tassel-eared Abert’s squirrel and its smaller cousin, the red squirrel. The higher quality foodstuffs (like seeds from pinecones) were abundant and available into the New Year. This means the squirrels were well fed to help outlast the winter. The winter was a short one, which melted off early, so overwinter survival was very likely high. Spring turkey hunters reported seeing many squirrels along the Mogollon Rim with lots of activity during the breeding season. Expect a better than average season for red and Abert’s squirrels.

The drought conditions remain tough on the Arizona gray and Mexican fox squirrel habitats. These squirrels still remain at low numbers throughout much of their range, and you can expect another below average year.

RABBITS

Cottontail
This year’s spring and summer months were filled with lots of young rabbits. So much so, that I had trouble locating adults. In other words, this is a good cottontail rabbit year.

Jackrabbits
All of the usual areas that hold jackrabbits look about the same as last year. Look for an average season similar to last year.

QUAIL

Gambel’s
These upland birds can be fickle, and this year is no exception. The year started well with winter rains at average levels, however they stopped too soon. Spring call counts came in at 20% below last year’s numbers and below the 10-year average. Also, the hatch in southern Arizona arrived on the normal schedule of May–June timeframe, but the hatch in Central Arizona came later in June–early July. There is no telling what your favorite area may look like this year in terms of covey numbers, but it should still be a year worth going out for. Travelling and exploring new areas will be the best prescription in a bit below average year.

Scaled
Because scaled quail are typically 2 to 3 weeks behind Gambel’s in their breeding, I suspect our early dry spring didn’t help them much. On the upside, lots of habitat improvements have been made in southeastern Arizona to restore the native grasslands which are important to the scaled quail. Expect to see more Gambel’s quail than scaled quail in those areas this year for a below average season.

Mearns’
With the monsoonal rains arriving on time for a second year in a row, my cautious optimism still remains. It will take more than 2 good years in a row to bring our numbers up, but we’re headed in the right direction. You can expect this season to be slightly below average.

BLUE GROUSE

The Department would like to better survey blue grouse hunter participation and success. To do this we are asking grouse hunters to provide an address or email to the Small Game Biologist so that they can be surveyed directly after the end of the season. This may be done by sending an email to: jodell@azgfd.gov or through regular mail to the Department’s main office: Attention Game Branch.

Blue grouse are still being spotted occasionally around the Wallow Fire burned area, but you can expect it to be a while before those numbers fully recover. The brood rearing habitat on Kaibab looked good and I expect pretty normal numbers from breeding this year, so expect a slightly above average season there. The San Francisco Peaks still hold a few birds, with very few hunters.

CHUKAR

The Department would like to better survey chukar hunter participation and success. To do this we are asking chukar hunters to provide an address or email to the Small Game Biologist so that they can be surveyed directly after the end of the season. This may be done by sending an email to: jodell@azgfd.gov or through regular mail to the Department’s main office: Attention Game Branch.

I received a few photos from bighorn sheep hunters on the Arizona Strip in December that shows good sized coveys (10 to 12 birds each). Couple that with the mild winter, and chukar populations should be in good shape for this year. Make sure you’re in good shape too before you go after them because they are in some tough country.

DOVE

What more can be said of Arizona’s most abundant game species? Well, 2 years ago we added more, new places for you to hunt them. Last year, we raised the white-winged dove bag limit back to 10 per day. This year, we’re allowing you to keep more in your freezer by increasing the possession limit. That’s right, your possession limit is increasing from 20 doves to 30 doves. You’ll be able to get a bag limit each day for three days before you’re done. Every year is a great dove season in Arizona, but scouting the perfect spot is key.

WATERFOWL

North American duck numbers are again higher than at any time in the past 60 years! Goose populations are on the rise as well. The summer monsoons have brought good rains to the state so we should be able to hold more birds in more areas during the winter migrations. All metrics point to an above average year.  Similar to dove, the possession limit for waterfowl has been increased to triple the daily bag limit.

Small Game Hunting Tips
By Randy Babb, Information & Education Program Manager

Note: while these tips are from the 2009 season, many of the areas and techniques will be much the same for this season, given we had similar winter, spring and summer weather conditions.

QUAIL

Gambel’s quail are reliant primarily on winter rains for their production, while mearns (also known as Montezuma) quail, and to a lesser degree scaled quail, key their nesting to summer rain amounts. This year’s poor winter and summer rains will make for largely poor quail hunting in central Arizona. From what biologists have seen, hunters should be able to expect below average bird numbers in most places they visit. Gambel quail broods averaged much smaller this season when compared to last. This season we saw many late broods which are typical in bad years. Chicks late in the year are usually indicative of conditions being less than optimal for reproduction and typically have a high mortality rate.

Try starting your quail hunt early in the morning when it’s cooler and birds are more vocal and moving about. Also consider using a quail call and listen for coveys to answer; this will save walking and time. Quail calls may be purchased at most sporting goods stores. While walking in the field, stop frequently to listen for birds. Gambel’s and scaled quail make a variety of sounds; learn to recognize these calls. Once birds are found, attempt to split the covey up and work cover for single birds, this is where you're likely to get most of your birds. Estimate the number of birds on a covey rise and keep count of the number of single birds that are flushed while working for singles. This way you can make sure you've worked the covey thoroughly. If you have hunted through the area where the scattered birds settled and have only gotten up half the number of the birds that were counted on the covey rise, you know that there are still more birds in the area and can work the surrounding cover appropriately.

Gambel’s quail like to run and if the cover is not heavy enough will literally out run hunters and dogs alike. Minimize your frustration while hunting these birds by choosing areas that have good ground cover in the way of grasses and shrubs. This vegetation provides hiding places for scattered birds. On birds that want to run ahead of you, put pressure on them by unloading your firearm and trotting after the birds until you have flushed the covey enough times for the birds to be sufficiently scattered to hold. Then work the area for singles. Avoid hunting areas with little ground cover. For quail to hold (not flush at a distance too far for the hunter to shoot at them) there must be adequate ground cover for the birds to hide in (e.g. grass, shrubs, etc.). In sparsely vegetated areas quail tend to run and flush at excessive distances. This can be a problem in years of poor production as the hunter is faced with pursuing older "educated" birds. There should be plenty of young birds this season so running birds will likely not be a problem this season. Young birds hold better so it is worth the effort to find those areas that experienced better hatches.

Once the birds are scattered and holding a hunter will flush more birds if they walk in a zigzag fashion through the cover, occasionally pausing for a few seconds. Waiting can be as important as walking in areas where there is good cover and where you know there are birds. It is not uncommon to walk into an area, stop for a few seconds, and have a bird flush right behind you after you resume walking. Be ready for this. Attempt to read the cover and terrain to predict where birds may be hiding. Groups of closely growing shrubs, shallow draws lined with dense vegetation, or low thickets, should be investigated. If a hunter has a partner, develop a game plan and move through an area about 20 to 30 yards apart covering the area thoroughly. If birds are holding tightly it is not unusual to cover the same ground many times and still flush birds. Quail will often hold closely in inclement weather. Once a bird is knocked down, stay at the ready for a second or two to make sure the quail is not crippled and runs off. Also mark downed birds carefully and walk directly to the spot and retrieve the bird. If the downed bird is not found immediately take the time to carefully search the surrounding area within about a 15 yard, or more, radius. Gambel quail are remarkably tough and can take a lot of punishment. Crippled birds will run down mammal burrows, into packrat nests, or hide in most any suitable cover. Resist the temptation to shoot at additional birds once a bird has been downed. This will translate to fewer lost birds and more game in the bag.

DOVES

Weed crops, which were produced by summer rains, are very poor this year. Because of this the desert will hold few birds away from agricultural lands or other man-created food sources. Because of this doves will still concentrate in traditional areas such as feed lots making for good shooting. SPEND TIME SCOUTING; a few reconnaissance trips can pay off in great hunting. Check agricultural areas for cut grain fields or fields that may be cut in the near future and feed lots. Roosting sites often make for good shooting and should be watched for. Doves will typically pick densely vegetated areas for roosts. Mesquite bosques, tamarisk (salt cedar) thickets, and citrus groves are typical roosting sites. Doves establish flight patterns and follow them. For example, a grain field that has lots of doves feeding in it will have a few spots that will offer the best shooting. Watch tree lines, washes, canals, field corners, or other structural features that birds may follow. Late season doves frequently shift their flight patterns and feeding areas, so the more spots you have lined up the better your chances are for consistent good hunting. Desert water holes can often offer spectacular evening shooting during the late season, a great way to combine dove and quail on a hunt. Avoid shooting near thickly vegetated areas such as alfalfa or cotton fields to minimize the number of lost birds. If you do hunt some place with thick vegetation try to chose your shots so birds fall into open areas. Mark downed birds and walk directly to them to minimize the chance of losing them. If the hunter stands still or sits or stands next to some sort of cover (a ditch, shrub, tree, telephone pole) birds will be less likely to shy away from them. Wearing drab clothing will also make the hunter less conspicuous. Be and sure to ask landowners before hunting on private land and to pick up all spent shells and shell boxes. Wait to clean your birds until you reach home. This way unsightly messes and trash will not left on landowner's property and help insure your privilege of hunting on private lands.

BAND-TAILED PIGEONS

How late these birds stay around in the fall is largely dependent on how good the acorn crop is. This year the acorn crop appears to be generally poor. Hunters will likely find bandtails concentrated in areas with what acorns there may be. Band-tailed pigeons will use alternative food sources, such as pinon and elderberries, especially in poor acorn years. One way to hunt them is to sit on pine-country stock tanks. They usually come to water early in the morning (after feeding) so check stock tanks at higher elevations early. If they are using the tank, they will generally show up before 9 am. They may also be found in feeding in dense stands of gamble or other oak species. These birds like to loaf in pine snags and can occasionally be found in these trees at mid-day along ridge tops.

SNIPE

Snipe are one of the most over looked game birds in the state. Snipe prefer marshy habitats along rivers, lakes, and flooded agriculture areas. Birds can often be spotted by the hunter prior to entering an area by glassing the water's edge with binoculars. Snipe flush similar to quail and usually make distinctive "scipe" call on take off. The zig-zag flight of these birds makes for a challenging target. Often the flushed bird will swing around presenting the hunter with a pass shot as it returns to the water. Check suitable areas often as snipe are prone to suddenly appear and disappear in feeding areas. Snipe offer a great plus for duck hunters. After a morning duck hunt, hunters should walk nearby marshy areas or other flooded vegetation. If you prefer to jump shoot ducks, snipe are common visitors to stock tanks. Snipe are classified as an upland game bird and steel shot is not required for hunting them.

DUCKS

Waterfowl reproduction estimates for this year are good with most species showing an increase in numbers. Summer surveys this year indicated nesting was generally up.
A common problem we experience in Arizona, despite nesting success, is warm winter weather. Often warm winters in the western states will “short-stop” much of the migrating waterfowl before they make it to the southern US. So while states north of us (Utah, Nevada, etc.) enjoy fantastic hunting, we experience sporadic shooting at best. In the same manner if warm weather keeps Arizona’s high country waters open, many ducks and geese will spend the winter there rather than migrating to lower elevations. Simply put, many migrating waterfowl species go no farther south than they have to. If we have a warm winter, our state’s high elevations will likely offer the best hunting.

Despite generally poor winter and summer rains many ponds and marshes have water in them, which should make for some decent shooting and many places for waterfowl to rest and feed. Many of the state’s reservoirs are near full or at least nearly so, and ducks and geese should have no trouble finding places to land. It’ll be up to the hunter to find them. Hopefully this winter will be wet and cold and we will enjoy some good waterfowl hunting.

Regulations have changed significantly and wise hunters will BE SURE TO CHECK CURRENT REGULATIONS FOR CHANGES FROM LAST YEAR AND SEASON DATES. Currently the bag limit is 7 birds per day per hunter. Waterfowlers will be able to take 2 pintails a day for the first time in many years. Hunters can take canvasbacks again this year (2 per day) after being closed last year. Also it should be noted that there will be a limited season (season with in a season) for scaup and waterfowlers should note the dates during which this species can be taken.
The early part of the season offers the best opportunities for some of the early migrants like cinnamon and blue-wing teal. November is usually when waterfowl hunting in the desert areas really picks up. At this time free water at northern latitudes typically becomes scarce forcing birds southward to seek feeding and resting areas.

Mornings after big winter storms and severe cold snaps are often an excellent time to check desert stock ponds for ducks. Decoys will prove useful on central Arizona lakes, rivers, and ponds. If you are decoying, you'll want to start early. Have your decoys set and your blind built before legal shooting time comes. Once again a little scouting will be a big help in finding a productive shooting spot. Ducks tend to congregate in backwaters, slow runs on rivers, and sheltered areas on lakes such as coves and the mouths of rivers and creeks. With some scouting you will discover that though there may be several spots that seem to look good and are used by ducks there is one or a few spots that they prefer. Set out your decoys and build your blind while it is still dark so you will be situated at legal shooting time. Typically the best shooting is in the couple of hours of the day so it is important to be ready by legal shooting time. On a typical duck hunt, shooting is usually over by 10 or 11 am. Geese generally fly a little later than ducks but you'll still want to be prepared by first light. Ducks will tend to move more in inclement weather so shooting often lasts longer on these days. Ducks have excellent eyesight and color vision, keep this in mind when hunting them, camouflage is recommended. It is also very important to remain motionless while birds are working the decoys or coming in. To retrieve downed birds from stock tanks try using a fishing rod rigged with a top water plug. Cast over dead birds and reel them in. The same rig fitted with a diving plug will retrieve decoys in deep water by snagging the anchor line. Remember only non-toxic or steel shot may be used for ducks and geese.

RABBITS

Cottontails offer an excellent supplement to the hunter's bag and some very tasty meals. Dove hunters should watch for rabbits along field edges while hunting. Walk thick cover such as tumbleweeds, before you finish your morning hunt. Quail hunters are likely to encounter cottontails most anytime but especially along desert washes and thickets. Try a special between seasons rabbit hunt using a 22. 22's offer an excellent challenge and good practice for upcoming big game hunts. Walk ridge tops in the early mornings and late afternoon, using binoculars to search for rabbits in the washes below. Dress bagged rabbits at the first opportunity and throw them on ice. Occasionally rabbits are the host to the large grub of the bot fly. These unpleasant looking grubs do not harm the meat of the rabbit and no rabbit should be discarded because of them. Jackrabbits are often overlooked and not only provide excellent sport but good eating. Teriyaki marinated and grilled jackrabbit back-strap is excellent fare...no kidding!

SQUIRRELS

Arizona has more different species of tree squirrels than any other state. Warm winters and the rain we have gotten should make for fair to average squirrel hunting this fall. Start your hunt early in the morning when squirrels are most active. Quietly walk along logging roads and search for squirrels on the ground and in the trees. Once a squirrel is spotted it may be shot on the ground or rushed and run up the nearest tree. Chasing squirrels up trees at seven thousand feet elevation is more work than it sounds. Add an up hill incline and you have the makings of a cardiac arrest. A well-trained dog makes the job easier. Abert’s squirrels spend a lot of time on the ground foraging for mushrooms in the fall and are more likely to be seen there. Gray squirrels prefer riparian corridors of sycamore, walnut, and ash. The canyons under the Mogollon Rim are a good place to try for gray squirrels and you'll probably pick some Abert's up too. They are a bit harder to come by and can make for a challenging hunt. Red squirrels are found in spruce/fir habitat and most easily found by listening for their "wurring" call. Try using a 22 for squirrels instead of a shotgun, its a lot more fun and you don't have to worry about shot at dinnertime. Bring a pair of binoculars to help you to spot squirrels in treetops. Consider a hunt for the Arizona big 5 (Abert’s, Kaibab, Arizona gray, apache fox, and red squirrels).

 


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An Introduction to Hunting Arizona’s Small Game by Randy Babb


The 198-page book is a fantastic resource that provides expert tips for hunting Arizona's small game birds and mammals, from quail and doves to squirrels and rabbits.

 
Regulations [More]


Hunting, Trapping & Fishing Regulations, Season Dates & Draw Information

Detailed information on all rules, regulations and seasons

  • 2014-2015 Arizona Hunting Regulations [PDF, 6mb]

  • Hunt Permit-Tag Application Form [PDF]
  • 2014 Antelope & Elk Hunt Draw Regulations
    [PDF, 4mb]

  • 2014 Spring Hunt Draw Regulations [PDF]

  • 2013-2014 Waterfowl & Snipe Regulations [PDF]

  • New! 2014-2015 Dove & Band-tailed Pigeon Regs [PDF]

  • New! 2014 Sandhill Crane Regulations [PDF]

  • Hunt Arizona 2012: Survey, Harvest and Draw Data
    [PDF, 6mb]

  • 2013-2014 Trapping Regulations [PDF]


  • 2014 AZ Fishing Regulations
    [PDF, 7mb]
  • 2014 Urban Fishing Guidebook
    [PDF, 9mb]
  • 2014 Amphibian and Reptile Regulations [PDF]

  • 2013-14 Raptor Regulations [PDF]
  • Arizona Residency Requirements [PDF]
 

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