The same drought that was the curse of Kansas a few years ago may turn out to be a blessing in disguise for Kansas quail hunters this year.

Quail numbers are back, big time. And wildlife biologists credit the dry years for indirectly playing a part in creating ideal habitat for the gamebirds.

“When we were in the drought, cattle grazed a lot of the pastures way down,” said Jeff Prendergast, an upland gamebird biologist for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. “When we got the rain back last year and especially this year, a lot of the thin, weedy vegetation that quail like filled those pastures.

“That resulted in great quail cover, and the birds responded.”

Hunters and landowners have seen the difference. Whether they’re working the fields or driving the backroads, they’re seeing a lot more quail.

“I’m talking to landowners who tell me that they’re seeing more quail than they have in last 20 years,” said Larry Bailey, an avid quail hunter from Ft. Scott, Kan. “The hunting was good last year. We found more quail than we had the five previous years. But I think it will be even better this year.”

Other hunters are saying much the same thing. When the season opens Saturday, hunters and bird dogs will be busy.

Surveys by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism indicate that counts were up 45 percent from 2015. And last year’s numbers were good.

The south-central region had the highest quail numbers in surveys. The north-central, the northwest and parts of the Flint Hills also have good bobwhite densities.

In Kansas, a state known nationally for its quail hunting, that should fuel a memorable hunting season. Now wildlife biologists hope that the great outlook will be enough to lure hunters back.

By last season, hunter numbers dropped to 54,000, even though quail numbers were respectable. That was a drastic decline from as recently as 2000, when 114,000 quail hunters took to the field.

“Hunters did well when they did get out,” Prendergast said. “There just weren’t enough hunters out there.”

But the 2016-2017 season may be the dawning of a new era.