Quail numbers on the mend thanks to research

Last Saturday started the 2014-15 quail season, much to the delight of many area hunters. After years of declining numbers, a glimmer of hope for the upcoming season should see a slight increase in the numbers of this popular game bird.

Joplin hunter Larry Garner had his two pointers loaded in his truck just after daybreak and headed for the fields. Garner 74, said he has slowed down a bit after hunting quail since he was 10 years old.

"I remember the good old days when it wasn't hard to find a couple coveys and getting a limit wasn't a big deal," he said. "Times have changed to the point you might walk a mile or two without flushing a single bobwhite. I had several places I hunted where I knew I could find birds. There was plenty of good habitat for quail, and the hunting was very good, unlike today."

Garner did find a covey of quail after more than an hour afield.

"I have lost some of my good shooting, or else the birds are flying faster than I remember," he said. "But when your dog goes on point and the birds flush, it's an experience you don't soon forget. That explosion when the birds take flight creates excitement like nothing else in hunting. I am glad to see some positive news about an increase in the numbers of quail, although its ever so slight. We won't ever see the numbers like I did when I was a kid. It's encouraging to see a positive instead of seeing the quail numbers declining every season."

Garner, like many area quail hunters, discounts the idea that turkeys have been a large factor in the decline of quail. It has been rumored that turkeys eat quail chicks and eggs, but researchers have not found a single chick or egg fragment while examining thousands of turkey stomachs. The lack of evidence is remarkable.

The Missouri Department of Conservation started a project in southwest Missouri to better understand bobwhite response to different management techniques.

Managers of several conservation areas in Dade and Lawrence counties noted that quail on large, diverse grasslands initiated covey breakup and nested several weeks earlier than coveys on nearby areas managed using crop strips, nesting patches and brushy hedgerows.

This information suggests that total production may be greater on the diverse grasslands and led researchers on four conservation areas to band and apply radio transmitters to several dozen bobwhites to determine if this scenario holds true in other areas as well.

Habitat is the key to restoring quail numbers. No other bird in the country has been more studied than the bobwhite. Yet for all that biologists have learned about quail, knowledge cannot compensate for the loss of habitat.

Good habitat is the most important factor in quail production. Weed patches tend to attract insects needed by growing chicks and produce seeds eaten in the fall and winter. In today's landscapes, weed patches are increasingly scarce.

When I was a youngster, Nov. 10 was the date marked on quail hunters' calendars in my hometown. That was opening day of the quail season and was for decades until the Conservation Department changed it to start Nov. 1.

Reat the full story here.

Source: Ken White