At first glance, stocking seems to be an easy way to restore quail populations. Like many quick fixes, releasing pen-raised quail to restore a population doesn’t bring lasting results (or any at all), is very expensive, may negatively impact wild populations and may set back habitat restoration efforts. Not to mention it is a violation of the Wildlife Code of Missouri to liberate any wildlife to the wild (see 3 CSR 10-4.110).
Actually, the Department of Conservation experimented with stocking pen-raised quail in the 1940s and again in the late 1950s. The conclusion was that stocking quail was ineffective at increasing populations. Biologists determined time and money would have been better spent on habitat management.
By the early 1990s every state wildlife agency had stopped the practice of stocking quail because the practice was ineffective in restoring quail populations and did not address the real problem--loss of habitat! New systems for releasing captive-reared quail have been promoted, and the results are the same--quail stocking is expensive and ineffective. Although captive quail and heavily marketed quail-release systems are still popular, the fact is, without habitat management, there is no quick and easy way to increase quail numbers.
Still today the topic of stocking captive-reared quail is debated and studied by outdoor enthusiasts. Currently a few states are researching a popular release system for quail or pheasants. The research results look similar to those from the 1940s and 1950s-–quail or pheasant stocking is ineffective at restoring a population because most captive-reared quail do not have the skills or instincts needed to survive. Another study in Georgia found liberated birds can cost $74.53 using the newest release systems or $42 if you just simply dump the birds at the beginning of the season. Sounds pretty expensive to me.
I'll stick with habitat management on the farms I quail hunt. I also rabbit and turkey hunt on these farms. Interestingly, a lot of the habitat work we are doing for quail is also helping rabbits and turkeys. Here’s a picture from a rabbit hunt on our farm in Osage County. We’ve done all sorts of habitat work for quail, and the darn rabbits have responded! Darn the luck.
Here’s a picture of my dad and two friends on a farm we turkey hunt in central Missouri. We’ve done all sorts of habitat work on this farm for bobwhite quail. As a result, turkey numbers have exploded. The National Wild Turkey Federation television show shot a hunt and habitat video at the farm last fall. NWTF was impressed by all the woodland and old field management we have done for wildlife. We depend a lot on prescribed burning, strip-disking, food plots and timber stand improvement to maintain quality habitat for quail and other wildlife. And some people still think turkeys are eating all the quail.
What about stocking birds on conservation areas for hunting? A few years ago the Department took a close look at Illinois DNR’s pheasant-stocking program. We quickly learned the program was very expensive, benefits only a few hunters and ultimately diverted funds away from habitat management. Not to mention there are about 260 game bird shooting preserves in Missouri that offer a similar opportunity. A stocking program would directly compete with these small businesses.
Now pen-raised quail do have a purpose, and that purpose is for training dogs and special hunts with kids and if you repeatedly hunt the same property. Personally, I think pen-raised quail and pheasants are a great way to start a youth or new hunter on bird hunting. You can work on gun safety and get them into birds quick. In today’s world of Blackberries, Wii’s and cell phones you better have instant action.
Next year, I hope to have a new German short hair pointer pup. When the time is right, I’ll purchase the correct permits and a few captive quail to start training the new dog at our farm. I’ll be sure to purchase a Dog Training Area Permit. In a couple years, when my two boys are old enough, I’ll teach them how to quail hunt. I’ll probably start them out on a few pen-raised birds as well. I might slip a pheasant into the mix to get them really excited.
The next step for the pup and the boys will be wild birds. Nothing compares to shooting wild quail and pheasants. You just can’t replace the experience.