How to Hunt Quail

Watching a covey of quail flush and hearing the whir of their wings makes a bird hunter's spirit soar. Unfortunately, not as many people are experiencing this thrill as there were 30 years ago. According to Tom Dailey, quail researcher at the Conservation Department, the number of bobwhite quail harvested in the state has dropped from 3.9 million in 1969 to under 700,000 in 1997.

A combination of loss of habitat and cool, rainy weather during nesting and brooding seasons has brought down the number of quail almost every year this decade. As a result, the number of quail hunters has decreased from nearly 180,000 in 1969 to less than 60,000 today.

"Every time we have a major quail decline, we lose hunters," Dailey says. "The hunters come back when the quail are more abundant, but they don't reach the previous number."

But for those who take the time to locate quality quail habitat, the hunting can still be good. "The harvest per hunter per day of hunting hasn't changed much," Dailey says. "The 60,000 hunters we have are good hunters who continue to invest in bird dogs." As a result, hunters in the 1990s average two quail a hunt, versus three quail 30 years ago.

The secret is finding where to hunt. "Most people can expect to drive at least an hour to find a place to hunt that has good quail habitat," Dailey says. If you are hunting in a new area, you might want to arrive before the crack of dawn. On clear, calm days most quail coveys whistle about half an hour before sunrise, but only for a few seconds, Dailey says. "It's a good way to see if quail are in the area."

Once you find a good spot, the quail habitat may not be near the best place to park, that's why Dailey has added a new piece of equipment to his hunting gear--a mountain bike. He loads it in the back of his truck along with his three bird dogs and uses it to get quickly to the fields where the birds are. If hunting on Conservation Department lands, he checks the area regulations first, because bikes may be restricted to service roads or designated trails.

"A mixture of open land and woody cover is where you will find the most quail," Dailey says. He looks for pastures that have diverse vegetation, such as annual weeds and native grasses, which