Greta and Babe crept to a halt and stood motionless in a patch of golden brown native grass. Just ahead, our third German short-hair pointer, Gretchen, had sensed game and, nose hovering just above the ground, stood frozen on point in front of a wild plum thicket.
Dad and I slowly walked in, expecting a covey of quail to explode from the grass. At the exact moment I was asking Dad where they could be, the grassy cover at our feet started shivering and a rumble of wings filled the air. I swung my 20-gauge on a pair of brown blurs and fired twice, dropping one of the bobs. Dad, who is usually more patient and steady when shooting, knocked down two.
The three pointers meticulously scanned through the grass and ragweed until they retrieved our birds. Mine was a young rooster. Its black and white head matched perfectly with its buff brown and gray body feathers.
With our first point and covey rise, as well as the three birds in pockets, so to speak, our quail season was now officially open. For the next several hours we chased singles and bumped into three more coveys as we worked our way through the mosaic of grassy fields, food plots, woodlots and shrub thickets at the conservation area. We harvested more birds, and despite being exhausted and covered with sticktights, we had some fun. Apparently, the Quail Emphasis Area we were hunting was doing exactly what it was designed to do.
Emphasis on Quail
In 2004 the Conservation Department established 19 conservation areas as Quail Emphasis Areas (see table). These areas demonstrate how good quail habitat management practices can increase quail numbers and provide quality quail hunting experiences. The long-term goal for Quail Emphasis Areas is a density of one quail per 2 acres in the fall before the hunting season. Quail numbers are estimated each October based on a predawn whistling survey. Managers survey quail and grassland birds again in May and June during the breeding season. In recent years, quail numbers have been down on Quail Emphasis Areas likely due to cold, wet springs and severe ice and snow storms.
Quail Emphasis Areas were selected based on existing habitat qualities, public demand and size of the area. Intensive habitat-improvement efforts on the areas include using prescribed fire and strip disking to open up bare ground and promote annual plants, creating brood habitat for young quail.