The cheerful song of the Bobwhite Quail in late summer is a call to gather the covey.  For the hunter it is a welcome sign of the approach of hunting season.

The explosion of the flush, fast darting flight and the fact that they are excellent table fare, have all contributed to the quail’s popularity.  Their adaptability to a variety of habitats helps their development.  Modern forestry practice of clear cutting has provided habitat for the quail that had not been in some areas previously.

Time was when the Quail hunting was the province of shooters in the southeastern United States.  Hunters prowled huge plantations on horseback or wagon following white English pointers.  That time has changed.  Quail are now the number one game bird in the whole country, thanks to stocking of wild birds and the raising of birds for hunting clubs.

Studies show that clear-cut areas provide excellent habitat for as long as five years until the young pine and hardwood seedlings close the overhead canopy and shade out the quail food plants.

Quail live on the seeds of weeds, berries, insects and green vegetation.  They prefer vegetation that is neither too dense nor too thin.  Well-managed habitat produces an abundance of quail for years.  The populations will replenish itself within one or two years.  Extremes in weather can have some effect.  Predator control has a limited effect on the populations.  Probably more of detriment to the population of birds is the free roaming cat or dog.

Perhaps one of the better things to happen to the quail population has been the Cropland Reserve Program (CRP) paying farmers to take marginal land out of crop production, sow them in grasses and leave them ungrazed and unmowed for 10 years.

Proper fencerow management can provide cover as can a narrow strip of tall grass or weeds.  Managing ditches, gullies and other such areas letting vegetation grow produces quality habitat.

A bird of the edges, quail feed in open areas.  They will not stray far from the safety of cover.  They would rather walk than fly and avoid anywhere that does not have food, water and overhead cover.  The water does not have to be standing water.

According to recent studies, quail will thrive on green plants and insects that result from damp soil.  Given green plant material and the insects that such growth attracts, quail metabolize enough water to survive and successfully reproduce.

Illinois quail hunters have limited options when it comes to hunting.  They have to know someone who has land available for hunting or belong to a club that does manage for quail.

The minimum acreage would be about 500 acres to hold enough bird to last an entire season without additional stocking.  With a stocking of additional birds released for shooting purposes during the season, less land could suffice.

Quail live in groups called coveys.  Most coveys are actually family groups that have stayed together through the summer.  They may also include other broods that will join them in the fall.

Coveys can reach a maximum size of 14 birds.  In summer, they will reach groups of 20 to 30 birds. When weather cools, they break off into the smaller units.  The covey provides warmth and security.  Biologists tell us that they will sit together in a circle with their tails toward the center.  This formation helps to hold the body warmth in the circle.

Once a group is less than seven birds by either hunting pressure or predation, they will seek out other groups to form new coveys.  Sometimes if a covey is not found where it should be, chances are that they have moved off to join another covey.

Generally, quail hunting is a social occasion with more than one hunter and a dog or two.  Perfect dogs for this type of hunting are the pointing breeds.

A single hunter without a dog is at a disadvantage but can hunt successfully if he follows a pattern.  The best bet is to work the smallest brush and food patches adjacent to open areas.  Fencerows are good places.  It is difficult for just one hunter walking alone to flush birds.  They do prefer to run rather than fly.  The hunter should walk in a sort of zigzag pattern.

When the covey flushes, the birds explode in all directions.  It is important for the hunter to aim at only one bird at a time.  Trying to shoot at the whole covey or several birds with a single shot is futile.

Quail hunting is not easy day afield under the best of conditions but it is well worth the effort.


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