, Muskogee, OK


November 15, 2013

Quail numbers shrinking just like their hunters

As a youngster, I recall tagging along with my great-grandfather and his favorite birddogs, which happened to be pointers, combing the brush, thickets and fencerows in southern Oklahoma searching for quail.

Although just a pup myself, the memories made with my 90-year old mentor and closest ally will last forever.

I marveled in amazement as the dogs work through the thickest cover imaginable and   I do remember him saying, “the good ol’ days of quail hunting are going away.”

I'm not sure even he could have foreseen the loss of habitat and decline of the numbers of birds.

There has been a decline in quail population since 1960 and the number of quail hunters in Oklahoma has followed suit — down from 111,000 in 1986 to 30,000 in 2012.

The ODWC began an intensive, long-term research project this fall to study quail reproductive success and mortality. Through the study, they hope to learn about the quail population and how to address restoring and improving the habitat, and thus, the quail numbers, in the future.

“Quail are dependent on weather and habitat, but there are other issues out there,” said Alan Peoples, chief of wildlife for the ODWC.  Predators, disease and fragmentation have been named by some as other factors.

Bobwhite quail are found in groups called coveys and a covey is generally 12 to 15 birds, but can be larger. They are ground dwellers and primarily eat seeds and insects.

Though they can build a nest in many places, quail prefer building nests in mature native bunchgrasses 12 inches in diameter and eight inches in height. The average lifespan of a wild quail is seven months and only 20 percent survive from one October to the next.

While the population of quail is lower throughout the entire southeastern United States, Oklahoma is one of the few remaining states where hunters can still encounter large numbers of wild quail. The ODWC is interested in providing information to any landowners who wish to work to improve the habitat of quail.

“Ninety-seven percent of Oklahoma is privately owned,” said Mike Sams, private lands senior wildlife biologist for the ODWC. “Without private landowners, wildlife management is not going to happen.”

You may contact Mike Sams at (405) 590-2584 or Jena Donnell, quail habitat restoration biologist, at (405) 684-1929 for further information.

Quail hunting season runs through Feb. 15 statewide. Seasons on public hunting land will vary from statewide seasons.

Shooting hours are from official sunrise to official sunset. Shotgun (conventional or muzzeloading), archery equipment and legal raptors are listed as legal means of taking quail. The daily limit is ten birds, 20 in possession after the first day.

At no time may any quail or covey be shot while resting on the ground, commonly called “pot shooting”.

Two conservations groups who have projects and fundraisers for the preservation of these birds are Quail Forever and Quail Unlimited.

We need to work to rebuild the numbers of this magnificent game bird for future generations.

John Kilgore's outdoor column runs Fridays in the Phoenix. Reach him with news or comments at (918) 348-9431 or

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