As a youngster, I recall tagging along with my great-grandfather and his favorite bird dogs, which happened to be pointers, combing the brush, thickets and fence rows 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 worked 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.
Two species of quail can be found in Oklahoma. One is the northern bobwhite, whose range is nearly statewide, and the scaled quail which if seen mainly in the western edge including the Panhandle.
I have always heard the scaled species referred to as “blue quail.” Both types are ground-dwellers that dine on seeds and insects. Areas with high amounts of forbs (plants and weeds that are not grasses or woody) can be a food source by providing nutritious seed and attracting protein-rich insects.
Bobwhite quail are found in groups called coveys and a covey is generally 12 to 15 birds, but can be larger.
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 land is privately owned. Without private landowners, wildlife management is not going to happen.
Jena Donnell is the ODWC’s quail habitat restoration biologist. She can be reached at (405) 684-1929 for further information.
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”.
J.D. Ridge, biologist with the ODWC, said, “The north central area around Copan and Lake Hulah has seen bird numbers that were decent.”
He also suggested looking in western Oklahoma for a better population of birds.
Brent Morgan, ODWC biologist for Camp Gruber and the Cherokee Wildlife Management area said he had been seeing a few coveys of quail.
“They may actually be on the rise as habitat is getting more favorable,” said Morgan.
Two conservation 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.
Reach Kilgore at email@example.com.