Archive for the ‘Quail’ Category
Thursday, May 16th, 2013
After months of delays and political posturing, both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives’ Agriculture Committees began work on a new Farm Bill this week. As you’d expect, I was there along with QF’s Jim Inglis to make sure the voices of our members, bird hunters and conservationists were heard. The Farm Bill remains our single most important tool for wildlife, water and hunters.
In the Senate Committee
On Tuesday, May 14th, the Senate Agriculture Committee finished the Farm Bill markup in just three hours, which may be a record! Their efficiency stems from their pretty much sticking to last year’s template. There are, however, a few amendments deserving attention due to their value for wildlife.
First, it was clearly demonstrated the Senate supports linking crop insurance to conservation compliance. Second, we were very excited to see the important Sodsaver language make it into the bill. Third, there were amendments to help USDA distribute technical assistance funding, which would give NRCS more flexibility to enter into agreements with Quail Forever & Pheasants Forever to deliver conservation programs. And lastly, there was some interesting language on increasing habitat for pollinators, especially honey bees. As we have mentioned before, great pollinator habitat can be great for all wildlife, particularly pheasants and quail.
Ultimately, the Senate Committee version of the Farm Bill passed by a vote of 15 to 5. That bill is now headed to the full Senate floor for a vote. In fact, there is a chance the Senate’s vote may happen as early as next week.
In the House Committee
On Wednesday, May 15th, the House Ag committee began work on their Farm Bill mark. There was very little action on the Conservation Title during the session, and still no language to tie crop insurance to conservation compliance. We were certainly disappointed by that omission, but remain optimistic it can be remedied in conference committee. We are also hopeful to direct more EQIP/WHIP funding for wildlife priorities, however those amendments were withdrawn. At near midnight (14 hours after the start), the House passed their version of the Bill by a vote of 36-10.
House leadership is postulating a floor vote may occur sometime in June where we hope to strengthen some of the conservation language in the Conservation Title.
A group of Quail Forever & Pheasants Forever chapter leaders, farmers, landowners and staff will be in Washington, D.C. next week meeting with our elected officials as we work to strengthen the conservation components of the bill in preparation for floor votes.
Additionally, we were excited to see the USDA open Continuous CRP practices to landowners this week and are optimistic there will be strong demand for the general CRP signup that starts on Monday, May 20th. If you are a landowner interested in learning more about CRP, please check out one of our landowner meetings taking place in coordination with the signup. A full list of landowner workshops is available at www.CRPMeetings.org and as always, your local USDA Service Center is an excellent source of CRP information.
The D.C. Minute is written by Dave Nomsen, Quail Forever’s Vice President of Government Relations.
Thursday, May 9th, 2013
By Scott Linden
We talk a lot about “closing the loop,” reaching a logical and finite ending to all things business, social, financial, etc. The term is appropriate for yesterday, the last day of quail season here in Oregon.
I began the season at a spot that holds history and pre-history (read: dinosaurs), fond memories, and a sweet spot in my heart for the peace it brings me. I closed the season in the same place. And once again, it didn’t take much to bring satisfaction.
Buddy hunted hard, making up for too many road miles and not enough field time. He tore from objective to objective along the little creek laced with beaver dams and head-high brush. Once the breeze finally stirred he worked it well, and soon the beeper’s hawk scream signaled a find.
Trembling on the opposite bank, nose vectored into a tangle of reeds and marsh grass, Buddy’s right front paw saluted the hidden birds. From the other side, I praised him then wondered how the heck I’d get across to make the flush: three feet deep if it was an inch, the dark water held no attraction in late January for an involuntary dip.
Rather, I staked out a brush-free spot on my side and hoped the bird would blink first, offering a shot through one of the corridors in the creekside vegetation. A fruitless search for rocks, sticks, or anything else to lob into the bird’s hideout led to my throwing an empty VitaCal tube, but no flush resulted and now I had a cleanup project following any shot I might get.
Buddy held steady, even when released to flush, and I reveled in my brilliant training methods (hah!). I wandered the bank, finding half a beaver dam that might lead to a hummock or sunken log to get me all the way across. The mud-and-stick barrier held – sort of – and I was three steps into the crossing when two mountain quail fought their way free of the tangle. One arrowed upstream through the tunnel of alders arching over the creek. The other buzzed, kamikaze-like, straight for my forehead before firing the afterburners and launching for the stratosphere.
Ducking to dodge the first bird, then pivoting on the muddy dam, I slapped the trigger and watched the most beautiful game bird in the world fall to earth, still as it landed, the silence returning to claim my attention and focus my gratitude at the dog, the shot, the bird’s contribution of life, and for my not falling in the water.
This mystical place, full of spirits from woolly mammoths to shamans, delivered to me a perfect end to a season full of challenge and beauty. I think I’ll start next season in the same spot.
From the glossary of my upcoming book “What the Dogs Taught Me:”
Stake: Designation of a class or separately-judged competition in field trials.
Stand: To point a bird.
Started dog: A dog that is somewhat obedience trained, comes when called and will point birds. Also “green broke.”
Sunday, May 5th, 2013
By Scott Linden
Dogs are fascinating, multi-dimensional beings that have intrigued me for decades. The most interesting aspect of their lives, at least to me, is how they think. Maybe “think” is the wrong word for those of you who believe animals dwell deep in the primitive depths of instinct, fang, claw, action and reaction.
But we hunting dog owners know better. We’ve seen our quail hunting partners apply reason, employ logic, solve complex problems and learn a bit of “language.” Sure, they think differently from us. But they think. And the sooner we figure out what they’re thinking about – and why – the better our hunting team becomes.
Have you ever had a lousy boss? You know the type: harsh voice constantly berating you, cutting you down, badgering, yelling, and criticizing … never offering praise or encouragement.
Some of us have been lucky enough to have a good boss, or even been one. To others, it might have been a coach, teacher, Scoutmaster, neighbor. You remember them for their soothing demeanor, supportive attitude, mutual respect, positive reinforcement. Heck, even their critiques were constructive, almost pleasurable.
Of the two, who would you rather work for? For which would you gladly stay late to help with a rush order, or go the extra mile? The same holds true for your dog. He’d rather endure cactus spines in his paw on a scaled quail hunt for a human he trusts and respects.
I’m not saying you should curry favor, suck up or kowtow to your pup. In the pack, your dog functions best when he knows his boundaries and who’s in charge. In your house, yard and field that’s always you. Establishing those boundaries and setting up your chain of command can be done in a number of ways, some better than others. One version engenders respect and cooperation, other versions foster fear or aggression. Which will get him to climb toward the stratosphere on a mountain quail hunt?
When discipline is applied appropriately, instruction is melded with encouragement, or correction is done with restraint and sensitivity, I think your dog acquires a sense of “fairness.” I doubt that dogs truly comprehend that term, but they are certainly aware of the opposite.
Doesn’t it just make sense to create a relationship based on mutual trust, respect, and reward for a job well done? Remember back to when it worked for you; I bet it’ll work for him.
From the email in-box:
Q: I hunt a lot of grouse and ducks in Minnesota and I have Springer spaniels. When hunting them in the woods they don’t like to get off the trail. What can I do to help them understand to go into the woods?
A: How much bird contact have they had? If you’re not finding a lot of birds in the woods, set up some training situations where they will discover birds when they get off trail. Once they get the idea, they’ll be more inclined to venture out.
Thursday, May 2nd, 2013
I was again reminded of how working with our dogs, thinking like they think, can produce better shooting from us. I was watching the raw footage from a recent TV hunt in Alabama, where a companion got so nervous (or was he dazzled at “Buddy’s” performance?), the bobwhite had ample opportunity to fly wild or scoot out from under Buddy’s point.
Luckily the bird held and the outcome was fatal for him. If you want a similar outcome on your next quail hunt, read on …
First, ensure a solid point and a bird that holds still rather than a scampering off unscathed. Start by being punctual. Once your dog stands the bird, walk in with alacrity. The longer you dawdle, or admire his stunning good looks, or take photos, the greater the chance a bird will flush wild, run off or the dog will do the flushing for you.
Then, assert yourself. Over many years in many fields one thing is clear: both birds and dogs hold better when the gunner moves with confidence. Once your dog shows you the bird, stride right in and everyone will likely do what’s expected of them. No sneaking, mincing or doubt … this is the time to show you are in charge.
Choose your route with care. Swing wide around the dog and you’ll cut off one of the bird’s escape routes. Two gunners performing a pincer movement means even fewer bolt-holes for a cunning rooster more inclined sprint than fly.
Flanking your dog also minimizes his chance of breaking point. “Allelomimetic behavior” is a highfalutin phrase for the actions of that flock of birds that jives in unison or pair of wolves on the hunt, trotting in parallel. Sauntering close alongside a pointing dog is an invitation to follow you into the flush –that’s how we teach “heel,” after all.
Quail Forever contributor Scott Linden lives in central Oregon, and his passion is pursuing quail pointed by his German wirehairs, “Buddy” and “Manny.” The host of Wingshooting USA is the author of the new book, What the Dogs Taught Me. He also designs dog training gear including leashes, collars and his patented Real Bird Bumper®.
Tuesday, April 30th, 2013
Last year’s list of the 25 Best Pheasant Hunting Towns in America selected locales predominately based in the Midwest where the ringneck is king. Because Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever members hail from all reaches of the United States, from Alabama to Alaska, we’ve assembled this year’s list to include pheasants as well as multiple quail species, prairie grouse and even forest birds. The main criterion was to emphasize areas capable of providing multiple species, along with destinations most-welcoming to bird hunters. In other words, there were bonus points awarded for “mixed bag” opportunities and neon signs “welcoming bird hunters” in this year’s analysis. We also avoided re-listing last year’s 25 towns, so what you now have is a good bucket list of 50 destinations for the traveling wingshooter!
What towns did we miss? Let us know in the comments section.
1. Pierre, South Dakota. This Missouri River town puts you in the heart of pheasant country, but the upland fun doesn’t stop there. In 2011 (the last year numbers were available) approximately 30 roosters per square mile were harvested in Hughes County. Cross the river and head south of Pierre and you’re into the Fort Pierre National Grassland, where sharp-tailed grouse and prairie chickens become the main quarry. In fact, the U.S. Forest Service manages the Fort Pierre National Grassland specifically for these native birds. Just North of Pierre also boasts some of the state’s best gray (Hungarian) partridge numbers as well.
While you’re there: Myril Arch’s Cattleman’s Club Steakhouse goes through an average of 60,000 pounds of aged, choice beef a year, so they must know what they’re doing.
2. Lewistown, Montana. Located in the geographic center of the state, Lewistown is the perfect city to home base a public land upland bird hunt. Fergus County has ring-necked pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse, gray (Hungarian) partridge, as well as sage grouse. You’ll chase these upland birds with stunning buttes and mountain ranges as almost surreal backdrops, and find no shortage of publically accessible land, whether state or federally owned. Two keystone Pheasants Forever wildlife habitat projects are 45 minutes from Lewistown. Located six miles north of Denton, Montana, the 800-acre Coffee Creek BLOCK Management Area is located between a 320-acre parcel and an 880-acre parcel of land – all three areas are open to public hunting. Pheasants Forever also acquired a 1,000 acre parcel known as the Wolf Creek Property, a project which created 14,000 contiguous acres open to public walk-in hunting.
While you’re there: Once the birds have been cleaned and the dog has been fed, head over to the 87 Bar & Grill in Stanford for their house specialty smoked ribs and steaks.
3. Hettinger, North Dakota. Disregard state lines and you can’t tell the difference between southwest North Dakota and the best locales in South Dakota. Hettinger gets the nod in this region because of a few more Private Land Open to Sportsmen (P.L.O.T.S.) areas.
While you’re there: A visit north to the Pheasant Café in Mott seems like a must.
4. Huron, South Dakota. Home to the “World’s Largest Pheasant,” Huron is also home to some darn good pheasant hunting. From state Game Production Areas to federal Waterfowl Production Areas to a mix of walk-in lands, there’s enough public land in the region to never hunt the same area twice on a 5 or 10-day trip, unless of course you find a honey hole.
While you’re there: The Hwy. 14 Roadhouse in nearby Cavour has the type of good, greasy food that goes down guilt free after a long day of pheasant hunting.
5. Valentine, Nebraska. One of the most unique areas in the United States, the nearly 20,000 square mile Nebraska Sandhills region is an outdoor paradise, and Valentine, which rests at the northern edge of the Sandhills, was named one of the best ten wilderness towns and cities by National Geographic Adventure magazine in 2007. Because the Sandhills are 95 percent grassland, it remains one of the most vital areas for greater prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse in the country. Grouse can be found on the 19,000-acre Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge and the 115,000-acre Samuel McKelvie National Forest, and grouse and pheasants may be encountered on the 73,000-acre Valentine National Wildlife Refuge.
While you’re there: Head over to the Peppermill & E. K. Valentine Lounge and devour the Joseph Angus Burger, a finalist in the Nebraska Beef Council’s Best Burger Contest.
6. White Bird, Idaho. Hells Canyon is 8,000 feet of elevation, and at various levels includes pheasants, quail, gray partridge and forest grouse. Show up in shape and plan the right route up and down, and you may encounter many of these species in one day. It’s considered by many wingshooting enthusiasts to be a “hunt of a lifetime.” Nearly 40 percent of Idaho’s Hells Canyon is publically accessible, either through state-owned lands, U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands or U.S. Forest Service lands.
While you’re there: Floats and rafting adventures are popular on the Salmon River, in case your bird hunt also needs to double as a family vacation.
7. Heppner, Oregon. Nestled in the Columbia Basin, within a half-hour drive hunters have the opportunity to harvest pheasants, California quail, Huns, chukar, and in the nearby Blue Mountains, Dusky grouse, ruffed grouse and at least the chance of running into mountain quail. With the exception of the Umatilla National Forest for grouse, the hunting opportunity is mostly on private land in the area, but the state has a number of agreements in the area for private land access through its Open Fields, Upland Cooperative Access Program and Regulated Hunt Areas.
While you’re there: As you scout, make sure to drive from Highway 74, also called the Blue Mountain Scenic Byway, winding south from Interstate 84 through Ione, Lexington and Heppner.
8. Winnemucca, Nevada. Winnemucca claims legendary status as the “Chukar Captial of the Country.” Long seasons (first Saturday in October through January 31), liberal bag limits (daily limit of six; possession limit of 18) and the fact that these birds are found almost exclusively on public land make chukar Nevada’s most popular game bird. The covey birds do well here in the steep, rugged canyons that mirror the original chukar habitat of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the birds’ native countries. Just know the first time you hunt chukar is for fun, the rest of your life is for revenge.
While you’re there: Nearby Orovada, 44 miles to the north of Winnemucca, is known for excellent hunting areas as well as breathtaking views of the Sawtooth Mountains.
9. Albany, Georgia. Buoyed by tradition and cemented with a local culture built upon the local quail plantation economy, Albany has a reputation as the “quail hunting capital of the world” and a citizenry that embraces “Gentleman Bob.”
While you’re there: save an hour for the 60 mile trip South to Thomasville, Georgia where you can visit Kevin’s, a landmark sporting goods retailer devoted to the bird hunter.
10. Milaca, Minnesota. There are places in Minnesota where pheasants can be found in greater abundance, ditto for ruffed grouse. But there are few places where a hunter may encounter both in such close proximity. While pheasants are found primarily on private land here, state Wildlife Management Areas in the region offer a chance at a rare pheasant/grouse double, including the 40,000-acre Mille Laces WMA. The nearby Rum River State Forest provides 40,000 acres to search for forest birds.
While you’re there: For lunch, the Rough-Cut Grill & Bar in Milaca is the place. This isn’t the type of joint with a lighter portion menu, so fill up and plan on walking it all off in the afternoon…before you come back for supper.
11. Sonoita, Arizona. Central in Arizona’s quail triangle – the Patagonia/Sonoita/Elgin tri-city area – the crossroads of U.S. Highways 82 and 83 puts you in the epicenter of Mearns’ quail country, and 90 percent of the world’s Mearns’ hunting takes place in Arizona. Surrounded by scenic mountain ranges, the pups will find the hotels dog friendly, and moderate winter temps extend through the quail hunting season. Sonoita is also close to desert grasslands (scaled quail) and desert scrub (Gambel’s quail). After your Mearns’ hunt in the oak-lined canyons, you can work toward the Triple Crown.
12. Abilene, Kansas. A gateway to the Flint Hills to the north and central Kansas to the west, the two areas in recent years that have produced the best quail hunting in the Sunflower State.
13. Eureka, South Dakota. Legend has it the town’s name stems from the first settler’s reaction to all the pheasants observed in the area – “Eureka!”
14. Wing, North Dakota. Located just northeast of Bismarck, this town’s name is a clear indication of its premiere attraction. While primarily a waterfowler’s paradise, bird hunters looking to keep their boots dry can find pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse and Huns on ample public ground.
15. Redfield, South Dakota. By law, there can only be one officially trademarked “Pheasant Capital of the World” and Redfield is the owner of that distinction . . . and for good reason!
16. Tallahassee, Florida. Home to Tall Timbers, a partner non-profit focused on quail research, this north Florida town is steeped in the quail plantation culture and quail hunting tradition.
17. Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. This fisherman’s paradise also makes for an excellent October launching off point for the bird hunter. Head south toward Fergus Falls to bag your limit of roosters, then jog northeast to find ruffed grouse and timberdoodles amongst thousands of acres of public forest lands. Point straight west and you’ll find prairie chickens in nearby Clay County if you’re lucky enough to pull a Minnesota prairie chicken permit.
18. Park Falls, Wisconsin. For more than 25 years, Park Falls has staked its claim as the “Ruffed Grouse Capital of the World.” It’s more than just proclamation – more than 5,000 acres in the area are intensively managed as ruffed grouse and woodcock habitat.
19. Iron River, Michigan. Four-season recreation is Iron County’s claim to fame, and with the nearby Ottawa National Forest, it’s no coincidence the county bills itself as the woodcock capital of the world.
20. Lander, Wyoming. Wyoming is home to about 54 percent of the greater sage-grouse in the United States, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Wyoming manages millions of publically-accessible acres.
21. Miles City, Montana. Sharp-tailed grouse are well dispersed throughout southeast Montana, and the state boasts the highest daily bag limit – four birds – in the country. Thicker cover along riparian areas also provides chances at ringnecks. Did we mention there are roughly 2.5 million acres of publicly-accessible land in this region?
22. Spirit Lake, Iowa. The many Waterfowl Production Areas and their cattails make northwest Iowa a great late-season pheasant hunting option.
23. Holyoke, Colorado. Lots of Pheasants Forever and state programs – including walk-in areas – are at work in Phillips County which has made the rural, northeast Colorado town of Holyoke the state’s shining upland star.
24. Barstow, California. San Bernardino County is a top quail producer in the state, and the vast Mojave National Preserve is the most popular destination for hunters from throughout southern California, where wingshooters can also find chukar in addition to quail.
25. Anchorage, Alaska. From the regional hub of Anchorage, bird hunters can drive or fly to excellent hunting areas in all directions, which include ptarmigan, ruffed grouse and spruce grouse. To maximize your chances and stay safe here, consider hiring a guide.
Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013
By Scott Linden
I shot one quail the other day, and it kind of spoiled the hunt.
I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know when I say that often the best part of the hunt is not the killing, it’s everything else. And we had some of that.
Cobalt blue sky, a couple inches of snow glistening like diamond dust as the dogs dashed back and forth. They were grateful for I don’t know what, but they were on fire. No competition, the place abandoned on a Thursday after Christmas. The white blanket softened ambient sound, footfalls muffled. A raven half-heartedly complained about our presence before flapping off in a sulk.
We motored from spot to spot, exhausting my inventory of birdy places on this patch of public ground. For the most part, I rotated dogs, disappointing one every time the other got his chance. By the end of the day, just one cover harbored a small covey. They’d been sunning on a snow-free south-facing slope under a juniper tree, flushing well before the dogs got a whiff of them. That’s a wild covey for ya.
The lingering scent put him into high gear, galloping up the ridge and slip-sliding into the shadows of a steep draw. Sidehilling in snow is never easy, but I’ve had worse. So when both dogs locked up at the base of a sagebrush I was actually close to ready, shotgun at port arms. The quail was two trees away by the time I swung on her, a hard left-right crosser at 40 yards downhill.
She tumbled, Manny careening toward her before the trembling stopped. (Buddy is glad to defer on anything resembling work – like a retrieve.) When he delivered to hand, the tone of the day was changed. It wasn’t better or worse, just different.
But you know what I mean.
From my email in-box:
Q: Does hunting a younger dog and older dog together help the younger dog learn quicker?
A: Yes. But he learns both the good habits and the bad. A young dog needs to become bold and confident, and that won’t happen if he’s following, chasing, imitating or playing grab-ass with an older dog.
Q: How soon do you introduce your dogs to the heel command?
A: If your dog can walk and knows his name, you can introduce the concept of “heel,” gently. I like Rick and Ronnie Smith’s technique with their “Wonder Lead.” And remember, young dogs are like flies – sugar works better than vinegar when it comes to training. A couple well-done “heels” are plenty for a pup, and focus on praise rather than correction.
Q: Have you ever encountered a dog that just couldn’t be trained to hunt?
A: I’ve OWNED them. Just kidding, but there probably are dogs that are less inclined to hunt. Much of that can be blamed on genetics and bad owners who haven’t trained their dog to basic obedience. I might guess that any dog with three or more legs (not joking) and a nose can hunt … if motivated by birds and their human.
Scott Linden is America’s most-watched upland bird hunting TV host, his show Wingshooting USA being broadcast as many as 14 times per week on seven networks. A resident of Central Oregon, Scott’s passion is pursuing quail pointed by his German Wirehairs Buddy and Manny.
Besides his television series, Wingshooting USA, Scott authors two magazine columns and is an active public speaker, consultant and seminar leader. Scott is the author of the upcoming book “What the Dogs Taught Me” published by Skyhorse Publishing of New York. He also designs dog training gear including leashes, collars and his patented Real Bird Bumper®.
Wednesday, March 27th, 2013
Two factors are of critical importance to maintaining healthy quail populations: weather and available habitat. While these elements affect all quail species year-round, they’re highlighted every year as the harshest season comes to an end and the birds begin their next reproductive cycle. The following report examines these factors in various regions across quail country*.
*Additional state reports may be added as they become available.
While the harvest data for the 2011/12 season has not been determined at this time, reports from hunters from within areas containing Longleaf Pine Restoration were quite positive this year, notes Carrie Threadgill, wildlife biologist for Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.
Populations on public lands that are being managed for quail looked good, continued Threadgill, with “more coveys seen this year by area managers than previous years on several of (the Department’s) management areas.”
Winter has had its ups and downs in the Heart of Dixie, staying somewhat mild with week long periods of wintery weather interspersed. In the last few months, rain events have increased enough that there are only a few southeastern counties in Alabama that are still seeing slight drought conditions.
Field Notes: Alabama is continuing to survey for quail and other bird species on Barbour Wildlife Management Area and is expanding to several other management areas in an ongoing bird monitoring project of longleaf pine, shortleaf pine, and native warm season grass restoration areas on public lands.
Severe drought and heat during most of the warmer months of 2012 likely caused a downturn in quail survival heading into the winter of 2012/13. However, “The Land of Opportunity” experienced a generally mild winter (with the exception for an unusual snow event in central Arkansas), which could lead to positive overwinter survival.
According to Clifton Jackson, “Current habitat conditions are growing increasingly favorable as the state is getting rain to rechange rivers, lakes and ponds. There have been several good days to execute prescribed fires February through March.” In addition, efforts to enhance quail habitat on several WMAs are progressing, and the state’s “Acres for Wildlife Program” is adding funding opportuntiies for additional quail friendly land practices.
Quail populations were average to below average across Colorado prior to the onset of winter, but fortunately for the state there haven’t been winter storms that would result in high quail mortality across the quail range, according to Ed Gorman of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.
Winter moisture, or lack thereof, could have an effect of quail populations heading into the breeding season. Without significant moisture this spring, quail nesting and brooding habitat will be reduced in both quality and quantity. Current habitat conditions are relatively poor across the range due to last summer’s drought.
“Nesting began early in 2012 and weather conditions were favorable during much of the nesting season, except in a few areas that received high amounts of rainfall from tropical systems. These factors, combined with quality habitat management and good adult survival, resulted in higher populations across the state heading into winter,” says Greg Hagan, northern bobwhite coordinator and upland ecosystem restoration project director for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Winter weather (December and January) was warmer than average across the state. The benefit of this unseasonably warm winter has led to above average overwinter survival. Lower mortality and favorable habitat conditions should lead to good carry-over of birds, positioning the state well for the spring and summer nesting season.
The Upland Ecosystem Restoration Project (UERP), a multi-agency cooperative effort to increase populations of Northern bobwhites and other declining fire-dependent wildlife species on public lands throughout Florida, continues to enhance habitat conditions on roughly 100,000 acres of early successional habitat.
Currently, favorable habitat conditions exist across the state; however, there are significant uncertainties in the long-term weather forecast. If periods of drought occur across the state, it will impact habitat management activities such as prescribed burning. In Florida, prescribed fire is the key to quality quail habitat, including good summer brood habitat.
Transitioning into the winter of 2012/13, Georgia’s weather was mild during fall to early winter with abundant rain, which should mean a good carryover of birds into the spring breeding season, this according to Reggie Thackston, program manager for Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
Habitat conditions are good across well-managed lands and landscapes, and with Georgia Wildlife Resources Division in the process of finalizing and releasing the state’s National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative Implementation Plan, Georgia hunters have a more than one reason to keep the dogs ready and shotguns oiled. The plan will target effort and funding into spatially explicit landscapes identified to have the highest potential and lowest constraints to restoration and management.
In 2012, Illinois had good nesting conditions early but those gains were erased by the severe drought conditions in the quail range, notes Mike Wefer, field operations section head/acting ag and grassland wildlife program manager. “For the core winter months of December, January, and February, the statewide temperature was 31.8 degrees, which was 2.8 degrees above average. The statewide average precipitation was 9.1 inches, 2.2 inches above average. It was the 11th wettest winter on record for Illinois. Snowfall for those three months ranged from less than 10 inches in east-central Illinois to over 20 inches in parts of far western and northern Illinois, as well as in a band across southern Illinois.”
Besides an early snowstorm in southern Illinois which likely had a negative effect on quail populations, the winter has been fairly mild for bobs.
Current habitat conditions can be summed up with one word: shrinking. “High farm commodity prices have led to loss of grassland habitat in Illinois. Illinois experienced a net loss of 33, 899 CRP acres last year. An additional 186,549.9 acres of CRP is due to expire at the end of September. It is uncertain how many acres will be reenrolled. Also, there has been a long term loss of hay and small grains throughout the state,” continued Wefer.
Field notes: Illinois has additional CRPSAFE/Grassland Wildlife Focus Area acreage that will be available for signup when SAFE reopens this year.
The non-winter of 2011/12 help a bit to stabilize and, in some areas, raise local quail populations in Indiana. However, populations in the state were near record lows, but stable, heading into the winter of 2012/13.
“I think this winter (2012/13) may help the quail populations in some areas, but continued loss of habitat has essentially negated much of the benefits of a milder winter. (The state) continues to lose habitat, particularly linear features, in both areas where populations are higher and stable, and of more concern, in areas of the state where few quail remain. Mild winters and drier conditions seem to speed the habitat loss, as landowners have more time and quality conditions to manipulate their land,” notes Budd Veverka, farmland game research biologist for the Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife.
Indiana’s properties and game bird areas have been made a focus of an early successional habitat initiative where managers are changing the landscape to focus more on producing quality game bird habitat
After a series of hard winters, it seems Iowa caught a much needed reprieve in weather for at least part of the year. Quail roadside counts were the highest since 2009, and with the exception of the south-central region, the statewide snowfall has been around average.
Looking at past data with similar winters, Todd Bogenschutz, upland wildlife research biologist with the Iowa DNR, notes about half previous spring counts have increased, while the other half of counts have decreased. A lot of this may be riding on spring nesting conditions.
The south-central region of Iowa has received the most snowfall in the quail range, and it’s where Bogenschutz expects the winter to have the most impact. The east-central and southeast region seem to have had the easiest conditions thus far, so keep an eye on these regions as trip ideas start to formulate.
Like many other traditional quail states, Iowa is participating in the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, ramping up the state’s habitat efforts on several public wildlife efforts. In addition, the state has also partnered with local PF/QF chapters to enhance management on the state’s wildlife areas.
Field Note: Iowa currently has approximately 10,000 acres of CP33 buffers it could enroll for quail.
Two years of severe drought in the central and western half of Kansas were a detriment to many upland species; however, preliminary info shows a statewide harvest likely between 200,000 to 250,000 bobwhite quail, keeping Kansas as one of the top producing quail states.
“The quail populations were spotty at best across the central portions of the state. Some areas of eastern and north eastern Kansas had increased populations following some very low years,” according to David Dahlgren, small game specialist for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.
“The winter has been very mild until late February, when severe winter storms affected most of Kansas. The winter storms with lots of snow cover that lasted multiple days could have negatively impacted quail, thus reducing breeding populations for 2013; however, the magnitude of this effect is unknown,” continued Dahlgren.
Field Notes: The state’s Quail Initiative and Focus Areas are ongoing, and will continue to be monitored those area again this spring. These are at minimum of five year projects, and the state is just entering its second year.
Ben Robinson, wildlife biologist-small game program with the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources, predicts the breeding season in far western Kentucky was not as good as the central and eastern parts of the state because of drought conditions, which likely meant fewer birds available heading into winter months.
Kentucky has experienced a relatively mild 2012/13 winter, and while the state has had periods of cold temperatures, snowfall accumulations have been low and the snow that has fallen has not stayed on the ground for long periods of time.
This is the second year in a row that Kentucky has experienced relatively mild winters, so Robinson anticipates a good carry-over of birds heading into the breeding season.
Unfortunately, the current habitat situation in Kentucky is similar to other states. High commodity prices make conservation delivery difficult. The state is making progress in several of its Quail Focus Areas, and birds are responding positively as a result.
Louisiana’s quail population has trended downward for several years, and no change in this trend was detected in the fall whistle surveys, according to Jimmy Swafford, small game & turkey program leader for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries.
Habitat conditions remain generally poor across the state; however, the Department is in the planning state for a Quail Emphasis Area on Kisatchie National Forest.
Although populations were not very abundant at the statewide level, it is believed populations were relatively good where suitable, quality and quantity of habitat was available due to the previously mild winter, early spring and good to very good summer breeding season conditions.
Winter weather was mild through early winter, and the state had a relatively wet winter and early spring, especially in the northern part of the state. The later part of winter was colder, and thus the early spring period has remained cool.
Winters are generally mild compared to northern states, but the lingering cool weather could somewhat delay the start of the breeding season compared to last year. Lingering cold weather in the northern United States could also keep more migratory raptors (hawks, etc.) in Mississippi region as they are migrating north, which could slightly increase incidence of raptor predation on quail in the early spring, according to Rick Hamrick, small game biologist for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks.
Field Notes: This year, Mississippi will implement a State Wildlife grant for Blackland Prairie habitat restoration. In addition, the Fire on the Forty Initiative, which was started in 2011, allocated all of its 2012 funding for prescribed burning on private lands in priority counties in south and northeast Mississippi. Roughly 25,000 acres of prescribed burning were funded for these first program years. Other conservation programs, such as the Conservation Reserve Program, continue to be used in accomplishing habitat objectives when available.
Quail populations will generally not be sufficiently abundant for hunting in most areas with a few localized exceptions, but there is still much potential for quail habitat improvement throughout the state. Habitat improvements are showing benefits in some areas, and we continue to try to increase landscape-level habitat in areas where multiple habitat management projects have potential to be tied together.
Missouri’s August Roadside Surveys showed half of the state’s regions were higher than the previous year, and the other half of them were lower, so it was a mixed bag statewide, according to Beth Emmerich, agricultural wildlife ecologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation.
The state had a fairly mild winter with little snowfall, until mid-February. Two major snowstorms hit Missouri within a five day period. The first on 2/21 dropped 5-12 inches over the state, with the heaviest snows at 10 inches or more occurring along a 60-mile wide band along I-70 from Kansas City to Columbia. The second storm hit late on 2/25 and 2/26, dropping 5-10 inches, with North Missouri getting 12-plus inches. Following these two storms, temperatures stayed below freezing, leaving snow on the ground several inches deep for up to two weeks.
Emmerich continued, noting late winter snows can be very detrimental to quail, especially when the snow cover lasts for more than one week. Late February and early March are tough times for all species to find food, especially quail. Last year’s drought coupled with these snowfall events result in little food available for quail.
Fall surveys indicated populations lower than the previous year in the eastern third of Nebraska, probably the result of poor production due to statewide, exceptional drought conditions. Nebraska has experienced a number of heavy snow-fall events, but these were typically followed by warm periods and melt-offs, leading to a mixed winter for the Cornhusker state.
Over-winter survival should be good, in areas where sufficient cover is available. Habitat conditions across the state can be considered fair to poor, as all Nebraska counties were opened to emergency haying and grazing of CRP due to the drought emergency, reducing grassland habitat available for wintering and nesting, this according to Dr. Jeff Lusk, upland game program manager with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
The quail population heading into the winter of 2012/13 was similar to last year and a normal winter should not have a notable impact on quail heading into the spring breeding season, notes Mark Jones, supervising wildlife biologist for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.
Field Notes: The Corporate CURE Project has shown positive results. One of the main goals of this project is to show that viable working farms can be very productive and provide small game habitat while also protecting and/or improving water quality. This goal is accomplished by creating field borders around row crops and pasture land. Most of these naturally vegetated borders are along ditches or woodland habitat and can trap sediment, absorb herbicides, and uptake nutrients.
While populations have been declining, especially due to the extreme droughts of 2011 and 2012, the fall and winter trapping suggested some hens were able to take advantage of late rainfall events and produced late broods.
Winter weather has been mild overall, with the exception of two major winter storms which occurred in February and may have impacted local populations. With mild winter weather, it’s expected quail will have relatively good overwinter carryover into spring breeding season.
Field Notes: Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Commission has partnered with Oklahoma State University to conduct research on two Wildlife Management Unites, Beaver River and Packsaddle WMA’s. In addition to several other projects, researchers will be looking at weather and its impacts to quail and quail habitat. In addition, a quail habitat restoration initiative is available to select counties within Oklahoma. Please contact the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Commission for further details.
Much of Oregon encountered above average precipitation during autumn, but below average precipitation during February, with no abnormally long or unusually cold weather events. At the beginning of March, snow pack was at, or slightly below, average for most of the state. Dave Budeau, upland game bird coordinator with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, predicts quail reproductive success will be contingent on amount and timing of spring precipitation.
Oregon reported 42,781 California quail; 13,514 Mountain quail; and 30,336 pheasants harvested during the 2012/13 hunting season.
Unlike states further north, winter mortality from weather conditions is not a big issue in South Carolina. Winter rains following several years of drought could lead to good soil moisture conditions heading into spring, which may result in improved nesting and brood habitat conditions, according to Billy Dukes, small game project supervisor for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
Winter cover has held up well, due to the mild conditions and no frozen precipitation; however land managers interested in managing for quail should pay close attention to size of burn blocks during prescribed burning operations and make sure to leave adequate escape cover.
According to Jason Robinson, upland game coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah experienced average snowfall in the winter of 2012/13, but with colder temperatures and more persistent snow in the valleys – where Utah quail live there is a chance these weather patterns will have an effect on quail populations. This snow will affect California quail populations in huntable areas the most, while the Gambel’s quail in southern Utah should have high overwinter survival.
Habitat conditions in the state are good, with no valley snow and good mountain snow to help through the spring and summer.
While the 2012/13 quail harvest is yet to be determined, Marc Puckett of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, does not expect much change from the 2011/12 season. There are pockets where a modest recovery is being seen, but very isolated geographically.
Puckett went on to note that the state had a relatively good hatch based on weather conditions, and a mild 2011/12 winter, leading to a good breeding population last summer. As winter set in, weather started off mild and stayed mild through mid-January, but since then, the state has had a moderate winter. Most recently a heavy snowfall occurred in the northern part of the state, but the weather turned warm shortly after and conditions quickly improved. Puckett does not believe the winter has been severe enough to impact quail numbers, and “unless we see something unexpected in early spring, I think the winter moisture is actually setting us up for a good breeding season.”
Virginia remains committed to long-term quail restoration. There has never been a time in history when more is being done for bobwhites than now. The National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative is helping bring together all entities interested in early-successional habitat. Thickets, weeds, and native grasses equal wildlife and healthy ecosystems, not just for quail but for songbirds, pollinating insects and people.
Field Notes: Virginia’s quail plan is ongoing, and the state has five private lands wildlife biologists on staff and continue to fund the states quail recovery initiative. This winter, the state began a cooperative forestry related wildlife BMP program with the Virginia Department of Forestry. Read the story on the NBCI website.
The majority of areas typically hunted in Texas were below average in regard to quail numbers, still suffering from the effects of long-term drought. South Texas has experienced a relatively dry winter while north Texas has received some relief from drought in the form of both snow and precipitation.
Lack of moisture in south Texas may delay nest initiation, but birds there are very opportunistic and can take advantage of spring-summer rainfall anytime it occurs. The northern Rolling Plains (panhandle) will likely have some production especially if more precipitation is received. The southern Rolling Plains did not receive as much winter precipitation and nest initiation will likely be delayed.
Unfortunately, nesting cover is less than adequate over much of the core bobwhite range and spring rains are needed to produce cover and insects, according to Robert Perez, quail program leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has begun development of three focus areas where resources, partnerships and monitoring are intensified in the hopes of eliciting a bobwhite population response. This approach is in line with protocols developed at the national level by the National Bobwhite Technical Committee as part of the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative.
Tuesday, March 19th, 2013
Eric Wieland’s German shorthaired pointer, “Rowdy,” found these valley quail on his first-ever quail hunt this past season while hunting public land in Oregon. In addition to quail, the pair has successfully hunted chukars, huns, blue grouse, sage grouse, pheasants, ducks and doves.
Have your own bird dog photo you’d like to share? Email it to Anthony Hauck, Quail Forever’s Online Editor, email@example.com.
Friday, March 15th, 2013
Kentucky’s Commonwealth Quail Forever chapter held its fourth and final field trial of the season, and the top three placing dogs were, from left: 1st place, “Bobby,” English setter, owned and handled by Mark Payton; 2nd place, “Cory,” German shorthaired pointer, owned by Chris Long, handled by Harry Long; and 3rd place, “Willie” Brittany, owned and handled by Richard Bradley.
Have your own bird dog photo you’d like to share? Email it to Anthony Hauck, Quail Forever’s Online Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday, March 13th, 2013
Virginia is stepping up its part in the overall national wild bobwhite quail restoration effort with an agreement between two state agencies to target pine forests in the state’s six “bobwhite focus areas” to create habitat for bobwhites and other wildlife, while improving commercial timber value.
The Virginia Department of Forestry, an original member of the Virginia Quail Council, is assisting the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries, a member of the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI), to identify interested private, non-industrial forest landowners in the 15 counties that comprise the state’s six quail focus areas to embrace forestry best management practices conducive to bobwhites. The practices include both pre-commercial and commercial thinning of pine stands, planting of shortleaf pine seedlings and the use of an approved herbicide in controlling hardwood undergrowth. Approved landowners can earn up to $10,000 in cost sharing for their participation.
While many think of bobwhite quail in an “agricultural” setting, open pine stands, or “savannahs,” have historically been productive locations for bobwhites — as well as rabbits, turkeys, deer and numerous other bird species. Thinning pine stands allows sunlight to reach the ground, which stimulates the growth of native vegetation quail need for food, raising their young and protection from predators. Shortleaf pine is a slow-growing species, so planting it helps keep the pine stand open longer, requiring less maintenance to preserve it as wildlife habitat.
Most farms in Virginia have more timberland than open farmland,” explained Marc Puckett, the state’s quail coordinator and chair of the National Bobwhite Technical Committee. “With commodity crop prices at all-time highs, landowners are now even less likely to devote that agricultural space to bobwhites. But their woodlands do provide a management option.
“In addition, the management practices we’re supporting for quail in this project are actually good for timber health. So it’s a win for the landowner, a win for the timber and a win for wildlife. We’re fortunate to have a state forestry agency that recognizes and promotes these ideas. We hope the program will prove successful and develop long term support.”
Mike Black, forestry coordinator for the NBCI, enthusiastically endorses the Virginia effort, saying “There is no greater opportunity in the historic range of bobwhite quail for habitat restoration than the forested landscape, and reconnecting forests with quail is one of NBCI’s top priorities. We encourage state forestry entities in all 25 NBCI states to join in examining opportunities for wildlife habitat creation on both public and private forestlands in their respective states.”
Virginia’s bobwhite focus area counties where the landowner offer is valid include Bland, Wythe, Greensville, Southampton, Sussex, Culpeper, Greene, Madison, Orange, Rappahannock, Essex, King and Queen, King William, Halifax and Augusta.
The Virginia wildlife agency provides additional information about managing forests for wildlife:
Quail Forever is a conservation partner in the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI). Read more NBCI blog posts here.