I have to admit it was a good year for my dad and me. Plenty of good memories of covey flushes, excellent dog work and time spent with family and friends. I won't mention how poor my wing shooting was this year. I should consider attending a CONSEP class this spring to improve my aim and save a little money. The Cooperative North American Shotgunning Education Program (CONSEP) helps shotgun shooters and waterfowl and upland game bird hunters sharpen their skills in marksmanship, distance estimation and equipment selection, regardless of the shot material they choose to use. CONSEP training is provided by the Missouri Department of Conservaiton.
November was a slow month. Warm weather and predictions of a poor hatch due to the severe flooding and two years of ice storms had me a little worried. During the month of November I mainly hunted conservation areas and a few farms in central Missouri. This year I hunted a couple designated Quail Emphasis Areas. The habitat looks great and is improving each year on these areas--fields of ragweed and lots of felled trees and shrub thickets. Many of the coveys we found on conservation areas were difficult to hunt. The birds always seemed to disappear into the edge feather, which is great for the birds.
Public land birds get very smart after the first week or two of the season. For example, one day while hunting a conservation area a couple friends and I stopped to talk about habitat conditions. A couple minutes later we were surprised by the "brrr" of a flushing covey from under our feet. The covey had been their the entire time!
Another time I had a friend tell me they found a covey out in the middle of a cut corn field. I have a feeling the covey ran out into the corn field to avoid the hunters as they approached. Smart birds.
One highlight in November was watching a friend catch a quail as it flew past him. That's one way to help your shooting average! I did notice this year that many of the birds we harvested with gun or by hand were from August and early September hatches--a sign that the early hatches in June and July were a failure where I hunted. Next time you harvest a bird, take a look at the wing and try to determine its age.
December is when dad and I hunt nonstop. Before Christmas, I went on a three-day quail hunt across Missouri. I was hoping for a four-day hunt, but below-zero wind chills ended the hunt a day early. Three out of four isn’t bad, and definitely a good decision for the birds, dogs and me!
The first hunt in Callaway County on private land revealed six coveys in less than three hours! That’s more than two coveys an hour! Interestingly, my dad and I hunted the same place a week earlier and found only two coveys. This just goes to show you how hard quail can be sometimes. The farm is a mix of native grass CRP, crop fields and woods. For the past four years I've been helping my friend with summer prescribed burns on the warm-season grass fields, edge feathering and spraying out fescue along the edges of all the fields. To no surprise the six coveys were either in edge feathering, plum thickets or only a short distance from good woody cover. We finished the morning hunt with an early lunch at Cranes General Store in Williamsburg. A $1 turkey sandwich on white bread! The second hunt was south of the Missouri River in Gasconade County on private land. The morning started with wind gusts over 50 miles per hour. Not the best day for bird hunting, but we still found three coveys in about four hours of hunting. The coveys were wild in the windy conditions, and all three coveys flushed ahead of the dogs. We never fired a shot, but the day was still a blast. There are likely more coveys there since the farmer still had all his crops in the field. The past four years the landowner has more than doubled his quail population by planting native grass field borders and improving shrubby cover around his crop field edges. It took a year or two, but the landowner now realizes that having good shrubby cover is critical for bobwhites. This year he plans to plant some more wild plum and blackberry thickets.
The third hunt was north of the Missouri River in Livingston County. The farm is a mix of native grass fields, forage sorghum food plots, idle food plots, edge feathering and small woodlots. The day started out cold and got colder as the day progressed. We found five coveys in five hours of hunting. All five were in woody cover--either edge feathering or briar patches. Below is a picture of my friend Bill White and his son Tony. Tony shot most of the birds. He's a dead eye! I did a lot of missing. A common theme for me this year.
This three-day hunting adventure is something I will always remember. Not for my shooting abilities--I couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn--but for the constant action and satisfaction of finding the birds in the habitat we had created for them. Over three days we found 14 coveys and averaged about one covey per hour! I found the hunts rewarding because on each property the landowner is doing something for bobwhite and they are seeing results. Why?
While each farm was different, each landowner has created good nesting, brooding and woody cover for quail. Most notable has been the establishment of good woody cover by edge feathering, planting/managing native shrubs and thinning rank grass stands with prescribed fire or light disking. Each landowner has also gone back and nitpicked his past work to make it even better.
During the holiday season Dad and I went on a quail-hunting marathon. We quail and pheasant hunted in Missouri 11 out of 12 days. By January 3 we were exhausted. So were the dogs. The highlight of our Christmas hunts was hunting with some friends in northwest Missouri. We harvested a few roosters and found four coveys that day. All four coveys were close to edge feathering and shrub thickets. The roosters didn't even have a chance.
In January I hunted the Callaway County farm one last time. I found four coveys in three hours of hunting. Three of the coveys were in the exact same spots where I found them in December--edge feathering and shrub thickets! The landowner said he hasn't seen this many coveys on his farm in more than 20 years. We estimate there are 13 coveys on his farm. This summer we plan to do a little more edge feathering. We've done 30 acres of edge feathering the past four years.
The 2008-2009 season didn't go down as one of our best seasons, but it will always be remembered.