The Lost Covey
In August, we "stocked" our Johnny House with 15 adult quail. We had the right permits from the Missouri Department of Conservation, plenty of food and water, and a nice clean home. "Stocking" the Johnny House was a major event for the family as each of the grand kids helped place the birds in the pen. The rest of the day the boys ran around the yard chasing grasshoppers. The grasshoppers were eventually thrown into the Johnny House where the quail made quick work of them.
Over the next month, we let half the birds out for "a walk." The birds flew a short distance. Some just flopped out of the house. The idea is to leave some birds in the house so they call the others back home. Once I felt the birds were ready, we started training the dogs. The birds flew a little better when we got the dogs involved.
Pen-raised quail lack "experience." Most will let you walk right up to them. They wouldn't stand a chance in the wild. Maybe that's why they return to the Johnny House in five to 10 minutes. The key to calling the birds back is leaving three or four in the house. This means you must remember to close the door after flushing the birds out of the pen.
A couple weeks ago my dad wanted to work the dogs. Dad let out a batch of birds and worked the dogs. The birds and dogs did great. The rest of the day, Dad messed around the farm. Later that afternoon he went to check on the birds. Before Dad made it to the Johnny House he realized something was wrong. The release door was wide open. Dad forgot to close the door when he let the birds out. The remaining birds in the house also decided to go for "a walk." To no surpise the house was empty.
I don't know what hit Dad, panic or disgust. He knew I'd be upset if I found out all my birds were gone. Dad searched everywhere for the birds. By evening none of the birds had returned home. They would have to spend the night outside.
The next morning dad returned to the farm to look for the birds. When he arrived he saw the covey of pen birds walking in single file across the farm road. Dad didn't know what to do. Should he flush them towards the house or leave them alone? Dad decided to leave them alone, but none returned. They were having too much fun.
Dad decided it was best to not tell Aaron. To keep it a secret, Dad called a local game farm. Tom Peak, the owner, laughed a little, but then provided Dad some much-needed advice. That afternoon Dad met Tom at the game farm to buy three roosters. The plan was to put the three roosters in the Johnny House so they'd call back the lost covey. By the time Dad made it to the farm he had driven a total of 90 miles, but it was worth it because the three roosters would call back the others and Aaron would never know.
Like a teenager sneaking back in after curfew, Dad snuck down to the Johnny House to release the three roosters. When he opened the door there was the lost covey looking at him. All 15 birds had snuck back in. At this point Dad realized the pen-raised birds had gotten the best of him.
In October we worked the dogs every weekend to prepare for quail season. Every time we released birds we made sure the door was secure.
Aaron P. Jeffries
Habitat is the Key!