The very best hunts I have had this year occurred at the end of the 2013-14 season and prompted my older son, Adam, to start looking for a bird dog of his own. Adam’s childhood friends like to bird hunt, but don’t have dogs and so invite my dog up each year to hunt with them…and I get to go along. Fortunately for us they have connections with landowners in one of northwest Missouri’s Quail Focus Areas (QFA).
A QFA is an area where quail habitat management is intensified through incentives and assistance to landowners. The Departments’ ten year quail plan focuses our attention on these QFAs by enhancing staff efforts and cost-share dollars. Many of our QFAs were developed with the introduction of the Department’s quail plan in 2004 and have received our concentrated attention ever since. During the fall of 2013, surveys on a half-dozen of QFAs around the state show that each QFA has far more coveys than land outside of the QFAs due to the efforts of landowners to restore quail habitat.
We hunted a 40 acre field that had a 60 foot quail field border planted around the entire perimeter of the field as well as scattered trees and shrubs in a couple of old fencelines. Snow covered much of the landscape still, so we were hoping the quail would be concentrated in the heavy cover surrounding this field. We were not disappointed, about 5 minutes into the hunt a covey of twenty quail flushed wild in front of the dog. We hunted the singles, experienced some awesome retrieves by my young German Shorthair, Trapper, and ran into another big covey of nearly twenty birds again. We finished out the hunt by hunting the singles and again had some great dog work.
The next day we hunted a farm in this same QFA which was nearly surrounded by a quail field border planting. A large wooded ditch through the center of the farm had a switchgrass filter strip planted on both sides of it. The field border planting had been mowed and the remaining cover in the strip had drifted full of snow. So we moved to the filter strips. We are still not sure how many pheasants we saw that morning, as the birds moved from one side of the draw to the other into the grass strips. While chasing pheasants we ran into two coveys of quail, one of which contained more than 15 birds. The pheasants had not been hunted before and were holding for the dog early on. As the hunt progressed, the birds started running ahead of us. My dog had at least 20 solid points that morning between the quail and pheasants and he retrieved all but one bird. Just the kind of hunt a young dog needs and just the kind of hunt my son needs to pique his interest in getting his own dog.
The day before the end of the season, I travelled to southeast Missouri for a bootheel quail hunt which had been cancelled in December due to weather. This QFA has had thousands of acres of quail field borders planted through USDA Farm Bill conservation programs and the quail have responded to the habitat. Our season ended with six coveys of quail and catching up with old friends…..well ok I was the old one. In spite of my advanced state of aging it was heartening during this last week of quail season to be with hunters in their mid-20s and 30s. And even more heartening is that I could keep up with them.