Review of Missouri's Quail-Hunting Season Dates
By Tom Dailey, Resource Scientist, Columbia, Mo., and Aaron P. Jeffries, Private Land Program Supervisor, Jefferson City, Mo.
Ever wonder why the opening and closing dates of quail-hunting seasons vary so much from state to state, or why Missouri’s season is always Nov. 1 to Jan. 15? In nearby states opening dates range from late October to late November and seasons close from mid-December to the end of February. With each game species and hunting season, the Missouri Department of Conservation must weigh sound wildlife management, scientific research, hunter satisfaction and the general public’s perceptions when determining appropriate season dates and limits.
In 2005, the Department conducted a thorough review of Missouri’s quail season. Here’s a summary of the review and justification for the current season structure. A similar article was published in the fall 2006 issue of the Covey Headquarter Newsletter.
· Era of annual season review: From 1950 to 1981, Missouri’s quail season opened on Nov. 10 and closed between Dec. 15 and Jan. 15, with the longest season being 66 days. Quail-hunting regulations were set each year based on population indices, and most often the season ended in December based on research in Illinois that showed hunting losses in January added to natural mortality and risked a decline in breeder numbers. Despite the annual attention to hunting regulations, quail numbers continued to decline.
· Focus on habitat: In 1982, new MDC quail biologist Rich Cannon recommended the hunting season that we currently use, Nov. 1 to Jan. 15. In 1987 this season structure was placed in the Missouri Conservation Commission Wildlife Code. Biologists reasoned that the public’s focus should be shifted away from regulations as a way to restore quail and toward habitat restoration and management. Today, quail habitat restoration and management are high priorities for the Department and conservation partners, and the birds are responding, albeit in limited fashion.
· Balancing biology and hunting demand: Expanding the season from the pre-1980s length of 66 days to the new structure (earlier opening of Nov. 1) with 76 days caused much concern. Cannon recognized this in a summary of the regulation setting process that was published in 1986 in an MDC publication, "Missouri Quail: At the Crossroads of the Future." In the section titled "Seeking a Balance," Cannon referred to the Jan. 15 closure as a compromise between recreational demand for a longer season