Review of Missouri's Quail-Hunting Season Dates
and the quails’ sensitivity to over-harvest as identified in the Illinois study.
· Recent research: Recent research in Kansas, Texas and North Carolina reiterated the finding from Illinois that quail are vulnerable to over-harvest in January, February and March. The timing of harvest is at the crux of the quails’ sensitivity. Kansas researchers stated it this way: “Managers should recognize that harvest can significantly lower spring northern bobwhite breeding densities” and that “one way to reduce harvest effects is to assure that harvest timing occurs in early winter and hunting season length is minimized.”
· Timing of harvest is critical: The effect of timing of harvest is based partly on the phenomena that high-producing small game populations face a "bottle-neck" in winter as weather is severe and cover and food are reduced, resulting in increased natural mortality (predation, hypothermia, starvation, etc.), and subsequent rapid decline in abundance. The result of this is that harvest can have less effect on breeder abundance if it occurs prior to major periods of natural mortality. The practical result is that one quail harvested in early November does not necessarily result in one less breeder the next spring. On the other hand, as natural mortality increases during winter, eventually one quail harvested does result in one less breeder. This is especially true in late January and February when other factors such as food and cover may be limited. In other words, by hunting in late January or February, you could be harvesting quail that would have made it to spring to breed.
· Winter stress: In addition to the above consequences, hunting in January is potentially more damaging because quail are more vulnerable in winter’s diminished cover, and birds not killed but harassed could suffer energy losses and potentially higher mortality.
· Missouri’s quail vulnerable in January: MDC’s study of quail on farmland in northeast Missouri in the 1990s found that natural mortality spiked in January—predators and winter weather took a heavy toll with the percent of quail killed jumping from 17 percent in December to 29 percent in January. This pattern fit Illinois and Kansas observations of increased vulnerability in January.
· Today’s quail and today’s hunter: Missouri’s quail hunter numbers have plummeted from more than 100,000 in the 1980s to 22,000 in 2008. Couldn’t the quail population handle a longer season with so few hunters? Unfortunately today’s quail population is but a remnant of the past with quail disappeared