A recent Facebook post asked why we still promote the hunting of quail when their numbers are so low.
One of the basic tenets of wildlife management is that hunting is compensatory mortality for short-lived game species such as cottontail rabbit or bobwhite quail. In other words, studies have shown that 80 percent of quail will die before the next nesting season whether they are hunted or not. Hunting therefore compensates for natural death from extreme weather events, predators or accidents (vehicles, mowers, etc.). Recent studies conducted in Missouri found that harvest rates of 30 to 75 percent of quail did not make a difference in breeding bird populations the following spring. Similar studies on pheasant in the Midwest have revealed that as many as 90 percent of male birds could be harvested with no impact on the number of chicks produced the following spring. In reality, our quail harvest rates are probably in the 10 to 30 percent range in most places.
For larger game animals and predators, hunting by humans is almost the only mortality to help keep populations in check. Without hunting or trapping, disease will set in. When raccoon populations rise too high, they are prone to massive outbreaks of distemper. Coyotes get mange. Deer get blue tongue. All of the aforementioned diseases have happened in Missouri multiple times during the last decade. I have not seen a coyote with mange this year, but imagine, if you will, how one with mange would fare with this week’s weather.
For me personally, hunting for quail or any other game species is a continuation of a legacy that I learned from my grandfather, uncles and father. It was a way for me as a youth to connect with them, when most youth my age were rebelling. Today, with my own children I can witness the connection from an adult viewpoint. It is a connection you cannot get while watching TV together. I know where my kids are. In fact, studies have shown that kids who take up hunting and fishing are less likely to commit delinquent acts than their non-hunting and fishing peers.
As I get older I find that while I still haul a gun across hill and dale, I rarely shoot. The wonder of watching a bird dog work a field or the camaraderie with friends and family makes the whole hunting trip worth it. I have not gotten a limit of birds in a long time, and my kids get mad at me because I don’t shoot. Someday they will understand.
Our wildlife species have more to fear from habitat destruction, urbanization and invasive species than they do from hunters. I know that not everyone reading this will agree with what I have said, but I still appreciate your point of view. I would urge you to stand up together, whether hunter or non-hunter, and support the management and restoration of habitats that support healthy populations of quail. When we do something on the land for quail, we are benefitting more than 140 other species of Missouri wildlife that use the same habitats as quail. The vast majority of those species are not hunted or trapped. I, a hunter, revel in the fact that the brushpile I placed in a field behind my house is used by cardinals and field sparrows more than it is used by quail. And the lizards and chipmunks like it, too!