Quail Hunter for Life
For a brief moment, Don Walker’s love of quail hunting was superseded by his love of coffee.
“I always have a pot going,” he said, getting up from the dining room table to replenish his cup. “I gotta have my coffee.”
Then, back in his chair, the 76-year-old Nixa man sipped and spoke of game birds past.
Talking to Walker about the heyday of quail hunting is like talking to an old musician about the golden age of jazz. You can see the vibrant joy in his eyes when he describes his past experiences; you can hear the deep regret in his voice when he talks about how things aren’t what they used to be.
“I’ve sacrificed a lot of time to go quail hunting,” he said of the pastime he’s pursued for 67 years. “I’d sacrifice my job, I’d sacrifice anything. When it came around to quail season, it just seemed like I had to go.”
When asked about the current status of quail hunting, Walker just shook his head. “It’s sad,” he said. Once, his dogs didn’t have to run more than 50 yards before they found quail. He and his partners would find 18 to 20 coveys a day.
Walker’s feelings are echoed by many hunters across Missouri. They have watched the state’s quail population—and with it, the once-popular sport of quail hunting—go into steep decline. Before deer and turkey ruled Missouri’s hunting scene, quail hunting was the primary activity for many of the state’s outdoor enthusiasts. Throughout most of rural Missouri, it wasn’t Thanksgiving or Christmas unless the family gathering culminated with an afternoon quail hunt.
Walker clearly remembers those glory days.
“Forty years ago, you’d go to a restaurant on opening morning [of quail season] and you couldn’t get in for all the quail hunters. And everybody in the parking lot had dog boxes on their trucks. Down in Douglas County where I always hunted, it would sound like there was a national war going on.”
That’s in stark contrast to his recent hunts.
“The last three or four years I’ve been down there, I haven’t heard a shot,” he said. “Not a one—except my own.”
Hunting statistics back up Walker’s memories. The 426,590 quail harvested during Missouri’s 2003–04 season may sound large, but it doesn’t compare to the 4 million birds taken during the 1969–70 season. Disappearing habitat appears to be the main reason behind dwindling quail numbers.
“Habitat loss is the primary factor for the decline