It’s early evening, January 12, 2010. With three days of quail season remaining, I read through my hunting and fishing journal. The journal records a good season. Quail numbers on most of my hunting spots are up. (I hunt mostly private ground in Cape Girardeau, Bollinger, Perry and Scott counties.) I’ve hunted 58 times, and on 90 percent of my hunts this year my two pointers have found quail. Covey sizes have averaged between 10 and 20 quail—plenty big enough to bag a few.
The past five seasons, on most of the farms I hunt, quail numbers had been down. The 2004–2005 season offered so few quail that halfway through the season, though I continued to hunt, I quit taking a shotgun. I was finding few coveys, and those often held fewer than eight birds—just enough to provide breeding stock for the next year. My dogs got used to my not shooting when they pointed. The no-shoot hunts kept my dogs in shape and sharp on finding quail. But that did little for their skill at finding and handling downed birds. I also missed having family and friends over for quail dinners.
What made for more quail on my hunting spots for the 2009–2010 season? I don’t know. Habitat—the essential key to healthy populations of all wildlife— had not changed much. Maybe the mild spring and summer made for better nesting and chick survival. Quail populations can rebound with one good nesting season.
I close my journal and my thoughts turn to tomorrow’s quail hunt. I plan to hunt a private farm not four miles from my house. The farm, of several hundred acres, is managed mostly for cattle. Where there are cattle, the fields and fences are kept clean, and there are few quail. But on the east side of the farm, the landowner grows grain crops on about 60 acres, and this spot offers classic quail habitat: hilly, no-till grain fields under 20 acres, flanked by small woodlots and surrounded by fencerows so overgrown with brush that they stand as 30-foot-wide hedgerows. One of the grain fields holds two strips of wet ground that extend for almost the length of the field. The farmer lets these strips grow up in weeds and sprays or brush hogs them every other year or so to control woody sprouts. Quail have everything they need in this small area: food, water, nesting habitat, bare ground for