Quail Hunting Prospects

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Fall Quail Covey Calls

male northern bobwhite in snow

Known simply as “quail” or “bobwhite,” the northern bobwhite can be found in every county in Missouri. Bobwhites are so named for the male’s cheery call is-sued from fence posts or other elevated perches in late spring and through summer. Bobwhites are ground-nesting birds and lay clutches of a dozen or so eggs in a nest at the base of a grass clump. Chicks hatch fully feathered and mobile and immediately begin hunting insect prey, which they depend on for rapid growth. By mid-autumn, bobwhites assemble into coveys of 10 to 15 birds and generally eat seeds. Annual mortality is high, and most bobwhite young live less than a year. The quail’s high reproductive capacity counter balances this high mortality rate, and bobwhites are capable of rapid population increase when habitat conditions are favorable.

Hunting and Management

Few experiences afield match the heart-stopping thrill of a covey of quail exploding into flight. During hunting season, quail can be found in grassy or shrubby areas, especially near food sources. Bobwhites eat row crops such as corn and beans, but also readily consume wild seeds of ragweeds, sunflowers, and crotons. Areas with these cultivated and wild seed foods are good places to find quail, especially when brushy cover such as a plum thicket or brush pile is located nearby. A light-weight, fast swinging shotgun works well. Most hunters use size 7 ½ or 8 shot and an open choke. Savvy hunters know that, in order to be successful at putting quail in the bag, it’s important to pick out and focus on a single bird — a difficult feat when a dozen or more take to the air at once. While not necessary for quail hunting, a good bird dog aids tremendously in finding bobwhites and adds to the enjoyment of the hunt. In fact, many quail hunters enjoy the dog work even more than the challenging shooting.

Like all wildlife, quail depend on suitable habitat to thrive. Good quail habitat consists of grassy/weedy areas for quail to nest, roost, and raise broods; well-distributed patches of brushy cover for loafing and escaping predators; abundant food resources; and enough interspersed patches of bare ground to facilitate movement and foraging. Above all, quail thrive where plant diversity is high. Large blocks of land in the same type of cover — whether row crops, grass, or brush — is rarely good quail habitat. Management practices such as prescribed burning, disking and prescribed grazing can be used to produce and promote good quail habitat.

Ongoing Quail Research

Perhaps no bird in America has been more studied than the bobwhite. Yet for all that biologists have learned about this bird, knowledge cannot compensate for loss of habitat.

Recently, the Department began a project in southwest Missouri to better understand bobwhite response to different management techniques. Recently, managers on a few conservation areas in Dade and Lawrence counties noted that quail on large, diverse grasslands initiated covey break up and nested several weeks earlier than coveys on nearby areas managed using crop strips, nesting patches, and brushy hedge-rows.

Preliminary investigations suggested that total production may be greater on these diverse grasslands. Those observations led researchers on four conservation areas to band and apply radio transmitters to dozens of bobwhites to determine if this scenario holds true on other areas as well. It is believed that the superior nesting and brood-rearing habitat provided on grassland-dominated areas managed with fire and grazing may result in higher nest success and total production. Several more years of study should help determine if this hypothesis is true.

Hunters who harvest a quail with an aluminum leg band or radio transmitter are asked to report it to the nearest Department office.

2014 Featured Hunting Spots

Bobwhites can be found on many conservation areas across the state. While many of these areas provide quail hunting opportunity, several are designated as Quail Emphasis Areas (QEAs) and are managed with quail as a main focus. Managers’ Notes from a sample of QEAs are also available starting on Page 20 of this report. Hunters might wish to explore the following QEAs:

  • Bois d’Arc CA (Greene Co.)
  • Bonanza CA (Caldwell Co.)
  • Crowley’s Ridge CA (Stoddard Co.)
  • Henry Sever Lake CA (Knox Co.)
  • J.N. Kearn Memorial WA (Johnson, Pettis Counties)
  • Maintz Wildlife Preserve (Cape Girardeau Co.)
  • Poosey CA (Grundy, Livingston Co.)
  • Robert E. Talbot CA (Lawrence Co.)
  • Whetstone Creek CA (Callaway Co.)
  • White Memorial WA (Lincoln Co.)
  • White River Trace CA (Dent Co.)

Did You Know?

Not all bobwhite nests are incubated by hens! Many times the rooster will take over incubation duties, allowing the hen to lay and hatch another nest.

Want Better Quail Hunting? Take Aim at Habitat.

Good brood habitat is the most important habitat factor in most places. Weed patches tend to attract many insects needed by growing chicks and produce lots of seeds eaten in the fall and winter. But in today’s landscape, weed patches are increasingly scarce.

For technical assistance in providing brood habitat and other quail needs, contact your local Private Land Conservationist or browse the Public Contacts Directory under Related Information below.

Key Messages: 

Conservation makes Missouri a great place to hunt and fish.

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