This latest generation of hunters, not surprisingly, might ask, “Were there ever any quail and quail hunters in Louisiana?” They read the hunting regulation pamphlet and see where we have a lengthy 14-week open season (Nov 21-Feb 28) with generous 10-bird daily and 20-bird possession limits. Yet no, or very few, hunters they know actually hunt quail.
Not that Louisiana ever has had the long-standing upland bird hunting traditions found in neighboring Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, but there’s no escaping reality. Louisiana quail hunters are at an all-time low. From the heyday of quail hunting in the mid 1970s, when there were 25-30,000 of us. Our ranks have dwindled to a fewer than 3,000. Sure, here in the sportsman’s paradise, our hunting roots are deeply planted in squirrel, duck and deer traditions, but that’s never stopped us from finding time to stalk less popular game species.
For those of us who have had the pleasure of participating in the “gentlemanly sport” of quail hunting, it can be as fine an outing as any day spent in a duck blind or on a deer stand. Following pointers, spaniels and setters over hills and through fields and brush lots to find them locked up on a covey, is only a prelude to the excitement of birds noisily rising from underneath your feet. Your mind works faster than your body and it seems like you’re in slow motion as you shoulder your shotgun and try to get a bead on a single bird instead of the fatal mistake common to novice shooters, flock-shooting. When you’ve learned to remain calm during the covey rise, doubles and even rarer triples will come. Then you watch your puppy-turned-bird dog, retrieve them from thick broom sedge. Now that’s living large!
What has stopped the Louisiana quail hunter like a brick wall are one, the lack of a place to hunt and two, a shortage of birds where there are available hunting lands. It’s not a problem uniquely ours. Bobwhite populations throughout the United States have been declining for the last 30 years. Sadly, Louisiana has experienced the highest long-term decline at 5.3 percent annually.
“Bobwhites, unlike migratory birds, are not dependent upon what occurs on farms or woodlots in Canada and the northern United States. Since bobwhites don’t range very far, there is no reason why a landowner or a group of landowners cannot increase bobwhites on their own and adjoining land,” LDWF biologist Fred Kimmel said.
In other words, when it comes to huntable quail populations, we control our own destiny.
Perhaps the greatest opportunity to create good quail habitat and, in turn, increase their numbers, lies in farm and agricultural lands. Historically, they have supported the highest populations, and with simple procedures such as protecting and reestablishing hedgerows and weedy areas that provide food and cover, quail will thrive once again. On forested lands, thinning, controlled burning and establishing food plots will bolster quail numbers on lands managed for timber.
I believe the future of quail hunting on state Wildlife Management Areas, if there is to be any, will be under a lottery system. We now have lottery duck hunts on these public areas where blinds and decoys are provided. How about the department releasing birds for selected hunters who provide their own dogs?
The biggest potential I see for quail hunting opportunities lies with deer hunters. That’s right, deer hunters; after all who are all the private lands leased to? Most of the lands leased by deer clubs do already (or could with little management) have good populations of bobwhites, and most of the members don’t even hunt them! They talk about seeing quail walk under their stands or through their food plots all the time but don’t hunt them. What they don’t realize is that a lot of the management they do to produce deer will also benefit quail. Quail season is open a full month after the close of archery season. They have an untapped resource right under their noses. Maybe an arrangement (financial or simply an invitation to a quail hunt) could be worked out between the deer hunters and quail hunters who would only have access to the lease after the deer season.
The last resort for quail hunting is pen-raised bird shooting. Presently there are less than 50 licensed operators statewide. To obtain a license, operators must have a minimum of 100 acres, pay a $200 license fee and use approved banded birds. Typically, the guide/dog handler will place a predetermined number of birds in small groups throughout the tract. He then releases the dogs that point and retrieve them for the clients. Pen-raised birds vary in their flight capabilities, but anyone who has ever hunted wild quail knows the difference. However, it can be an exciting hunt and has the advantage of taking place when, where and how long you want it. It seems to fit in better with today’s lifestyles. You can call and order the number of birds and what time you and your group want to hunt. It’s more like booking a golf game or tennis match compatible with work schedules. It’s ready when you are.
The opportunities for preserve hunting are generous. The long season opens this month Oct 1 through April 30. As an added bonus most of these commercial preserves, in addition to quail offer non-native chukar and/or pheasant hunting.
So in answer to the question, where have all the bobwhites gone? To smaller places to be hunted on a smaller scale, but nonetheless, the Louisiana tradition that some say never was, will continue.