The sudden blast-off of a quail covey rise is a special thrill whether you hunt behind a good bird dog or just stumble along hoping to kick up a covey. But tension in the taught body of a bird dog ignites anticipation in hunters. The dog’s penetrating stare into the concealing brush foretells the upcoming explosion of whirring-winged action. The pinnacle of hunting is illustrated here as in no other quarry sport except perhaps some upland wing-shooting.
Men and dogs were bred to hunt, some more than others. In quail hunting, they work together, relying on each other. Writing of his dog’s ability, the late Gene Hill an accomplished bird hunter, dog man and author, confessed, “Without him, I am only another man.”
The season runs October 26 – February 23 in all counties, with a daily bag limit of 15 and a possession limit of 45. Unplugged shotguns are permissible. Most use shot size numbers 7-1/2, 8, or 9 and either 12 or 20 gauge shotguns.
Texas has four quails: northern bobwhites, scaled (or “blue quail”), plus the seldom-seen Gambel’s and Montezuma (or “Mearns’ quail”). Bobs are found in all 10 ecoregions and blues are in the arid western third of the state. Gambel’s and Mearns’ generally exist west of the Pecos.
Quails have been in Texas since first reported by Cabeza de Vaca in the 1500s. It’s questionable just how long they’ll be around, however. For everything there is a season, and, sadly, this could be the beginning of the end for quail. In the southeastern U.S., wild quail are all but gone. East Texas has lost most of its bobwhites and other areas are declining.
A number of reasons for the decline in quail populations are offered: fire ants, drought, severe weather, hawks, stumbling armadillos, and other critters. Hunting has sparse impact since hunters lose interest when birds are few. Droughts come and go, damaging quail, but are followed by rain and good quail production. The 30-year trend, though, shows a severe decline. Bobs are down 75% and blues 66% … and falling.
Two other main culprits are also cited in causing the downturn in quail. Fragmentation of land into smaller tracts, subdivisions, and shopping centers is devastating. Quail need space—large tracts of uninterrupted, quality habitat. That’s disappearing. Researchers at Texas A&M-Kingsville, other universities, and Dale Rollins’ staff at the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch are also focusing on parasites and disease as prime suspects, plus experimenting with habitat improvements and translocating birds back into depopulated areas.
There is still good hunting, however. Habitats and quail populations in South Texas Plains, Rolling Plains, western Edwards Plateau, Trans-Pecos (blues), and some of the Coastal Prairie are comparatively healthy. John Thomas, a devout quail hunter, reports that near Carrizo Springs, after timely rains, they have seen more coveys per day this season and last. Released pen-raised birds are providing shooting in areas that have declined. Quail raised in brushy pens with escape cover from humans seem to become fairly wild.
The situation isn’t pretty, but wise men are working on solutions. Rollins is hopeful. Keep the faith.
And pray for rain.
In the Field: What Works.
Two of the biggest hazards facing quail hunters are thorns and rattlesnakes. A fairly new product guards against both, is breathable, lightweight, and easy to wear. It’s called Turtle Skin, and available in outdoor retail shops or online. A video on their website shows testing with live rattlesnakes.
Hunting dogs get tired, too. Occasionally, they get overheated, leading to complications. Purina offers Purina Pro Plan, and it’s recommended by experienced quail hunters. It gives them plenty of energy to begin a hunt with, and shortens recovery time when they “take five” to catch their breath.
Quail biologist, Dr. Dale Rollins, cares for his dogs as if they were his children. An obituary he wrote when his favorite pointer, Suzy, died, brought tears to grown men’s eyes. He strongly recommends Garmin’s Astro GPS dog collar, especially if you have a dog that’s “wide ranging” and hunts out to the county line, often getting lost.