by Guest Contributer Dr. Ron Haaland
You do not need to own or lease thousands of acres of quail habitat to enjoy your favorite sporting bird. Under the right circumstances and with the right management inputs, bobwhite quail can and do thrive on small properties.
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How Much Land?
A viable population of wild quail will require enough habitat to support several coveys of birds. Using a rule of thumb that a covey requires at least 20 acres of suitable habitat to thrive, you will need at least a hundred acres to support five coveys. This is an optimistic assumption because not every bit of land will be suitable habitat. Furthermore, there are several additional factors that will influence the success of your project.
Location can be a determining factor for a small acreage quail program. If you are developing your quail project in an arid area, you will need more acres than if you are working in an area with good rainfall distribution. Land use trends in your surrounding area can have a big impact on your efforts to develop a quail program. If the surrounding properties are in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), you have a good location
to work with. You will probably get better than normal results on your property if you are surrounded by CRP as long as it is not thickly planted pine trees. If you see a trailer court being developed next to your property you probably should start renting out trailer spaces and move your quail project. Factories, shopping malls, highways, subdivisions, etc.
are other types of land uses that are not particularly compatible with quail population development. Neighboring properties will influence what you are trying to do for quail. Development activities like land clearing, road construction and house building affect wildlife of all kinds by disrupting movement, nesting and feeding. The neighbor’s pets can also be very disruptive to quail populations. Cats in particular may be good natured inside the house but outside they are very efficient bird killers. They are particularly good at getting quail that are on their night roost. If the above situations exist, you may not be able to develop a sustainable wild population of quail in your location.
Size and Shape
Small properties that are mostly square in shape will be more productive than long narrow properties. Narrow properties will be influenced by activities on adjoining properties. This rational holds unless the neighbors are also involved in quail habitat improvement. If the neighbors are also interested in quail you may be able to combine some efforts and expenses for habitat improvement. With some creative design and
management efforts, you can make a 400 acre property seem like 800 acres. This concept works with even smaller properties. By strategically placing cover and feed throughout the property, the birds will have ready access to life’s needs. In other words, if a covey of quail needs 20 acres to thrive, make every 20 acres count. Property with topographical relief such as hills, drainages, etc. will also give the illusion of more property than truly exists. This type of landform variation can also add to the thrill of the hunt. After all, what’s around the bend or over the hill always increases adrenaline flow.
Regardless of the size of your property you will have to develop and maintain habitat components that ensure quail survival and realistic hunting. Cover and food are critical. The cover should be adequate for travel, escape, nesting, loafing, etc. but it should not be so thick that you can not find the quail. Existing fence lines, hedgerows and briar patches make good escape cover. Bunch grasses make good nesting and night roost cover. Open pastures or crop fields need some work to make them into acceptable habitat. Food production on small acreage should be tied in with cover production. In other words, some of the cover species should be providing food as well. If your environment is cooperative, you may be able to grow plants that will provide natural food on a year- round basis. However, it is probable that you will have to supplement the food supply to get optimum quail performance. Micro-Management When working with small properties it is possible to manage the land with more finesse than when dealing with thousands of acres. Food and cover patches can be precisely located resulting in challenging flight patterns during hunting season. Components of the patches can be closely monitored and nurtured to produce the best growth. Soil fertility and weed control can be targeted to precise areas.
Part of the micro-management scheme has to also include aggressive predator control.
Trapping and/or shooting nest predators is a must or the quail on your property will not reproduce. Remember, predators are continually on the move so they will most assuredly find a location that has improved quail populations. In other words, predator management is an on- going project.
Enhancing Existing Populations
If you are fortunate enough to have an existing population of quail on your property, your habitat work will pay off. If your neighbors have quail, there is a good chance that their quail will venture onto your property, particularly if you have done habitat improvement work and predator management. I use the “Total Recall” electronic call bird developed by Quality Wildlife Services to help keep quail on a property. It can also be used to determine where your existing quail are hanging out.
Starting New Populations
Many smaller properties do not have viable populations of quail. The property may be surrounded by intensive farming, pine forests or other non-habitat land. You can still have an enjoyable quail program by releasing flight conditioned birds. I use and recommend the “Covey Base Camp” system developed by Quality Wildlife Services. This system includes a release site apparatus with food and water as well as the “Total Recall” electronic call bird. I have worked with this product for eight years and will firmly attest that it works. Bird release will only work if you have developed the habitat, managed the predators and used good quality birds. There are many bird suppliers in the country and not all have the same quality birds. The point to remember is that if you raise a quail like a chicken with a lot of human contact, it will act like a chicken and not survive in the wild and certainly will not
provide enjoyable hunting. One of the most experienced quail providers in the U.S. is Quail Valley Farm located in North Carolina and Georgia. Birds can be shipped via air to most regions of the country. The birds will be about 14 weeks old and just right for release. Birds should be released in early fall. This gives them time to adapt to the new habitat and settle into their covey groups. You will have strong flying birds when hunting
Your hunting objectives should be determined before you even start developing your quail program. If you want to hunt aggressively every weekend you will not be able to sustain a viable reproducing population. But you can have a good “put and take” operation. If you take a more moderate approach that allows the coveys to settle back together for a couple of weeks after a hunt, you have a good possibility of developing a viable population. Additionally, if you take only the covey rise shots and let the singles go, the birds will
regroup better. Furthermore, do not take the sun down covey. The birds are feeding in early evening and then going to their night roost. If they are disturbed at this time they
are much more vulnerable to predators that start their hunting at dusk.
Mother Nature Rules
Ultimately, Mother Nature will play the final card. You can do the best job possible with the best birds possible but the effort can be foiled by floods, droughts, ice storms or deep snow. If that happens, pick up the pieces, restock the birds and continue to enjoy the man-dog-bird relationship.
The Haaland Company
Dr. Ron Haaland
P. O. Box 2085
Auburn, AL 36830
Phone (334) 887-9340