Quail hunters should be interested in a very comprehensive article in the November/December issue of Mississippi Outdoors, published by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. The piece was researched and written by Wes Burger and Dave Godwin of Mississippi State University and MDWF. Each is an acknowledged expert on this fine bird.
It is, of course, no secret that quail populations have diminished alarmingly all over the South — perhaps especially so in Mississippi. This area used to be known as the quail capital of the world. Southerners now, however, are in a second rate position, being badly outstripped in good hunting by much of the Midwest and Texas. I have had the opportunity to hunt several times in southeast Missouri and western Kentucky. Much of the hunting there was similar to what we had in Mississippi 40 years or more ago.
This fine piece admits to the terrific decline and points out a number of reasons for it having happened. Notable is the gradual but definite changes in land use. We all know that this has happened, but most of us also know that there are plenty of areas in Mississippi and other Southern states where the land use pattern is virtually the same as it has always been and yet the quail are greatly diminished in those areas, too.
The entire article is well-thought-out and goes into detail on ways and means quail-lovers with available land can improve the bird population if they go into the program full-blast. Most of the plans for improvement are long the lines of changing farming patterns and producing the escape cover, food plots and water necessary for bird production on a 12-month basis.
Many fail to realize that this adequate supply of basics must be on hand in February and March, not just during the other months when they are naturally plentiful.
One item rather vaguely referred to is predator control, which is “bad politics” nowadays but essential, many of us believe, if we are to have good supplies of desirable wildlife. They went so far as to show a picture of a hawk and pointed out that this bird, especially the red-tail variety, is a definite quail predator. What they fail to point out is a legal method of controlling this killer that is totally protected by the federal government as a result of political pressure from groups of “hunting-haters.”
One fellow who lives in Tennessee is a dedicated producer of bluebirds, with hundreds of boxes and a tremendous increase of the fine little bird. As the population grew, however, hawk predation increased to a point that they almost destroyed the bluebirds. He called in the local game warden and asked him what to do about a situation of one fully protected bird being destroyed by another fully protected bird. I understand the warden told him it appeared that one of them would simply have to go. After this, the bluebirds made a comeback.
Another recently enacted federal program, part of the farm act known as WHIP (Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program), could be valuable for improving quail production. It is a voluntary program in which participants agree to prepare and implement a habitat plan with technical and financial help from USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service. The agency will help participants prepare a wildlife development plan. Up to 75 percent of the cost will be borne by the agency.
For full information, contact your state cooperative extension service or you local soil and water conservation district.
All over the South, thousands of acres of more or less idle land would produce much better quail hunters if plans of this sort were put into effect. It all boils down to just how badly you want to see a return of good quail hunting.