Public Bobwhite Quail are still a part of the South — they just take some homework.
I’m telling you now: there are still plenty of bobwhite quail in the South.
No quail? I decided to dedicate my 2018 season to finding a solution to that problem of perception!
I would like to dispel the myth that all the best bobwhite quail hunting happened decades ago during some kind of “quail heyday.” Time and time again, I hear about failed hunts or a significant scarcity of birds. You might be surprised that today’s quail hunting in the South might match the challenges of New England ruffed grouse hunting. It takes planning, strategy, and a truckload (literally) of gas and boot leather to find them.
You see, here in the South, we’ve got the birds — and anyone who says otherwise is, well, flat out wrong. More often than not, I and other hunting buddies of mine have stumbled onto coveys in states like Georgia, Tennessee, and for sure, Alabama. In fact, Alabama has put in a great deal of effort to manage prosperous quail habitat and manage the populations to reach a healthy number of coveys.
And I know what you may be thinking. No, I’m actually not referring to plantation birds.
Frankly, hunting private property on a mule-drawn wagon has quite a hefty price tag attached to it, something that’s not always an option for every hunter. Bearing this in mind, I decided to put my faith in hunting public land. Additionally, traveling to Kansas is off the books for me this year. So it’s Georgia public land and the surrounding states for me! Although the challenge appeared daunting when the rampant pessimism that dominates quail hunting circles flashed across my mind, I, along with my wife, packed our bags and our Labrador and headed to South Georgia to scout for wild birds.
After driving three and a half hours, we were roughly 40 miles out from our destination when the reward for believing flew right across my windshield! A hen quail flew so close that I could actually observe its brown and black pattern, hear the percussion of its frantic wing beats, and identify the semi-straight line of flight that matched that of a typical bobwhite flush. I quickly glanced at my surroundings and noticed an empty road ahead. There were rows of cotton to my left and to my right that edged the wire grass as far as my eyes could see.
Saying that the old gentleman Bob has flown the coop is about as unsound as saying that chivalry is dead. It’s not. You just have to know where to look. Paying attention to recent communications from friends and to my own personal recollections, all of our quail sightings have one common strand. One common public land strand, I should say! We have each discovered quail when we were either coming from or going to a WMA.
Bobwhite quail are edge birds and often, in my experience, seem to be attracted to farms, ranches, and oddly enough, frequently to areas near people, water and wire grass. Hunting quail nowadays means more walking! Expect a day’s walk to be in order. But spend that time enjoying the hunt and enjoying your dog (or dogs). Let them do the work.
The birds hold well for a dog’s point so you should have a decent amount of time to catch up to the dog if you run a pointing breed. If you can find millet, cornfields, or an age-old, rusted hunk of what used to be a vehicle, though abandoned and lifeless, often you can find coveys. That’s where I shot my first wild bird — right up next to an old rusted junkyard car planted in wire grass.
I have learned that nature has an honor system of sorts and it is tied directly to the hunter. We, as hunters, are the catalyst for the quality of hunt that transpires. And our rewards are directly tethered to our investment! You see, you get into the birds when you honor the bird, when you honor the dog, when you honor the research, and when you honor the hunt. In an honorable hunt, there is never a wasted breath, never a wasted mile, and never a wasted shell! Mr. Bob White is, after all, a gentleman. Mr. Bob White wants nothing to do with a ruckus in the woods. Hunting quail is an elegant act! And if you cannot join the elegant and disciplined game and play your honorable role, Mr. Bob won’t have anything to do with you or your dog.
You find quail when the moment becomes majestic. You know the moment when nature really shows off and shows all of it splendor. That moment when the shooting light is either rising or setting and you can get lost in the cloud canvas of the sky. You find birds when the pink-purple haze fills the sky and the first or last two shells are loaded. And you, honorable hunter, don’t you dare check your watch. Your dog’s 12 pm tail is our faithful timepiece. The TAIL will TELL. The tail will tell us when it’s time — and it’s not when the hunter says so. Nature’s code is honorable. You’ve got to hunt quail smarter these days, and it’s in the least likely of places that you will find birds.
Public southern quail hunting is available now, and covey counts seem to be doing well this year. If you’re up for it, let the dog take you to where the birds will be!
Durrell Smith is a 28 year old Georgia native, visual artist, wing shooter, and dog handler. While creating compelling ink and watercolor illustrations based on his field experiences and hunting dogs, he also runs a podcast called The Gun Dog Notebook, which can be found on iTunes and Soundcloud. Aside from hunting upland game and waterfowl, he participates in Hunt Tests with his Labrador Retriever. As a first generation hunter, Durrell seeks to learn and contribute to the community by connecting with visionaries and veterans within the bird dog community who are willing to share stories and knowledge about the various breeds, creating a bridge to welcome new and novice dog handlers to the gun dog community.