Quail Need Hunter's Help To Survive Drastic Decline

By Don Jordan

posted 11/1/07

Indiana's upland game hunting seasons for rabbit and Bob White Quail opens Friday, Nov. 9, giving upland hunters 12 days in the field before our deer firearms season opens on Nov. 17.

Quail and rabbit hunting in Indiana has been slipping for decades. Quail are disappearing because of habitat loss, and bunnies are beset by coyotes in areas where the wily canines have free run.

Quail Unlimited, a national conservation organization dedicated to improving quail habitat and numbers, reports that the small game bird is in serious trouble nationwide and in Indiana.

Some of their findings include: Wildlife managers in 16 southeastern states say the bird could disappear from the South by 2010; Northern Bobwhite topped this year's National Audubon Society's list of the top 20 common birds in decline and that the bird's population has dropped by 82 percent in the past 40 years.

That's a drop from an estimated 31 million quail in 1967 to 5.5 million today, nationwide.

QU's Indiana report says that while biologists are reporting a 9 percent decrease in numbers, the "abundance of bobs appears to be similar to 2006." Most of the observed decline on whistle counts was in north and central Indiana where habitat loss has been the most severe. QU says Indiana's quail population "remains near historic lows across the state.

Though a slight drought has traditionally correlated with increased bob production in the Hoosier state. The group reports Ind. DNR biologist Steve Backs as saying that this year's drought "crossed the line" and apparently hammered their reproductive efforts.

Southwest Indiana and a bit of southeastern Indiana remain as Indiana's quail strongholds, although habitat loss is starting to tell in even these prime quail counties.

Still, a typical Indiana Bob White harvest is about 50,000 birds (as compared to Missouri where hunters bagged 292,00 quail in 2006), and the DNR still maintains an 8-bird daily bag limit south of State Road 26. Quail season closes later south of SR 26 too, on Jan. 15 instead of Dec. 23 north of that highway.

If two hunters were to take their limit from one covey of birds, that covey would likely disappear. Because of the state's unrealistic bag limit and dire straits these wonderful little critters are in, bird hunters have to take it upon themselves to conserve the resource. Here are a few conservation tips for you quail hunters out there:

*Keep your coveys big enough to absorb winter weather losses; meaning you should leave at least 12 birds to help the covey survive winter.
*Don't kill your daily bag limit from any one covey.
*Set your own daily bag limit at say, four birds or less.
*Do less shooting and more dog watching.
*Don't bust a covey late in the afternoon. Give 'em a chance to covey-up in bad weather.
*Avoid hunting quail during periods of snow cover and extreme cold. Quail drop like flies when snow covers their food and extreme cold uses up their reserve fat.

Most of all, all hunters need to support the federal Conservation Reserve Program that gives farmers financial incentives for setting aside farmland for wildlife. States with the largest CRP set-asides also have the best hunting for quail and all other game.

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©Copyright 2007. Donald Lee Jordan.