Here’s a biologist’s report of Missouri’s quail situation that’s all-too familiar for the state’s wing-shooters:
“We must recall the tough times that our quail experienced… and understand that the population suffered and the habitat really took a beating. Another very important point to remember is that quail habitat in the state has been gradually declining… A combination of declining habitat and adverse conditions have hurt the birds.”
Gloomy predictions based on degrading habitat have, unfortunately, become a routine part of quail season for today’s Missouri bobwhite hunter to such an extent that the above report would draw little attention except for one detail.
It was written in 1957.
The above paragraph, extracted from a longer report written by Missouri Department of Conservation quail biologist Jack Stanford, show that quail populations and the habitats associated with them were as fragile 60 years ago as they are today. Stanford’s less-than-rosy assessment of Missouri’s quail population takes on added interest when you consider it was written a decade prior to what could be considered the hey-day of bobwhite hunting in Missouri; the late 1960s when hunters harvested nearly four million birds in a single season (the 1969 season). It indicates that, even in times of good hunting, Missouri’s quail population has always had a “boom-or-bust” quality about it.
Missouri’s quail season runs from Nov. 1 through Jan. 15. The daily bag limit is eight and the possession limit is 16.
As most current quail hunters know, Missouri’s current prospects for this year’s quail season aren’t exactly booming. Long-time quail hunters don’t need scientific data and computer-generated bar graphs to show them the state’s bobwhite population has declined. Their hunting trips in recent years when bird dogs did more roaming than pointing has provided them with all the data they need.
However, all is not gloom and doom. Improved habitat is still the nucleus of the solution to Missouri’s quail problems. It should be pointed out that weather also has an impact on seasonal nesting success and chick survival of quail and we humans can’t control the weather. However, we can make changes in land management that can have a significant positive impact on quail numbers.
Currently, the Missouri Department of Conservation implements quail-friendly management on 51,000 acres of public land in the state annually. MDC staff has provided technical assistance and/or funding to more than 57,000 acres of private land. In addition, MDC partners with non-governmental conservation organizations to deliver another 80,000 acres of habitat on private land.
Looking back to a less-than-glowing quail report from 1957 and the booming bobwhite years of the 1960s can also provide a measure of hope for quail enthusiasts. Nobody’s saying Missouri will return to the multi-million bird harvests of 45 years ago, but it does show that, if given the right conditions, quail populations can make significant gains.
A good source of information on quail and quail-friendly land management is the Missouri Department of Conservation’s booklet “On the Edge: A Guide to Managing Land for Bobwhite Quail.” This free publication, which is available at the Department of Conservation’s Southwest Regional Office in Springfield covers a number of topics dealing with quail and quail management. Information about quail can also be found on the Department of Conservation’s website, www.missouriconservation.org
Francis Skalicky is the media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Southwest Region. For more information about conservation issues, call 417-895-6880.