Georgia’s bobwhite quail season has begun and that is the best news I can give you. The sport is one of the finest outdoor hunting activities you can get involved in and the thrill of your dog pointing a covey or single is an event that will send your heart into a flutter. The exploding sound of a big covey of birds will shake the nerves of even a veteran hunter. Growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s we were lucky enough to still have plenty of birds even in middle Georgia and because of my dad and uncle I was fortunate enough to get hunt regularly for these fantastic game birds.
Sadly I must report that there is a discouraging downside. Quail hunting and quail populations in Georgia are on the decline and it has been this way for several decades. The major reason for this trend revolves around how land is used in our state. The result is a significant reduction in nesting grounds for the birds. This decrease in habitat has resulted in a near catastrophic loss in numbers. Another factor is an increase in predators such as coyotes.
In the mid 1960’s there were over three million wild quail harvested in our state and there were more than 125,000 hunters. More recent figures show that the number of wild birds harvested in a season has dropped all the way to around 25,000 and the number of hunters to less than 25,000. These current numbers do not reflect the harvest of pen raised birds that are taken on private hunting preserves around the state. Those preserves have flourished because hunters still value the experience but cannot find enough wild birds to make regular hunting worthwhile.
In 1998 the Georgia Department of Natural Resources started the Bobwhite Quail Initiative to work with private landowners to restore quail numbers and for a time was able to enlist the help of state law. Specialty license plates were sold to help fund the initiative but that money is now drying up because the state is taking a larger portion of the proceeds as well as cutting back on general funding for the project. The simple result is that this precious resource and activity will continue to lose ground unless an advocate at the state level can be found.
Still there are opportunities for quail shooting on game preserves even though it is not the same as hunting wild birds. These preserves are scattered around the state and can make for an enjoyable day in the woods.
The best of these private preserves are situated in areas where quail habitat is still in place or has been specifically cultivated. Most of the time it is an area that has a combination of open land and woody cover. Diverse vegetation such as annual weeds and native grasses that provide quail with the seeds they feed on will be present. Fence rows near woody draws are another area favored by quail because the birds want good cover close to their feeding areas. Typically quail feed in the morning, rest in cover during mid-day and feed again in the afternoon.
Trained hunting dogs such as pointers and setters are a necessary tool in finding the birds. Once located the dogs will stop and “point” and the hunters will then move into the area to flush the birds.
A twenty gauge shotgun is one of the favorites of quail hunters but anything from a 410 to 12 gauge is workable. Because of the short shooting range that will be required it is usually best to use a skeet or improved cylinder choke and a short barrel for the best results. Typically number 7/12 or 8 shot is used.
As always there are some special safety rules to follow when hunting quail.
1) Approach pointed dogs from behind.
2) Point your gun muzzle skyward and the shotgun on safety until you have the gun to your shoulder.
3) The hunting group (usually two or three persons) should in a side to side straight line when moving in behind the dogs.
4) Shoot only at birds that do not require a wide swing of the gun toward one of your partners.
5) Do not lower your gun past a level plane with the ground. This type of low shooting could result in injuring or killing a dog.
These rules apply whether hunting with a guide on a preserve or out on your own. If you need a list or information concerning quail preserves send me an e-mail and I’ll get them to you.
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