Quail hunting is really fun when the birds are thick coming off a good nesting season, but it can be downright challenging when there are few quail to be found. In December 2009, I had the opportunity to hunt quail on two South Texas ranches. My expectations were low because the 2009 nesting season was nearly a total bust because of historic heat and drought conditions throughout the state. This was a nesting season where few, if any birds were produced.
Since the majority of birds in a bobwhite hunter’s bag are typically hatch-year (young of the year; juvenile birds), I knew from the get-go that we would most likely find only a few coveys for our efforts. After a hard day of hunting with good dogs and expert guides and in areas of good quail habitat, we flushed five coveys. Later in the week, after a half-day hunt on another ranch, again in good habitat, we only moved two coveys!
The fact that my hunting party found any birds at all was fairly impressive. What was most impressive, however, was how the quail behaved. Believe it or not, they behaved more like bobwhites at the end of a hunting season, rather than at the beginning of the hunting season. They were running early, and they were running wild!
It was absolutely amazing to watch a great quail hunting dog lock down on point, and then slowly creep up another 10 to 20 yards, and then see quail flush another 10 to 20 yards from the dog. It was clear to me that the birds were running. And they were running anywhere between 20 to 40 yards from where they were first pointed by the dogs, adding protective distance and habitat between us and them.
We know, and are used to, having bobwhites run and flush wild late in the hunting season. I’ve seen this pattern over and over again. In fact, there are hunter-quail predictive models developed through research that even predict this wil happen. In that study, biologist used radiomarked birds and they found that previously unhunted bobwhites learned to how to best avoid dogs and hunters. To do this, they would run from the dogs and hunters and then flushing wild, or beyond the reach of the gun, as the hunting season progressed. However, they did not act this way at the beginning of the quail hunting season!