Ask anyone over the age of 30 years old that grew up on a farm or ranch in and they will tell you that the quail hunting in Texas was once fairly good. There were still suitable quail numbers, people heard quail, hunters saw quail. Farming and ranching practices were different then, too. Although research has found that quail hunting has little impact on quail populations, many hunters feel that hunting regulations may need to more conservative.
One of the rationales for shortening the season and/or reducing bag limits for quail in Texas is that many people think Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) needs to “send a message” out to people. One can only presume that the people who are calling for these additional limits think this message is: “Quail numbers are so low that you should stop hunting them or drastically reduce the extent to which you hunt them.” However, I suspect many quail managers and hunters already know and heed this message. Rarely are people more conservative than a landowner when it comes to the harvest of wildlife.
I don’t like the idea of shortening the quail hunting season in Texas. Research has found that hunting has little impact on quail numbers. Besides, a lot of non-hunters will perceive this message in a way that somehow makes them think quail hunting has been responsible for the low numbers of quail. This would be a big mistake. Too much quail hunting pressure is not the cause of the dire situation for quail in Texas.
Again, self-regulation on the ranch level is already being done in many areas. Properties that still provide quail habitat have done so for the sake of the birds and are already protecting them. Landowners with little regard for wildlife have seen their quail disappear long ago. Changing the quail season will have zero impact on properties that lack quail, which is a growing percentage of the state. Hunting, again, is not the problem.
Changing the quail hunting season by shortening the season length or reducing the bag limit will only cloud quail management. This is because the problem with quail in most of Texas is too little habitat, not too much hunting. When quail numbers are low, quail hunters self-regulate. They do not need any one to tell them that there are too few quail to hunt. They already know this.
On the other hand, when quail numbers do recover, having a shortened season and reduced bag will only limit opportunity and punish hunters who have already self-regulated their efforts during the bad years. Why should people with little regard for wildlife habitat impact those that are actively involved in quail population and habitat management? If the quail hunting season was shortened then the guys that did the most for quail would not get the benefit of their actions.
The solution to the quail problem in Texas lies in creating and restoring habitat in a large-scale, purposeful manner that provides for the annual life history needs of the birds. A genetic study in Texas found that the dispersal of bobwhite quail takes place over a radius of more than 30 miles, or across an area of habitat greater than 200,000 acres! Many will argue that they can grow pen-raised birds and release them and rebuild a local quail population, but this is false.
Research has found that pen-raised birds of every type die quickly, within seven days or less. Released birds are only good for shooting. They will not start a new population on their own, especially on a property devoid of suitable habitat. Predators will be blamed, but pen birds do not have the skills to survive. Predators, however, are not limiting wild quail. Quail management at an appropriate scale that provides nesting, brooding, loafing, escape cover and food needed for quail to survive and reproduce will work.
Reducing the quail hunting season and/or reducing the bag limit, even if done on a regional scale in Texas, is simply the wrong thing to do. Quail will not recover because of a shorter hunting season. Wildlife and habitat management is the key. Food, cover, water and space is all that any animal needs to survive. Quail are no different. Look around. If you don’t see any quail it’s not because of hunting. It’s because there is not suitable quail habitat. There is no easy answer.