The stories on the quail decline is still generating discussion. Here are some more e-mails and theories that I have received.
“We have actually seen an increase in quail numbers this season, but not yet in the numbers I would deem ‘huntable’. We specialize in pheasants, but have in many years offered a ‘mixed’ bag of both quail and pheasant.
“I have heard this argument before about the turkeys being detrimental to quail either from eating the chicks to destroying the nest. I have no proof other than I hear so many of our hunters point out a correlation to the fact that they have more turkeys than ever, but the quail are almost non-existent. Is there something to that ratio switch? I don’t know for sure, but it is interesting to note.
“I would like to point out another factor I believe needs to be addressed. I have planted food plots, left uncut grain on edges of fields, placed waterers in the dry hot summers, left stubble taller during harvest, planted thousands of trees and shrubs, and other notable conservation efforts to encourage the propagation of native birds naturally.
“I have discovered that when you do all these good things for the targeted wildlife (such as quail and pheasant) that you literally ‘ring’ the dinner bell for all the undesirable predators such as hawks, feral pigs, owls, skunks, coyotes, coons, bobcats, wild domestic cats, opossums, etc.
“I contend and encourage all my hunters to go home and practice predator control in the ‘off’ season, especially around their grain release feeders and waterers. Encourage hunters to come and stake out those areas and ‘call’ in the predators for elimination or by trap.
“Our original intent in planting permanent cover 25 years ago was to encourage quail production but quickly learned that for my immediate area the quail were quite ‘fickle’ and could be here one year and not the next, but (it) attracted far more pheasants than anything so our focus changed accordingly.
“Today, with all the thousands of dollars invested in conservation we still do not have quail in sustainable numbers and we don’t have turkeys to blame, but we have an abundance of domestic cats, hawks, and owls around to keep the mice population down here at the farm… We are going to implement a trap set-up in the off season for the ‘wild’ cats that hunt our habitat hard. We always have a coyote alert going and hunt them hard year round.
Larry Flynt, Flynt Farms
“Why won’t the quail come back? I guided deer hunts all fall down around Hollis in the southwest part of the state and there were some birds down there but nothing like it should be but there was tons of turkey.
“I have never personally seen turkey eat quail chicks but have talked to numerous people that have seen it happen. We do not even guide wild bird hunts anymore, the success is so low. I believe it has to do with the number of predators mainly hawks and owls.
“There is one thing I have noticed and I am in the field a lot and have been guiding since 1985 and that is everything below your knees is not doing very well that includes snakes, turtles, frogs, quail and even song birds.
“I believe part of the problem is habitat but that is for sure not all of it. “
“I think the wild hogs have hurt the quail and turkey population by eating the eggs. Also, the raccoons, skunks and bobcats. No one hunts them anymore because the price of fur is down.”
I am not sure what has actually caused the decrease in the quail population. Years ago we brought out a wildlife biologist and I asked him what could be done to get some quail to start inhabiting our ranch again.
“He mentioned we build some natural covers for the quail….so all across our ranch in various places we have gathered up stacks of wood and limbs and we put a barbed wire fence around each one.
“We have in the recent years seen more and more quail on the place. I can’t tell you, although, that it is surely because of our fenced brush piles.”
Pennington Creek Hunting Club
“I’ve never seen any evidence of it and certainly don’t believe turkey depredation occurs in amounts sufficient to hinder quail populations. I’ve also heard Oklahoma chiggers are to blame… nonsense. A far more sinister source of quail depredation is the increasing house cat population as homes invade rural areas.
“Primarily lack of habitat, secondarily glazed snow (are the reasons for the decline). Quail can peck through soft snow and find food underneath, but when snow packs and melts and glazes over even an 1/8” thick it is devastating to quail.
“Even if this glaze lasts only a few days the quail’s limited fat supplies can’t sustain them through and they will often die before the snow melts. Plus, they are more vulnerable to predators in the meantime.
“Add one more major disadvantage that most people don’t think of… LACK OF FIRE. Our environment is so controlled and interspersed with houses that the build-up of undergrowth in the forests contributes to the environments of quail predators like skunks, possums and coons.
“Plus, as more land is sold for house lots and subdivisions, plain old farm land becomes more scarce and more valuable, enticing farmers to convert previously abandoned or overgrown areas for farming, thus reducing natural quail habitat even further.
“Bottom line… more predators plus less habitat equal fewer quail.”
Dr. Tom Warren, Meadowlake Ranch, Tulsa,
“We do offer quail hunts here at our operation. I hunt over 12,000 acres and all of our birds are wild.
“We have seen dramatic swings in our bird population over the past 10 years,(mostly bad). Our best year ever was 2005 when it was nothing to get 10 to 12 coveys in 3 or 4 hours.
“2009 was an all time low that I have seen and you might get 1 or 2 coveys per day. This year is an improvement, but not great by any means.
“We have been averaging 4 or 5 coveys per day on good days and then we are having some random 2 covey days here and there. It is very strange because we are not finding coveys that I know to be in the area from repeat sightings during deer season.
“Extremely dry conditions are making it very difficult for dogs to catch any scent. All of my clients come from areas north and east of Oklahoma and say they have virtually no birds left to hunt.
“It is a major problem that no one seems to have an answer to. The theory that increased management for deer and turkey is having an adverse effect on quail makes absolutely no sense to me. If these efforts are having any effect at all on quail, it should be positive.
“More food plots and less pressure from cattle should do nothing but improve habitat. I don’t think that turkeys are eating all the chicks either. Turkeys and quail have lived side by side for who knows how many years.
“I think that the problem is something much bigger and widespread than anyone is thinking. I have huge, unbroken tracts of land that have not changed at all over the past hundreds of years, so how could habitat alteration be harming these bird populations.
“I am sure that there are millions of acres just like mine across Oklahoma just like mine that have not been changed. I have no explanation as to what is happening. We seem to have great hatches and see tons of chicks all summer only to have very few coveys by hunting season.
“I probably have not helped much but these are my thoughts on the matter. I hope that someone figures this out soon or the quail will be gone before we know it. If you come up with, or hear any logical explanations, please let me know.
Tanner Holder, Rio Rojo Outfitters
“I think with farming practices it’s a mixture of a lot of things. I have always been told that quail will not nest or roost in fescue. I know in the southeast part of the state you see a lot more fescue waterways.
“I think from what crop is planted to cutting trees out of pasture land it all has an impact. One thing I don’t understand or can’t figure out is how it seems to be such a growing trend to see the low numbers yet we really don’t have any good ideas on why. I don’t know if it’s because the research hasn’t been done or the answer is that hard.
“I grew up quail hunting every weekend and my dad was always a very active member of Quail Unlimited. As I’ve became more involved with a lot of that type of organizations it seems like to many of them are about how big of banquet can we have and what prints or guns can we get.
“I think with the quail it’s really going to take a change in the mindset of people before we can really get stuff done. Only good thing is, I think more and more people are beginning to realize how bad it is.”
Darren Wheeler, owner Homerun Outfitters and Homerun Taxidermy
“Many things have attributed to the decline in quail populations over the past 30 years. In the ‘70s we removed the coyote from western Oklahoma when fur prices were high. This led to an increase in nest predators (skunks, raccoons, possums, snakes, etc.)
“In the 80′s cattle prices were high so we overgrazed the pastures and reduced the nesting habitat. A quail prefers 2 year old clump grass as a nest.
“When you reduce these clumps you make it easier for the nest predators to hunt for the eggs. We have more turkeys and deer these days because we have changed the entire landscape. Turkeys prefer open short grass areas. Deer numbers have increased because of the lack of predators that hunt their young.
“We have not developed Oklahoma to support more deer and turkey. It has been an overall change in landscape due to economic needs and lack of stewardship to the wildlife that live on the land that we make our living off of.
“We no longer do wild quail hunts. The expectations of the client were too high and most of them could not put in a day of walking in our area.”
Rickey Squires, Rawhide Creek Ranch and Hunting Club, Inc.