Jill is my 2008 Brittany. I wanted to make sure I captured as much of her work as possible as she get’s a little older so I wore a GoPro thru almost every hunt this year – including taking a friend to a put-n-take quail hunt! She’s still going strong.
Last Sunday I realized a big part of my Bobwhite Quail Dream. When I started raising wild bobwhite quail a few years ago, I did so because my bird dog was getting ruined on pen raised birds and there weren’t any wild bobwhite quail available. My goal was to hunt quail anytime I wanted. Last Sunday on a hot Texas June morning, we got 15 points – a new record. I know my dog is living the bird dog dream!
Point Bobwhite Quail All Year
We are very fortunate that our hard work has paid off. We can consistently find bobwhite quail to point all year long. We are much more cautious during the breeding season so as not to disturb the covey and scatter the chicks, but we definitely hunt and point them anyway!
Wild Turkeys Benefit from Bobwhite Quail Habitat
Raising bobwhite quail is hard. Getting them to stay and reproduce is even harder. But, those efforts also benefit other species – like wild Rio Grande Turkeys. I’m not a turkey hunter but have friends that are and they think this is great!
Farming for Bobwhite Quail
Getting the bobwhite quail chicks from hatch to release is only the start. They are there but they are going to wander to the best habitat they can find. I actually do more and spend more in habitat management than in actually raising the chicks. I am in the process of figuring out “quail strips” that look somewhat like the pheasant strips you see in the midwest. They will have adequate cover and protection while providing great nutrition for each stage of a quail’s like. This mean that I get to drive a tractor and do a little farming. If you haven’t farmed then you’re missing something really cool. I expand my food plots each year and this is a picture of breaking new ground to plant.
Scattering and Covering Bobwhite Quail Food Plot Seeds
Planting seeds on a largish scale to feed bobwhite quail is a challenge. My plots aren’t big enough for large commercial equipment so sometimes I just have to make do. I scatter the seed with a seed thrower – just like you use in your yard. But, the seeds need to be covered – just a little bit – and dragging an old railroad tie around the freshly planted area seems to do the trick nicely. My plots are getting larger and I am in the process of rebuilding an old seed drill so my planted seed stand a better chance of germinating and growing evenly and to full production. Hand scattered seeds have a density problem.
Seeds Planted in Bobwhite Quail Food Plot
Very few things are as pretty as a freshly plowed, planted and dragged food plot.
Bobwhite Quail Food Plot Seeds Germinate
It takes a week or so for the bobwhite quail food plot seeds to germinate and break ground. But, when they do it is always a special occasion for celebration.
Better Seed Planting for Bobwhite Quail Food Plots
Hand scattering seeds is very inefficient. The seed density is very random and this causes issues with plant growth and maturity – not mention harvesting if you plan to do that – I don’t. I purchased an antique seed drill. It needs some work and repairs and I expect it to be ready by Fall 2015 for testing. When it does work, a single pass with the seed drill will take the place of walking with a hand scatterer and then dragging with a mule and railroad tie. But, it should have a much bigger impact on the quality of the plants that the seeds produce and allow me to farm a larger area and hold more bobwhite quail in the habitat.
Wild Dewberries as Bobwhite Quail Food
We are fortunate to have a bunch of wild dewberries on our ranch where I raise bobwhite quail. This year was a spectacular season due to the higher than normal Spring rains. Dewberries area also delicious for humans and I can seldom walk past a vine loaded with berries. But, be careful! Snakes LOVE dewberry patches as hiding and ambush spots for smaller animals. Get a long stick and make sure the snakes have left before you start snacking!
Hog Snares and Bobwhite Quail Management
We don’t have a hog problem. We used to have a hog problem and now we have an occasional hog situation. We constantly run hog snares in our fencelines to trap hogs. Hogs pose two threats to wild bobwhite quail. Hogs will find and eat eggs in the nest. Hogs also love tearing up my bobwhite quail food plots. So, we are fortunate to have managed downward from problem to situation and only see or snare a couple every year.
This young boar was caught recently in one of my snares. Unfortunately, he was caught by the leg instead of the neck. This can present a distinct problem and danger when the time comes to untangle the mess of a very live and angry hog from a tough wire snare. In this case, the hog actually jumped and broke the snare as I approached. It took an entire clip to do the job but the job got done.
Summary of Bobwhite Quail Dreams
It took 3 years before I ever saw a wild bobwhite quail more than 2 weeks after a release. This was hugely disappointing but I didn’t give up. I doubled down and started habitat management in addition to continuing to raise batches of surrogated bobwhite quail. I cut brush, fixed fences, snared hogs, planted grain and built water/wet spots for bugs. But, the effort was entirely worth it. Now, I can hunt and point wild bobwhite quail almost any day we feel the notion to. Nice! Dog agrees!
Now for the hard work – bobwhite quail habitat improvement! I just realized last week I’m going to need to spend more time on bobwhite quail habitat. that I’m 5 years into my project to rebuild our wild populations of bobwhite quail and now is time to invest more in quail habitat. Basically, I’m halfway through my original 10 year estimate. But, I’ve already met my preliminary goal of taking my dog and finding quail whenever I want to. I can consistently locate 4-6 coveys on 200 acres – at almost anytime of the year. So, I’m confident the surrogator works and that the remaining quail reproduce naturally. Now, the goal is to improve the habitat so that they will stay around and continue to grow in population. Little did I know that I’d left the hard part – bobwhite quail habitat improvement – until last! Even the experts agree that quail habitat is important.
Bobwhite Quail Surrogator Maintenance
My surrogator is five years old and still holding together nicely. But, little parts break every year and need to be replaced. My experience tells me to watch the parts and pieces very carefully. I had one cycle this year where the pilot light on the heater turned off. This happened in the first week of a cycle and I lost half my bobwhite quail chicks. DO YOUR MAINTENANCE!
Get Some Help!
Checking and managing the bobwhite quail chicks during the cycle is pretty easy. A little looking, scraping and hauling and only takes about 15 minutes. But, releasing and reloading the surrogator at the end of each cycle needs help. I prefer to coerce one of my daughters into helping me – free donuts usually works well for this one! Any, take some help and introduce someone new to bobwhite quail!
Predators serve a useful and necessary part of the food chain – even when they eat your quail. All wild populations need to exist in balance and I’m not a fan of eliminating every predator – that would just lead to other problems. I find that using my game camera as a survey tool to understand how many bobwhite quail predators I have is a very useful approach. I also run a game camera on our watering spots just as a confirmation. This fox and his mate have been on the ranch for several years. I’m SURE he and his lady friend gobble up some of my quail out in the wild. That’s OK as long as it’s just him and his lady – and I’m pretty sure we only have the pair so I’m not that worried.
Starting Bobwhite Quail Habitat Management
The biggest challenge I have with bobwhite quail habitat is our invasive, non-native grasses – specifically King Ranch Bluestem. It was a wonderful and useful crop in the 50s when there were big problems with clear cutting pastures and dust bowls. We’re smarter now and use native grasses. But, this KR Bluestem just grows too thick for bobwhite quail to be able to navigate through. We need bunch grasses and more bare dirt. KR Bluestem is a beast to remove and there is no good way to remove it. We are not fans of using fire and we don’t graze our ranch. That leaves me with either herbicide or mechanical methods. I’m not ready to apply that much herbicide so I’m experimenting with mechanical methods. In this plot, I’ve shredded, plowed and disced back as close to bare ground as I can get. Early results tend to indicate that the native grasses will outcompete invasive grasses if given enough support.
Bobwhite Quail Habitat Management Requires BIG Tools!
The standard stocking rate for bobwhite quail is approximately 1 per acre at maximum and 1 per 2 acres at normal. If I’m going to make a dent in the unusable bobwhite quail habitat, it’s going to take some larger equipment. Even then, I’m going to proceed with experimental plots before investing heavily. In my case, I got a 55 HP tractor and an old disc for free to help me tear up the invasive grasses and plant food plots. I didn’t imagine this in the beginning and it’s turning out to be more expensive and laborious than I originally planned. Nevertheless, I’m now in it for the long haul and willing to do what it takes.
And some Antique Seeds
My model for bobwhite quail habitat resembles what Pheasants Forever has figured out in brood strips. So, I’m building a giant brood strip in a long draw on our ranch that seems to have the best soil and drainage. But, I also want to minimize the impact of whatever I do to improve the habitat so I selected an older grain seed that is also drought tolerant and more suited to the poor soil we have on our place. I selected a grain seed call Hegari. It was tough to find and cost more to ship it than it cost to buy.
Growing Grain for Bobwhite Quail Management
My test plots for growing grain to improve the bobwhite quail habitat taught me a lot! I did have some success in certain areas and the grain heads fully matured. But, in areas very close to the successful ones, I had dismal failure. But, now I know what soil and moisture that Hegari prefers and can expand from there next year. And yes, I’m actually finding bobwhite quail broods in the grain plots!
Also Feeds the Damn Deer!
I start planting the brood strips in early June and I think I was too late. Only about 50% of the plants developed heads. Of those that did develop seed heads, almost every one was eaten by deer. I can’t just kill all the deer on the ranch so I’m going to have to get smarter about grain planting in my brood strip. I’m sure there is a specific combination of timing and density that will lead to an ideal bobwhite quail habitat – and I’ll keep working until I figure it out.
Invasive Grass Control for Bobwhite Quail Habitat Management
We also have way too many cedar trees on the ranch. I spent most of last summer cutting cedar trees every week and barely made a dent in them. When I cut them last year, I just left them to lat to se what happened. Not much it turns out. But, I did notice that the downed cedar trees killed all the grass underneath them. So, when it came time to stack the cut cedars this year, I took that as an opportunity to kill some KR Bluestem grass as well. I located very dense areas of KR Bluestem infestation and then stacked cut cedar tree right on top of those dense patches. It’s too early to tell if it worked but the early signs indicate that it will knock a dent in them. My plan is to disc the edges of each giant stack each year and push the drying trees ever inward into the pile so that it get’s smaller and the newly uncovered ground has a chance to restore with native grasses.
Summary of Bobwhite Quail Habitat Management
I’ve more than met my goal to have an abundant population of wild bobwhite quail on our ranch. I think I can improve the bobwhite quail habitat with small, nominally invasive activities that will remove the non-habitable portions of ranchland and replace it with habitable portions that contain the native grasses that bobwhite quail love in their habitat. It’s going to require more than just loading and unloading a surrogator though – it’s going to require some tractor and chain saw time!