Bobwhite Quail Hunting – Finally!

It’s been two years of hard work tending 7 surrogator cycles but I finally have a large enough wild population of wild bobwhite quail for quail hunting.  The hot, dry Texas Summer has passed and the light rains and cooler temperatures are allowing the bobwhite quail habitat to improve rather quickly.  It’s also the end of the annual Summer Surrogator season and time to bring the Surrogator in for Winter rehabilitation and repairs.  Time for some “barn work” and to enjoy the fruits of our quail raising and quail hunting labors over the past few years.


Bobwhite Quail and Water

Bobwhite Quail Hunting Needs Rolling Creek with Green Moss and Fresh Water
Bobwhite Quail Hunting Needs Fresh Water

Most of the research on raising quail for quail hunting that I’ve read tells me that bobwhite quail only need a direct source of water for drinking as a third option.  The research tells me that their primary source of water is environmental water – rain or dew – followed by metabolic water that they metabolize from the grains that they eat.  In the Surrogator, there is no rain or dew and they are fed dry protein so it is important to have drinkable water.  In the wild, nature provides most of what they need directly.









Bobwhite Quail Eat Bugs and Bugs Need Water

Clean Flowing Water Provides Small Young Bugs for Quail Hunting
Water Provides Bugs for Quail Hunting

Bobwhite quail chicks have very high protein requirements.  They get most of these high protein needs met from eating small bugs.  In this case, water becomes very important as most bugs and insects needs water to reproduce.  The long hot Texas Summer drought really had a huge impact on the number of available bugs – which has a direct impact on the number of quail reproduced for quail hunting.  Now, I didn’t get on my hands and knees to count bugs bug I can tell you that my windshield stayed pretty clean and I didn’t need to buy any extra bug spray this Summer and I take that as a pretty good indicator of the local bug population.








Bobwhite Quail Pairs

Male & Female Pair of Bobwhite Quail Near a Deer Feeder with Deer
Pair of Bobwhite Quail

We’ve been seeing and hearing signs of wild quail for quite a few months.  I’ve rally been itching to go quail hunting.  This game cam picture is our first real evidence of them coming to the deer feeders.  In the Spring, I estimated our population to be approximately 40 birds based on call counts in a single location.  I’ve seen them in other locations on the ranch so we estimated a 20% survival rate over the winter.  We released another 300 birds this Summer as well.







Quail Hunting Dog

Orange and White Brittany Spaniel Quail Hunting Dog on Point
Quail Hunting Dog on Point

I originally started this project because my Brittany was getting ruined on pen-raised quail and I wanted a convenient place to put her on wild quail.  She’s covered hundreds of iles on the ranch finding and pointing wild quail.  In this case, the surrogated wild quail have become very wild.  When we do find them, they are almost always in the deepest, thickest, thorniest brush that we have on the ranch.  That’s great for their survival but is certainly going to make hunting them tough!






Quail Hunting Harvest

Harvested Female Quail Hunting for Fruits of my Labor
Quail Hunting for Fruits of my Labor

I’m not confident that I have a large enough population that I can go quail hunting every weekend.  I’m going to lay off this year and only hunt them with the dog and then fire blanks so she can work on steady to wing and steady to shot – which quickly goes bad if you don’t hunt enough  horunt pen-raised birds by yourself.  I did want to harvest one bird so that I could get a closer look.  This, unfortunately, is a female and I would have preferred to have harvested a male – just like duck hunting – when you kill a female you stop all forward reproduction and when you kill a male, you only jeopardize forward production.  This appears to be one of this year’s released birds rather than a mature female.  This sub species tends to be smaller and redder than the native wild bobwhite quail we have for quail hunting in Texas.  They also seem to be quite a bit wilder and flush quicker than most wild birds I’ve hunted previously.





Surrogator Repairs

Example of Annual Surrogator Repairs - Silver Hinge Broken on Camoflage Door
Example of Annual Surrogator Repairs

I can’t say enough great things about the Surrogator.  It has held up extremely well for two years and appears to have at least another 3-5 years of life.  That said, it does need occasional repairs as the smaller parts wear out.  I bring the Surrogator back into the barn each winter to make the small repairs, thoroughly clean it and re paint it to prevent rust.










Loading the Surrogator for Transport

Bobwhite Quail Surrogator and Equipment Loaded in the bed of a White Pickup for Transport
Bobwhite Quail Surrogator Loaded for Transport

The thing I like most about eh Surrogator XL is the fact that it is so easily transported.  My 12 year old daughter and I can load the entire contraption and all of it’s parts and pieces into the short bed of my pickup and haul it whever we need.








Summary of Quail Hunting and the Surrogator

The long, hot drought has broken and the wild bobwhite quail habitat is quickly improving.  We’re seeing bobwhite quail pairs and babies on a regular basis.  I’ve been quail hunting once and harvested a young female bobwhite quail – it was very much a treat to see the fruits of my labors.  We don’t yet have a large enough wild population to support quail hunting but expect to continue the surrogator cycles and habitat improvements for another  couple of years.  The end of the surrogator season is also the start of the surrogator repair and rehabilitation season so we’ve loaded the surrogator up and brought it back to the barn for winter work.  It’s very satisfying to know that my efforts to restore a wild population of bobwhite quail is succeeding and that we will have good quail hunting in the very near future.



Wild Bobwhite Quail Surrogator

Raising wild quail in a quail surrogator is simple but it is not easy – it requires some hard work and consistency during each cycle.  Each cycle is typically five weeks long and starts with setting up the quail surrogator.  Once it’s set up, the quail chicks need to be checked and tended once weekly.  Finally, after five weeks, you can release them and enjoy the fruits of your labor.





Transporting the Quail Surrogator

Bobwhite Quail Surrogator Loaded Horizontally in Truck Bed
Surrogator Horizontal in Truck

One of the nicest aspects of the Surrogator XL is that it breaks down into simple components that can fit into the back of a pickup truck.  Here, I’ve loaded it by stacking the two halves horizontally.  This is the easiest approach but maybe not the most efficient.  The two quail surrogator halves aren’t the only pieces of equipment – you also have tops, water tank, feeder, flyout preventers, propane bottle and the heater.  Yup, it can easily fill the back of a pickup and some of the parts and pieces are delicate – not fragile – just delicate enough that you don’t want to stack something on top of them.











Better Transportation for the Quail Surrogator

Wild Quail Surrogator Loaded Vertically in Truck Bed
Surrogator Vertical in Truck

A better way to transport the Surrogator XL is to arrange the two halves vertically.  This is a little more challenging to load but as you can see, it leaves plenty of room for all of the rest of the stuff that the quail surrogator needs.  The quail surrogator units are very well built and sturdy.  They don’t weigh much but they are somewhat large and awkward.  Heck, my twelve year old daughter helps me load them into the bed of my truck!




Bobwhite Quail Training Feeder

Wild Quail Chicks Using Training Quail Feeder
Bobwhite Quail Chicks Feeding

It’s been horribly hot and dry in Texas this summer and I’ve taken to supplemental feeding the quail that I’ve released.  To help them, I’ve built a “training feeder” that I keep inside the quail surrogator so that they will learn to recognize it as a source of feed.  So far, it has worked well but I still have a few problems I’m ironing out.





Quail Surrogator Watering System

Week Old Wild Bobwhite Quail Chicks
Bobwhite Quail in Surrogator

The watering system inside the quail surrogator has worked incredibly well.  I load and charge it properly by filling the large, fifteen gallon tank and then bleeding the air from the system.  I also take about 10 gallons of water out to the surrogator every week just to keep the water tank topped off – better to have too much than to run out.  The nipple system is brilliant but I make it a point to check the water flow from each nipple each time I visit.  Just a tap to confirm that it drips a drop of water is sufficient in the quail surrogator.



Growing Wild Bobwhite Quail

Wild Bobwhite Quail Chicks in Surrogator
Three Week Old Bobwhite Quail Chicks

These bobwhite quail chicks are three weeks old.  I’m always amazed at how quickly they grow and mature.  Also worthwhile to remember, always use the flyout preventers.  Flyout preventers are simply wire mesh that stays on top of the quail surrogator after you life the lid.  These birds can – and do – fly and they will escape given half the chance.  Normally, if you’re calm when working around them, they will tend to congregate at the opposite end of the surrogator.  However, if you bring your hunting dog along and she’s working the opposite end of the quail surrogator, you are going to have your hands full.


Scouting a Location to Raise Bobwhite Quail

Wild Quail Surrogator Location Possibility Under a Tree
Scouting New Quail Surrogator Locations

Week three of each quail surrogator cycle is when I scout the location for the next surrogator cycle.  This gives me time to come up with some options and make a good choice.  Ideal locations are under trees with adequate habitat nearby so that the chicks will have cover when they are released.  It’s also important that it is easily accessible so that you can tend it each week.  Most of the new locations require a little work trimming ground brush and low hanging tree limbs.  By scouting in the third week, I have time in the fourth week to do that brush trimming.


Fat Quail Chicks

Wild Quail Chicks Four Weeks Old
Bobwhite Quail 4 Weeks Old

In week three, the quail chicks tend to grow upward.  During week four they tend to grow outward and fatten up.  Their feathers are still immature but again, they can and will fly.







Cleared Location for Quail Surrogator

New Location Under a Tree for Wild Quail Surrogator
New Bobwhite Quail Surrogator Location

This is a new location for the quail surrogator.  As you can see, compared to the picture from the previous week, I’ve done a little brush clearing to make it easy to install and then tend the quail surrogator.  Also evident is the shade from the trees that is absolutely critical for the health of the quail chicks.  The quail surrogator needs to be shaded –  they provide a sun netting device but I haven’t used it – and oriented so that they get adequate breezes without blowing out the pilot light on the heater unit.  Yeah, it does sound a bit complicated but it really isn’t.  The most critical aspect for long term viability of bobwhite quail releases seems to be smart selection of the surrogator locations.

Uninvited Guests

Snake Discovered Under Quail Surrogator
Uninvited Guest

There are lots of critters out there that love to snack on bobwhite quail – chicks and adults.  I found this snake resting under the quail surrogator one day when I went to tend the quail chicks – NASTY!  He was about 8 feet long and appeared to be a rat snake.  No harm, no foul – I let him go his merry way as he was wanting to do.  The surrogators are built very well and I’ve never had anything, coons, skunks, foxes, rats, hogs, snakes, possums or anything breach the security of the surrogator.







Releasing Wild Bobwhite Quail

Bobwhite Quail Newly Released from Surrogator
Freshly Released Bobwhite Quail

The release of the bobwhite quail chicks is always a fun time.  It’s the culmination of 5 weeks of hard work and usually the start of a new cycle.  In most cases, the chicks come thundering out of the quail surrogator and seek cover as quickly as they can.  Their flight feathers are still immature at this point but they are capable of flying upward of 50 to 75 feet.  It’s also wonderful to stand there and listen to them covey call each other trying to regroup.




Bobwhite Quail Surrogator Summary


The Bobwhite Quail Surrogator XL performs magnificently when setup and used properly.  Operation is very simple and it works reliably.  Tending the bobwhite quail is relatively easy but does require that you tend them weekly.  I load the quail surrogator with 125 quail chicks and release approximately 100 birds each cycle.  I’ve completed 7 cycles – 4 last year and 3 this year – and we are consistently seeing wild quail on the ranch that were released from the quail surrogator.



Bobwhite Quail Surrogator Release – Reversing the Bobwhite Quail Decline

There is a lot of talk in recent years about the Bobwhite Quail Decline – also being called idiopathic decline.  Something is definitely harming the wild populations of bobwhite quail.  As I see it, we have a couple choices – do nothing or do something.  I’m not willing to “do nothing” because I truly enjoy stomping through the woods with friends behind a good dog.  In the “do something” category we also have some choices.  One choice is to participate actively in quail organizations which raise and donate funds to other organizations that research and rehabilitate wild quail populations.  I do that as well.  Another option is to raise and release your own bobwhite quail to release in the wild.  I am actively raising bobwhite quail with a quail surrogator.  It’s not hard and it’s a lot of fun.  Yeah, I like the little birds – a lot!  I am raising quail for hunting but the primary goal is to reestablish a native wild population of bobwhite quail.  What follows is my first post that covers, end to end, a wild quail release cycle using a quail surrogator.

Test Run Your Quail Surrogator

Each year, before I begin my cycles of raising wild bobwhite quail with a Surrogator, I like to complete a test run of the surrogator to make sure everything works properly.  I usually setup the surrogator in that barn yard and run the water, feed and heat for a week to make sure there are no leaks and that everything works properly.  One of the keys to a successful bobwhite quail cycle with a surrogator is that you do not disturb them except once weekly.  This prevents the bobwhite quail from becoming accustomed to people and preservers their “wildness”.

Loading Quail Chicks

Family Helpers Raising Bobwhite Quail in a Surrogator
Reversing the Bobwhite Quail Decline with the Next Generation

One of the biggest benefits of raising wild bobwhite quail with a quail surrogator is involving the entire family.  We do our quail raising near San Antonio, Texas.  This not only provides a great learning opportunity but also a great family event with some work and lots of laughter.  My daughters and nephews get a chance to learn about quail, why they are important, why we enjoy them and what it takes to successfully raise wild quail.  They also get the opportunity to get outside, away from the video games and TV and spend a day in the woods.




My Youngest Help for Quail Raising near San Antonio Texas
The Next Generation of Rancher Learning Wild Quail Release in Texas

The youngest may have the shortest attention span but the definitely seem to enjoy it the most.  The starting point of a quail surrogator quail cycles is loading day old or week old chicks.  These can be purchase from quail breeders in your area or through the mail – although I’ve never taken that approach.

Raising Five Day Old Bobwhite Quail in a Surrogator
Young Quail with a Mission to Reverse the Bobwhite Quail Decline in Texas

These are five day old quail chicks freshly loaded into the quail surrogator.  It is very important to provide them with adequate heat as they can’t effectively regulate their own body temperature yet.  Without heat, they will clump together to conserve body heat and the ones on the bottom will suffocate. Even in the hot Texas Summers quail raising near San Antonio, Texas, we need to provide additional heat for a couple of weeks.

Weeks One, Two and Three in the Quail Surrogator

Quail Surrogator with Two Week Old Wild Quail
Two Week Old Bobwhite Quail to Release in the Wild

The end of week one of raising bobwhite quail in the quail surrogator is relatively uneventful.  I start with five to seven day old birds instead of one day old birds.  The slightly older chicks have a lower mortality and benefit from an extra week of age when they are released.  The only activity needed at the end of the second week is to clean out any dead chicks, confirm adequate flow of the feed, confirm adequate water volume and flow and to turn the heat down a couple notches. This is also the time to open the barrier between the brooding end of the bobwhite quail surrogator and the loafing end.  This allows the chicks a little more freedom of movement and room to grow.  I will occasionally have a few dead chicks this week but not many.

Raising Wild Quail near San Antonio Texas
Wild Bobwhites in a Quail Surrogator

The end of week two in the wild quail surrogator is also relatively uneventful – again – check the feed & water, clean out any dead chicks and turn down the heater again.  My highest mortality occurs during this week and I’m not sure why.  Typically, I’ll lose 5 to 10 chicks this week.

Raising Bobwhite Quail to Release in the Wild
Raising Quail for Hunting in a Quail Surrogator

The end of week three  in the bobwhite quail surrogator is also pretty easy.  Check the feed, water and turn down the heat.  I seldom lose any chicks during this week.  I also use this visit to scout out my next quail surrogator location.  This time has also proven to be a very good time to notify friends and family of the upcoming release in two weeks.  It’s fun and you’re going to need a little help cleaning and moving the wild quail surrogator!

Wild Quail Feeders

Wild Quail Feeder in a QUail Surrogator
Quail Feeder Loaded in a Quail Surrogator

If you start with week old chicks, it now becomes very important to watch the feed levels.  As you can see from the picture, in my quail surrogator, the chicks almost always eat from the same end.  Thus, it becomes very important to spread the feed out each week so that they don’t run out of feed, even when there is feed in the quail feeder.  I also make it a point to clean out the lower feeder tray each time to make sure that feed is flowing smoothly.  I’ve also had cycles where the chicks were very hungry and the feed levels were very low at this point in the cycle.  When I started with day old quail chicks, a 50# bag of chick feed was sufficient for a five week cycles.  When starting with week old chicks, I almost always need to add more feed during this week or the next.

Prorotype of a Training Wild Quail Feeder
Training Prototype for a Wild Quail Feeder

One of my experiments is developing an effective and inexpensive wild quail feeder.  I’ve prototyped a model based on some suggestions from other quail raisers and breeders.  I’ve had very little luck attracting the wild quail to the prototype wild quail feeder so one approach is to “train” them to the wild quail feeder.  That experiment is still in progress.

The Last Weeks in the Bobwhite Quail Surrogator

Bobwhite Quail to Release in the Wild
Almost Ready to Release, Breed and Reverse the Bobwhite Quail Decline

Week four of raising bobwhite quail in the quail surrogator is a time of rapid growth.  The bobwhite quail are almost ready to release in the wild.  I almost always need to add additional feed and water during this week.  I seldom have any dead quail chicks at this time.  I also schedule time during this visit to clear a new location for the next cycle of the wild quail surrogator.  I’ve typically scouted a couple new locations the previous week, selected what I think is the best and then bring along some trimmers, saw and rake so that the new location is ready immediately after the release.

The end of week five in the quail surrogator is when I release the quail.  If I’ve started with week old quail chicks, they tend to fly very well and exit quickly.  If I’d started with younger birds, some of them will need a little “help” exiting the bobwhite quail surrogator.  It always amazes me that they know how to fly since the low height of the quail surrogator prevents them from flying while inside.  Mother Nature never ceases to amaze me.  This is also a great time to share your hard work and investment with family and friends.  This event is something that is seldom seen and generally appreciated by everyone that get’s a chance to see it.  It’s also very handy to have some “help” to move, clean and reset the wild quail surrogator.  It’s not hard work but it is bulky and you’ll need some help getting it loaded and unloaded from your vehicle.

Raising Quail for Hunting

I started out with my Surrogator project to raise quail for hunting.  I wanted to release wild quail and then hunt them with my dog.  I vastly underestimated what it would take to accomplish this task and one and one half years later I find myself only part way through the process.  That said, we are starting to see wild pairs and “bumblebees” or baby quail out in the wild.  So, some of the things we’re doing are working and that pleases me.

Summary of Bobwhite Quail Decline and What YOU Can Do

I have noticed a bobwhite quail decline when I’ve hunted wild quail.  There are several things we can do – raise money, fund research and raise our own to supplement the wild population.  I am raising quail for hunting.  Using a quail surrogator to raise wild quail isn’t easy but it is simple and the quail surrogator works like a charm.  The instructions are simple and easy to follow and I almost always release over 90% of the chicks in put into the quail surrogator.  The next important step to insuring a native, reproducing wild quail population on your place is to begin a quail habitat management program – and that’s a little more challenging!