How NOT To Raise Bobwhite Quail in a Surrogator

Raising bobwhite quail in a Surrogator doesn’t work – so say most of the experts out there. There is even quite a bit of bobwhite quail research from universities that have scads of data that confirms that raising wild quail in a surrogator doesn’t work. OK, so why do I keep doing it and where are those bobwhite quail on my ranch coming from? Let’s look at why it works for me but doesn’t seem to work for the researchers who study bobwhite quail.

First, let’s define “works”. If “works” means you are going to have a bunch of bobwhite quail to hunt this Fall then I tend to agree. I started with that expectation and was quickly disappointed. The math just doesn’t work very well. If “works” mean that you can restore and replenish the population of wild quail on your place then yes, it does work – but it depends on more than just the surrogator. If “works” means get’s the quail from 1 week to 6 weeks with a high survival rate and reasonably good chance of bobwhite quail survival in the wild then yes, it does work.


The Surrogator Works

Camo colored bobwhite quail surrogator in a clearing
Bobwhite Quail Surrogator

The surrogator works just fine to raise bobwhite quail chicks from 1 week (or one day if you chose) to five or six weeks of age. I prefer to start with week old wild quail chicks and raise them to six weeks rather than day old chicks to five weeks. Starting quail this young does require some special attention, including supplemental heat in the quail surrogator. The surrogator is well designed, simple to operate and does it’s job quite well. I typically put in 125 chicks and release 90 to 100 at the end of 5 weeks. The surrogator works just fine for it’s intended purpose.






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Learn How to Raise Quail in a Well Tended Surrogator

Young bobwhite quail in a surrogator
Bobwhite Quail in a Surrogator

The bobwhite quail chicks actually thrive in a surrogator that is well tended and maintained. The instructions that come with the surrogator are simple and easy to follow. But, like any generic instructions, a little tweaking can improve your results and decrease your efforts. Nevertheless, as designed, the surrogator, when well tended according to the instructions works just like a charm. Can you build your own? Sure you can – the surrogator is not that complicated. There is one part that is hard to find – the quail surrogator heating unit. However, there are a few design details and specialty parts that you will have some challenges. Also, if you want your surrogator to be easily portable and last for many years without a lot of maintenance, then I recommend buying one. See my video for more details on how the surrogator is designed and built.


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Predators Do Have an Impact on Bobwhite Quail

Bobcat caught on a game camera looking at wild quail
Wild Quail Predator

Nobody really knows the details of what happens in the brush at night – except the bobwhite quail and the predators that haunt those places. Do predators have an impact on the wild quail population? Sure they do. Will predator control make a difference? Probably but in my experience, the effort in predator control is fairly high for the results that you can actually produce. You do need to have a predator control program in place but I think the impact on the released quail is actually fairly low.




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Why Are You Raising Wild Bobwhite Quail?

White Brittany on Point at Wild Bobwhite Quail
Dog Likes Wild Quail

Back to the definition of “works”. Your definition of “works” is going to be dependent on your “why”. Mine originally was to hunt wild quail that year. Well, after several months on not seeing or finding a single bobwhite quail that desire was crushed. It was 4 months into my first year before I ever saw a released quail. It was only in the Spring following the first year that I really understood the impact of my efforts and the long term value of what I was doing. The following Spring I did quail call counts – and man did I hear a bunch of birds! Why hadn’t my dog found those birds on my weekly surveys walking around the ranch? I’m not sure but I suspect that we easily over estimate the abilities of our dogs to find quail. I suspect, after doing this for several years, that even the best of bird dogs only find a small percentage of the available quail. In summary, I’m raising quail to hunt, but more importantly, so that I can hunt behind my dog, with my kids whenever the mood strikes me – all without the pain and time involved in getting and then going to an expensive lease where I have no control over what might be there. You might call it my own private huntable preserve. Once I got clear on my “why” then my “works” became much more achievable.




Raising Wild Quail Does Work

Wild Quail Raised for Hunting
How to Raise Quail for Hunting

Yes, raising wild bobwhite quail does work – and here’s your proof. There was only a single cock bobwhite on the ranch when I started 3 years ago. After learning how to raise quail, I now have several findable coveys of wild quail and can harvest quail whenever I want. More importantly, I hear them in the Spring, see them with babies in the Summer and bust coveys in the Fall – with my children and friends – behind young and old dogs. Yes, the Surrogator does work!






Summary of How NOT To Raise Bobwhite Quail in a Surrogator

You should only believe the research if you want to hunt your released bobwhite quail this Fall. The surrogator does work as intended but your results and success will depend on how well you tend the surrogator, learning how to raise quail and what your goals are. The surrogator does work to increase wild, natural populations of bobwhite quail.



Hunting pen raised quail

Wild Quail vs. Pen Raised Quail

Sometimes you may find that¬†pen raised quail is your only option.¬† There aren’t very many wild quail in Central Texas. Modern farming methods of fence to fence cultivation have all but eliminated the brushy, weedy fence rows that wild quail need. Additionally, most pastures have been planted with grass and the native grasses and forbs that wild quail depend on for seeds have also disappeared.

The only real option appeared to be pen raised quail.

Quality of wild vs. pen raised quail

The quality of pen raised quail varies greatly depending on how they are raised and how they are offered for hunting.

Hunting preserves typically have larger birds that are slow to fly. Some smaller operators either incubate their own or raise them in flight pens so that they fly well.

At any rate, you can almost always have a good time and, if you’re diligent, get almost all of the birds you pay for.


It’s a very satisfying experience to train your dog on some pen raised quail; often, just as satisfying as training them using wild quail. Especially when it’s a job well done.


Even the anticipation of hunting quail can be exciting. Especially when you get a good long look at the quarry!



Limits of Hunting Pen Raised Quail

But, a problem can occur when pen raised quail are all you have available to hunt. Your dog can start to develop bad habits.

The bad habits don’t usually show up until you do hunt wild quail and your dog only has experience on pen raised quail.

So, what are you going to do?