No -- the birds aren't hiding in the treetops! The meaning here is that the future for bobwhites and bobwhite hunting in the Cornhusker State is brighter than it's been in years. (January 2006)
Sam Cowan moves up on a covey located by his Brit Cody and backed by young Bandit. The Beatrice hunter found more birds last season than in he did in 2003, and heard lots of birds whistling this past spring. He's looking for a good season this year.
Photo courtesy of Sam Cowan
Nebraska quail hunters will go into the last month of the season with high hopes for some solid winter action.
Hunters, particularly those who hold the bobs in high esteem, had mixed feelings about the status of this year's population going into the season; whether those views will hold up in January remains to be seen.
"My quail hunting during the 2004-05 season was somewhat better than it was the previous year or two," said Pat McInteer, a 62-year-old Falls City veterinarian who's spent some 36 years in pursuit of the birds. "It's still a long way from good, and I don't think we will ever see the good old days when you could put a couple of decent dogs down and find 10 to 12 coveys."
There is little doubt about the preferences of the vet when it comes to quail hunting: A devout fan of the English pointer, he competes in field trials with the breed and also hunts over them. "I don't shoot many quail anymore," he said. "I love to work the dogs on them and let my hunting friends do the shooting.
"I'm not sure what kind of hunting we will have during the last month of the season. The cover was pretty decent this past summer, but January success hinges on production, cover conditions, and, of course, the weather. If we get hammered by a lot of snow and frigid temperatures, it will of course cut down on success."
Prior to the season, Scott Taylor, upland game program manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission in Lincoln, remarked that he expected to see bird numbers very similar to those of last year.
"I have to believe we had an average hatch of young birds, because the weather and cover was fair to good going into the nesting season," he said. "We didn't see anything unusual in the state after the hatch such as extensive hail storms, cold weather or other factors, which cuts into survival of the young bobs."
While last season's harvest figures were not complete when this story went to press, given an average hatch and average survival, hunters may well see a bit of increase in the number of birds this month compared to last year.
The estimated harvest of quail in 2003 was 152,000. In 2004 it was 157,000; hunter numbers were estimated at about 30,000.
Norm Ford, a Lincoln auctioneer, is an avid hunter who works at finding the bobs with his Brittanies "If my recall is correct, I think I had four quail hunts last fall where I killed a limit of birds," he said. "I hunt south-central and southeastern Nebraska. Last year I didn't think the south-central was very good, but the southeast was better than it was in 2003.
"One of my best days was the last day of the season last year. We were hunting southern Lancaster County, and we put up four big coveys. We usually expect the birds to be pretty spooky late in the season, but these birds didn't act as though they had been worked over very much. We had solid covey finds as well as good dog work on the singles. I'm hoping for a couple of hunts like that this season."
Ford hunts with a Franchi semi-automatic 20-gauge bored improved-cylinder -- his favorite for the past 30 to 35 years. He shoots No. 7 1/2 shot.
Bobwhite fan Tom Lococo hunts hard for the entire season. He has some great help in finding the birds with a German wirehair named Titus. The 6-year-old bird dog won the national wirehair championship in October 2004 after winning the open all-age crown in 2003.
"My quail hunting in 2004 was better than it was in 2003, but in the past few years the birds have been harder to find," Lococo said. "I'm in hopes that we see a gradual increase in the quail this year and next. The reason I say that is that I really believe the quail population cycles, and the numbers got about as low as they could in the past couple of years, so I believe we will see some improvement this year and for the next two or three."
Lococo looks for good winter cover in his late-season hunting. "The Conservation Reserve Program acres have not only helped our pheasant population, but quail as well," he said. "The weedy cover on these acres is good quail cover, as are the stands of tall grass. Most often you are going to find the cover pretty heavy, and if you are running a pointing dog, a beeper collar is almost a must, because a good share of the time. you can't see the dog or dogs."
The 43-year-old hunter from Lincoln shoots No. 8s out of his improved-cylinder 12-gauge Beretta 390.
Beatrice's Sam Cowan, a soil conservationist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Resource Conservation Service, says that his job gives him a little edge when it comes to finding optimal quail cover. "My hunting success on quail in 2004 was better than it was in 2003, but I wouldn't say it was good as it used to be," he said. "In 2003 I averaged one or two coveys on a hunt. In 2004 the average was two to four coveys. Back in the 1980s and early '90s, it wasn't unusual to move 6, 8 or 10 coveys on a hunt."
Cowan thinks that the breeding population going into the nesting season was a strong one. "I heard a lot of bobs whistling last spring, so I'm thinking we might have a pretty good season and some productive late hunting," he said. "For late-season action, I look to the CRP acres, especially the walk-in acres enrolled in the CRP-MAP program, which are areas open to public hunting. I particularly like an area that has the cover with a milo field or two nearby."
"One of my best days was the last day of the season last year. We were hunting southern Lancaster County, and we put up four big coveys." --Norm Ford
Cowan shoots No. 8s out of a side-by-side SKB 20-gauge. He does his shooting over Brittanies.
Tom Maneely of Leigh does most of his quail hunting in the northeast, hitting the cover in Madison, Stanton and Platte counties. He hunts over English pointers and Brits.
"I do some hunting in the southeastern corner of th
e state as well as the northeast," he said. "I've been raising and training bird dogs for about 25 years and, in doing so, am in the field quite a bit more than the average hunter. In early summer, I began seeing quite a few birds, and hearing the bobs as well. I was and am optimistic about the season."
The 46-year-old Maneely observed that he might be tabbed as a conservative quail hunter. "In the past few years I've become a half-day hunter," he said. "I love to work my dogs, and right now have a 3-year-old pointer than is a real joy to hunt over. I hunt by my own rules, so to speak -- I will normally take two or three birds out of a covey, if the opportunity is there, and then move on. I don't hunt the birds much when we get really cold weather and snow. I just don't like to break up the coveys when the weather is tough.
"Last year I shot quite a few pheasants while chasing the bobs, and that helped because quail numbers aren't what they used to be. I probably averaged about three coveys of quail on my half-day hunts."
Maneely shoots a side-by-side 20-gauge Beretta with both barrels bored improved-cylinder.
Quail hunting veterans don't need to be reminded that they have an opportunity for a mixed-bag of game birds in various areas of the state. The partridge season, along with pheasant season, remains open until the end of the month, so hunters in the northeast will have a chance at bagging all three species, while those in the remainder of the state are likely to put up a ringneck while hunting bobs.
More information on lands open to public hunting can be found in the 2005 Nebraska Hunt Guide and Public Hunting Lands booklet. For that guide, as well as for maps and locations of CRP acres open to public hunting, ask for the CRP-MAP Atlas. All are available from commission offices at Lincoln, Omaha, Norfolk, Bassett, Kearney, North Platte and Alliance as well as the offices at Chadron, Fort Robinson and Niobrara state parks, Lake McConaughy and Wildcat Hills state recreation areas and at Ak-Sar-Ben Aquarium near Gretna.
The guides can also be obtained at over 900 permit agents across the state. The commission also has a Web site,
www.outdoornebraska.org, that carries much of the information.