Gunning for Garden State Bobwhites

Gunning for Garden State Bobwhites

With the resurrection of the quail and pheasant stocking program, good hunting can be expected again this season on Greenwood Forest and Peaslee WMAs.

It is hoped that the quail raised by private game farms will be more like their spirited wild cousins. Photo by Ken Dunwoody

By J.B. Kasper

If the flutter of wings and the frantic flight of a covey of quail breaking for the heavens gets your heart pumping, then the Garden State's bobwhite quail stocking program might be just what the doctor ordered. And the quail stocking program is back to being better than before.

According to statistics from the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), the state annually releases 50,000-plus pheasants, which are raised at the state's Rockport Pheasant Farm. In addition, 11,000-plus bobwhite quail are stocked on two wildlife management areas (WMAs) in the southern portion of the state, namely Greenwood Forest and Peaslee WMAs. These stocking figures have remained pretty consistent for the last decade or more, with the exception of some lean years in the late '90s, when the DFW faced a budget crisis.

Quail stocking in the Garden State has also changed in recent years. Bobwhite quail were originally raised at the Forked River Game Farm. The game farm was gradually phased out and produced its last birds in 1996. The DFW now purchases quail for stocking from private in-state game farms. Buying the birds from private game farms saves the state money while providing wingshooters with a healthier stock of birds as well.

According to Ray Porutski, who is a principle biologist on the bid-stocking program and supervises the stocking of the quail, the state appropriates money from the division's budget for the stocking of quail (the money must be approved by the Fish and Game Council) and the purchase of the birds is put out to bid. The game farm that can deliver the greatest number of birds and the best quality birds for the best price gets the contract.

This coming season, the Feathered Prayer Game Farm in Pemberton will supply quail for the stocking program.

The 2003-04 quail season will run from Nov. 8 to Dec. 8, break for the six-day firearms deer season, and then continue from Dec. 14, 2003 through mid-February 2004. Biologist Porutski said the stocking season, however, will begin prior to Nov. 8, 2003 and continue through Jan. 1, 2004. Both WMAs will be stocked three times a week until Jan. 1. Quail hunting will run from the opening day of the season through the middle of February. However, some years have seen the season being extended through the end of February because of weather or other factors.

Located in Ocean County, north of the intersection of state routes (SR) 539 and 72, the 28,726 acres of the Greenwood Forest Wildlife Management Area are considered by bird hunters to offer some of the best game bird hunting in the Garden State. Made up largely of pitch pine, scrub oak and white cedar swamp, Greenwood has ample forage and cover that makes it ideal quail habit.

Adding to the natural habitat are the 1,000 acres managed specifically as quail habitat, which is divided into 50 plots of 5 acres each with hedgerows. These areas are located in the center of the WMA, to the west of SR 539. No vehicles are permitted in this area, which is a precaution to prevent damage to the hedgerow area. In-season stockings of quail take place specifically within these 1,000 acres.

Once the birds are released into the quail management areas, they will usually stay there until hunters and their bird dogs spook them out. The state makes the stocking schedule available to the public, and since it does not change much from year to year, serious bird hunters often home in on the stocking dates.

It's not uncommon to see birds take to the air and head for the surrounding terrain once the hunters and their dogs start moving into the hedgerows. Some of the more knowledgeable hunters will let the birds come to them by hunting the fringe areas around the hedgerow area and wait for the birds to be flushed.

Quail will roost in the trees and brush along the sides of the open areas during the night, and will move into the hedgerows to feed in the early morning. On windy days or days with foul weather, the birds will often move later in the morning. If the weather is wet most of the day, hunting usually is better in the afternoons.

Located between SRs 522 and 49 about seven miles east of Millville, the Peaslee Wildlife Management Area has the Tuckahoe River as its eastern border. Containing over 14,000 acres, Peaslee is one of the state's largest WMAs.

As with Greenwood, Peaslee's natural terrain alone makes it an excellent place to hunt birds, but here, too, the state, through the use of planted fields (the division has cleared and planted a quail management area of roughly 20 fields totaling 150 acres almost directly in the center of the wildlife management area) and some creative landscaping has created excellent quail habitat. The excellent habitat produces a limited amount of native quail reproduction. Birds that survive the winter will go to nest in the spring.

Peaslee's scrub pine and brush are not only ideal for working bird dogs, it also makes for an excellent place to use a quail whistle. And while the use of a quail whistle is not widespread among bird hunters, it is an art that can really produce good results in the hands of a knowledgeable bird caller.

Because the survival rate of stocked birds at Peaslee is good, one of the best times to hunt after the stocking season is after a newly fallen snow. Quail will seek shelter from the weather by roosting in the trees or under cover during a snowstorm and then move into open fields to root for food after the snow stops falling. Hunting quail after a freshly fallen snow is a unique experience.

Of the 11,800 quail that will be stocked this season, 5,500 birds will be stocked at the Greenwood Forest WMA and 5,500 birds will be stocked at the Peaslee WMA. An additional 800 birds will be stocked in other WMAs that allow and have dog-training facilities. These birds will be stocked so hunters can hunt while training dogs for bird hunting. A total of 10 WMAs allow for dog training, including Assunpink, Edward G. Bevan, Black River, Clinton, Colliers Mills, Glassboro, Hainesville, Lester MacNamara, Stafford Forge and Whittingham. The 800 birds will be divided up among these wildlife management areas during the first part of the season.

While quail hunting in the Garden State has been primarily on private club lands and game preserves, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife has done an excellent job in providing quality quail hu

nting at Peaslee and Greenwood Forest WMAs. So if you can't afford the fees at a private preserve or don't belong to a hunting club, you might want to try New Jersey's two quail stocked wildlife management areas. All you will need is your hunting license and quail stamp along with your faithful bird dog and your hunting gear and you are in business.

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