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Boggy Hollow Bobwhites

This Alabama WMA may be the South's best-kept quail hunting secret.

Boggy Hollow Bobwhites

While the Southeast’s quail numbers are a far cry from what they were a half century ago, there’s hope for their future in places like Alabama’s Boggy Hollow WMA. (Shutterstock image)

Since colonial times, sportsmen have followed enthusiastic dogs through thick brush in pursuit of bobwhite quail, the most majestic of all native North American game birds. In the early 1970s, about 100,000 Alabama sportsmen harvested more than 2.5 million wild quail annually.

However, during the past few decades, wild quail populations have plummeted across the Southeast. Good populations exist on some well-managed private properties, but few public lands east of Texas now hold huntable populations of Gentleman Bob.

“The wild quail population in Alabama and across the Southeast has been going down since the 1960s,” says Steve Mitchell, the upland game bird program coordinator for the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division. “The population has probably declined 80 percent across the Southeast, but there are pockets on private land and some wildlife management areas that still hold wild quail populations.”

Bobwhite numbers have declined for many reasons, including predation and loss of habitat. The birds have faced numerous predators for eons, of course, but have traditionally thrived in places where they found good habitat, including grassy fields, brushy rangeland and longleaf pine savannas with good understory that provide cover and food, such as seeds and bugs. The small birds need bare dirt at ground level so they can move around easily and pick up seeds. They also need a thick canopy overhead to hide from avian predators.

“Quail habitat is all about cover,” Mitchell says. “If the birds can hide from predators, they will survive to breed. Brood habitat is usually the limiting factor for wild quail management. Quail can nest almost anywhere, but brood habitat needs to protect them overhead and be open at ground level. A newly hatched quail chick is not much bigger than a bumble bee. When young birds hatch, the parents take them to a place with early successional growth like a fallow field.”

In the past few years, Alabama has put more emphasis on bringing back wild quail by preserving and enhancing habitat for them on public lands. In cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service, the state opened Boggy Hollow Wildlife Management Area in 2017 specifically for quail. About two hours east of Mobile, Ala., and slightly more than an hour northeast of Pensacola, Fla., the property includes 7,000 acres of Forest Service land within the 84,000-acre Conecuh National Forest on the border with Florida.

“Boggy Hollow WMA was created as a small game hunting area with a focus on bobwhite quail,” Mitchell says. “Since its creation, we have been working with federal officials to improve the habitat for wild quail through prescribed burning and field management.”

Habitat Management

Like most of the surrounding national forest, Boggy Hollow consists primarily of flat longleaf pine savannas with some slightly rolling hills. Two creeks and some finger drains coming off them run through the tract. The understory consists predominantly of grasses, gallberry and yaupon.

John Felsher, Hunter stalking at Boggy Hollow
Boggy Hollow’s carefully managed pine savannas provide bobwhite quail with the cover and food they need to thrive. (Author photo)

“The Forest Service takes care of the timber management, harvest and any prescribed fire management,” Mitchell says. “Fire is the number-one management tool in that area.”

Prescribed burning eliminates ground debris and stimulates new plant growth by allowing more sunlight to hit the ground. Fire also adds nutrients to the soil. Some seeds can only sprout after a fire. On forested property, selective tree thinning helps. Too dense of a canopy blocks sunlight, which inhibits plant growth at ground level.

“A pine savanna with older trees that allow sunlight to hit the ground for grasses and forbs to grow can benefit quail,” Mitchell says. “Sometimes, a pine savanna can create a mid-story canopy that quail don’t like. With prescribed fire management, we can keep those areas open to create better foraging conditions for quail and other wildlife.”

The state also gets help from Alabama Quail Forever chapters, as well as other conservation groups such as the National Wild Turkey Federation. These groups donate money, materials and labor for various projects. Quail Forever volunteers provide seeds and perform considerable habitat manipulation, such as planting quail foods and cover plants.

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“Quail Forever is dedicated to the conservation of quail and other wildlife through habitat improvements, public awareness, education and land management policies and programs,” says Jimmy Mitchell (no relation to Steven), president of the Black Warrior, Ala., chapter of Quail Forever. “We want to build up wild quail populations in places that allow public hunting, like Boggy Hollow and elsewhere.”

Growing The Population

Some resident wild quail already lived on Boggy Hollow when the state opened it to hunting during the 2017-2018 season. In a spot with good habitat, the prolific birds can reproduce abundantly to fill available habitat. Each female lays about 12 to 15 eggs per nesting, and she might lay three or four clutches during a breeding season, which lasts from spring until September or October.

John Felsher, Dog with quail
Part of the management plan at Boggy Hollow includes a four-bird daily limit. Elsewhere in Alabama, the limit is eight quail per day. (Author photo)

“We haven’t seen a large population response yet, but there’s a good population of quail already there,” Steven Mitchell says. “The property doesn’t get much hunting pressure on either quail or woodcock, so it’s all about fine-tuning the habitat. Managing for wild quail is pretty intense.”

On Boggy Hollow, the state allows limited hunting on designated days for other game, such as deer, small game and turkeys. The state also permits trapping on the tract after quail season ends each winter.

Upland hunters can hunt quail and woodcock at Boggy Hollow on Wednesdays and Saturdays during the state’s season. On those days, upland hunters have the entire 7,000 acres to themselves. Sportsmen may bag up to four quail per day on Boggy Hollow, not the eight allowed elsewhere in the state.

John Felsher, Boggy Hollow quail harvest
Boggy Hollow is open exclusively to quail hunters on Wednesdays and Saturdays throughout the season.

“Boggy Hollow has enough wild quail,” Steven Mitchell says. “We just need to manage the habitat so the population will respond better. Quail can reproduce quickly given the right conditions and a lack of predators. Hopefully, we’ll see some increases in quail populations on the area.”

“I appreciate the state establishing a place like Boggy Hollow,” says Jimmy Mitchell. “We have a long way to go in the management plan. There’s work yet to do, but the hope is that Boggy Hollow will continue to improve and become a great quail spot.”

Bonus Birds: Woodcock

Few people in Alabama hunt woodcock, but some ardent enthusiasts follow these diminutive, feathered firecrackers from their breeding grounds in Canada, New England and the Upper Midwest to the South where they winter.

John Felsher, Woodcock
When chasing bobs, keep your eyes peeled for woodcock. (Author photo)

“Alabama is kind of a funnel for woodcock,” says Seth Maddox, an Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division biologist. “Woodcock usually migrate to Alabama between October and December. Some are more residential in nature and breed in Alabama.”

Hunting woodcock takes considerable effort and luck without a good dog. Occasionally, small game hunters will nearly step on one and down it when it flushes, but most Southerners bag woodcock while hunting quail. Fortunately, flushing woodcock seldom fly far. Hunters can often mark where these challenging birds land and flush them up again.

“When woodcock flush, they are incredibly hard to hit,” Maddox says. “They’re extremely agile in the woods, and a tough target to shoot.”

Look for woodcock in any suitable habitat across Alabama during the winter. Woodcock like moist soils where they can use their long, flexible bills to probe for earthworms. Some quail hunters bag woodcock at Boggy Hollow WMA, but nearby Blue Spring WMA and Geneva State Forest offer better habitat for these birds.

Trip Planner

Many people who travel to hunt Boggy Hollow camp at Open Pond Recreation Area. The property spreads across 450 acres of Forest Service land on Alabama State Road 137 about 8 miles north of the Florida line. The property includes a 30-acre lake full of largemouth bass, bluegills, crappies and channel catfish. Two fishing piers offer access to the lake, and there are several other lakes nearby.

John Felsher, map

The Open Pond area offers hiking, but more adventurous types hike the Conecuh Trail, which runs for 20 miles through the Conecuh National Forest. Bird watchers might spot an endangered red-cockaded woodpecker here.

In Andalusia, home of the World Championship Domino Tournament, visitors also find good restaurants, golf courses, cultural centers, museums and shopping. In winter, people can enjoy an ice-skating rink, a steam locomotive and other attractions. The Three Notch Museum contains many artifacts about the area. Children love the Mark Gibson miniature railroad. For more information, visit cityofandalusia.com.




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