Nebraska Bobs On Tap

What's on tap for Nebraska quail and quail hunters in the weeks ahead? Here are some answers. (January 2007)

Great Plains Game & Fish checked in with a number of quail hunters and biologists and found opinion as to how the bobs are faring in our state to be divided.

"I think hunting was good last year," said John Savicky, a 66-year-old trucker from Lincoln who shoots a 20-gauge 870 Remington bored modified and goes afield with a Brittany. "And previous to the season this year, I saw a lot of broods -- quail as well as pheasants. I think there are more quail this year than I've seen for a long time.

"I do most of my hunting in southeastern Nebraska. I hunt some public wildlife management areas, as well as CRP land. January hunting can be good if you know the areas you hunt. The CRP grounds, as well as the wildlife areas, have pretty good cover. When we get some snow, the birds are going to use these areas."

Jim Pinkerton, another hunter from Lincoln, guns over a shorthair. He agreed that bird numbers were up last year. "The last couple years have been pretty good for quail," he stated. "The hunting was better than it has been for about 10 years.

"I hunt with a friend -- Dan Peterson of Beatrice. We do most of our hunting on private land down in that area. We hunt along the woody draws, hedgerows and CRP lands."

Nebraska's rural mail carriers participate in an annual April survey of small game for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. In the six quail management areas, the count was up 25 percent from the 10-year average. Five units tallied percentage increases: Republican, 77; East-Central, 54; North-Central, 38; Northeast, 9; Southeast, 22. The only unit with a decrease was West Platte.

Prior to the season, a few NGPC wildlife management area managers were asked what quail numbers looked like on their respective tracts.

Brad Seitz of Alexandria, who manages the Meridian, Alexandria, Alexandria West, and Little Blue WMAs, conducts quail "whistle" counts at his areas. He reports that the count prior to the season indicated a population 35 percent above the five-year average.

"On the 600-acre Alexandria area, our count has averaged 14 whistles over the past five years," he offered. "We also log the whistles coming from adjacent private property; that count averaged six.

"We also log hunter numbers -- and they have gone down steadily over the past few years. The number of quail taken has been very poor on the Alexandria areas, and we think that is because most hunters target pheasants. Our pulse on their hunts indicates the hunters aren't seeing many quail. A lot of them do not have dogs, and some admit to being poor shots on quail.

"The cover on the areas is good, despite the fact that we have been in a dry cycle for some time. We noted an excellent grasshopper population last summer, so that should have been good for survival of the young pheasants as well as quail."

Chad Taylor, the manager at Medicine Creek WMA, said that even though the area has suffered from prolonged drought, the habitat at Medicine Creek and Red Willow WMAs looks relatively good.

"We ran some whistle counts in April in Red Willow and Hitchcock counties and found very little change from 2005," he reported. "We heard 19 males on our 20-mile route last spring in Red Willow County, and in Hitchcock we logged 17. Those figures were up about one male bob from the 10-year average. To us, this indicates we likely had about the same breeding population as we did in 2005."

With the cover in relatively good shape on the two WMAs, Taylor believes that the hunting will be quite serviceable for those willing to spend the time to find the birds, and who have reliable dogs, up until the end of the season on Jan. 31.

"A fair portion of private land in southwestern Nebraska is not looking very good for quail," he admitted. "There are some exceptions -- particularly along the Republican River, Medicine Creek, Stinking Water Creek and Red Willow Creek drainages."

Fairbury's Roscoe Beachler, 74, goes after the bobs in Jefferson and Thayer counties. He's kept records of his hunts over the past 25 or 26 years.

"Yes, I remember the good old days," he stated. "I have four or five guys I have regularly hunted with over the years, and checking back in my records, I see where we hunted most every day of the season and bagged 657 quail in 1977 and 507 in 1978. Those were the days when you could hunt a half-mile draw and move five or six coveys My records show that over 25 years we bagged over 6,000 quail.

"I don't hunt hard anymore -- I've been spending more time on the golf course than hunting. Last year two or three of us only bagged about 25 quail -- I think I shot six or seven.

"I have some land in the (Conservation Reserve Program), and see the birds making a comeback where there is good cover, water and feed. As mentioned, I used to hunt the entire season, but now I don't hunt that hard. January can be tough on quail, especially if we get heavy snow and low low temperatures. Insofar as I am personally concerned, I would like to see the season closed for a couple years and let the birds come back."

Mike Remund of Tecumseh manages a number of WMAs in Pawnee and Johnson counties in the southeastern corner of the state: Osage (778 acres), Twin Oaks (1,120), Bowwood (320) and Pawnee Prairie (1,140). "Our bird numbers are down below our 10-year average," he remarked, "but the whistle counts indicated that we had a slight increase from 2005. The experienced hunter should be able to find some coveys in Pawnee, Johnson, Gage and Richardson counties in January -- unless we get buried with snow.

"Bird numbers are improving a bit, but still are a far cry from the '70s and early '80s. We have lost a lot of prime cover such as hedgerows, and we just don't see weeds in the milo or cornfields anymore. On the positive side, the CRP acres are helping -- particularly during the first few years the land is in the program. That's when the weeds and forbs grow well."

Sited near Royal in the northwest corner of Nebraska's quail range, Grove Lake WMA is managed by Eric Zach. "I actually think we have a good population of quail here considering we are on the northern fringe of the bobwhite range," he said. "We also have good numbers of pheasants and prairie chickens around the area."

Scott Taylor, assistant game division administrator for the NGPC in Lincoln, closely monitors the upland game program. "The statewide whistle count in 2006 was basically unchanged from 2005," he reported. "The East-Central, Northeast, Southeast and West Platte were all above the five-year average. Only the North-Central unit was below the five-year average. The statewide index was 22 percent above the five-year average.

According to Taylor, preliminary 2005 estimates put quail hunter numbers in 2005 at 29,000, and their bag at an estimated 134,000 birds. Those numbers were down from 2004, when 31,000 hunters took 164,000 birds.

"Small-game hunters have declined for most species all across the country," Taylor observed. "Looking back at the records, we had a high of 73,000 quail hunters in 1973. Lower numbers of quail is probably the main cause of the decline, but not the only one. I think we are looking at fewer people living in a rural setting, along with a myriad of lifestyle and cultural changes over the last few decades. I think these no doubt have played a major part in the decline of upland game hunters."

Taylor said that limited studies show that closing the season or cutting it back to eliminate January hunting may or may not hold potential for improving the breeding population of the birds. However, the jury is still out on that management option.

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