A New Year Of Nebraska Quail

Why not start off the new year with a new hunt for these fast-flying buzz-bombs? They'll test your skill -- and make you remember the hunts of your youth.(January 2008).

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

January 2008 -- the flip of the calendar page means that the new year's here. But it also means that we've gotten to the last month of the season for Cornhusker State upland bird hunters to pursue their quarry. While we can't expect the hunting, especially for bobwhite quail, to be better than it was when the season opened two months ago, a few tips from veterans of the hunt can enable us to enjoy some good January days following our bird finders.

The top quail hunting in Nebraska has historically been found in the southeastern, southwestern and northeastern parts of the state. Weather has taken a toll on the bobs in the southwest over the past few years, and numbers have dropped. The picture was brighter last year in the southeast, south-central and northeast, those quizzed on the subject asserted.

Hallam's Dale Taylor, a professional dog trainer and guide who was responsible for the founding of the first Quail Forever chapter in Nebraska, is also profoundly enthusiastic about bobwhite quail. He and a partner guided about 40 hunts last year and found quail numbers much improved over 2005.

"Last year the quail hunting in southeastern and northeastern Nebraska was awesome," he said. "Birds were everywhere. The first field we hunted last fall was an 11-acre pivot corner where we found two different coveys of 30 to 40 birds each. Our whole fall was that way. The year before was not so good -- smaller coveys, and harder to find.

"In my opinion, Nebraska's statewide quail population is still down from what it was years ago. That's one of the reasons a good number of quail hunters have joined our efforts at Quail Forever. We have joined forces with Pheasants Forever, which has a good track record on the restoration of habitat for not only pheasants but quail as well."

Winter cover is the key to decent quail hunting late in the season. A good many wildlife management areas have excellent cover, as does much of the Conservation Reserve Program acreage.

Mick Bresley is manager at the Sacramento Wildlife Management Area west of Wilcox. His tract encompasses about 3,000 acres of uplands and wetlands. The uplands, totaling about 1,100 acres, are considered highly supportive habitat for both quail and pheasants.

"This year we have good quail cover on Sacramento. It's better than last year, due to an ice storm we had in January," he said. "That storm broke down a lot of limbs and trees, which created natural brushpiles in the shelterbelts. We expect those to provide good escape cover for the birds.

"I would have to rate bobwhite quail numbers on the area as low to moderate compared to the state's better quail country to the east. Hunting pressure is high on the opening weekend, and drops off as the season progresses.

"Much of the area is open to public hunting," he continued, "but we do ask hunters to fill out a card when they are done hunting. Last year's bag was comparable or a little above the five-year average on quail and pheasants. All things considered, the hunting on the area in December and January will offer a fairly good chance to bag a rooster or two, and we consider the quail as a bonus bird in the bag."

Bresley hunts pheasants and quail over a Lab. The biologist shoots a 20-gauge side-by-side double, bored improved and modified. Lead shot being banned on part of the area, he uses No. 6 steel shot.

Richard Nelson, district wildlife manager at North Platte, reported that hunting in the southwest was rather bleak last year. "The best report I can come up with is that quail hunting was poor last year," he said. "It doesn't look all that good this year, either. We had a bad ice storm in January that sure didn't help the birds, and our whistle-count routes this year show an average of 10 to 12 per route; a few years ago we would tally 30 to 40."

Randy Chinn of Columbus, a guy I've hunted with for over 25 years, does most of his bob-busting in central Nebraska. His success with hunting over his shorthair and his son Todd's pointing Lab was substantial last year, he reported.

"We hunted many of the places we have hunted over the years," he said, "and we put six bobs in the bag on numerous occasions. The quail numbers were very good, and we had good hunting all through the season."

Keith Brus, a regional Pheasants and Quail Forever biologist living in Wolbach in east-central Nebraska, expected that wingshooters would be doing well this season, as the hunting was good last year and nesting cover good this year. "I hunt over Brittanys and spend most of time in east-central and southeastern Nebraska, where I hunt a lot of the CRP acres," he said. "I use a beeper on the dogs. And I shoot a Ruger Red Label over-under 20 gauge, and use No. 7 1/2s in the skeet and improved barrels.

"My hunting last year

was better than it has been

for the past eight years."

--Don Bergmeyer,

Lincoln quail hunter

"I don't hunt quail exclusively. I take what my dogs serve up, be it quail, pheasant or prairie chicken. I hunt throughout the season, but if it gets really cold I quit by mid-afternoon, because I don't like to break up a covey any later than that.

"I'm optimistic about the birds in eastern Nebraska," Brus concluded. "There is still a lot of work to be done on the habitat front, but I think we are gaining a little on it."

As regional biologist for Pheasants and Quail Forever, Drew Larson works the state west of Highway 281. The North Platte resident, who hunts over a Lab and shoots a 16-gauge side-by-side, bored modified and improved, finds the most quail in Kearney and Franklin counties. "Last year was one of the best years I have had hunting quail in the past 10 or 12 years," he stated. "From reports I had before the season opened this year, I believe hunters should have a good season.

"There is still a ton of work to do to give the birds a productive place to live. The more sportsmen we can get involved in Pheasants and Quail Forever, the better the chance for good bird hunting in the future."

Dr. Jeff Lusk, upland game program manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, is headquartered in Lincoln. "We don't have the figures on hunters and numbers of birds taken for last year as yet," he offered. "During the '05-'06 season, we had 28,978 hunters who reported hunting quail. Looking at

a four-year average, we can come up with 30,013 hunters per year. The kill for the '05-'06 season was 133,907, the four-year average 149,146.

"We did find that the quail breeding index was lower this past spring than it was in 2006. This can have a positive effect on production, however. It reduces the competition with other quail and results in more chicks per brood. We had warm spring weather, which was also a plus for the broods, but we did have quite a bit of rain, and that could have negated some of the benefits of the warmer temperatures.

"In thinking about two keys to improve quail numbers, I am reminded of a metaphor my advisor in grad school used," Lusk continued. "He suggested that instead of remodeling the houses of the quail we already have, we should be building more houses. In other words, instead of improving existing habitat we need to be creating more."

According to Lusk, the summer mail-carrier count showed slight increases in quail numbers in the Northeast, East Central and Republican quail management units. The Southeast unit was down slightly from last year.

Don Bergmeyer, a 60-year-old retired computer technician from Lincoln, bought his first bird dog in 1970. He has two over-and-unders -- one a 12 gauge, the other a 20. Both are bored skeet and improved cylinder.

"My hunting last year was better than it has been for the past eight years," he said. "I hunt over Vizslas, and do most of my hunting in the lower-central part of the state, as well as the southeast," he said. "I like hunting in the late season. The hunting pressure is down, and even though the birds may be a little spookier, I like a little cold weather and some snow -- it makes for a good day of hunting."

The season closes on Jan. 31. The bag limit is six daily, with 24 in possession.

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