Double-Barreled Public Land Quail in New Jersey

Double-Barreled Public Land Quail in New Jersey

There are only two places in the Garden State to seek quail on public land, but the hunting is worth your while on the large tracts found on Greenwood Forest and Peaslee WMAs.

by J.B. Kasper

In the last couple of years, small-game hunting has experienced a resurgence in the Garden State. In particular, pheasant hunting and quail hunting in New Jersey have bounced back nicely after the budget caused lean years in the late '90s. According to Joe Penkala, a supervising biologist with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, the 2002-03 season will see the same numbers of birds released during the pre-season and in-season stockings as the year before.

Pheasants make up about 80 percent (of 55,000-plus birds), while quail account for 20 percent (11,000-plus) of all birds stocked. Bobwhite quail were, at one time, a native game bird in the Garden State; however, development and subsequent loss of habitat have made native reproduction very limited. There has been documented quail reproduction in some areas, mainly in the southern half of the state.

The Garden State quail program is geared toward the stocking of the birds in the southern portion of the state for several reasons. First, the lowland scrub pine, forests and scattered fields of South Jersey are more favorable as quail habitat when compared with the mountainous northern part of New Jersey.

Another factor that comes into play is the stocking of quail by private hunting preserves and clubs, most of which are in the southern half of the state. The number of birds that are stocked by private game preserves exceeds, on most years, what the state stocks. A number of these birds (along with some state-stocked quail) survive to nest the following spring. This is one of the main reasons that there is still some natural reproduction in the southern counties.

The 2002-03 quail season will run from Nov. 9 to Dec. 7 and Dec. 16, 17 and 19 to 31. The last segment of the season will run from Jan. 1 through Feb. 17, 2003. The pre-season stockings were made prior to Nov. 9, while the in-season stockings will continue through Jan. 1, 2003. The only interruption will be during the six-day firearms deer season. Quail stocking will consist of 5,500 birds to be stocked at the Greenwood Forest Wildlife Management Area (WMA), and 5,500 birds will be stocked at the Peaslee WMA.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Greenwood Forest and Peaslee WMAs are the only two public lands in New Jersey specifically stocked with quail for hunting. In addition to these two WMAs, the state stocks a limited number of quail in other WMAs that offer dog-training facilities.

Some 800 quail are stocked in 10 WMAs, divided equally among Assunpink, Edward G. Bevan, Black River, Clinton, Colliers Mills, Glassboro, Hainesville, Lester MacNamara, Stafford Forge and Whittingham.

The Greenwood Forest WMA is nestled in the scrub pine and forest of Ocean County, north of the intersection of secondary Route 539 and state Route 72. The 28,172 acres of Greenwood Forest are made up of pitch pine, scrub oak and white cedar swamp, sprinkled with some open fields and dirt roads, and is a lowland hunters delight.

Approximately 1,000 acres are managed specifically as quail habitat, and these are divided into 50 5-acre areas with hedgerows separating them. Birds are released specifically within these 1,000 acres, and to ensure the stability of the habitat for the birds, no vehicles are permitted in these areas.

Since the quail release dates are public knowledge (you can get the dates for when the birds will be stocked from the Division's Web page), a good many hunters who hunt quail on a regular basis will zero in on the stocking dates and do the bulk of their hunting around them.

One veteran quail hunter told me some of the best quail hunting takes place within the first couple of hours after sunup, when the birds come off their roosts and into the fields to look for their first meal of the day. These areas are also prone to fog when a warm spell brings warmer air temperatures in contact with the cooler low-lying grounds.

Most seasoned hunters will approach the areas from the surrounding trees and vegetation. Bobwhite quail will usually fly toward woods and other cover, and moving toward them from the woods into the open areas will usually confuse them, especially stocked quail, and force them to fly over the open area when hunters can get a better shot at them. A good bird dog will root the fields and force the birds up right into the waiting hunters' paths.

The quail management area within Greenwood Forest is slightly rectangular, running from north to south. When you are hunting in the morning, it's always best to hunt from east to west so the sun is to your back. This makes it easier to draw a bead on a flushed bird instead of shooting directly into the rising sun. The reverse is true in the afternoon when the setting sun can cast a glare on the birds as they are flushed.

The Peaslee WMA is about seven miles east of Millville, with its eastern border being the Tuckahoe River. One of the state's largest WMAs (22,033 acres), its land was purchased in October 1954 with money from hunting and fishing license fees. The WMA provides 150 acres (20 fields) that are managed for quail hunting.

In addition to the 5,500 birds that are stocked at Peaslee, there is also a limited amount of natural quail reproduction. Peaslee's lowland terrain of scrub pine and brush are excellent for working dogs. The quail management area, which has been planted with the bobwhite's favorite browse, is located almost directly in the center of the WMA.

If you favor the seclusion of a winter hunt, Peaslee is just what the doctor ordered. Some of the best hunting occurs during the winter season after the stocking is over and the birds take up their winter routine.

Because the quail hunting area is only 150 acres, most hunters also choose to hunt surrounding areas. Here, too, the quail hunting experience is much more enjoyable in the late season.

In recent years, quail hunting has seen a resurgence, and lots of people believe one of the reasons for this is the growing popularity of sporting clays. A good many quail hunters use sporting clays to sharpen their shooting skills. Increasing numbers of shooters who enjoy sporting clays are taking up bird hunting, especially quail hunting.

Whether or not you are a newcomer to the sport or a veteran of quail hunting, New Jersey's Peaslee and Greenwood Forest WMAs offer

you quality public lands to enjoy a good day of wingshooting for bobwhite quail. Don't miss out on it this season!

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