By Oliver Hartner
Alabama quail hunters could experience average to above-average covey counts this fall on properly managed public lands and private properties. Though an ice storm in February 2021 affected habitat in the upper region of the state, its short duration followed by favorable spring and summer seasons account for this year’s overall positive outlook for quail.
WEATHER AND CONDITIONS
Steven Mitchell, Upland Bird Coordinator for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, says, “Winter weather conditions as a whole across Alabama were relatively mild and should not have adversely affected quail populations. Northwest Alabama received several inches of ice and snow for a few days in February, but the conditions were not extended long enough for negative impacts on local quail populations.” Poor habitat and high predation would lower over-winter survival regardless of the weather, and many property owners from well-managed areas reported hearing as many or more whistles compared to the previous year, suggesting normal carryover rates on well-managed areas.
“Overall, spring and summer weather conditions in Alabama have been favorable for quail production. There was good rainfall for vegetation growth and seed production all summer over much of the state,” Mitchell reports before adding, “There may have been some flooding on low-lying properties in different parts of the state following a couple of rain events, but those periods were not extended and should not have had negative effects on overall nesting or brooding.”
HABITAT, BROODS AND COUNTS
Mitchell admits, “Unfortunately, much of Alabama’s landscape is lacking in quality upland habitat. Moderate to good upland quail habitat in the state is usually found only on properties where active quail habitat management techniques are being implemented.” That being said, he believes managed areas receiving average rainfall should be in good shape heading into fall, which includes many of Alabama’s Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs).
According to Mitchell, anecdotal evidence offered a mixed outlook on the 2021 hatch depending on the location. “Some private property managers and WMA Biologists have reported more brood sightings compared to 2020 while others have reported fewer observations. With the decent weather for nearly the entire breeding period, we are hopeful quail production has been good across the state and translates into a good quail hunting season,” Mitchell says.
Alabama’s Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries conducts fall covey calling and spring male whistling surveys on many of its WMAs. The surveys monitor year-to-year population trends and responses to habitat management practices. “Results of the surveys have varied across the board with no quail heard on some WMAs (mainly waterfowl areas) and stable but low density numbers on most WMAs,” Mitchell says.
Mitchell acknowledges the best quail hunting in Alabama is found on private properties intensively managed for quail. However, if you don’t have access to those types of properties, he believes quail can still be found on most WMAs. “Just don’t expect easy hunting or large numbers of birds and dog points,” he warns. Mitchell says the 2021 spring surveys indicated the WMAs with higher counts of whistling males were Barbour, Geneva State Forest, Choccolocco, Perdido, and Freedom Hills. “Hard-hunting public land sportsmen can find quail on other WMAs including: Blue Spring, Hollins, Coosa, Sam R. Murphy, and Oakmulgee. The Talladega National Forest also contains some birdy looking areas,” he adds.
Whether hunting on private or public land, Mitchell recommends, “Look for open thinned pine stands containing early successional plants with scattered thickets, field edges, young clearcuts, and pine plantings in early succession stages. Also, hunt around quail foods in those areas which may include beggarweed, partridge pea, ragweed, lespedezas, pine seeds, and acorns.”