Illinois Quail Hunting Forecast 2019

8fe794da-443d-4162-bc76-dcc972f1a443 Quail hunting prospects in the Land of Lincoln are rated “average” for the 2019-2020 hunting season.
 

WEATHER AND CONDITIONS

“Besides the short burst of cold caused by the Arctic polar vortex in late January and early February, the winter of 2018-2019 was relatively mild and winter mortality due to weather was likely low,” reports Wade Louis, acting wildlife program manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. “Spring brought above average to record-breaking rainfall over a large portion of the state potentially impacting early nesting attempts, but from late June through most of August, weather conditions improved across much of the state.”
 

HABITAT, BROODS AND COUNTS

“The most limiting factor for the birds seems to be quality brood cover. This consists of areas with plenty of bare ground that chicks can move through while they hunt for insects with sturdy overhead forbs to conceal them from predators,” explains Louis.
But Jeremy Kunick, a Quail Forever wildlife biologist in Illinois, thinks the late rains actually might have helped quail habitat. 

“A lot of agricultural fields were delayed with their planting until late June or early July. Consequently, many of those fields became annual weeds with bare ground habitat,” Kunick says. “I do believe that should have helped boost nesting numbers. Even after planting, we still have several fields not yet planted and sitting in annual weeds such as foxtail, ragweed, and pigweed.”

Last season, roughly 5,700 quail hunters shot an estimated 28,000 wild quail. The number of wild quail harvested dropped 3% and continues its downward trend of reaching new historical lows.  IDNR conducts annual bird surveys across the state to track trends for game birds and other grassland/shrubland birds. The results from this year’s surveys showed quail numbers are an additional 3.1 percent lower than the prior year.

“Upland game populations in Illinois have seen a slow, steady decline for most of the last 50 years. Changes in agriculture and land use have led to less upland habitat on the landscape,” says Louis. “Statewide, there is less suitable habitat available in Illinois than in years past. Localized areas of high-quality habitat can still be found across the state, but overall, there are fewer areas that support good populations of upland game.”

Still, Kunick believes that Quail Forever’s work in habitat education and landowner assistance can help stem the tide of declining quail numbers. 

“We have had an increase in pollinator and other high quality, native CRP plantings with the support of our partners. Most of those are less than five years old which are ideal for quail. Many areas also have the traditional fence rows that have maintained the quail population we still have,” he says.
 

TOP SPOTS

The key to a successful hunt this fall will be locating and accessing quality habitat. Louis says central and west-central Illinois are areas that hunters might want to visit for the highest bird densities.
 

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