Indiana Quail Hunting Forecast 2019

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Even with a decline in numbers over the past decade, Quail hunters might see some pockets of improvement in the Hoosier State

By Curtis Niedermier

With so much of its statewide acreage dedicated to agriculture, Indiana has suffered from a pretty dramatic decline in upland habitat and overall bobwhite quail numbers in recent decades. Still, according to Quail Forever Regional Representative Phil Bastron, the state’s avid upland hunters might see pockets of improvement in some areas.

“I did talk to one of our Farm Bill biologists who said that, just a couple months ago, he was out and heard a number of them,” Bastron says. “It’s possible that we could have a little bit better year this year. But in the big picture, macro view of it, we’ve got some work to do still in Indiana.”
 

Weather and conditions

Like many parts of the Midwest, quail in Indiana benefitted from temperate conditions over the winter months.
 
“Based on some preliminary analysis, it looks like we had good over-winter survival that translated to increased spring call counts,” says Matt Broadway, small game research biologist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. “This isn’t that surprising considering the mild winter."

“I should mention that we typically see considerable variation around the state,” he adds. “Some areas go up; others go down. That said, several areas in southern Indiana appeared to have 20- to 30-percent increases in spring whistling male counts. Like every other anecdote, this needs to be interpreted with caution. High spring numbers do not guarantee high fall abundance.”

Surviving birds didn’t have it easy come spring, however. 

“Unfortunately, much of the state experienced heavy, constant rainfall events that occasionally spanned several days, which could have had a positive effect on nesting by suppressing predator activity or a negative effect through flooding in lowland areas,” Broadway says. “Depending on the timing of this year’s peak hatch period, it could have had a negative effect on the first main brood-rearing season."

“However, it should not be discounted that much of the state experienced ideal brood-rearing conditions through much of the remaining reproductive season. Considering this, and the high reproductive potential of quail, populations may have been able to compensate for early losses with higher late-season success and adult survival. The key takeaway? It’s impossible to know for sure how all these independent populations will do.”
 

Conservation

Overall, Broadway suggests that hunters temper their expectations and focus on long-term conservation, as well as hunter recruitment to aid in wildlife habitat projects.

“On average, populations appear to be stable across the state,” he says. “However, they are much lower than historic peaks, which the hunting community will likely never see again."

“We have to become more informed of, accepting and driven to accomplish a realistic goal: self-sustaining, huntable bobwhite populations.”

On that front, state wildlife managers are doing their part to better understand the factors involved in driving quail population levels in the current situation.

“Generally, Indiana wants to better manage quail populations on public lands, and one of the very few controllable factors managers have at their disposal is hunter harvest,” Broadway says. “So, the small game research office, under the Fish and Wildlife Science program, is partnering with Dr. James Martin at the University of Georgia to conduct bobwhite research on public lands starting January 2020 and running until 2024. This long-term project is designed to identify how different hunter harvest rates of bobwhites during a hunting season may impact the growth of, and subsequent fall abundance of those populations. In a nutshell, we want to know what percentage of a fall population can be harvested from year-to-year without negatively impacting the population. Doing so will help us balance hunter harvest with population growth so that we provide as much quail hunting opportunity as possible without hurting a population. Because habitat and weather conditions can influence our results, we will be gathering information on those factors, as well.”
 

Insider tips

Broadway’s best advice for quail hunting success in Indiana is to target public hunting areas where quail habitat is being managed intensively. Then, after firearms deer seasons, reach out to local landowners nearby to try and secure permission to hunt private land.

Also, be aware that some of the better public areas for quail hunting require hunters to check in or be drawn to participate.

“The two public hunting opportunities I would recommend, as I’ll be partaking in them myself with my little red setter, would be Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area [Greene County] and Willow Slough Fish and Wildlife Area [Newton County],” says Broadway. “Goose Pond provides the best chance at bagging a limit early in the season and getting your dog on coveys. However, Glendale Fish and Wildlife Area is making great progress in management, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see populations at this FWA gradually increase over the next few years in response to habitat management practices. In the north, Willow Slough FWA does an excellent job at maintaining and improving early successional plant communities, winter cover and oak savannah through intense fire. While the densities aren’t as high here as in the south, there are still opportunities to find coveys, and, in my opinion, it will continue to get better. Keep in mind, there are opportunities to chase coveys on the Kankakee Sands TNC [The Nature Conservancy] property.”
 

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