Quail Hunting Forecast  |  10/02/2019

Kentucky Quail Hunting Forecast 2019


While numbers don't match up with what hunters enjoyed several decades ago, there are plenty of Kentucky quail for bird dogs to flush

By Curtis Niedermier

There’s a lot happening in Kentucky when it comes to restoring upland bird populations and recruiting new small-game hunters into the fold. For bobwhite quail in particular, Kentucky has been involved in several research projects to learn more about the challenges quail face and effective methods for improving quail habitat on both public and private ground.

“We just completed a statewide quail health project,” says Cody M. Rhoden, small game biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources. “Results show generally healthy quail populations given the sampling structure, with no sign of endemic health issues, no eye worm, etc. We have an ongoing project on quail and grazing systems in the central part of the state. We have begun an adaptive harvest management project on three WMAs across the state with required check in and check out. Preliminary results show hunting pressure for quail is variable across the state, with the majority of hunters satisfied with habitat and hunts on Peabody WMA, Clay WMA and Rockcastle River WMA.”

Overall, quail populations in Kentucky don’t match up with what hunters enjoyed several decades ago, but there are plenty of birds out there for a bird dog to find, with opportunities across the state to hunt public land – including some very large tracts that can produce results that might surprise many hunters.

Weather and conditions

According to Rhoden, winter 2018-2019 was mild to average across Kentucky – good conditions for bobwhite quail in the Bluegrass State.

“Temperatures over the winter months were average to mild, and winter precipitation was average to slightly above average,” says Rhoden. “Snowfall was below average throughout the winter. Kentucky largely missed the record-breaking lows and precipitation of the states to the north and south."

“Birds likely came out of winter in good shape,” he continues. “Localized heavy rainfall in the winter may have pressured some birds in the western part of the state, but overall it was a good winter for bobwhite in Kentucky as far as survival goes.”

Hatch and broods

It was a wet spring and early summer for much of Kentucky, but nothing like the prolonged periods of drenching precipitation experienced in parts of the Midwest to the north and west. Rhoden says there were enough breaks in the weather to set up a productive hatch and brood-rearing period.

“Brood and hatch reports from field staff seem to be on par for a good to average year in Kentucky,” he adds.

Habitat and conditions

Like everywhere in the bobwhite quail’s range, the key to finding birds is to hunt high-quality habitat. Kentucky has it, even if there’s less out there than a generation ago.

“Habitat is looking good and is on par with previous years,” Rhoden says. “Kentucky’s 10-year quail plan has come to an end this year, however, the habitat initiatives from the plan are still practiced on quail focus areas across the state, and the 10-year focus is paying dividends on quail numbers.”

The program’s results were evident in the Rural Mail Carrier Survey that took place the last full week of July.

“Rural mail carriers are asked to record the number of rabbits and quail they see each day on their routes,” says Rhoden. “This year we received observations from almost 600 mail carriers across the state. Preliminary results reveal a 14-percent increase in the number of quail observed per 100 miles statewide. This makes sense as quail in Kentucky oscillate on a roughly seven-year cycle, with 2018 marking a cyclical low point. We expect quail numbers to rebound over the next few years.”

Top spots

The western region continues to be the top part of Kentucky for bobwhite quail hunting, though there are opportunities across the Commonwealth. Hunters should focus on public properties managed specifically for quail, reclaimed strip-mining properties and areas that are or have been enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program.

“Kentucky has a good amount of ground available for public hunting,” Rhoden adds. “We have a premiere WMA in western Kentucky – Peabody WMA. We also have a great resource in the northeastern part of the state at Clay WMA. There is a lot of public access ground in the southeastern part of the state on reclaimed mine ground that holds a surprisingly good amount of birds."

Peabody WMA is one of the more popular small-game hunting areas in the state. It’s been the site of a long-term quail research project. The Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources published a recap of the lessons learned at Peabody that also offers advice to hunters on how to be more successful hunting quail. The guide breaks down effective hunting tactics, identifies key plant species for quail and more is available here.

Insider tips

Best hunter practices really depend on where in Kentucky you’re hunting. 

“Kentucky has many unique opportunities to pursue bobwhite quail,” Rhoden says. “On the strip-mine ground in west Kentucky, be patient and slow way, way down. On the public areas in the northeast, be ready to lay down some tread and hunt all day. Do not get sucked into the food plots, and get off the roads and tractor paths to find high-quality habitat and unmolested birds. On the public access areas in the southeast, do your homework and look for places that have open areas reclaimed in the last five to 10 years, and concentrate on cover.”