Mississippi Quail Hunting Forecast 2019

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Mississippi quail number remain stable, but pockets of critical habitat will be crucial for finding birds

By Curtis Niedermier

“Patchy” might be the best way to describe the bobwhite quail’s suitable habitat in Mississippi, as upland habitat isn’t as widespread as it once was. 

That said, like much of the South, Mississippi has a rich quail hunting tradition, and state wildlife managers constantly monitor population trends and work on solutions to improve the situation.

“Population estimates, as measured by breeding season call counts, have been a little mixed this year,” says Rick Hamrick, a wildlife biologist with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks (MDWFP). “Some areas showed a significant increase in numbers of calling birds from last year to this year, while others decreased. Hot and muggy weather conditions set in by June and likely made calling activity a little erratic for some areas. Quite a few days were cloudy or rainy during our typical survey time."

“I estimate that populations are mostly stable to increased from last summer to this summer. Locally, some areas will be unavoidably decreased. However, we have apparently had several good years of production in a row, so overall I expect populations to be fairly stable. The downside is that although they may be relatively stable, those populations are not very abundant in most places.”
 

Weather and conditions

Precipitation has been the story of the season for quail in Mississippi.

“Last winter was mostly mild with regard to cold temperatures, but quite wet,” says Hamrick. “Mild winter temperatures were likely favorable for carryover of birds to the breeding season. Going into spring, it was one of the wetter years on record. Southern portions of our Mississippi Alluvial Valley experienced unprecedented duration of continuous flood conditions from late winter through summer."

“Temperatures were mostly mild in early spring, and it was quite warm by April. Mississippi had high rainfall during spring, and rainfall has continued to be abundant through summer. In general, wetter summer conditions can be better for quail than drier conditions, from the standpoint of vegetation growing conditions and associated insect production that feeds nesting hens and chicks.”
 

Hatch and broods

Poorly timed heavy rains might’ve hampered production at times this season. Still, numbers are probably about on par.

“Some reports of early brood sightings were received in June, so I am optimistic that we got some good early production in,” says Hamrick. “With the relatively early spring we had, it is hoped quail got a little earlier start with nesting. Hurricane Barry produced high amounts of rain around the time of our traditional peak quail hatching period in mid-July. Some of the recently hatched chicks around that time period may have been lost due to wet conditions. However, there have been reports of brood sightings into August. Ample rainfall into the later summer has likely maintained relatively good brood-rearing conditions for later hatches.”
 

Habitat and conditions

Again, it’s the scattered nature of the habitat in Mississippi that stands as a major hurdle for bobwhite quail in the state. Where good habitat is found, there ought to be birds. Connecting those patches together should be one of the goals of restoration projects going forward.

Frequently, suitable habitat structure on a scale large enough to reliably produce at least one or two covey finds per hunt is a limiting factor in any given area,” Hamrick says. “Larger patches of quality quail cover tend to be very localized and may result in more fragmented populations compared to several decades ago. Therefore, expanding and connecting suitable habitat patches is a point of emphasis.”
 

Top spots

Southeast, northeast and southwest Mississippi are the primary regions to try for quail, according to Hamrick. Those regions have a better mix of land use practices and available public land options for upland hunting success.

“Mississippi’s National Forests, aside from Delta National Forest, offer large areas of upland, open public land to hunt,” Hamrick says. “There are also several Wildlife Management Areas that can provide some quail hunting opportunity. Not many hunters pursue woodcock in Mississippi, but there are many public areas throughout the state where they can be found, depending on migration progress. When they are here, woodcock can make for some good additional bird contacts in the pursuit of quail.”
 

Insider tips

“By winter, quail will be associated with thick cover and may be found near junctions of upland and hardwood forests and drains to take advantage of acorns,” says Hamrick. “Quail hunters should expect to cover a lot of ground and get into thick cover to find birds.”

For public land hunters, pay particular attention to areas where the vegetation has been manipulated to improve habitat.

“The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks continues to emphasize active habitat management on Wildlife Management Areas,” Hamrick adds. “Timber thinning, prescribed burning and other quail-friendly habitat enhancement efforts continue to be implemented on several upland WMAs throughout Mississippi.”