South Carolina Quail Hunting Forecast 2019

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Hunters to do a little homework and are willing to put on the miles should see their efforts pay off when hunting South Carolina quail this season

By Curtis Niedermier

Quail Forever Regional Representative Kenny Barker describes South Carolina as a state of varied and diverse habitat regions when it comes to bobwhite quail, and he says opportunities are fairly consistent from the Piedmont to the Lowcountry. While the bobwhite population is still in the midst of a long-term slide, in the short term, there’s been some promising improvement.

“You can have some fantastic days in the quail woods of South Carolina, but you have to put in your time,” says South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) Small Game Program Leader Michael Hook. “There are plenty of birds to be had, but they require a little work. Hopefully the upward trend of the last couple of years will continue and each year we will see a rise in the population.”

In an effort to continue the trend and work on solutions to restore bobwhite quail numbers to 1980s levels in the Palmetto State, several interested parties joined together in 2015 to form the South Carolina Bobwhite Initiative.

“It is a coalition of 30-plus state agencies, federal agencies, non-profits – including Quail Forever – and several private landowners that aims to put more grassland bird habitat on the ground here in South Carolina,” says Hook. “You can go to scbobwhites.org or facebook.com/scbobwhites for more information.”

Here’s a little more on what to expect during the 2019-2020 hunting season.
 

Weather and conditions

Winter 2018-2019 was favorable for bobwhite quail in South Carolina, according to Hook.

“Last winter was a fairly mild winter, although we did have some localized flooding that could have impacted bird populations in certain areas,” Hook says. “Overall, it should have been a good winter for the birds to make it through to spring breeding.”

Spring and summer have been equally hospitable, which spells good news for brood-rearing in most areas. 

“We warmed up extremely quick, and it was dry during the month of May,” says Hook. “Then the weather returned to a more normal pattern. We received sufficient rain to produce good brood range across most areas of the state, especially in the mid- to late part of summer.”
 

Hatch and broods

Hurricanes and floods have tried to slow down quail reproduction over the last few seasons, but, generally, results from whistle counts and brood surveys have revealed a positive uptick in recent years.

“Our whistle counts were up again for the fourth year in a row this past summer,” says Hook. “They are still far below the long-term average, but at least they are heading back in the right direction. We have heard good reports of quail broods across the state, but we have not received our summer brood survey data as of yet.”
 

Top spots

Per usual in the Southeast, the key to consistent luck hunting bobwhite quail is to locate properties that have been managed for healthy upland habitat.

In South Carolina, there are some good public options.

“There are nearly 1 million acres of public lands in South Carolina,” says Hook. “Many of the SCDNR-owned lands are managed for bird hunting, and a fair portion of the National Forests in the state are also conducive to bird hunting."

“The Wildlife Management Areas that have been producing birds the last couple of years are the ones that are actively managing for them. Look for recent timber thinnings and clear-cuts. The hurricanes and floods have not affected our Piedmont WMAs as much as the WMAs located in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, so I would focus efforts there.”

Barker echoes Hook’s recommendations and reports that, from what he’s seen, hunters throughout the Southeast are more regularly taking advantage of public land opportunities to pursuit bobwhite quail. Increased interest in quail should only help to convince land managers of the value of habitat programs that benefit the birds in the long term.

“There’s National Forest land around Charleston – the Francis Marion – and if you’re willing to put in work there you can find them,” he says. “And the Piedmont area is about the same."

“There’s a lot of put-and-take operations out there, obviously. The other private land typically is going to be in some large land holdings, and access is always an issue. I’m really seeing, I think, an upswing in public-land access. People are realizing that it’s a resource that’s there, and they’re taking advantage of it. They’re getting out and seeing what their tax dollars go to. They want to know what it looks like and feels like. It is trending that direction where there’s less focus on getting on private land and more focus on getting that experience of hunting on the public land.”
 

Insider tips

A hunter that does his or her homework on local habitat conditions stands a good chance to run into birds this season in South Carolina. A hunter who does the same, but has ample dog power has even better odds, says Hook. His best advice is to cover a lot of territory.

“We are still far below the populations we had in the ’70s and ’80s, so you stand a better chance if you can run multiple dogs or at least switch them out in order to keep them fresh throughout the day,” he says. “You have to cover a good bit of ground to be successful in South Carolina right now.”