A few weeks back, we came up with the tagline “The Rise of Quail” for the second leg of the Rooster Road Trip
. With Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska our destination states and the surging quail numbers forecasted, it seemed an obvious slogan. We just couldn’t have predicted our quail action would be this intense, especially here in Nebraska
where firearm deer season is open and we’ve avoided the most “Quail-y” places as a result. I’ll get back to quail in a moment.
In the morning’s darkness, we were joined by John Laux for the day’s adventure. John is the upland habitat & access program manager for the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission and the leader for the state’s newly developed Berggren Plan for Pheasants
. “It’s a comprehensive plan,” explained Laux as we swerved to avoid one of the monster mule deer and whitetails on the way to our first Open Fields & Waters
public walk-in property. “The plan focuses on improving habitat and access with the goal of creating strong pheasant populations and happy hunters.”
Bob Allen, a commissioner with the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission, also joined our team this morning with his French Brittany and black Labrador at his side. The moment we opened the truck door at the spot, roosters in every direction cackled an alarm. “By the sounds of it, they’ve got us surrounded. Do you think they are scared of us or mocking us?” Allen questioned.
Turns out, they were indeed mocking us. The property held dozens upon dozens of birds, but none of them wanted to be in our zip code flushing way out of range.
The second spot featured one of Laux’s favorite plants, kochia. “Kochia can be problematic to farmers but it provides excellent habitat for pheasants and quail throughout the year. It produces tons of seed, provides an overhead canopy for broods, and it’s sturdy enough to provide winter cover. And if you think about it, dense stands of kochia basically function like shrub thickets, attracting quail even in the absence of woody cover.”
And on cue, a covey of quail flushed almost immediately out of the truck on the second spot. Jared, Josh and I each promptly emptied our guns without a feather tickled. All the racket alerted the field loaded with pheasants to our presence and the chaos ensued. Thanks to Laux, one rooster was added to the bag on a splendid straightaway shot.
Back to Quail
Our third Open Fields & Waters spot started off with strategy. “We’re going to sneak along this cut sorghum toward a wooded draw where we should find some quail,” explained Laux. It was a good plan, but it didn’t come together. We found the quail first.
Twenty paces into the sorghum, a quail flushed out of the cut sorghum and Bob Allen didn’t let it fly very far. Then more chaos in the form of flushing singles, doubles, and a scattered covey out for brunch. By the time we made it to wooded draw, we’d added four bobwhites to our vests. The first pass through the draw wasn’t productive, but the public CRP field at the end of the draw produced a massive covey that gave up another pair. By the time we returned to the truck, we’d reached eight quail and 78 degrees on the thermometer. With the safety of our tuckered pups in mind, we called it a day to work on photos, videos, and our stories.
The drought that hammered the Great Plains during the early part of this decade put a hurting on the quail and pheasant populations. “When you think about it, the quail range extends all the way down into Mexico so they have no doubt evolved with drought. Drought negatively impacts both species, but bobwhites can also bounce back quicker than pheasants,” explained Laux. “Female quail have the ability to produce multiple clutches during a single breeding season. Pheasants are one and done. This doesn’t happen all the time but it means that bobwhites can repopulate very quickly when habitat conditions improve. With several consecutive mild winters and timely rains returning to Nebraska, quail populations have been quicker to respond and we’ve seen perfect evidence of that today.”
The Rise of Quail indeed. Yep, Nebraska certainly lived up to our Rooster Road Trip slogan. And in the immortal words of Hannibal on the 80s television show The A-Team, “I love it when a plan comes together!”
- Bob St.Pierre, Rooster Road Trip 2016
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Rooster Road Trip 2016
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Bob St.Pierre is Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever’s Vice President of Marketing. Follow Bob on Twitter @BobStPierre and listen to Bob and Billy Hildebrand every Saturday morning on FAN Outdoors radio on KFAN FM100.3.