Thursday, July 15, 2010

Quail Economics

Last Sunday morning I was flipping through the latest issue of Garden & Gun and stumbled upon a piece on an interesting project in Alabama.  Some guys in one of the poorest sections of the state are doing their best to make lemonade out of the lemons they've been given, so to speak.  West of Selma is an area known as the Black Belt, called such due to the tint of the soil, and lacking any traditional economic development appeal certain locals have decided to pitch it as a sporting destination for, of all things, bobwhite quail.

It's compared to the Robert Trent Jones Trail of Golf and a little research reveals that they're not putting all of their eggs in the quail basket, which is probably a good hedge.  offers deer and turkey hunting along with freshwater (read BASS) fishing.  The quail hunting may in fact be an add-on, albeit an appropriate one.

By most counts, the sport of bobwhite hunting is headed more and more toward a preserve experience.  With wild birds getting harder to come by and a society moving ever faster toward instant gratification, preserves are the solution for the weekend warrior who wants to get in, maximize his quality time, and get on to the next diversion.  It's not for me; I'd rather walk all day and find one covey than spend three hours kick-starting birds.  But it may keep just enough people interested in the sport to give some of the efforts at restoring wild populations a chance to gain traction.

Call it what you want, but restoring wild populations is ultimately a numbers game scored in dollars and hands on deck.  A relatively small number of people with deep pockets and, as is often the case with deep pockets, strong political connections could provide the dollars.  Hands on deck, however, depends on people.  Lots of people.  And to get people interested you have to give them a taste of it.  It'll be interesting to see how The Quail Trail pans out and more interesting still to see if it spawns any enthusiasts, activists, or disciples.

By the way, for those of you unfamiliar with Garden & Gun it's worth a look.  There's also an article in this same issue about Nash Buckingham's legendary shotgun.


  1. kick starting birds-I cannot think of a better description. I've relegated myself to the high country where grouse numbers are consistent and the view isn't too bad either.

    It seems like just yesterday quail were in every hedgerow and scrub thicket, and permission was easy to come by with a loaf of bread, a wind up alarm clock, or an occasional six pack beer. Man I miss the good old days.

  2. Mark: It's a really interesting article -- and virtually my only beef with G&G is that I would have loved to have known more. The phrase 'kick-starting' birds is also very appropriate. My only 'however' would be when is preserve not a preserve, or a 'wild bird' not a 'wild bird'... it's not intended to be a B&W question and I suspect doesn't generate a B&W answer. For example, the State of South Dakota allegedly replaces every successfully hunted pheasant with two farm-raised birds -- and yet, for some, this is the epitome of not-preserve hunting (albeit on an exotic species -- like chukar, for example). In a different example, I can tell you that, if introduced properly to a habitat, a farm-raised quail will be extremely spooky and intolerant of blundering dogs and hunters. I guess I come down to the opinion that there are degrees of 'sporting' challenge but that, in an ideal world, we will do a better job to protect and/or re-introduce self-sustaining populations of game birds.

    all best

  3. Preserve shooting is not my cuppa', but anything that gets people involved and keeps them involved in upland hunting has to be a good thing. If these folks can make a little money for the local economy, it's that much better.

    Andrew, South Dakota has too many pheasants. Having done one 'traditional' SD pheasant hunt, I find it very similar to preserve hunting. I want dos to show me some bird work!

  4. Mike: preserve hunting isn't my cup either, but I agree with you that if it can introduce a new conservationist, then it's still a good thing. While I have friends who I respect (and who appreciate dog work) that love SD, it has no appeal to me either. As Jim Tantillo wrote someplace, it's still important to recognize that these are aesthetic differences, not ethical ones.


  5. Some places run early season release programs and the birds that survive to the opener often do fly very well, often difficult to tell from wild birds. Birds placed out several hours prior to a hunt tend to be the ones that are reluctant to stay airborne.

    I don't condemn anyone who subscribes to either practice as long as they enjoy it. Usually people don't begin a sport at its most difficult level and hunting should be no different. Give someone an early success on birds that are easy to find and relatively easy to shoot and he's more likely to remain interested. I've never been to the parts of SD that have too many pheasants, but I'd imagine that's a great place to take a beginner.