For almost as long as I’ve been training bird dogs, I’ve used bobwhite quail. I’ve planted single quail, flushed quail from various recall pens and put out free coveys. I’ve followed their tracks in the snow; watched as a separated covey re-grouped; and observed roosting and feeding areas. Whether in Minnesota, Texas, Oklahoma, Illinois, Tennessee or Georgia, I’ve watched hundreds of encounters between bobwhites and dogs.
In addition, I’ve been on countless hunting trips for quail throughout the Midwest. All this experience and observation has taught me a lot about their preferences and habits.
On our home training grounds, I buy enough bobwhites in July to fill four Johnny houses and use them until the snow stops me from training. These quail grow into extremely strong flyers that know their terrain as well as a wild bird. They even become comfortable enough to remain outside the recall pens and are healthy enough to survive on their own during winter conditions.
In August 2012, a covey disappeared from a recall pen and Dan and I couldn’t use that Johnny house during fall training. In mid December we heard that a covey of 11 had been flushed not far from the pen. This covey had been on its own for four months! When I checked it out—and by then it had snowed five inches—the covey flushed wild from a hillside with tall oak trees. The area was covered with quail tracks, snow had been scratched away and acorn pieces were scattered everywhere. Those birds had discovered a great food supply and had thrived.
Sometimes, though, they just disappear and I don’t know why.
Here are more observations about bobwhite quail.
• Late in October 2011, Dan and I put out a covey in a likely location—a south-facing slope with lots of good cover options—and then spread feed around the area several times each week. In spite of several snow falls and sub-zero temperatures, we saw this covey into early March 2012.
• Dogs often find ruffed grouse in the vicinity of the recall houses. This might be coincidental but it does seem quail and grouse are in close proximity. In fact, I’ve seen evidence that grouse feed on the scratch grain we spread for the put-out coveys.
• Like most adult game birds, the worst predators for bobwhites are hawks and owls. Often when it’s difficult to flush them from the Johnny house, a hawk is the reason. One will swoop in after some birds have been encouraged to leave. Cooper’s hawks are especially deadly. Countless times in Tennessee I saw a Cooper’s leaving a covey location when I approached to spread feed. They even chased quail when flushed from a covey in front of a dog’s point.
• Last year, I hauled two dozen quail from our Tennessee training grounds back to Minnesota, thinking I could use them for some spring training. Even though Dan and I flushed a few, they didn’t recall back to their Johnny house. My guess is that they had started to pair up and preferred to stay out with their chosen mates. One male in particular started showing up around our house in early May. Betsy and I saw him only occasionally but heard his distinctive whistle almost daily. Later in June, our neighbor Jeff spotted a female quail with several chicks just east of our kennel. This brood turned into a small covey that was flushed occasionally in the same vicinity until late fall.