Quail hunting is exhilarating, action-packed and humbling to even the most practiced shotgun shooter. I should know, I grew up with it on our southeastern Nebraska farm.
Flushing a covey of quail is as exciting as any outdoor activity gets, but hunting these birds demands strategy, fitness, stamina, good dog work, optimum shotgun shooting ability and knowledge of the bird and its habitat.
This is the season to either discover or re-discover the fun of quail hunting in the Cornhusker State. The season is open through Jan. 31.
The northern bobwhite is small ground-dwelling quail with a rounded body, small head, rounded wing and short tail. It is known for its emphatically whistled “bob-white” ringing from a rural grassy field or thicket in the summer.
Northern bobwhites travel in coveys and run across the ground from the shelter of one shrubby patch to another. When they are flushed, they explode into flight with quick wing-beats and then duck into the nearest cover.
In Nebraska, the quail is most common in the southeastern through south-central regions of the state, but can also be found in the southwest and portions of northeastern and central Nebraska. The highest densities of quail are in the southeastern counties and along wooded river and creek drainages flowing through diversified farm country, especially the Republican, Platte and Elkhorn rivers.
This native bird thrives where shrubs and trees meet grassland, cropland and weedy areas. An ideal quail area would have a mixture of these four habitat components. During hunting season, the primary food for quail will be weed seed and waste grain in the field. During periods with consecutive mild winters, research shows the bobwhite even expands into marginal habitat.
Northern bobwhite abundance again increased statewide and in most regions of the state compared to 2016, based on the July Rural Mail Carrier and Whistle Count surveys.
“Quail numbers are near all-time highs over much of their range in Nebraska, so this should be an excellent year for quail hunters and those interested in becoming quail hunters,” said Jeff Lusk, upland game program manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
“This should be the best year for quail in quite a long time,” Lusk said. “It’s been about 20 years or more since quail populations have been this high. It would be a fantastic year to discover or rediscover hunting the northern bobwhite quail in Nebraska.”
Knowing the patterns of the northern bobwhite is critical for hunting success. In fall and winter, bobwhites settle into a daily routine. At night, bunches or coveys roost in grassy areas near woody cover. Around sunrise and just before leaving the roost, one or two adult male quail give a covey call or whistle, vocalized as “koi-lee,” letting other coveys in the area know of their location in order to space themselves across the landscape, reducing competition for food and cover. Shortly after that, the covey leaves its night roost to feed.
At midday, quail move to loafing areas with decent overhead or canopy cover, usually grassy or weedy areas adjacent to brushy or woody cover with thick undergrowth and as close as possible to the fields where they feed. They remain in those loafing areas until late afternoon or early evening, when they venture out to feed before returning to their night roosts.
Quail hunting is unlike any other game bird hunt. For more of my tips about hunting this species, read my blog “In the Wild” at magazine.outdoornebraska.gov/category/in-the-wild.