Auburn Speaks
Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development

Quail and Plantations

Written by Mark D. Smith, Associate Professor/Extension Specialist, School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences

Holding on to the Golden Era of Southern Quail Hunting

A mule-drawn wagon meandering through towering longleaf pines, a handler on horseback signaling a dog on point, the thunderous explosion of a flushing covey of bobwhites, and the pungent smell of burnt gunpowder in the air all conjure up the nostalgia of Southern quail hunting. Indeed, the historic hunting plantations of Alabama contributed greatly to the golden era of this gentleman’s sport. Unfortunately, the quail and quail hunting that most old timers knew so well is all but gone.

Once a “by-product” of former land use, Alabama’s bobwhite quail populations have plummeted an average of 6.2 percent a year since 1966 and have now reached a point where very few would-be quail hunters can justify the investment of training and feeding a bird dog.

bobwhite quailMainly because of fundamental changes in land use through the past 50 years, less and less of Alabama’s landscape provides the necessary habitat to support wild quail populations at a level sufficient for a few good days in the field, much less a season’s worth of hunting. Although efforts such as the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative are underway to reverse the decline of the bobwhite quail, known as “Gentleman Bob,” and despite the potential of abundant, huntable populations of wild quail with intensive habitat management, much of quail hunting for today’s sportsperson revolves around commercial shooting plantations and harvest of pen-raised quail.

Despite fewer numbers of quail compared to other popular game species such as white-tailed deer and turkey, quail and quail hunters still contribute more than $40 million a year to Alabama’s economy. Concomitant with the widespread decline of wild quail, a growing number of commercial shooting plantations cater to those wishing to experience the thrill of yesteryear. Using quail raised in captivity and then released, these shooting plantations provide a unique hunting experience, and in some respects help retain an interest in quail hunting.

About 32 percent of Alabama’s remaining 9,000 quail hunters visit some of Alabama’s more than 50 shooting plantations each year, spending more than $3.4 million. Supported by the Alabama Quail Trail, a consortium of commercial quail hunting plantations, these businesses offer an array of quail hunting experiences, from the fully outfitted traditional horseback and mule-drawn wagon hunts with well-trained bird dogs to more conventional shooting courses in which hunters may use their own bird dog. So despite the decline of wild quail, Alabama shooting plantations offer hunters the last remaining opportunity to experience the good ole’ days of southern quail hunting.

Quail Research at Auburn

bird dogsAuburn’s research on quail extends far back to the 1930s and ’40s, when AU professors focused on feed and predators of wild quail. In more recent decades, faculty and Extension researchers have written extensively on a range of topics, including the rates at which pointers can identify and flush coveys and monitoring the lifecycle of quail to better understand how to nurture and preserve both raised and wild. Check the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service website (www.aces.edu) for publications on these and more aspects of quail raising and hunting in Alabama.

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