I hunted wild quail as a kid, and have fond memories of trudging alongside my dad and brother through the honeysuckle and briar thickets of Sumter and Kershaw counties in the middle of South Carolina, hoping to spot Kate, our spirited English setter, freeze at the whiff of a quail.
Kate is long gone now, and so are the wild quail, at least in numbers large enough to hunt with any realistic expectations. The birds disappeared for too many reasons to list, and while plenty of efforts are being made to bring Gentleman Bob back, it’s widely accepted by hunters that wild quail hunting is a thing of the past, at least throughout the Carolinas.
But the good news is, quail hunting itself is alive and well, even if it does involve pen raised quail. Plenty of hunting plantations exist that offer quail hunting, complete with dogs like Kate to alert hunters that the birds are closer than they’d ever know.
Buchanan Shoals in Wadesboro, N.C. is one of many quail hunting preserves in the Old North State. The 5300 acre plantation has all the habitat a quail hunter could hope to find, and offers hunters the opportunity to hunt a variety of forums from pine uplands to broomstraw fields.
The property is located in Anson and Richmond Counties, and they use two methods of releasing quail for hunting. Their early release program consists of releasing numbers of quail early in the quail preserve season, giving the birds the opportunity to make up their own coveys and “become wild” for several weeks before being hunted.
Buchanan Shoals also uses the put and take method of releasing quail in numerous areas. This is done hours before the hunt, and is done to “sweeten up” the early released population of birds.
These two methods allow hunters and their dogs to find the freshly-planted birds, and to also find some surprises along the way.
Blackwater Hunting Services in Ulmer, S.C. has fewer acres than Buchanan Shoals, but acreage is not the most important ingredient in a quail hunting plantation, said Terry Hiers, who manages Blackwater.
“You want to hunt a place that has some size to it, but more important than size is the variety of the land you’re hunting. You don’t want your repeat hunters to get bored with hunting the same small pieces of land, or even a bigger area that all looks the same. You want a mixture of pine forests and open fields, and you want to mix it up, not just for the hunters but also for the dogs. If you’re hunting the same place all the time, the dogs will come to know where the birds are going to be, so they won’t hunt as hard. And watching the dogs work is a big part of quail hunting,” he said.
Hiers (803-541-4868) said when looking for a place to quail hunt, hunters should make sure the plantation uses flight conditioned birds. These birds differ from non-flight conditioned birds in that they’ve spent enough time in outdoor areas large enough to allow them to fly while waiting to be placed for hunting. This also allows the birds to develop the necessary oils on the feathers to repel water. This is important for a number of reasons.
Being able to repel water means the birds can fly, even on rainy days. But even when it isn’t raining, early morning dew can also stop non-flight conditioned birds from taking flight, and there is nothing more frustrating for quail hunters than to have birds that simply can’t fly.