Virginia Quail Hunting Forecast 2019

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A year after the best quail season in the last decade, signs are optimistic Virginia quail hunters may be on track for a repeat in 2019

By Curtis Niedermier

According to Quail Forever Regional Representative John Wallace, momentum for chapter start-ups in Virginia is high, and that’s not surprising. Marc Puckett, the small game project leader for the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries, says last season was one of the best that local hunters have experienced in about 10 years. Early reports this year suggest the state’s bobwhite population might show further improvement.

“Our June call counts have not been analyzed [as of mid-August], but appear to be on line with last year’s,” says Puckett. “Our rural mail carrier survey has not been completed yet, but anecdotal observations seem to be a bit higher than normal in terms of sightings of broods and adults. It does seem we have more late-season calling males than previously noted, which may mean a significant late hatch will occur.”

Anyone interested in joining the fight to help continue the trend and conserve quail habitat in Virginia can contact Wallace for more information at jwallace@pheasantsforever.org.
 

Conditions for hatching and brood-rearing

Puckett says winter was kind to quail in Old Dominion, and though summer weather has been a bit dry, all in all the conditions have been favorable for recruitment.

“Our winter was not severe,” Puckett says. “We had one heavy snow and a few lighter snows, and temperatures were not unusually cold. I feel like we entered the breeding season in good shape, and last year’s rains provided good cover early in the spring season."

“This summer has turned dry, though not dry enough to negatively impact hatching. I believe we have had a good season for hatching and brood-rearing in most parts of the state.”
 

Habitat and programs

For 2019, hunters will reap the rewards of last year’s weather conditions, which helped improve habitat where land-use practices allowed.

“Last year’s heavy rainfall provided for good cover this spring,” says Puckett. “We have seen many plants that grew above average in height, and overall, on new cut-overs and in fallow fields, weed growth has been very good. Insects have been plentiful, and seed production has been high, so food and cover look good going into fall.”

Virginia is one of the original seven states participating in the largest-ever wide-scale quail research project, known as the Coordinated Implementation Program (CIP), which was fostered by the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative. Hopes are high that this program can help improve habitat and quail populations throughout the bobwhite belt.

“It is the largest, coordinated quail study ever undertaken,” adds Puckett. “Over 20 states now participate in this long-term project designed to allow comparable data collection among all states. Virginia continues to lead the way in this project.”
 

Top spots

Virginia might not be Kansas in terms of quail populations and access, but Puckett says the birds are out there for bobwhite hunters willing to work for them.

“Our quail population is improving slightly in some areas; primarily in the northeast, southeast and south-central parts of the state,” he says. “That said, quail are still hard to find in many parts of the state, and hunting takes a lot of scouting effort and legwork. The best areas are east of I-95 on private lands where a good mix of timbering and agriculture still exists, especially where conservation practices have been implemented.”

In the northeast, Puckett recommends the peninsular counties of the Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck. In the southeast, he points to Sussex, Southampton and Isle of Wight counties. In south-central Virginia, try Charlotte, Halifax, Mecklenburg and Lunenburg counties. 

“Public lands are limited in these counties but do exist, though most hunters will need to get to know private landowners and possibly join hunt clubs to gain access,” Puckett adds. “Generally speaking, our Wildlife Management Areas east of Route 29 and south of Fredericksburg offer some quail hunting. These WMAs include Amelia, Featherfin, White Oak Mountain, Dick Cross, Mattaponi, Powhatan, James River, Briery Creek and Big Woods. Note that quail hunting is fair at best on most of these areas, but populations are improving on some of the areas. I would encourage hunters to hunt coveys and not pursue singles and focus on the experience more than the bag limit."

“Fort Pickett Military Reservation also offers good quail hunting, but they have their own program and require their own license in addition to the regular hunting licenses to hunt there. And upland bird hunting is only allowed there on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Also, the Cumberland State Forest and Appomattox-Buckingham State Forest offer some quail hunting and woodcock hunting. They also have a special license requirement in addition to regular hunting licenses.”
 

Insider tips

In addition to knocking on doors and getting to know local landowners, Puckett suggests expanding your upland horizons for best results.

“Combine woodcock and quail hunting,” he says. “Most of the areas mentioned have fair to good woodcock hunting, so on days when both seasons are open, it is possible to have a great day in terms of number of contacts your bird dog will have. I would call any day where a covey or two of quail was found, along with five to 10 woodcock, an excellent day, and I feel for anyone who would not consider that successful and enjoyable.”