Big Public Quail Tracts

4d2f38a5-d143-49be-b436-ed8073e1a633 When one decides to spend a day quail hunting on public land, the goal is simple: cover acres – the more the better, making the chance to traverse terrain in pursuit of coveys without feeling obligated to work the same draw numerous times a relished opportunity. Upland game biologists and wildlife area staff members in various regions have relayed their opinions and shared advice regarding where to find the best big public tracts for quail this season.


Southwest region

Oklahoma 

The top quail hunting destinations are found in western Oklahoma, according to upland game biologist Scott Cox. In the southwest part of the state, quail hunters will find Sandy Sanders Wildlife Management Area (WMA), located near the town of Mangum. In the west, there is Black Kettle WMA/National Grasslands, near Cheyenne, and Packsaddle WMA, located south of Arnett. In the northwest part of the state, Cooper WMA, near Woodward, and Beaver WMA, found in the panhandle between Beaver and Turpin, are the best destinations, said Cox.
 
“These five WMAs are managed specifically for quail (and other game species) using techniques such as prescribed burning, cattle grazing, strip discing, and various other tools,” Cox said. The habitat is a mixture of native grasses interspersed with forbs and shrubs. In addition, private land nearby these WMAs is also managed for quail, and the habitat is contiguous in most of the areas. Each WMA offers unique features with rolling hills, sandy soils, breaks, rivers, streams, or a mixture of it all. Lodging options, including State Parks, are just a short drive from these WMAs.
 
Each area may have specific rules and regulations, so hunters are encouraged to check regulations and visit wildlifedepartment.com for more information.
 

Arizona

“When you hunt in a state like Arizona that is 60 percent public lands, it’s hard to imagine hunting anywhere else,” states Johnathan O’Dell, Arizona Game and Fish Department small game biologist. Game Management Unit 37B, located between the two largest metropolitan centers in the state—Phoenix and Tucson—yields the highest harvest rate in the state. Quail harvest numbers serve as a testament to the quality and sustainability of this unit, as it is able to accommodate hunters from the state’s two largest cities. 

Game Management Unit 37A, located right next door to 37B, shares the same qualities and birds. Units 13A and 13B, considered “not quite small” in northern Arizona, don’t see a lot of hunters despite the size of their terrain. In addition to populations of Gambel’s quail, these units also contain chukar, which have seen tremendous growth and expansion in recent years due to mild winters.
 
Even during our poor years, the quail hunting in Arizona is still better than good years in some areas of bobwhite country, according to O’Dell. Plus you have a chance to chase Gambel’s, scaled, and Mearns’ quail—all on public ground. “I guess that’s why Arizona is on every quail hunters’ bucket list,” said O’Dell.
 

New Mexico

Southeastern New Mexico, particularly near Carlsbad, has had a banner year for quail, according to Casey Cardinal, resident game biologist. With average to above-average rains throughout much of the state, habitat value for quail has increased significantly. Increased grasses and forbs, a reinvigoration of shrubs, and ample insects have provided quail with a lot of good-quality habitat.
 
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and State lands both east and west of Carlsbad have had reports of outstanding reproduction and large coveys of scaled quail. The southwestern portion of the state has also seen increased numbers. BLM lands southeast of Las Cruces, south of Deming, and near Hachita report good numbers.
 
Lincoln County is seeing increased numbers of Montezuma (Mearns’) quail. The Fort Stanton BLM area underwent a habitat improvement project, and many quail have been sighted there. Additionally, district officers have seen good numbers of Montezumas (Mearns’) on the U.S. Forest Service land in Pinon/Juniper/Oak woodlands, according to Cardinal.  
 
For Gambel’s quail, hunters should check out BLM and lower forest service lands near Socorro. Upland habitat on BLM and U.S. Forest Service land near Gila saw an increase in Gambel’s quail this year. BLM land near Truth or Consequences has seen good numbers of both Gambel’s and scaled quail, said Cardinal.

Midwest region

Missouri

Missouri offers several very large Conservations Areas (CA) and lands for public access quail hunting. Thomas Hill Reservoir CA, in Macon and Randolph counties, serves as a quail emphasis area. The area is easily accessible, with multiple access points and parking lots. Thomas Hills Reservoir CA sees most of its hunters on opening day, then crowds taper off; though hunters should exercise caution in this area, as it is also open for deer hunting.
 
White River Trace CA, 8 miles west of Salem in Dent County, offers 2,000 acres of restored woodland and grasslands that is walk-in only. Annual fall whistle count surveys consistently show huntable populations throughout this Conservation Area, according to small game coordinator Scott Sudkamp.             
 
Crowley’s Ridge CA in Northern Stoddard County boasts 1,800 acres and acts as a quail emphasis area with a primary focus on early successional habitat management. Henry Sever Lake CA in northeast Missouri near Newark supports excellent quail habitat with gently rolling terrain that is easily accessible from area roads.
 
“In the Central Region, I would say that Whetstone Creek and Lamine River Conservation Areas would offer the most enjoyable hunts,” said Sudkamp. “Each area offers a diversity and abundance of habitat to support hunters and game alike.”
 
Osage Prairie CA, with 1,545 acres in Vernon County, is comprised of wide open spaces of tall grass prairie. The patchwork of vegetation composition and structure that results from this type of management rotation provides habitat for many prairie species including quail, according to Sudkamp, though he recommends avoiding firearm and alternative deer seasons in this CA.
 

Iowa

Though Iowa has one of the lowest public land holdings in the United States, all public lands receive less pressure, and in 2015, Iowa’s statewide quail index was at a 21-year high, making this fall a good year to pursue quail in Iowa. Not all public lands have quail management as a priority focus, according to Iowa upland game biologist/Farm Bill coordinator Todd Bogenschutz, so pre-scouting would improve your chances of success.
 
The Iowa DNR annually produces a quail distribution map with data from their annual roadside survey www.iowadnr.gov/pheasantsurvey. They also have an online hunting atlas showing all lands (state, county, federal, walk-in) open to public hunting at programs.iowadnr.gov/maps/huntingatlas/default.html. Any public lands on the quail distribution map in areas designated as fair or good could offer quail hunting, said Bogenschutz. Southern Iowa is considered the state’s best quail range, as it still has an abundance of preferred quail habitat, namely cropland interspersed with pasture, hay, and woody or shrubby habitats.
 

Ohio

Though Ohio quail populations have declined considerably in recent years, some of the best public land opportunities include Indian Creek Wildlife Area (Brown County), Paint Creek Wildlife Area (Highland and Ross County), and Rush Run Wildlife Area (Preble County).
 
Ohio’s quail season is approximately three weeks long (Nov. 6 through Nov. 29) in select counties. Within the Ohio counties open to quail hunting, hunters should look for areas with abundant shrub and bramble cover (fencerows, woodlot edges, etc.), interspersed within a patchwork of small grassland and row crop fields, according to wildlife biologist Mark Wiley. 
 

Kansas

Bobwhite quail range statewide in Kansas, with limited densities in the northwest region of the state. There are numerous large public land tracts that hold good densities of bobwhites across Kansas, according to small game specialist Jeff Prendergast. “With strong breeding populations and good nesting conditions this year, there should be opportunity on many of our wildlife areas in the upcoming season,” he said.
 
The largest densities this year from roadside brood surveys occurred in the Flint Hills region, although other regions also had good densities, said Prendergast. Kansas also boasts a strong walk-in-hunting program that includes more than 1 million acres of private land leased for public access. Walk-in properties become more common as you move to the western regions of the state, and while not all properties hold quail habitat, there are sufficient opportunities within close proximity that allow hunters to spend a day pursing birds without obtaining private land access.

Southeast Region

Georgia

Large “Quota Hunt Only” public lands in Georgia include Di-Lane WMA (8,000 acres) in Burke County, Silver Lake WMA (8,000 acres) in Decatur County, Chickasawhatchee WMA (20,000 acres, about 6,000 uplands) in portions of Dougherty, Calhoun and Baker counties. To apply for quota hunts and access the regulations for all WMAs and private lands go to www.gohuntgeorgia.com.
 
All these areas are a mix of open pine savanna and fallow fields. The hunt quality depends on weather conditions, according to private lands program manager Reggie Thackston. Generally hunting is best during early and middle season when there is good ground moisture, so after frost and following rainfall.  
 
In southwest Georgia, Elmodel WMA (1,600 acres) in Baker County and River Creek WMA (2,000 acres) in Thomas County also present good hunting opportunities. Hunters can contact the Regional Game Management offices listed in front of the Georgia WRD Hunting Regulations to find out specific information about bobwhite populations and hunting on the WMAs.
 

Kentucky

Peabody Wildlife Management Area (PWMA), located in Ohio, Muhlenberg, and Hopkins counties in west-central Kentucky is owned and operated by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR). The majority of this approximately 46,000 acres of land consists of reclaimed coal-strip-mined property. “This has resulted in an abundance of open grassland habitat,” according to PWMA field staff member Eric Williams.
 
In 2008, approximately 23,000 acres of PWMA was designated as a Quail Focus Area by KDFWR. This area encompasses the Homestead, Ken, Baker Bottoms and Sinclair units of PWMA in Ohio and Muhlenberg counties. In 2009, an intensive habitat management and research project began improving and enhancing this grassland habitat for bobwhite quail.
 
Any user 16 years of age or older must have a PWMA User Permit to access the area. For the 2015-16 quail season, the Ken Unit of PWMA is under a quota hunt system. There are standby hunting opportunities for quota hunt no-shows.

West Region

Oregon

California quail are found statewide, and though their numbers have been depressed in recent years, it looks like 2015 was a good production year for quail, according to upland game bird coordinator Dave Budeau. California quail are often connected to agricultural ground in Oregon. Therefore, much of the hunting occurs on private land, though several of the state’s wildlife areas have good numbers of quail. These wildlife areas include: E. E. Wilson, Irrigon, Ladd Marsh, Summer Lake, and Riverside Wildlife Areas. 
 
There are also abundant federal land opportunities to hunt quail. More than half of Oregon is under U.S. Forest Service and BLM management. In the eastern part of the state, quail hunting opportunities exist in places like the Crooked River National Grasslands (Ochoco National Forest) and the riparian areas associated with the Owyhee, Malheur, and Snake Rivers and their tributaries. For the latter rivers, a BLM map is a must, said Budeau, because of the mix of public and private ownership along the main river systems. 
 
Reports of mountain quail populations also appeared favorable this year for Oregon. Most the mountain quail harvest occurs in the southwest part of the sate with public hunting opportunities available on three southwest Oregon national forests: Umpqua, Rogue River, and Siskiyou.
  

Idaho

Nearly 70 percent of Idaho is public land, with abundant BLM, Idaho Department of Lands and U.S. Forest Service parcels, as well as many state-owned WMAs in the Southwest, Magic Valley and Clearwater regions of the state – where the majority of Idaho’s quail hunting occurs. Aside from the federal lands, WMAs such as Andrus, Craig Mountain, CJ Strike and Montour provide opportunities to pursue quail.
 
“California quail are heavily tied to riparian areas, brushy draws, and agricultural lands,” said private lands coordinator Sal Palazzolo. “Areas that have this habitat, or are adjacent to this type of land, are good bets for quail.” Several of Idaho’s WMAs are specifically managed for upland game birds with brushy pockets adjacent to agriculture.
 
Idaho boasts a successful access program called AccessYes! This fall there will be over 370,000 acres of private land open to the public. Information can be found on the Idaho Department of Fish and Game website.
 
Idaho is not a heavily populated state. “If you are willing to drive a little and wear out some boot leather you can usually find areas that receive less pressure,” said Palazzolo. “One-third of the state’s population lives within the Southwest region, so if you have the time and ability to hunt away from Boise, you should have less competition.”
 
 
Story by John Hennessy. John is the author of the blog “Braising the Wild.” Follow him on Twitter @WildGameJack.
 
Photo credit: John Bellah / Andrew Vavra & Bob St.Pierre, Pheasants Forever