Missouri Quail Hunting: Find the Right Habitat

With the end of quail and pheasant hunting season near, I find myself relishing how great it's treated me and my pup, Chief. How has it favored you? 
It seems like Chief and I have covered just about every square inch of quail territory in Missouri this year. By the time you read this, we will be down in the Missouri Bootheel region to try and get one last hunt in. Some people live and breathe deer, turkey or waterfowl. Not me. I prefer to hunt and eat fast food. No, not McDonald’s. I’m talking birds. You know, those eight-ouncers and their distant cousins with the long tails. 
As a quail biologist, adversity is a daily occurrence, as is negativity. People always tell me “there are no more quail” or “you’re crazy to hunt quail, there aren’t enough around anymore.” But, I am here to tell you, there are! A person might ask “Where?” I’ll let you in on a little secret: just find the right habitat.
Wherever we hunt, we’re primarily after quail, but occasionally we bag a bonus pheasant or two. Here’s our daily plan of attack:
  • We hunt both private and public lands and look for those main habitat components (food and cover) indicative of QUAILity winter habitat. 
  • As the hunt draws on from daybreak, we move from (apparent) roosting areas to food sources as we know our winged friends head to feed. Hunting by this method usually seems to produce a covey rise or flushing rooster, sometimes multiples of each. 
  • By late-morning to midday, we are hunting the brushy areas as the quail move into loafing cover. 
  • As the grip of winter tightens, we don’t hunt quail past mid-afternoon. Quail populations decline when above-average snowfall occurs. This can cause a food shortage, so Bob and his buddies rely a little more on their reserves for energy. Busting a covey that has set up to roost in the late afternoon can spell doom for unsuspecting birds when bad weather conditions roll in. It takes up to an hour for a covey to regroup after being flushed. Even with the most legendary habitat, the snow and sub-zero temperatures we see in the Midwest during winter can be hard on quail. 
The heft of my game bag has depended on my shooting. Luckily, my swing has been spot on this year, yielding three personal limits. I’d never before bagged a limit of quail!
Yes, there are still quail to be had. Better yet, there’s plenty of room to add the quality habitat that leads to hot action on these cold, end-of-season days.
Andrew White is a Quail Forever Farm Bill wildlife biologist in northwest Missouri. Quail Forever Farm Bill wildlife biologists provide landowners sound advice and assistance regarding conservation practices and wildlife habitat improvements.