South Carolina Quail Hunting Forecast 2020

f7d537b6-c920-4f82-abda-3d303198d4a2 By Oliver Hartner

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Optimal weather conditions and higher-than-average whistle counts suggest a favorable forecast for Palmetto State quail hunting. Though there’s still a lot of work to be done, years of successful habitat management through the South Carolina Bobwhite Initiative are benefiting quail on both private and public properties.
 

WEATHER AND CONDITIONS

 
Mild winter temperatures seem to have benefited the quail, and wetter weather patterns were more a nuisance to hunters than a detriment to habitat. Michael Hook, Quail Coordinator and Small Game Program Leader for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, says, “We had a mild winter and it should have benefited quail, and though we did have some wet weather it wasn't substantial enough to negatively affect the birds.” Jacob McClain, Wildlife Biologist for Quail Forever adds, “The 2019-2020 winter was wetter than usual, but seems to have only limited hunting opportunities more than anything.
 
A wet start to the spring wound up being a good thing by the beginning of summer, Hook says. “The spring and summer weather could not have been better. We had timely rain in the spring to get the brood cover up quickly, then it dried up a bit and good rainfall followed intermittently all summer. The brooding and nesting habitat looked great all summer and anecdotally I've heard about more broods in places they haven't been seen in years this year.”
 

HABITAT, BROODS AND COUNTS

 
Where land management practices are implemented, both Hook and McClain see positive results and high quality habitat from the collective efforts of the South Carolina Bobwhite Initiative. “We have had good conditions and most places are covered in beggarweed, rag weed, and partridge pea.  Many of our Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) have been doing a great deal of habitat work and the birds are responding, especially in the Piedmont region where Jacob has been working.” McClain adds, “On parts of the Sumter National Forest the habitat looks pretty good as many timber stands have been thinned, burned, or sprayed to manage for early-successional habitat. Private landowners have put in the work as well and they’re starting to see the benefits. Pine stands that have been thinned and burned, that's where habitat looks the best.”
 
Anecdotal evidence in the Piedmont region indicates better covey counts than have been seen in almost a generation. “Many private landowners from Newberry and Union Counties tell me that they heard more quail this spring than they have in 10-15 years, and in the Piedmont region, we see the local population in the Sumter National Forest on the Indian Creek Focus Area booming from the habitat work of the United States Fish and Wildlife Services, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, and Quail Forever. That's not to say we are back up to pre-1980's levels, but the population is moving in the right direction,” McClain explains.
 
After South Carolina completed its annual whistling cock survey, they found it was the second highest count they’ve had in five years. “I feel like we would have surpassed the highest count but many of our routes were not run due to cooperators having COVID-19 restrictions,” Hook says before McClain adds, “Spring whistle counts on the Indian Creek Quail Focus Area in the Sumter National Forest suggest birds did OK through the winter as we heard more cocks whistling this year than in the past five years.” They’re still gathering data from the brood survey, but in speaking with several participants, Hook acknowledges they saw a healthy number of quail broods this summer.
 

TOP SPOTS

 
Hook has seen the Pee Dee area in the eastern part of South Carolina as the top producer for number of flushes the last couple of years and expects that trend to continue this year. However, he acknowledges the western Piedmont is a lesser known area that might warrant a few trips this year. McClain expounds on this area saying, “The South Carolina Bobwhite Initiative has four focal areas that can be found at https://www.dnr.sc.gov/quail/focalregions.html, and these would be good regions to explore at first on Google Earth or OnX and then in the field with a bird dog.”
 

INSIDER TIP

 
In regards to successful hunting in the Palmetto State, Hook advises, “Don't spend all of your time on the Quail Focal Areas. Many of the named WMAs are actively managed and good quail hunting can be found if you do a little scouting. Some of the most rewarding hunts are found on the unnamed WMAs across the state. The habitat is much more ephemeral in that it might be here this year and gone next, but there are good coverts scattered across the state as these properties go through their timber cycles. The key is putting in some windshield time and keeping track of any changes to the timber.”
 
 

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