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Stocking Bobwhite

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Posted Sep. 30, 2001

Stocking quail should you do it? The answer depends upon why and how you are considering doing it. If you are trying to increase long-term quail abundance, stocking quail is not the answer. If you are trying to provide quail for short-term use, such as improving harvest success this fall, stocking quail might be a reasonable option.

Several research projects have shown there are no long-term benefits to stocking quail. If you want to do something this year to influence the number of bobwhite in the years to come, you have to change the landscape. Improving the landscape for bobwhite means increasing the amount of area they can use, which generally involves increasing or decreasing various types of cover. Releasing birds, regardless of the number released, will not increase the number of quail on the land during future years.

Unfortunately, bobwhite habitat management is not easy or cheap, especially when woody cover is lacking or poorly distributed, introduced grasses dominate much of the landscape, or weather is uncooperative. In such challenging situations, a manager can stock bobwhite to provide short-term abundance while continuing to improve the landscape for long-term benefits. Stocking quail can provide immediate benefits for observation, training bird dogs, or increasing harvest success. Stocking quail provides short-term benefits that last only months at best, and more often, last only days or weeks. Without a plan to use the birds immediately after stocking, stocking quail is a dubious practice.

All quail stockings are not equal. Several things should be addressed to improve survival and benefits of stocked quail. Healthy bobwhite should be obtained from reputable commercial sources because unhealthy released quail do not live long and may compromise wild quail. Genetics of stocked quail should be nearly identical to that of the native stock. Races of bobwhite from northern states and lines of quail bred for larger meat birds probably will not perform well when released in southern Oklahoma. Bobwhite should be released in appropriate habitat to enhance survival.

Bobwhite released in the wild should be raised in isolation from people, dogs and other aspects of civilization. Bobwhite domesticate relatively easily. If exposed to people, dogs and vehicles while being raised, they will not perform like wild quail. I have found that one of the most difficult aspects of properly stocking quail is locating producers who raise them in isolation. Most of those who raise the birds this way receive their purchase orders several months to a year in advance. A manager who waits until fall to locate and order quail often experiences significant difficulty in locating appropriate quality birds.

When you want to use quail beyond a few days after their release, certain release systems, such as the Anchor Covey Release System, tend to provide more benefits than simply dumping birds. With such systems, bobwhite are released under good overhead cover in covey-sized groups of generally eight to 20 birds. Each bird is allowed to leave the transport container at its own pace. Each released covey is provided with cover, food and a callback bird or electronic callback device.

Stocking quail is not the answer for improving our wild quail populations. However, it provides an option to quickly create short-term quail populations for a variety of uses.