As a young boy in Pulaski County, Virginia, I recall deer still being pretty rare in many places. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard “old timers” talk about driving for miles just to see a deer track. One joked in the barbershop with my Dad, “Heck, I drove 25 miles just to talk to someone who had seen a deer track.” It wasn’t really that bad, but success was easy to define. It meant more deer, which meant more deer hunters, which ultimately led to the white-tailed deer as being the primary driver of modern hunting. Much like the largemouth bass drives a large chunk of the fishing economy, deer put the “bucks” in hunting, literally and figuratively.
And there have been much talked about successes with turkey, black bear, Canada geese, several duck species, and others. And I have heard so many times “they brought back deer and turkey, why can’t y’all bring back quail?”
It is an honest, albeit painful, question to hear repeatedly. I won’t go into all the reasons here, but when driving down the road in modern America, there is no shortage of deer habitat, or turkey woods … and wetlands for waterfowl have been helped by over 25 years of programs designed to prevent draining and filling valuable habitats (since the Swampbuster provisions in the 1985 Farm Bill). Not to mention the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s system of refuges being largely being based around helping recover waterfowl populations. The USFWS has been working on conservation and restoration of waterfowl populations for over 75 years.
Driving down those same American roads where you have to be careful driving at night to avoid hitting a deer, quail habitat is hard to spot. Since bobwhite quail are a non-migratory species they fall under the purview of each state within which they range. The National Bobwhite Technical Committee and their range-wide plan for recovering wild bobwhites, the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, are helping to “gel” these states into concerted action. For the first time in history, thanks to NBCI, we have actual figures on the number of quail hunters nationally, and we are getting information on how much habitat is being created for quail within their range. It is a big task and will take time, but NBCI represents a giant step forward in recovering a non-migratory bird species. But can we use the same yardstick to measure success that we used for deer? For turkeys? For waterfowl? And if so, what level of population recovery and what level of quail hunting would qualify?