While West Texas quail hunting opportunities improve, East Texas quail hunting is becoming a thing of the past, with the exception of shooting preserves.
While western and southern Texas are experiencing a slight rebound in quail populations, eastern Texas is seeing an increase in put-and-take quail shooting preserves. Quail hunting was once a huge sport in Texas that attracted rich hunters including business owners, land-barrens, oil and gas money and politicians of elite status.
These well-to-do sportsmen and women paid more for quail leases than for deer leases. Quail hunting was also popular with blue-collar hunters that had a few good dogs and access to a friend’s or family member’s land with a few quail due to sparse public quail hunting opportunities and day-leases.
There has been a gradual decline in the number of quail and quail hunters in Texas since the 1970s, however the greatest decline occurred in just the past decade. Urbanization reduced land suitable for quail and made it impractical for most hunters to keep a string of dogs in a neighborhood setting. A poor economy resulted in less available free funds for hunters to use towards quail leases. Simultaneously, a series of droughts caused a significant decrease in wild quail populations. In the last 20 years, quail hunters have declined from about 250,000 to about 20,000.
In East Texas the decline came sooner. Changes in agricultural practices, burn bans on timbered land and the introduction of Bermuda grass for pastures all contributed to the quails’ decline. In the 1950s a quail stocking program was implemented in East Texas but the concept failed as pen-reared quail do not survive for long when released into the wild.
There has been talk amongst Texas about trying a quail restoration program.
“I don’t have a whole lot of hope, so many things have changed. If you look at aerial surveys the landscape has changed so much. We don’t have the little farms we used to. It is more forested,” said Jason Hardin, a TPWD biologist who works with upland game birds in East Texas.
There is one project, the Western Navarro Bobwhite Recovery Initiative, where the department is working with landowners to maintain and increase quail populations in farm and ranching country.
“Last year WNBRI partnered with (National Wild Turkey Federation) and received one of the upland game bird stamp grants to cost share habitat enhancement projects (native grass restoration, brush sculpting, and invasive brush control) in western Navarro and Ellis counties. Right now they have 18 projects that are ongoing or about to start up totaling close to 4,000 acres in habitat improvements for grassland birds,” said TPWD biologist Jay Whiteside, who works with the project.
Hunters looking to experience quail hunting that closely resembles “the good ol’ days” will have to visit one of the East Texas shooting preserves that have quail hunting available.
Gallo’s Double G, Hidden Lakes Hunting Resort at Yantis, Upland Bird Country in Corsicana and Wildcat Creek Quail Hunting Resort near Detroit are all doing their best to bring quail hunting to those who still want to pursue this sport.