The Modern Era of Upland Gamebird Hunting

Upstate Outdoors
December 07, 2018 - 10:20 am
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Phillip Gentry

Old time hunters may remember “back in the day” when quail hunting on neighborhood farms was a common thing. No one bothered too much about getting permission or where to hunt because quail were so plentiful throughout the south.

Unfortunately, changes in land use have dwindled upland game bird numbers to only a fraction of the old days. Rather than die off, the tradition of upland game hunting has now manifested itself in a new venue – the hunting preserve.

Hunting preserves began showing up in the Carolinas when it became abundantly clear that the bobwhite quail was fighting a losing battle for habitat.  A typical preserve may encompass 500 – 10,000 acres of land and provides guided hunts for a fee or required membership to the preserve.

According to Mike Johnson, General Manager of The Clinton House Plantation in Clinton, South Carolina, one of the benefits of hunting upland birds is that quail, chukar, and to a lesser degree pheasant, prefer to hide in cover rather than fly off as other birds may do, the game remains in the planted vicinity when the hunting party returns to the area. Pointing and retrieving dogs are used, just as in the old days of plantation hunting, to point, flush and retrieve shot birds

“Our wildlife habitats at the preserve is well maintained but not to the point that it could sustain wild numbers of the birds hunted. The solution is to use pen raised birds, either purchased from upland bird rearing facilities or reared on site. We use dogs to point and flush them as well as retrieve them.”

Prior to the hunt, a pre-designated number of birds are released or “planted” in the area to be hunted. Once the hunt is underway, the similarities between hunting planted birds on preserve land and wild game in natural surroundings can be seen.

“I have a lot of customers who have hunted quail and other upland game birds in Texas and claim the hunting here is every bit as good and as challenging as what they get out West without having to walk 10 miles to get it,” said Johnson.

The typical hunt is a combination of walking through mowed field lands behind pointing dogs working coveys of quail or hunting in stands of thinned pines ferreting out single birds that have broken from the field covey.

One of the benefits of this type hunting scenario is that not only can hunters hunt quail in the same surroundings and environment of days gone by, but additional game birds not native to the area such as pheasant, an immigrant game bird originally from China, and chukar, a Eurasian partridge native to the Western United States, can also be hunted.

Johnson typically mixes quail and chukar together as these birds tend to stay put and can be hunted 30 minutes to an hour later. Pheasant, on the other hand, won’t stay put as long and need to be hunted right after they are planted.

“The chukar is a real popular bird,” said Johnson. “Maybe not as fast as a quail because they are bigger birds. You definitely get more meat for the money there.”

Johnson said quail hunting preserves are the next generation of quail hunting. A lot of his hunters may remember days gone by or may have been out west where wild birds are still available, but to a larger degree many of his hunters have only hunted release quail.

“The South has always been the stronghold for the traditions of hunting quail – watching the dogs work, the excitement of birds flushing, and the camaraderie of hunters who hunt together. Unlike deer or turkey hunting, which are pretty solitary, quail hunting has a lot of social aspects and we do everything we can to preserve that.”

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