Shaping management through quail population tracking

Oct 24, 2023

The goal for most wild quail managers is ensuring that healthy bird numbers translate into consistent covey finds throughout the hunting season.

In doing so, managers need to know whether bobwhite abundance increases or decreases in response to management, which makes monitoring population levels important.

Collecting meticulous bobwhite hunting and harvest records has been a long-standing practice on many hunting properties. Hunting records are a good way to measure the status of your bobwhite population and can provide information for making adjustments to hunting efforts and land management within a single year and over many years.

The key is consistency in how the data is recorded, especially among different individuals.

There are two commonly used techniques to asses bobwhite population levels during the next few months: conducting fall covey counts and tracking hunting success.

Fall Covey Counts

The fall covey count is by far the most accurate of the methods described here for tracking bobwhite abundance from year to year. This technique was developed and refined through research conducted at Tall Timbers.

Obtaining fall abundance estimates is relatively easy using this technique and can be rather enjoyable too.

This method involves listening to the “koi-lee” covey call being broadcast approximately 25 minutes before sunrise during the peak calling activity, which is usually between mid-October and mid-November, depending on latitude and geographical locale.

Covey calls can be conducted using a point count method or a plot method.

The plot method is more accurate, but requires four people compared to the point count method requiring only one person per point; however, point counts often require repeat counts and multiple, replicate points to obtain accurate population estimates.

On areas where few bobwhites are present, point counts should be used, whereas on sites with plenty of bobwhites, plot counts will provide a better estimate of fall abundance.

The point count requires a single observer recording every covey heard in a circle around them as far as they can hear. Research has shown this can be converted to a density estimate. On very low-density sites (less than 1 covey per 100 acres) covey call point counts may perform better when used in conjunction with covey call stimulation using playbacks.

The plot method requires four observers, with one observer at the midpoint of each side of a 60-acre square, looking to the middle, marking coveys calling inside the square, and comparing notes when done to validate the number of coveys in the plot. Average covey size can be determined using dogs, and then a density estimate calculated by determining the total number of birds in the plot and dividing by 60.

Tracking your quail numbers with hunting success

A common statistic recorded is the total number of coveys seen per hour regardless if they are pointed or flushed wild.

This average hourly encounter rate is often used to standardize hunting effort and compare across courses or among properties. Many like reporting coveys seen/hour since it represents the largest quail numbers encountered regardless of the hunting quality.

While common, there can be much variation among people on what truly counts as a covey seen, and therefore may not always be the best metric to compare among properties or years. Another common metric is the number of coveys pointed during the hunt or coveys pointed per hour, which better represents the quality of the hunt and the success of the hunting party. Additionally, there tends to be more consistency among people when counting a pointed covey.

The number of bobwhites harvested during the hunt is also routinely recorded. Some hunt manager’s breakdown the harvest by sex and age, which collectively can be informative on the condition of the bobwhite population.

There is often an assortment of other information recorded during the hunt, but this varies by property. Some hunt managers record the number of covey rises shot into/hour, number of shots fired, any known crippled bird not retrieved, weather conditions, and information on the dogs that were run during the hunt.

The complexity of the hunt data recordkeeping varies depending on the needs of the hunt manager and owner. Nonetheless, collecting basic hunting records, such as coveys seen and/or pointed per hour, can be extremely informative.

If you need technical assistance in conducting fall covey counts, contact our Game Bird Program Director Dwayne Elmore at delmore@talltimbers.org

About the Author
Tall Timbers
Welcome to our collection of articles that were either a group effort by several staff members or were authored by former staff members. In some cases, additional author information is included in the article. Enjoy!
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