Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Can Illinois quail hunters anticipate a big turn-around?

Springfield — The stats are unfailingly depressing, especially for hunters who love the sight of a dog on point or the sound of a flushed covey.

Some 45 years ago, Illinois quail hunters were shooting 2 million birds each season. Last year’s harvest totals have not been released, but during the 2015-16 season, fewer than 30,000 quail were taken in the state.

Loss of habitat is blamed, but here’s where Stan McTaggart, DNR’s agriculture and grassland program manager, shares some positive news. In a recent Quail Forever report, McTaggart noted the following:

  • Illinois is second in the U.S. for the number of Pollinator Habitat (CP42) acres enrolled through the USDA with 96,446 acres as of May 2017.
  • The state has just under 900,000 acres of CRP overall.
  • There are more than 67,000 acres of CP33 (Field Borders).
  • Illinois was recently allocated an additional 15,000 acres for the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE or CP38) practice that targets priority areas for grassland restoration.

Over the past two decades, research – including indepth studies by retired Southern Illinois University wildlife ecologist John Roseberry – have pointed to the primary reason for the demise of bobwhite quail.

“Many factors have contributed to the decline in quail populations,” Roseberry, who spent practically all of his career at SIU’s Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory. “But the main factor has been loss of suitable habitat.”

Roseberry pointed out that quail thrived in Illinois up to the 1950s, from that decade to the 1970s, the state’s landscape began to be transformed.

“During that time, we began to see habitat loss due to urban sprawl,” Roseberry said. “But the largest losses were due to the advent of modern agriculture.”

According to Roseberry, quail require a variety of cover types during different seasons of the year. This cover must be well interspersed with a high degree of connectivity that allows access on a daily basis. Quail also are a species heavily reliant on edge habitat, those areas where one cover type converges with another. In particular, the species prefers a “soft” edge, where grasslands or cropland give way to early successional plants (weeds), and in turn give way to brushy, woody areas.

As for the current status of the state’s quail population, data from the summer call count survey has not been tabulated. The annual count wrapped up July 10.

As for last season’s harvest totals, McTaggart told QF that DNR’s Free Upland Permit sites experienced a small decrease in the number of quail harvested and birds per hunter.

Weather has been up and down, with a relatively mild winter followed by heavy rains statewide in March, April and May.

Some nests were likely lost due to heavy rains and flooding, but most quail were not nesting during most of the heavy rain events, McTaggart noted.

“Temperatures in 2017 have been above average every month except May, so it is likely that some birds initiated nesting a little earlier than normal this year,” he said, adding that west-central and southern Illinois generally have the best quail populations.

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