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Quail Unlimited calls for conservation


Outdoors Writer

IN A FEW months spring will arrive, an event historically heralded by the sounds of bobwhite calls. But hearing a quail calling for a mate these days is a rare occasion.

“Most people are aware that there are not as many quail around as there were 25-30 years ago, but most do not realize the scope of the bobwhite decline,” said Billy Dukes, S.C. DNR Small Game Project supervisor, in a recent letter to Quail Unlimited members, sponsors and potential sponsors. In fact, Dukes said, quail have declined at the rate of 3½ percent every year since 1966 across the species’ range, but the decline is even steeper in the Southeast.

Quail hunting, once the sport of Southern gentlemen, also has declined. If they were to survive beyond a scattered covey here and there, quail needed an advocate, and help arrived about 25 years ago with the establishment of Quail Unlimited.

Shortly thereafter, the Midlands chapter of Quail Unlimited was formed, the first local QU organization in South Carolina. Today, the Midlands chapter and Dove Hunters Wing is involved in a number of projects to help the survival of quail.

“Some old QU members are somewhat disenchanted with the organization,” Howard Williamson of Columbia told a meeting of the Midlands QU executive committee last week. That is because QU puts much of its effort into enhancing habitat for quail, and those efforts are not always in the public eye.

While some wildlife populations have been rebuilt through a combination of habitat protection and enhancement, plus restocking, it is much more difficult to stock quail in an area. To repopulate an area, the birds almost need to be hatched from wild parents who have survived predation and extreme weather and have a genetic marker for the habitat they live in.

As an organization, QU can’t come on private property and do everything necessary to cultivate quail, but it provides assistance and seed programs and finds other ways to help raise wild quail. But the individual landowner must take advantage of the help if he expects success.

“The mission of Quail Unlimited is twofold — education and habitat enhancement,” Williamson said. Dukes’ letter outlines a number of the Midlands QU chapter’s accomplishments, highlighting 14 important projects.

They include funding educational brochures on the Farm Bill and Nesting and Brood Rearing, the Bobwhite Quail Booklet, annual quail hunter surveys conducted by DNR, youth hunting symposia, the Southeast Quail Study Group, 18 annual quail management seminars, and the FACE (Food and Cover Establishment for Wildlife) youth awards.

On the ground, efforts have included quail habitat development at Manchester State Forest and the Webb Wildlife Center in Hampton County, a quail enhancement project at Fort Jackson and at the McBee WMA, plus the distribution of wildlife seed mixtures to QU members and sponsors in the Midlands for private-land quail habitat development.

The Midlands chapter recently voted to continue funding the Manchester Forest quail habitat project, which was started in 1994. The Bland Tract on the state forest, intensively managed for quail by the DNR and the S.C. Forestry Commission, is designated a cooperative project of those two agencies with the Midlands QU chapter.

“Our main goal in the coming years is to get more involved with habitat and youth projects in the Midlands, as evidenced this year by our efforts with DNR and the Bland Tract,” said Gordon Whitaker of Blythewood, Midlands QU chapter chairman.

The Midlands chapter holds three main events — a member appreciation oyster roast and barbecue and an annual quail hunt and banquet— each year to build membership with quail enthusiasts and to raise money to fund projects.

The events also serve to bring quail fans back into the fold, Williamson said.

“When I go around the state, I meet people who love quail,” he said. “They love to hear them call. It brings back memories of growing up.”


THURSDAY: Oyster roast and barbecue, Defender Services, 9031 Garners Ferry Road, 6 p.m.

SATURDAY: Bird hunt at Oak Valley Plantation near Gaston; QU members $75, nonmembers $95.

FEB. 17: Annual banquet, Tronco’s, S.C. State Fairgrounds; tickets $35 single, $50 couple; sponsors get two tickets

DETAILS: Gordon Whitaker, (803) 733-2193.

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