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Pointing the way

Quail season opens on licensed shooting preserves today.

By Matt Coffey
Carolina Morning News

The high-pitched sound of a Bob White quail in the wild is something hunters never grow tired of.

They hope to hear more of it today as quail season opens on licensed shooting preserves throughout the state.

The public quail season opens Nov. 22 and runs through March 1.

"We maintain a list of public licensed shooting preserves throughout the sate," said Billy Dukes, small games project supervisor with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

"If I live in Beaufort County and I want to visit one, we can go to our list and give you that preserve's contact information. We provide a link between the sportsman who wants to hunt and the shooting preserve."

There are about 95 licensed shooting preserves throughout the state.

The preserves typically release pen-raised quail prior to an outing and the birds are hunted with dogs.

Last year, 377,400 quail were released and 247,905 were harvested.

One of those preserves is Turkey Hill Plantation in Jasper County.

"Our No. 1 goal is to provide a quality experience," said Canada Smith, recreation manager at Turkey Hill. "We've got 12 different hunt units at any given time. We want to limit the pressure on those areas; that's why we have limited access."

Limited access means the plantation is a private club with some public hunting allowed.

Unlike some public hunting preserves, however, Turkey Hill practices a "wild and early release program" when it comes to quail.

That means the birds are released several days prior to a hunt, giving them time to find habitat and a better chance of survival.

And the quail need all the help they can get.

"The quail population in South Carolina has declined dramatically in the last 30 years on the order of 65 to 70 percent," Dukes said. "Clean farming, very efficient row-crop agriculture and plantation-style timber farming, all these things occur over a large scale and have tremendous effect on habitat."

When farmers combine corn, for instance, quail used to survive on the byproduct that was left behind. Since technology has increased, however, the byproduct has diminished, as has the quail population.

Because of the decline in population, a conservation program has been set up by the state and federal governments.

"Recently, within the past couple of months, a program has been started to increase habitat buffers for upland birds," Dukes said. "This is a practice designed specifically to add buffers on native fields."

Farmers with large farms, for instance, would be asked to leave a buffer around the edges of fields ranging in size from 30 to 120 feet. Those buffers are then planted with vegetation quail nest and raise their young in. Farmers are compensated with federal grants.

"This is the most positive step for wildlife in the Federal Farm Bill programs since 1995," Dukes said. "This is huge. It's a very positive first step to fulfilling Bob White conservation. Quail may be in low numbers, but they're not lacking. What we're trying to provide is nesting habitat and brood-rearing habitat. Most often, that is limiting the population."

For its part, Turkey Hill has increased food plots specifically for quail from 750 last year to more than 1,000 this year, Smith said.

"The habitat is maintained specifically for quail," Smith said. "That includes planting food plots, prescribed burning, things of that nature. The population has increased simply because of increased habitat manipulation."

For more information about Bob White quail conservation, visit Quail Unlimited's Web site at

For more information about Turkey Hill Plantation, call 726-8646.

Reporter Matt Coffey can be reached at 837-5255, or

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