The Fall and Hopeful Rise of the Bobwhite Quail
During my years as the proprietor of The Sporting Gent, I’ve heard countless stories of customer’s kin, reaching back generations, hunting for bobwhite quail along what are now Charlotte’s major commuter thoroughfares. Presented with black and white photographs our finest sporting gentlemen after a successful outing, all standing in a familiar pose; a stoic stare and upright stance, four-legged companions at their sides.
Charlotte was a different place back then. The burgeoning skyline of our “Uptown” was still just a developers dream. Reach back 60 years and quail were as prevalent in the area as the cardinal, enough so to name a renowned golf course and club, Quail Hollow, after the now elusive bird that once filled it’s grass fields and forest edges.
From the Coastal Plains to the foothills of the Blue Ridge, the Northern bobwhite quail was a sporting staple, no different than the now abundant whitetail deer or wild turkeys. As time passed, other game species thrived as their habitats improved, statewide agencies imposed season limits and dedicated gamelands to lend Mother Nature a helping hand as the developing world began to encroach. But the bobwhite, a small, ground-dwelling bird, saw it’s habitat dwindle.
A bird with a naturally high mortality, quail require a specific combination of ecological factors for their broods to thrive. Rows of native grasses, lined in messy edges along crop fields provided the cover and protection needed to shield the bobwhite from it’s predators. But as America’s population grew, as farmers planted more, raised more cattle, and tried to keep up with the increasing demand at market, the bobwhite’s decline was as certain as death and taxes. Populations began to decrease with an almost systematic efficiency.
Studies conducted by both South and North Carolina wildlife resources agencies began to see a steady year-over-year decline in not only wild quail coveys, but the number of hunters participating in a once ubiquitous activity in the area. Tales of flushing coveys were becoming legend as time and generations passed.
Fast forward to present day. With farming and forestry practices headed much in the same direction as they were post World War II, the bobwhite’s habitat has yet to see the resurgence required for a natural resurgence of the bird’s breeding, nesting, roosting and food source needs. Private lands owners, in cooperation with both nonprofit and government agencies, have begun to instill conservation policies and practices at great cost to the landowner. The battle to bring back the bobwhite will need to be as hard fought as any skirmish seen before. Massive amounts of acreage, resources, and as usual, money, are essential to the resurgence of our beloved game bird. Stocking programs, similar to those instituted by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission for trout streams along the Blue Ridge, are what some consider an impracticable and short-term solution to a seemingly long-term issue. But according to experts from the biology, environmental, forestry and a host of other specialized fields, the true solution will always lie in the resurrection of suitable habitat on a large scale.
In the interim, we will continue along the path, listening to those stories and memories that brought us to the field in the first place. It’s the basis of the sporting lifestyle.
Within this generation, we hope to soon be making our own memories in the fields of Carolina, instead of solely relying on those of generations before.