Quail hunting could be surprisingly good this year, making a bit of a comeback in areas that haven't seen much for decades.
Last year, for instance, I managed to stumble into coveys while rabbit hunting in Anne Arundel and Calvert counties, pheasant hunting in Carroll and Frederick counties and goose hunting in Kent and Talbot counties.
Even this past summer, when chuck hunting around Carroll County, I managed to come across bobwhites with unusual frequency in places that probably hadn't see them in decades.
Sure, there's been some decent quail shooting available throughout the Eastern Shore and southern Maryland, but except for a relative handful of devotees, it has been a bit of secret. Over the years I have done most of my bobwhite shooting in Kent County and at Millington Wildlife Management Area, which offers tough, but good quail hunting. I've also enjoyed great quail action near Charles Town, W.Va. This is a bird with what appears to be a renewed future.
From what old-time hunters have told me, it appears that the drop in quail popularity and numbers occurred about the time that pheasant numbers began to soar. I mark this at around the mid-1950s.
Changing farming methods and mild winters probably are why quail numbers are on the rise. Unlike pheasant and deer, the bobwhite seems to live on the edges or where one type of cover converges with another. Good spots are the seams between fields and fence rows, wood lots and swamps.
His needs are simple: feed and water and an area for resting, roosting and dusting, preferably clustered together. Bobwhites almost never venture far from thick growth, which affords protection from predators.
A fellow quail hunter recently told me: "Their diet is so diverse that trying to locate birds by concentrating on particular food sources is largely futile. Look for the proper neighborhood instead."
I've spent enough time looking for pheasants and quail to actually learn a thing or two over the course of 30-plus years. Forget the middle of cultivated or harvested fields or pastures; they won't be in heavy woods unless you chase them there. Nor will they be in tall grass -- it's too hard for them to see, walk and get quickly airborne.
Of course, the classic way to hunt bobwhite is behind a stylish, aggressive English pointer. My friend, Gene Abelow, who operates the Foxy Pheasant Hunting Preserve near Charles Town, W.Va, favors German short-hairs, and they are death on birds.
I am usually fortunate enough to hunt behind a dog, but I am also proof that you can score well without one. The key is to work every cover slowly and completely.
Ordinarily, quail are most active a little after sunrise until late morning and from mid-afternoon until dusk. Heavy rain and very cold weather will delay activity until late morning. Generally, the
birds sit tighter when the ground is very wet.
Early deer results
Maryland hunters took 15,561 deer during last weekend's opening Saturday. This total was second only to the 17,834 recorded during 1989's first day. Last year's first-Saturday total was 12,582.
The hunt continues through Saturday, and Department of Natural Resources officials are expecting a harvest total near 50,000. This is the first two-week firearms deer season in modern Maryland history.
The highest opening-day harvest occurred in Allegany County when hunters checked in 1,565 white-tails. Carroll was one of five other counties recording first-day totals of 1,000 or more -- Washington, Frederick, Garrett, Kent and Carroll.
Carroll hunters had taken 1,271 white-tails by Wednesday. The largest that I know of belongs to Wayne Clarke of Sykesville, who checked an 11-point, 180-pound deer into Fish Maryland in Eldersburg on Monday.