Pheasants, quails now hard for hunters to find

Carroll Outdoors

November 16, 1997|By Lonny Weaver | Lonny Weaver,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

"Cockbird," I shouted as the brilliantly colored pheasant exploded 15 or 20 yards ahead of my hunting partner, Bob Chrest.

In an instant Bob's 12 gauge Remington 1100 flew to his shoulder, the muzzle swung past the cackling rooster and a charge of high brass sixes hit home.

Bob moved up quickly to collect his bird, but because of the extremely heavy brush, I had to shove my way to the general spot in question and lend a hand in locating the first pheasant of 1988 to be bagged by this slightly unreputable team of ringneck addicts. The bird, along with three more to fill out our cockbird limit, was bagged on a farm directly across from the Westminster Airport. Today, the spot is mostly covered by a housing tract.

Finding birds was tough that year. Just a decade earlier a blind person could not have been skunked on pheasants around these parts. Carroll's rolling farmland was crammed with hedgerows, weed-fields, overgrown corners and ringnecked pheasants. We walked 50-acre fields and jumped a hundred pheasants. A two-hour hunt was a long hunt, yet we lugged all the high brass sixes we could cram into our coat pockets and wished for more.

Then the hedgerows and the weedfields vanished. And so did most of pheasant hunters. And the pheasants. A way of life was in the process of disappearing. The next year Bob and I were at the same spot on the opening day. We saw nor heard a any sign of a pheasant. Twice more we hunted before the then weeklong deer season essentially shut down the upland game hunts until early December.

When I called Bob a couple of weeks later to make arrangements for continuing the pheasant season, he sadly declined by explaining, "I'm tired of taking my shotgun for a walk." To my knowledge he never hunted again. I gave up on my favorite sport the next year.

The story's just about the same for quail. As a kid I was blessed with growing up in a spot in Baltimore County that was flush with bobwhites.

Today, I'll sometimes hear of a little quail shooting available in Southern Maryland and on the Eastern Shore.

The Department of Natural Resources has tried any number of programs to enhance upland habitat, but in truth, you won't see quality bird hunting in this state again. Too many people, too many houses, clean farming practices and, according to a study funded by Quail Unlimited Inc., far too many predators.

A decade ago when the bottom was dropping out of Maryland's upland bird populations, the DNR took a lot of heat at a number of public hearings and club meetings around here concerning closed or very tightly controlled predator hunting seasons. But you know sometimes no one is quite as smart as a biologist. So, when lifelong bird hunters and just plain folks who spent most of their lives outdoors said that in addition to no habitat, gamebirds were taking a terrible beating from hawks, foxes and house pets (especially cats), I noticed more than one smirk cross a biologist's face.

Now research biologists at the Tall Timbers Research Station in South Carolina have "discovered" that furbearing predators have a strong and disturbing effect on survival of young gamebirds. In fact, the researchers managed to increase a wild quail population by 250 percent simply by reducing the number of nest robbing raccoons and opossums in the test vicinity over a three-year period.

Dr. Lenny Brennan, the biologist in charge of the study, calls the study's results "clear evidence that the role of predators in limiting gamebird populations has been overlooked."

Not only are ground nesting birds like quail, pheasant, grouse and turkey being affected, but song birds like robbins, bunting and numerous other species are being affected as well. Recent government and private studies have shown that song birds are declining at the same rate as the bobwhite quail.

Pub Date: 11/16/97

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