Bobwhite quail hunting has long been a favorite outdoor pursuit on Fort Bragg. In the past few years, hunter trips have averaged about 850 per season, and the harvest a little over 500 birds. The first step toward successful quail hunting on Fort Bragg is learning to identify areas that have just the right mix of ground cover, escape cover, and food resources. The key to a successful hunt is a good bird dog or two.
Wildlife Openings – Fort Bragg staff and a crew of volunteers from the Bragg Chapters of Quail Unlimited (QU) and the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) work cooperatively to maintain and enhance approximately 1300 wildlife openings scattered throughout Fort Bragg and Camp Mackall. Several hundred of these small fields are designated as “bird patches”, and are managed specifically to enhance quail habitat. Decades ago, the bird patches were planted to bicolor lespedeza which remains in many of the fields, but has faded away in others. In those patches that still support healthy stands of bicolor, management efforts are aimed at maintaining the stand by liming, fertilizing, and mowing. In the bird patches that have little to no remaining bicolor, preferred quail foods such as partridge peas are planted in prepared seed beds. These fields are also limed and fertilized. In years when native food is scarce, the bird patches are extremely important to quail as a reliable source of food.
Quail Call Counts - Past studies on Fort Bragg indicated a correlation between hunter success and summer whistling cock counts done in June and July. Each year biologists and QU volunteers conduct bobwhite whistle counts along specific routes across large areas of the installation. The data are then analyzed and used to determine trends in the quail population. Significant downward trends in one or more small game management area may justify closing, or limiting bird hunting for the upcoming season. The practice of closing areas has been shown to help the quail population rebound as early as the next season in the closed areas.
Quail Age Study – Each year, biologists ask hunters to voluntarily record the date and submit one fully feathered wing from each bird they harvest during the season for age analysis. Throughout the entire season, each quail can quickly be identified as an adult (hatched the previous year), or juvenile (hatched in the summer). If a juvenile bird is less than 5 months (150 days) old, an examination of molting primary flight feathers can be used to determine exactly how many days old the quail is, and this information can be used to determine the date that particular bird was hatched. Age structure of the birds harvested during the season is a very reliable indicator of how good the hatch was, and this coupled with call count and other data is used to make management decisions. In a year with a good hatch, 90% of the birds harvested will be juveniles. If a large enough number of juveniles is collected, a clearer indication of temporal arrangement of hatch peaks can be ascertained. Some years there are 3 peaks in the hatch; typically July, August, and September.