Banded quail, field studies and research.
I'm recently back from another painting and hunting trip to the Albany/Thomasville area in South Georgia. As many may know there are dozens of contiguous or nearly contiguous quail "plantations" in that part of the country which have been intensively managed for wild bob white quail for 150 years. The price tag for the shooting down there is mind boggling. Half the price of a decent used car for one days shooting for 4 guns. Lucky for me the hunters who can afford it are often also sporting art collectors and I have been commissioned dozens of times over the years to paint the unique hunting down there.
The first half of my trip was one of those commissions. No shooting for me then, but riding around in a mule drawn wagon watching my clients, who were mounted on Tennessee Walking horses, shoot at covey after covey was a lot of fun too. I shot hundreds of photos and did two small oil studies of the gorgeous surroundings when I wasn't with my clients. I'll take the photos and the studies and combine them into a much larger oil painting which will accurately depict the action.
The second half of my trip was my turn to shoot a bit. A day and a half was with old friends who own one of these incredible properties and it was all about tradition. We were all on horse back, and a professional dog handier with a "scout' to help him keep track of the wide ranging pointers made up our party of 5. Normally we would have a draft horse drawn wagon following to carry extra dogs but due to an infirm draft horse we were followed (1/4 mile behind) by a dog truck packed with pointers and setters. It is a grand way to hunt!
My last day was hunting on foot at the Tall timbers Research Station near Tallahassee. This land is rarely open to hunting but some hunting is allowed to aid in their research. Many quail are trapped and banded on the property, which is composed of thousands of acres of southern pine and rolling brushy fields. Some are even radio collared to allow the teams of quail biologists at Tall Timbers to keep track of and study them at all times of the year.
Hunting is a factor in any management plan for quail so the hunting that I did with Tall Timbers President Dr. Bill Palmer was all carefully documented. Data is everything in this kind of study. The time of day we hunted, our success or failure in finding coveys, the sex and age of the birds we shot and whether they had recently fed or not were all written down.
We moved 8 coveys and shot 9 birds in 2 1/2 hours of hunting. 6 of those birds were banded. One bird had been banded twice and turned out to be almost 4 years old! This might not sound very impressive until you realize that 80% of wild quail die before they reach one year old. It's a tough world out there for a quail through selective burning, mowing, timbering, predator control and supplemental feeding - even in a place that is carefully managed as these properties are. Bill's brittany, Picone, my brittany, Fox, and my pointer, Phoenix, did a great job. They pinned the coveys and retrieved every bird. It was an experience that few hunters get any more because of the massive decline in quail numbers all over the original range of the bird. With the work being done by Tall Timbers many more hunters maybe able to experience it in the future however and everyone will be able to hear the spring calling of "bob white!" across the eastern and mid western US.