Aaron Jeffries and his dad Mike have gotten a glimpse of quail hunting’s golden past this fall and winter.
Oh, there are nowhere near the number of birds nor the amount of habitat that Missouri once had. But there is little doubt that the Show-Me State is steadily climbing out of the hole that it was in just a few years ago, when hunter numbers and harvest totals hit all-time lows.
As an example, Jeffries can point to hunting he and his father experienced this fall on what they call “the Super 80,” an 80-acre tract of private land in central Missouri.
“We’ve had days where we’ll find 8 to 10 coveys of quail, sometimes by noon,” said Jeffries, who is the deputy director of the Missouri Department of Conservation. “We’ve done quite a bit of habitat work there, and it’s really paid off.”
But that’s not an isolated case. Aaron and Mike, who have hunted together for quail since 1986, have found impressive bird numbers on other private land and public conservation areas managed by the Department of Conservation.
Their three German shorthair pointers have found many coveys this fall, and the hunters have done their part, too. The father, son and their guests have shot more than 150 quail over their dogs this season, putting them on pace for their best season ever.
“I keep a diary of the number of quail we take on each hunt,” Jeffries said. “Up until the last couple years, we had never broken 100 (in a season).
“But we’ve had good hunting the last three years, and this could be our best ever.”
The Jeffries saw the hunting turn around in the 2014-15 season, when they shot 179 quail over their German shorthairs . They harvested 129 birds last season, and have already eclipsed that mark this year. With plenty of time to go (the Missouri season runs through Jan. 15), they expect to set their personal best this season.
Jeffries credits the favorable weather that boosted nesting success this spring and the habitat work that is being done on private and public land and as playing a part in the resurgence of Missouri quail.
“Sometimes we think we’re crazy for doing all the habitat work that we do, “ Jeffries said. “But it’s working. We’re seeing a lot more birds.”
Jeffries and anyone else who hunts quail in Missouri know that it will never be the same as it once. “In the 1960s and 1970s, there were fencerows and hedgerows everywhere, and they held a lot of quail,” he said. “Now the habitat is more patchwork.”
Still, the increased emphasis on habitat restoration on private and public land is paying off. And Jeffries is excited about the future in Missouri.
“At least we can feel confident that we’ll find birds just about every time we go out now,” Jeffries said. “It wasn’t always like that.
“We’ve gone through tough times, but we’ve stayed with it. A lot of quail hunters just quit when the bird numbers dropped, but we didn’t.
“That’s what make seasons like this one so rewarding.”