Whatever happened to Bob White?
That's the way Rick Jerman, a 68-year-old avid quail hunter from Oklahoma City, began his letter to The Oklahoman.
“Bird dogs and quail have been my favorite past-time,” Jerman writes. “I have hunted far western Oklahoma from the Texas border to the Kansas border. Years ago this was one of the most productive quail hunting areas in the country.
“The Black Kettle National Grasslands brought in hunters from all over the country to hunt the bobwhite quail. They were plentiful and it was not unusual to have a limit of 10 by lunch time.
“In the last several years the quail population has dwindled to almost nothing. It is sad to watch bird dogs work, looking for that scent that sends them into that frozen state we call ‘on point.'
“Recently my son and I purchased some quail and turned them loose in an area that used to be teaming with wild birds. We returned to hunt the area and for the first time this season our dogs were pointing and retrieving quail. Is this what quail hunting has come to in our state?”
Sadly, at least for this season, it has. It has been a pitiful year for Oklahoma quail hunting. You know it's bad when hunters start writing letters to the editor.
Jerman is not the only hunter moaning the plight of quail. I have received several other e-mails from disgruntled quail hunters with the same question.
A common opinion is that the rising population of deer and turkeys and the declining population of quail is no coincidence.
“For the past 50 years from the northwest to the southwest, I have witnessed a tremendous explosion of turkey and deer,” another quail hunter's e-mail stated.
“The turkeys are predators of the (quail) eggs and chicks. The deer have a natural curiosity of the nest on the ground in their grazing areas… Just a theory from a guy who has chased that bird dog and that covey for 50 years.”
Jerman and his friends have made the same observation.
Years ago, in the heyday of quail hunting, every once in a while you would come across a turkey,” Jerman writes. “That would be the talk of the day while returning from a hunt.
“In those days you could drive the back road section lines and you wouldn't have to go far before a covey of bobs ran across the road. Now that same scenario is true but instead of bobwhites it is turkeys, flocks of turkeys…
“I am not a wildlife biologist but I have spent a good deal of time pursuing bobwhites in my state. We have always had coyotes, bobcats, possums, hawks, and other predators that take their share of quail, but the quail always survived in good numbers.
“Now that we have added the turkey the survival rate of quail has greatly diminished. When flocks of turkeys roam the prairie do they eat quail eggs or even freshly hatched quail? Do they not compete in the same habitat?”
Turkeys have long been rumored to be the culprit for quail's demise.
Wildlife biologists say there is a connection, but it's not because deer and turkey eat quail chicks and eggs. It's because good deer and turkey habitat is not necessarily good quail habitat.
The trees that turkeys require for roosting spell trouble for quail, which require brush, briars and tangles to protect them.
Turkeys eating quail chicks have been reported, but are extremely rare, according to wildlife biologists.
Turkey populations have risen and quail are disappearing because the land has slowly evolved into poorer cover for quail and better cover for deer and turkeys.
Meanwhile, quail season remains open in Oklahoma through Feb. 15, if anyone cares.