Louis Dakil thinks the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation should close quail season.
The owner of Dakil Auctioneers in Oklahoma City fears that bobwhite quail are traveling down the same path of the lesser prairie chicken and will be vanishing from the prairie.
“I have been hunting 44 years and I have never seen it this bad,” Dakil said. “We are at a very critical point right now, I think.”
Dakil is not the only quail hunter who has suggested closing the hunting season. I've heard from several who share the same sentiment. Many are desperate to save Oklahoma's quail, whose population has dwindled to an all-time low.
Doug Schoeling, the Wildlife Department's quail biologist, knows that some hunters believe closing the season is the best thing to do.
“I had a person ask me that same question last week,” Schoeling said. “‘Why don't we close quail season?'”
“What I tell people is there are a lot of parts of Oklahoma that don't get quail hunted at all, and the quail population in those areas is not going up either,” Schoeling said. “Closing the season down doesn't mean the population is going to suddenly increase.”
Schoeling said some hunters have suggested that the Wildlife Department should shorten the season and return to the days of hunting on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
“Hunting is not a big reason of quail mortality,” Schoeling said. “There are a lot more things out there causing quail mortality.”
Most of the quail that hunters kill are adult birds that have the least chance to survive through the winter anyway, Schoeling said. The life expectancy of a bobwhite quail is just 18 months, he said.
“A majority of those quail are going to die over the winter anyway when their food availability is lower,” Schoeling said.
The Wildlife Department is currently partnering with Oklahoma State University and researchers in Texas to try and determine the cause or causes for the population decline in Texas and Oklahoma.
Biologists have long preached that habitat and weather were the major reasons whether the quail population was good or bad, but now they suspect other factors may play a larger role in the disappearance of quail such as predators, disease and pesticides.
“It's not just one thing,” Schoeling said. “There are a number of things causing (the reduction in the quail population).”
Researchers so far have discovered a high level of parasitic worms in quail that may be impairing their ability to thrive. But Schoeling said parasites were found in a significant percentage of the quail population in the '60s as well.
It will be several years before the research produces any definitive results, he said.
In the meantime, there are anecdotal reports of more quail in Oklahoma this year than last. The Wildlife Department just completed its August roadside surveys, but Schoeling has yet to analyze the data.
Hunters shouldn't give up on quail, Schoeling said. Oklahoma has experienced a severe drought in recent years, and some timely rain could bring the birds back, he said.
“It wasn't that long ago that we were killing more than a million quail a year,” he said.
In 2004, Oklahoma hunters harvested more than one million quail, according to Wildlife Department surveys of resident hunters. Since that time, however, that number has dipped every year except one. Last year, Oklahoma hunters only killed 109,000 bobwhites.
And the number of people hunting quail in Oklahoma has dropped from a peak of 120,000 in 1987 to only 17,000 last year.
That leaves hunters like Dakil frustrated and demanding an act of conservation before the birds are gone forever.
“You just can't go out there and keep slaughtering them,” he said. “I think everyone would go along with a one-year moratorium.”
Closing the quail season for one year may not help, he said, but it certainly couldn't hurt.
What do you think?
What are your opinions about the quail situation in Oklahoma? What do you think is causing the decline of quail and what should be done?
Send your comments to Ed Godfrey and firstname.lastname@example.org.