Once upon a time and this is no fairy story, deer ranked well down the list of favorite pursuits by Arkansas hunters. So did duck hunting. So did turkey hunting.
Before the era of tree stands, camouflage clothing, telescopic rifles, scents and scent-free clothing, deer hunting possibly was No. 4 in Arkansas in terms of participants and in terms of interest.
Rabbit hunting ranked No. 3.
Squirrel hunting ranked No. 2
And the No. 1 ranking? Quail hunting.
From the Delta’s legendary farm country to northwest Arkansas and from the outskirts of Little Rock to the pine country of south Arkansas, quail hunting was at the top.
It was the topic of office conversations, of casual country store banter. Quail hunting has been termed a gentlemen’s sport that the poor fellows also enjoyed.
Today, a good-sized chunk of the hunting population in Arkansas has never gone after quail.
The reason is simple. Quail are way, way down in numbers. But they have not disappeared, and there remains faint, flickering hope for their comeback. People are working on this.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission will hold a seminar on quail from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25 at the Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center in the River Market District of downtown Little Rock.
Seating is limited, so call the nature center office at 501-907-0636 to register.
For more than a third of a century now, efforts have been made to bring back quail in Arkansas and in other southern states. There have been some successes, but they’ve been limited.
A few spots in Arkansas have huntable quail now, and one on public land is gaining a reputation. But that locale in western Arkansas can’t stand increased pressure if too much word gets out.
When you bring up the demise of quail, it is usually followed quickly by pointing to loss of habitat. Likely this is the major reason.
Some observers believe increase predation has decimated quail. We’ve got coyotes, we’ve got fire ants, we’ve got far too many feral hogs. We’ve got raccoons everywhere. Skunks, possums, hawks — you name it — prey on quail.
But quail have always been targets of predators. As turkey guru Dr. James Earl Kennamer pointed out recently, one of the nation’s best quail regions is south Texas, and that’s right along with its high standing in turkeys. Kennamer commented, "South Texas has coyotes running out its ears."
Some areas of Georgia have revitalized their quail numbers, too, after much and heavily funded effort.
If loss of habitat is the basic cause of quail declining, something else has been proven over this third of a century of trying to bring the sporty birds back.
Stocking areas with pen-raised quail does not work. Grow 100 young quail in a pen, then turn them into the wild, and one or two may survive.
The answer, if there is one, is to provide cattle-free land that has both food and cover, quail experts tell us.
Traditionally, quail have been edge birds. They have done well on the edges of woods, edges of fields, ditch banks, fence rows.
Modern land usages, however, attack many of these areas. "Clean" farming eliminates the weedy growth of edges, and some critics say that aerial spraying of herbicides and pesticides hits quail hard.
Through it all, nostalgia pulls at many Arkansans. "Bob white" is a pleasing, welcomed sound etched in their memories.
Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.