During his periodic stays in this small town in the Arkansas delta, Ernest Hemingway was looked upon by the locals as something of a proto-hippy with his shabby clothes, unshaven face and artistic disposition. He was once mistaken for a hobo. Children taunted him and pelted him with rocks. Obliged to visit his in-laws’ home in Piggott, Hemingway made the most of it and became a bird-hunting bum.

Pauline Pfeiffer became Hemingway’s second wife in 1927 and her brother Karl became his quail hunting partner.

“Of course he came because Pauline would come back to see her parents, but the one thing he liked was the quail hunting here,” said Don Roeder, who grew up going to church with the Pfeiffer family and is a trustee of the Matilda and Karl Pfeiffer Foundation.

“One of the stories that Mr. Pfeiffer would tell me was if he killed more quail than Ernest had, they had to stay out there until Ernest had killed as many as Karl had.”

Then, spreading his arms wide, Roeder said, “Hemingway had an ego like this.”

Roeder said that during the time when Hemingway visited, quail were just about everywhere, but that began to change.

“When I first came back here out of the service, I could go out here hunting with friends and we could shoot quail, but they were going away then, and now you rarely hear a quail,” he said.

The mating call of the bobwhite quail provides the bird its name, a ringing three-count whistle: bob-bob-white. It is a sound many baby boomers have heard while growing up and one their children might have heard. But it is one their grandchildren may never hear. In many parts of their range — from New England to the Dakotas to Texas — bobwhites have disappeared and the sport of quail hunting has fallen on hard times.

Quail hunting has been both aristocratic and egalitarian. It is a sport of Southern plantation gentry who ride walking horses with bespoke double guns in their scabbards and have pedigreed pointing dogs racing across the fields before them. It is also the sport of the farm kid armed with a dad’s old shotgun and a rangy mutt for a hunting companion. Both types of hunters have equally satisfying hunts, but these days social standing does not matter. Everyone is quail-poor. Bobwhite quail are one of the most studied wildlife species in the United States, yet conservationists have yet to halt the declining populations.

Biologists agree that overhunting is not the issue. Quail are prolific breeders but have a short lifespan. Hunting seasons could be eliminated and still approximately 90 percent of the quail would be dead within the year. Other predators, like raptors, coyotes or raccoons, are also not the reason for their decline, although many hunters point the finger at them.

Don McKenzie is in charge of the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, a team of 25 state fish and wildlife agencies and conservation groups. The goal of the group, formed in 2002, is to get wild quail populations to what they were in 1980.

It is one of the most difficult large-scale wildlife restoration projects. Canada geese, whitetail deer and wild turkeys — all at one time low in numbers — have become so populous that they spill into the suburbs, but bringing back bobwhite populations is a struggling enterprise.

“One of the difficult parts of quail restoration is we have to restore suitable habitat at a landscape scale,” McKenzie said. “When you compare that with deer and turkey restoration, the habitat was already suitable. It was a matter of catching remaining wild animals in places where they were and moving them to places where they weren’t and protecting them until they took care of themselves. It’s still a challenge, but nothing compared to what we face now with bobwhites.”

The reason restoring bobwhite quail is so difficult is because it involves changing the nation’s manipulated rural landscape. According to McKenzie, exotic fescue, Bahia grass and Bermuda grass took hold across the United States in the 1940s. These carpetlike grasses were planted to promote better cattle grazing and edged out the native warm-season grasses that are conducive to good quail habitat. The native grasses grow in clumps, which allow the quail to hide, move and forage and are essential to their survival.

With pastures covered with invasive exotic grasses, the quail found cover along brushy fencerows and field edges, but by the 1970s modern agricultural practices that maximized every inch of soil devoured these small sanctuaries and left quail with few hideouts.

Wildlife biologists have known about this connection between warm-season grasses and quail habitat, and many landowners have tried to create an oasis for quail on their property by planting a paradise of native plants. Yet the quail population never reached the old numbers.

“Resident game bird conservation professionals have been telling landowners this for 50 years: all you need to do is some small-scale stuff on your place and you’ll have birds and everything will be fine,” McKenzie said. “Well, after 50 years of doing that, it certainly doesn’t work.”

The problem is that the islands of prime quail habitat — restored or naturally occurring — are not connected to one another to create larger plots of good habitat where quail have greater odds of survival.

“We have to come up with bigger pieces of landscape that are managed in common, and have connections with other pieces of well-managed landscape where there are sustainable populations of birds,” McKenzie said. “We must make it happen by the millions of acres instead of by the tens of acres.”

Jeff Parrish, executive director of Freedom to Roam, a coalition of organizations working to conserve wildlife corridors, said, “Bobwhite quail are like a crucible for what the future of wildlife is going to look like in North America.

“There’s a new coal mine we’re living in and it’s one that is really fragmented,” he said. “The quail are telling us a story that we never thought we’d hear, which is the world’s gotten chopped up and the only way we can protect those species is to connect them more.”

Dan Petit begins all of his bobwhite quail discussions with the same story: he grew up in northern Ohio and last heard a quail call there as a teenager in 1978. He is the director of bird conservation for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, which supports the quail restoration initiative.

“It’s easy to look into your crystal ball in 2011 and see exactly where the quail are headed,” Petit said. “Look at lesser prairie chickens. In your grandpa’s day, there were a million of them out there. Now there are 40,000. They just need that connectivity.

“We think that converting pastures of cool-season grasses into warm-season grasses is economically very palatable to those individuals that make a living off of those grasses. This does not require a stimulus bill or anything like that.”

McKenzie bemoaned that a generation of Southerners is growing up without quail hunting.

“In my family,” he said, “the culture of quail hunting is as much part of our lives as barbecue, fried catfish and SEC football. It’s a part of life, a part of growing up and it’s part of what being from the South is all about.”

Although Hemingway worked on different stories while visiting his in-laws, only one story, “A Day’s Wait,” can be traced to a true experience that happened in Piggott, and it includes a quail hunting scene. He writes of the quail “coming out while you were poised unsteadily on the icy, springy brush they made difficult shooting and I killed two, missed five, and started back pleased to have found a covey close to the house and happy there were so many left to find on another day.”

Maybe that was why he chose to stay in Piggott and chase bobwhites when the film adaptation of his novel “A Farewell to Arms” made its premiere on Broadway in 1932.

Unlike the hunters of Hemingway’s generation and the generation after, the hunters of today are lucky to see a covey of quail, and they are uncertain there will be many left.

Game and fish forecast for 2014-2015 Georia turkey hunting season article

 

The spring Georgia turkey hunting season begins March 22 and 60,000 hunters will be out in the woodlands listening and looking for their spring gobbler. Some will be successful and others will go home empty-handed. Whether you score or not depends largely on your skill as a hunter and caller, and where you are hunting.

Last season, 60,936 hunters harvested 35,000 turkeys for a harvest rate of 58 percent. That translates to well over half of all turkey hunters taking home a tom. The overall harvest rate in 2012 was also 58 percent followed by 60 percent in in 2011, 72 percent in 2010, and 49 percent in 2009. That’s a five-year average of 59 percent. The statewide total harvest has also fluctuated in the last five years to a low of 26,516 toms in 2011 to the 35,000 killed in 2013. The average harvest for the last five years is 31,178.

The jake harvest — one-year-old males — has ranged from 6.7 to 13.8 percent. In 2013, there were an estimated 3,300 jakes or 9.4 percent of the harvest. Jakes are the future mature gobblers that most hunters are after. A high jake harvest means fewer trophy toms for the future.

The numbers of turkey hunters have also been increasing. In 2009, 56,118 took to the woods followed by a dip in the numbers down to 47,275 the next year and it has steadily increased since then to the most recent estimate of 60,936 in the spring of 2013.

Georgia Wildlife Resources Division biologist Kevin Lowery reports that, “Hunter participation has increased over the last couple of seasons. This is probably a reaction to the better reproduction we have had prior to the last couple of summers and turkeys being generally more available lately.”

Though the turkey harvest and hunter numbers are up, the forecast is not as rosy.

“The 2014 season is going to be fair,” Lowery said. “We had poor reproduction in 2012 with a statewide 1.26 poults per hen. This past summer was a little better at 1.37 poults per hen. So with poor reproduction coupled with good harvests in 2012 and 2013 means the supply of gobblers may be limited. The Coastal Plain is the best area of the state, with stable reproduction in 2012 and increasing reproduction in 2013. The Piedmont and Ridge and Valley will probably see the most notable reduction gobblers.”

The poults per hen ratio is estimated by biologists to determine how well the hens are reproducing, which has a direct bearing on the number of turkeys in the woods for hunters to hunt. Poults are the new birds on the block, which also are the future adult turkeys that will be hunted. The higher the ratio, the more gobbling there is in the woods for future years.

Lowery adds, “The population varies year to year and region to region. We have been on an increase since 2008 with several years of good reproduction. Hopefully, the 2012 and 2013 dips in productivity will not be a lasting trend.”

Lowery notes that when surveyed, more than 70 percent of hunters rate their season good to excellent.

“Habitat is always changing,” Lowery observes. “The biggest problems are fragmentation from development and millions of acres of Conservation Reserve Program pines that are in need of thinning. Poor habitat quality, habitat loss, extreme weather, and predation are seen as threats to healthy turkey populations.”

Turkeys are not evenly distributed across the state as some areas have more than others. Where you hunt has a direct bearing on your success rate so it’s to your advantage to find the best places to hunt. We have broken up the great state of Georgia into five geographical regions to simplify your search.

RIDGE AND VALLEY

The northwest portion of the state has long steep parallel ridges with deep valleys in between. The terrain is similar to the mountains with steep hardwood slopes and valleys. In 2013, 1,696 hunters were successful bagging 2,638 birds. They averaged 13.12 days of hunting for each successful hunter.

Some of the best wildlife management areas are Berry College and Paulding Forest. Berry College, located near Rome, has 15,585 acres of woods and is a consistent turkey producer. In 2012 the hunter success rate was 22 percent.

Paulding Forest near Dallas had a hunter success rate of 11 percent in 2012 on its 25,707 acres.

BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS

This geographical section stretches across the north and northeast portion of the state and is primarily Appalachian Mountain terrain with elevations up to 4,000 feet. Excellent turkey hunting can be found throughout the mountains particularly in some of the more remote areas that require a long hike. In 2013, 628 birds were killed in this region. There were 440 successful hunters who averaged 19.86 days to score.

The area has abundant public lands in the Chattahoochee National Forest, in addition to the numerous WMAs. Lake Russell and Dawson Forest WMAs are noted for having respectable harvests. Both experienced a hunter success rate of 9 percent in 2012. The WMAs have 17,300 and 25,052 acres respectively.

Kris Laney of Chatsworth knows how good the turkey hunting can be in the north Georgia mountains. He had been after a particular gobbler for several weeks last season that he said was giving him fits. The wise old tom would hang up out of range and Laney was not able to coax him in close enough for a shot. He decided to team up with his friend Joey Bartenfield who set up 30 yards behind him to call. That was the magical strategy and worked for Laney as he finally was able to see and kill the elusive tom, which weighed 18 pounds, had a 10-inch beard and 1-inch spurs.

PIEDMONT

One of the largest and most popular portions of the state, the piedmont section is in the middle of the state from Columbus to Macon to Augusta. It is typified by rolling terrain with hardwood draws and mixed pine and hardwood ridges. Much of the area is composed of grown-up farms and timber companies have turned many acres into rows of planted pine trees. The region is still fertile and good habitat for turkeys.

The Oconee National Forest and many WMAs offer fine hunting opportunities in this section.

There were 12,313 gobblers killed in this region in 2013. It took the successful hunter an average of 16.29 days to pull the trigger.

A productive WMA that limits hunters by quotas is the Clybel WMA near Mansfield. It hosts two, seven-day quota hunts for 25 hunters each.

Last season Steven Prather and Robert Tieman of Grayson were selected and teamed up on Clybel gobblers. After calling to a gobbler at dawn, it hung up and would not come in close enough for a shot. The pair finally gave up and drove to another spot. Stepping out of their truck, they called and immediately got several responses. With renewed excitement and anticipation, they scurried about 300 yards through the woods to get closer to the gobbling birds.

After setting up again, they spotted five gobblers running in single file toward them!  At about 30 yards away, the lead bird stopped and searched for the phantom hen. Becoming suspicious, the toms started getting nervous and Robert knew that it was time to shoot. At the sound of the shot, the lead bird rolled and the hunter jumped up to recover his prize. When he arrived, he found not one, but two dead turkeys. With one shot, Tieman killed two toms. The gobblers both had 1 1/8-inch spurs and 12- and 10-inch beards. The pair of hunters experienced a mighty fine day of hunting in the Georgia woodlands on a public land hunt.

Clybel had a 21-percent hunter success rate in 2012 on its 6,400 acres. That was low compared to the 44-percent success rate at Di-Lane and 30 percent at Rum Creek. Di-Lane is 8,100 acres in Burke County and has quota hunts and a general hunt. Rum Creek has 6,015 acres around Lake Juliette. but is limited to two quota adult/child hunts.

Tuckahoe and Blanton Creek are also offer good turkey hunting in the piedmont.

UPPER COASTAL PLAIN

The Upper Coastal Plain is located in the southwest section of the state around Albany and Tifton. The region is relatively flat and has ample agricultural fields.

In 2013 there were 11,433 turkeys harvested in the upper coastal plain region. There were 7,539 successful hunters who averaged 15.72 days of hunting to bag their tom.

Georgia WRD biologist Brent Howze reports that, “A tri-county area encompassing Dougherty, Baker and Calhoun Counties would be our best area for turkey habitat. Decatur County would probably be next on the list.”

Howze continues, “We had lower than average reproduction on most of our areas for the past couple of years, according to poult surveys. Basically, there should still be birds out there, but many of them may be older birds that aren’t as easy to hunt.

“However, we have been seeing poults at Silver Lake WMA this year.”

He rates the best WMAs in this area as Chickasawhatchee and Silver Lake.

“Overall, the harvest was low compared to previous years on many of our WMAs, but Hannahatchee WMA had a great hunt,” Howze reports.

LOWER COASTAL PLAIN

The southeastern section of the state is the Lower Coastal Plain. It includes the coastal areas and is characterized by flat sandy terrain and plentiful palmettos and marshes.

“The turkey population has been consistent on the coast over the last three years. Hunters have found success not only in the early season, but throughout the entire turkey season,” says WRD biologist Will Ricks.

There were 7,036 toms killed in 2013 by 4,335 successful hunters. They averaged 17.68 days of hunting to bag their bird.

Ricks recommends the bottomland along the rivers in this region.

“It is hard to say a best county on the coast for turkeys, but the river systems offer excellent bottomland turkey habitat all up and down the coast. These river systems include the Savannah, Ogeechee, Altamaha, Satilla, and Saint Marys rivers,” Ricks adds.

The turkey hunter success rate on coastal WMAs has been around 5 percent lately.

“Hunter harvest over the last three seasons has been between 4 and 6 percent on the WMA,” reports Ricks. “Last season the best WMA for turkey harvest was the Little Satilla. There was a 12.5 percent hunter success rate, which is excellent.”

Little Satilla WMA is located near Patterson and has 18,920 acres.

Other lower coastal plain WMAs to consider are Griffin Ridge and Sansavilla. Griffin Ridge has 5,600 acres near Ludowici and had a 21 percent hunter success rate in 2012. Sansavilla is near Brunswick and has 16,867 acres and boasted a 14 percent hunter success rate in 2012.

Georgia maintains a good turkey population and hunting opportunities abound. It’s to the hunter’s advantage to research and find the best places to go to have the optimum chance of scoring. There are public hunting WMAs from the mountains to the coast that offer huntable turkey populations so there is one near where you live. The overall outlook this season is not the best it has been and reproduction has not been stellar, but there is still good turkey hunting in this state.

One new item for this season, the legislature created an early youth and mobility-impaired season for the weekend prior to the normal opening weekend. If you know a youth or a mobility-impaired hunter, take them hunting and get a one-week jump on everyone else.



 




 

Georgias wild turkey population has undergone a tremendous change.  In 1973, when Georgias turkey restoration project was initiated, the estimated statewide turkey population was only 17,000 birds.  Over 4,500 turkeys were trapped and relocated from 1973-1996.  Today, turkeys exist in every county and the statewide population is nearly 300,000 birds.  As the population exploded, many hunters developed an interest in turkey hunting.  Hunters often inquire about changes to hunting seasons and When will Georgia initiate a fall hunting season? is a common question.  Many factors must be considered when answering this question.  These include wild turkey biology, hunter objectives, conflicting user groups, number of hunters, population trends, and hunting regulations that are compatible with the long-term good of Georgias wild turkey resource.

The most important consideration is to maintain the long-term survival of the turkey population.  Because of the biology of wild turkeys, it is difficult to over-harvest the turkey population with a gobbler-only season in the spring.  A single gobbler is able to mate with numerous hens during the spring.  After mating, a hen lays about 12 eggs and incubates them for 28 days.  If a hens nest is destroyed, the hen is able to re-nest without mating again.  A high spring gobbler harvest might mean that fewer birds are heard in the spring, but enough will remain to mate with the hens to produce good turkey populations for future years.

During Georgias spring season only gobblers, which are a small part of the population (and the most expendable), are exposed to the pressures of hunting.  Fall seasons are typically either-sex seasons because it is difficult to differentiate between hens and gobblers during that time of year, especially in flocks of young birds.  Consequently, fall hunting would impact all segments of the population.  Additionally, a fall season would overlap our existing deer season, which could greatly increase the number of hunters in the woods pursuing turkeys (Georgia has many more deer hunters than turkey hunters).  Consequently, it would be much easier to over harvest turkeys during a fall season than during a spring gobbler-only season.

If fall hunting pressure was added, the population could be exposed to significant harm.  Turkey populations typically increase in years following excellent reproduction and decline following consecutive years of poor reproduction.  Biologists collect data throughout the summer to determine turkey production trends. However, hunting regulations are established in the spring, long before production is known.  When summer poult production is great, it may be possible to harvest a substantial number of turkeys in the fall without significant impact.  However, during years of moderate or poor reproduction (years with poor hatching success or survival), it would be easy to overharvest the population and thus add to the decline, especially when hens are also harvested.  Some states that have attempted fall seasons show that 60% of the statewide turkey harvest occurred during the fall.  When you compound these risks with concerns about overlapping turkey season with deer season, it is apparent that a fall turkey season could have a negative effect on our turkey population.

Because Georgia has no fall turkey season, we are able to have the most liberal spring season in the country.  It is likely that a fall season would eventually mean a decline in the overall turkey population and thus would result in a significant reduction in spring hunting opportunity.  This is a tradeoff that few avid turkey hunters would be willing to accept.  Careful management of Georgias turkey population has resulted in some of the very best turkey hunting opportunities in the nation, our goal is to keep it that way.

More Articles...

Page 1 of 5

Start
Prev
1