Many years ago, when I was first learning to hunt deer in the Francis Marion National Forest, I stumbled into my first experience with a covey of wild bobwhite quail. I was stalking through some piney woods, quiet as can be, looking and listening for any sign of white-tails.
The small, brown-and-white birds held tight in cover until I practically put my foot down on one. About a dozen birds exploded straight up, some practically flying up my pant leg.
I nearly screamed, and had to take a knee to catch my breath.
Those who have been fortunate enough to witness the rise of a covey of quail know the feeling. There’s nothing quite like it, especially if you’re holding a nice 20-gauge over-under with quality bird dogs on point. Unfortunately, few folks get that chance.
Once a beloved pastime throughout the South, quail hunting has faded to the point that many hunters who want to give it a try pay to shoot at birds that are raised in flight pens and released onto private preserves.
Lowcountry Quail Forever, a new Mount Pleasant-based branch of the national conservation organization, aims to change that. They’re starting in my old stomping grounds, the beautiful and still-wild Francis Marion National Forest.
Tim Long of Mount Pleasant, president of Lowcountry Quail Forever, said the local chapter’s efforts in the forest should yield wide-ranging benefits.
“Quail habitat restoration is not just beneficial for quail, but for all upland wildlife including songbirds, turkey, rabbits and the threatened red-cockaded woodpecker,” Long said.
The chapter, which met for the first time last week with about 20 starting members, will focus its efforts on creating brood-rearing habitat on about 80 wildlife openings, each 2-3 acres, throughout the 258,000-acre public forest.