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At one time, bobwhite quail were a common sight in Alabama. Almost everyone hunted them, and many had bird dogs trained to hunt them.
My step-grandfather, Lewis Hendrix, worked for Kaul Lumber Company for its owner, Hugh Kaul, as a trapper who trapped fox and other predators around Kaul’s quail hunting grounds. My step-grandfather was an experienced trapper who was said to have killed one of the last known mountain lions in the area back in the 1940s, although I doubt it was the last, as they are still seen on occasion.
Kaul also raised bobwhite quail, which were released to supplement the wild population on the Kaul hunting properties. I was told that the Bigwheels hunted them off of horseback and they had bird dogs trained to pick up and hand the birds that they had shot up to them on the horse, which they put in bags; that way, the quail hunters didn’t have to get off of their horses to retrieve birds that they had shot.
I, on occasion as a boy, managed to shoot a few wild quail, which were a tasty treat. As time went on, wild quail became more and more scarce. Some blamed it on fewer people planting seed crops; others blamed their decline on the increase of predators, such as foxes and hawks.
I personally believe that fire ants, which are nonnative to the area, spreading north, are the main reason, since bobwhites are ground nesters. I always liked the taste of quail, which tastes better than chicken; the idea of eating quail, over chicken, seems more tasty anyway.
For several years I have been raising, eating and selling pharaoh and coturnix quail, which are domestic quail and easy to raise, but taste as good as a bobwhite. Back in the 1960s, the Conservation Department released thousands of coturnix quail into the wild, in hopes to replace them as an alternative for hunters since bobwhite quail were becoming scarce. Coturinx quail, however, seldom if ever sit on and hatch their eggs, as wild bobwhites do. Raising them requires an incubator; therefore releasing them into the wild was a failure.
I, however, have discovered that if you have an incubator to hatch their eggs, no other creature will come close to out producing a pharaoh or coturnix quail. They will start laying eggs when they are about 7 weeks old; it is about 6 or 7 months for a bobwhite quail. Their eggs will hatch in 16 days; it is 21 days for a bobwhite quail.
Some will lay more than one egg a day. I can put 120 coturnix quail eggs in an incubator and about 100 will hatch. In comparison, I recently put 24 bobwhite eggs in the same incubator, and only two hatched, and they died within two days.
Coturnix quail produces more birds than we can eat or sell. I pickle and sell some of their eggs, but mostly we just scramble and feed to the dogs. If I didn’t know better, I would believe that coturnix quail were something that had been genetically engineered, but I used to raise them as a teenager back in the 70s and they didn’t have genetic engineering then, so I assume that their high production rate comes from the selection of the better birds as breeders over the years.
Their crowing or call, however, sounds nothing like that of a bobwhite; it is considered by many as an unpleasant sound. Coturinx quail don’t look much like a bobwhite either.
Also, if you are late feeding them, they will feast on each other, or bite pieces of flesh from your arm while you are feeding them, kind of like piranha.
Someone said, “They look so cute, how can you stand to wring their little necks and dress and eat them?” I told them that if they had ever seen some of them pulling the guts out of the others and eating them alive, they wouldn’t think they were so cute!
Just saying, just because we southerners don’t have many wild quail left to hunt doesn’t mean that we can’t still feast on quail anytime we like. Until next time, Dixie forever!