Quail hunting could be surprisingly good this year. In fact, I have a feeling that it may be making a bit of comeback in areas that haven't seen much of it for decades.
Last year, for instance, I managed to stumble into coveys while rabbit hunting in Anne Arundel and Calvert counties, pheasant hunting in Carroll and Frederick counties and goose-hunting in Kent and Talbot counties.
I seemed to come across quail with unusual frequency in places that hadn't seen them in decades.
Sure, there has been some decent quail shooting available throughout the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland, but except for a relative handful of devotees, it has been a bit of a secret.
Over the years I have done most of my bobwhite shooting in the Kent County area and at Millington Wildlife Management Area, which offers tough, but good, quail hunting.
From what old-time hunters have told me, it appears that the drop in quail popularity and numbers occurred about the time that pheasant numbers began to soar. I mark this at around the mid-1950s.
My Uncle Elm's 100-acre hardscrabble farm bordering what is now Prettyboy Dam, in northern Baltimore County, was stiff with pheasants and rabbits about the time I got a driver's license, but it was "par'ridges" that he would bend your ear about.
Changing farming methods and a series of mild winters probably are why quail numbers are on the rise. Unlike pheasant and deer, the bobwhite seems to live on the edges or where one type of cover converges with another. Good spots are the seams between fields and fence rows, wood lots and swamps.
Quails' needs are simple: feed and water in addition to an area for resting, roosting and dusting, and they want them clustered together. They almost never venture far from thick growth, which protects them from predators.
A fellow quail hunter recently advised, "Their diet is so diverse thattrying to locate birds by concentrating on particular food sources is largely futile. Look for the proper neighborhood instead."
I've spent enough time looking for pheasants and quail to actually learn a thing or two over the course of 30-plus years.
Forget the middle of cultivated or harvested fields or pastures; they won't be in heavy woods unless you chase them there. Nor will they be in tall grass -- it's too hard for them to see, walk and get quickly airborne.
The classic way to hunt bobwhite is behind a stylish, aggressive English pointer. Such a far-ranging dog is usually found in a setting were the sport rides along either astride a blooded horse or mule or in the comfort of a wagon until it is time to walk a few yards to point.
Most of us are better off with a slower, closer working dog, such as a Brittany or one of the other Continental breeds of pointers.
My friend, Gene Abelow, who operates the Foxy Pheasant Hunting Preserve near Charles Town, W.Va., favors German short-hairs.
Though I am usually fortunate enough to hunt behind a dog, I am also proof that you can score quite well without one. The key is to work every cover slowly and completely.
Ordinarily, quail are most active from a little after sunrise until late morning and from mid-afternoon until dusk. Heavy rain and very cold weather will delay activity until late morning. Generally, you will find that the birds sit tighter when the ground is very wet.