By James Tomberlin, Georgia DNR Wildlife Biologist
The northern bobwhite quail occupies a prominent place in Georgia’s wildlife heritage. In fact, the Georgia General Assembly formally designated the bobwhite as the official Game Bird of Georgia in 1970. During the 1800s and through the mid 1900s quality early succession habitat occurred throughout the state as a by-product of the extensive, low-intensity agriculture and forestry practices. This resulted in widespread bobwhite abundance and earned Georgia the reputation as a premier quail hunting destination. However, since that time bobwhite populations have experienced severe long-term declines – more than 90 percent since 1966.
This decline is an indicator of a dramatic ecological change with widespread economic and recreational impacts. Bobwhite hunters in Georgia have declined by more than 80 percent since 1964, with a similar decline in hunter harvest. Across much of Georgia, bobwhite densities have fallen below levels needed to attract and sustain hunter interest. In some landscapes viable bobwhite populations are no longer apparent.
Due to the severity of the bobwhite decline, a grassroots effort through the Georgia General Assembly and Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Board led to the development of the Wildlife Resources Division’s Bobwhite Quail Initiative (BQI) in 1998. BQI is a proactive effort to restore and maintain bobwhite habitat on private lands across Georgia’s Upper Coastal Plain.
An important objective of BQI is to increase recreational opportunities primarily through improved quail hunting. BQI cooperators have worked with WRD to voluntarily host half-day or full-day quota youth quail hunts during the wild quail season. These hunts have provided many youths with their first opportunity to experience wild quail hunting, which is paramount to sustaining this part of Georgia’s wildlife and hunting heritage. The 2015 hunts were graciously hosted by Lee Harris of Red Hawk Plantation in Pulaski County and Tom Bradbury of Whitehall Plantation in Bleckley and Laurens Counties. The hunts gave Zachary Shumate of Fort Valley, Brian Massey of Thomaston, Chad Shelton of Thomasville, and Ethan Canaday of Loganville, accompanied by a parent/guardian, to pursue wild bobwhite quail for the first time. Both hunts were a success, with great fellowship and multiple coveys encountered and each hunter harvesting at least 1 quail.
Since its inception, BQI has advanced bobwhite restoration in Georgia and across the Southeast and revealed:
- Within appropriate landscapes, bobwhite numbers can be increased through judicious habitat restoration across working farms and forestlands
- Landowner demand for bobwhites is high but adequate levels of financial incentives and qualified technical staff are essential for success
- Habitat restoration must be focused into spatially explicit landscapes to produce and sustain a bobwhite population response.
The Altamaha Waterfowl Management Area is ready for the 2014-2015 season. Ducks have shown up in good numbers in the impoundments and hunters are excited about the season which begins this Saturday, Nov. 22 and runs through Nov.
30 before starting up again on Dec. 6. Butler Island is quota only and is open on Saturdays, Champney Island is open for walk in hunters Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays, and state holidays, while Rhetts Island is boat access only and is open Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays, and state holidays. Outside of the impoundments the rivers and swamps offer great hunting as well. Shooting hours are until noon. Please print out the late-season migratory bird seasons and regulations guide athttp://georgiawildlife.com/Hunting/Waterfowl for more information on the waterfowl season, and check out the information below for waterfowl hunting on Altamaha WMA.
There are three islands that are made up of impoundments on Altamaha WMA, Butler, Champney, and Rhetts Island. Butler Island is a quota hunt that is offered every Saturday during the waterfowl season until noon. There are 25 blind areas ranging from 4 to 16 acres in size that are randomly selected through a lottery style drawing. Each week, there are 25 blind areas reserved for the quota hunters. Stand-by hunters draw for the blinds open by quota hunters that do not show up at the hunt. These blind areas do not have physical duck blinds but are rather a mix of open water, potholes, emergent grasses, and trees. Hunters use the natural cover to hide themselves from approaching waterfowl.
Hunters on Butler Island should arrive at the check station, located one mile South of Darien, Georgia, between 4:30 and 4:45 a.m. Quota and stand by hunters will need to go inside the check station and sign in with Game Management personnel upon arrival. Drawing for blinds for the quota hunters will begin at 5 a.m. The stand-by hunters will then be given the opportunity to draw for the remaining blind areas. Once the blinds are selected, hunters and their gear are loaded onto trailers pulled behind pick up trucks and are taken out to the hunting area. Hunters are dropped off at their blinds, where they will find a small boat. This boat is designed exclusively to get hunters and gear across a narrow perimeter ditch. Once this ditch is crossed, hunters can get out of the boat in waders and wade through the blind area. Water levels are normally between 8 and 24 inches deep in the impoundment. Hunters can put out decoys and hide in the natural cover in the blind area. Large decoy spreads are not needed on Butler Island. 6 to 12 decoys is appropriate. Pack wisely to minimize extra gear and bulky decoy bags. Other hunters on the trailers will appreciate it and it will make the walk easier when packing gear in and out of the blind areas.
Hunting ends at noon. Game Management staff will drive around the dikes and pick up hunters at 9 a.m. and noon. Hunters can also walk to the cross dike. This is a central location in the center of the impoundment where the trailers are parked. Maps of this area are located in the check station. For those wishing to hunt until noon, DNR will pick those hunters up at their blinds where they were dropped off that morning.
Champney Island offers hunters a walk-in hunting opportunity on Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays, and state holidays during waterfowl season until noon. This is a first come first serve area that can be very productive. Hunters will often try and draw a stand-by blind on Butler Island, but keep Champney Island as an option in case they are not drawn.
Champney Island is broken up into three huntable impoundments, New Snipe, Old Snipe, and West Champney. New Snipe and Old Snipe pools can be accessed from Champney Road or Massman Road, while West Champney can only be accessed by Massman Road. A canoe or small boat can be useful to get into the impoundments and to move around within the impoundments. Similar to Butler Island, hunters need to wear waders and can expect water levels to range between 8 – 24 inches across the impoundment.
Rhetts Island is boat accessible only and is open to hunting Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays, and state holidays during waterfowl season until noon. It is a large impoundment broken up into three pools. Pool 1 is the western most pool and Pool 3 is the eastern most pool. Pool 1 has two access points into it from the Champney and Butler Rivers. The pull over sites allow hunters to cross the perimeter dike with a small boat to access the impoundment. Because the Champney and Butler Rivers are tidally influenced, there can 6-9 feet of difference between high and low tide depending on moon phase and wind. This can create a large mud flat in front of the pull over sites, so be aware of the tide stage when planning your trip. A push pole is a great tool to help navigate through the soupy mud that leads up to the pull-over points.
Consistent with the other impoundments, Rhetts Island has a perimeter ditch around each pool and water depths in Rhetts Island range from 8 – 24 inches deep. Hunters can hunt out of waders or out of their boat using natural cover in the impoundment as camouflage. Hunters are strongly advised to scout Rhetts Island in the daylight prior to making a trip over in the dark the morning of the hunt. This will help increase your chances for a safe and successful hunt.
Check out this video for the 2014-2015 forecast:
By: Adam Hammond, GA DNR Wildlife Biologist
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division has been working to make improvements to many of our wildlife management areas. Here’s a look at some of the improvements being made to WMAs in northwest Georgia.
Game Management recently renovated the exterior of the Holly Creek Check Station at Cohutta WMA. Additionally, damaged wood has been replaced at the weigh shed, a hand rail to the steps has been added, and the exterior wood siding has been stained. Similar work was done recently to the check stations at Rich Mountain WMA and on to the West Cowpen Check Station of Cohutta WMA. Among the improvements is an updated WMA entrance sign for Rich Mountain WMA which was installed on the Owltown Tract.
Cohutta WMA is over 96,500 acres of land that is managed cooperatively with the U.S. Forest Service as part of our WMA system. Cohutta WMA is over 150 square miles in size and is larger than three of Georgia’s 159 counties! The WMA is approximately 98-percent national forest land (part of the Chattahoochee National Forest) and 2-percent privately-owned land that we lease. Cohutta WMA is located in the Appalachian mountains of north Georgia in Fannin, Murray, and Gilmer counties.
Rich Mountain WMA consists of nearly 23,000 acres of land in Gilmer and Fannin counties in the north Georgia mountains. The Owltown and Cartecay tracts are state-owned lands located just outside of Ellijay totaling 5,062 acres. The Cartecay Tract is an archery-only tract just south of HWY 52 along the Cartecay River. The Owltown Tract in combination with approximately 18,000 acres of land that is part of the Chattahoochee National Forest, make up the remainder of the Rich Mountain WMA.
By: Wildlife Biologist Bobby Bond, and Wildlife Technicians Randy Wood and Tommy Shover
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division has made some recent improvements for hunters on Oaky Woods Wildlife Management Area.
- There is a new kiosk at the fork coming into the WMA. This makes picking up a map or a copy of the Hunting Regulations more convenient if you’re not stopping by the check station. This was completed for an Eagle Scout project with the Boy Scouts of America.
- The cut-through road has been re-opened for the first time in nearly a decade …
- … with repairs made to the breach in the crossing with a new culvert.
- Rusted out culverts on the Loop Road at the Big Grocery crossing have been replaced.
- The campground has been expanded and improved.
- Some roads that have been closed to vehicle traffic for years have been opened and graveled.
- New permanent firebreaks can be used for hunter access and areas to hunt.
By: BQI biologist Dallas Ingram
Fall covey counts used in monitoring Bobwhite Quail populations are underway across Georgia, including several state Wildlife Management Areas. These counts allow biologists and managers to estimate fall quail populations prior to quail season, which runs Nov. 15 – Feb. 28. Hunting pressure can then be regulated to ensure that the bobwhite harvest does not negatively impact population sustainability.
Volunteers are in place at least 45 minutes before sunrise at a monitoring point and listen for the loud “koi-lee” call that quail make during covey formation throughout the fall. This call is used to locate other coveys and allow birds in a covey that may have been scattered during the night to relocate each other. Covey counts require a lot of manpower and could not be done on such a large scale without volunteers. Silver lake WMA in Decatur County has 28 monitoring points.
This year, for the first time, we were able to complete the counts in just one morning thanks to DNR employees, local volunteers and Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC) wildlife students. Thank you to the 34 volunteers that helped to make this year’s covey count a great success!
If you would like more information on covey counts or managing for quail, contact one of our Bobwhite Quail Initiative biologists. East Region (706-554-3745), Central Region (478-296-6176), or Southwest Region (229-420-1212). Learn more about Bobwhite Quail in Georgia at our website, http://georgiawildlife.com/conservation/quail.
Also, UGA Chapter of Quail Forever is hosting a “Birds and Brews” event at Creature Comforts Brewery in Athens, Ga. on Nov. 6 at 8 p.m. Proceeds will benefit quail management on public land in Georgia and youth programs! Horderves, raffles, a silent auction, and a live auction will take place at the event. Guns, hunts, and other awesome prizes will be available.
For over 100 years, Georgia has been a premiere bobwhite quail hunting destination and the Georgia General Assembly even designated the bobwhite as the state game bird in 1970. During the last 75 years, Georgia’s landscape has gradually changed from a “sea” of bobwhite habitat that occurred primarily as an accidental by-product of land use, to a fragmented landscape comprised of small and often widely separated “islands” or fragments of habitat. That shift caused bobwhite populations to decline drastically, and consequently, so has the number of bobwhite hunters. However, there is a lot of interest and momentum for bobwhite restoration occurring and there is plenty of opportunity for success. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resource Division (WRD) is working with landowners through the Bobwhite Quail Initiative (BQI) to restore habitat for bobwhites, songbirds and other grassland dependent wildlife species.
Longleaf pine once occupied approximately 93 million acres from Virginia to Texas, but has been reduced to about 4 million acres. Longleaf is adapted to and very tolerant of fire and grows on different sites across the southeast. Its fire tolerance and canopy structure make it an excellent timber resource to be used in association with bobwhite management. Stands of longleaf that are planted at appropriate densities and prescribed burned frequently can yield excellent understory groundcover, a necessity for bobwhites and many other wildlife species in decline.
On June 25, 2014, WRD and the Longleaf Alliance hosted a Bobwhites and Longleaf field day at Silver Lake Wildlife Management Area, south of Bainbridge in Decatur County, with 25 landowners in attendance. The field day was cosponsored by Georgia Forestry Commission, Georgia Power, Lolly Creek Farm, The Joseph Jones Ecological Research Center at Ichauway, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Quail Forever, Tall Timbers Research Station – Albany Quail Project, and USDA – Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Topics included longleaf pine establishment, bobwhite habitat restoration and management, habitat fragmentation, predator management, supplemental feeding, and managing pine stands for bobwhites.
WRD BQI Biologist Drew Larson describes the specific habitat needs of bobwhites and how habitat size, structure, and distribution affect how suitable an area is for bobwhites: “Research has shown that bobwhites are an area-sensitive species, meaning they need fairly large acreages of mostly contiguous, suitable habitat. Suitable habitat for bobwhites consists of native grasses, herbaceous plants, and scattered patches of shrubby cover that is managed with fire and disking on a 2 to 3-year rotation. This early successional habitat provides nesting, brooding, and protective cover bobwhites require.
“Pine stands can also be managed for bobwhites”, says Larson. “However, there are trade-off costs in reduced revenues from forest and timber products when pine stands are managed at a high intensity for bobwhites. Timber, especially loblolly and slash pine, needs to be maintained at lower volumes to ensure ample sunlight reaches the ground to grow the ground vegetation quail need. Longleaf pine is an excellent tree to manage in conjunction with quail because higher volumes can be maintained and still produce quality groundcover. Longleaf is also very fire tolerant and can be burned at a young age, allowing the frequent fire quail need to be applied throughout the life of the pine stand.”
“Through BQI, we are working with private landowners and land managers to restore and enhance habitat for bobwhites and other wildlife. Restoration efforts are being targeted into Focal Landscapes that have been identified as having the highest potential for success. Obtaining technical assistance from a BQI biologist for the development of a management plan is a great way to start improving bobwhite habitat. ” said Reggie Thackston, WRD Private Lands Program Manager and BQI coordinator.
“Georgia WRD is also placing more emphasis on quail management on select WMA’s in the southwestern part of the state”, says Thackston. “Several WMA’s are in landscapes that make them conducive to successful quail management. Albany Nursery, Chickasawhatchee, Elmodel, River Creek, and Silver Lake WMA’s all have potential for quail restoration. These public lands could also benefit from the newly-formed Florida-Georgia Quail Coalition, a partnership that will provide funding for quail habitat work on public lands from participating Quail Forever chapters.
Learn more about managing your land for bobwhites, the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative in Georgia, and how to support bobwhite restoration efforts in Georgia at the WRD quail website, http://www.georgiawildlife.com/conservation/quail. For more information, contact Drew Larson at (478) 296-6176. For information on creating or joining a Quail Forever chapter, contact Talbott Parten at (229) 289-8199.
By: Matt Stewart, Georgia DNR Hunting & Shooting Education Specialist
Georgia’s National Archery in the Schools Program has produced its first college scholarship recipient and future NCAA shooter.
Andrew Agrinzones, a graduate of Charlton County High School in Folkston, accepted a scholarship offer to shoot for the archery team at Emmanuel College in Franklin Springs, 20 minutes northeast of Athens, this fall. Emmanuel College is a member of NCAA Division II and one of only a handful of colleges nationwide that offers scholarship funding in archery.
Agrinzones, an avid bowhunter and lifetime hunting/fishing license holder, joined the Charlton County High archery team his senior year and helped the squad reach the 2014 Georgia-National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) state tournament in Perry, which hosted more than 900 archers.
There he met Emmanuel College head men’s and women’s archery coach Rodney Estrada, a Level IV National Training System archery coach who was onsite scouting for potential archers. Estrada videotaped junior and senior archers that day and Agrinzones stood out.
“He really liked my form,” Agrinzones said. “He said I had trainable form.”
Estrada, who also trains and coaches archers at Georgia Tech, is a proponent of NASP and has seen his archery team’s roster grow from five shooters to 23 in just one year.
“I scout for talent and look for fundamentals of the shot process and the NASP provides me a good basis for fundaments,” Estrada said. “I can take those fundamentals and polish them.”
The NASP in-school archery curriculum is generally taught in physical education and agriculture classes in 4th-12th grade and more than 1,500 students competed in regional competitions held by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Resources Division in 2014. More than 20,000 students participated in the program throughout the year. The bow used in the program is a Mathews Genesis base model without sights or releases.
“(The NASP bow) is a really good bow to learn to shoot with (just) fingers,” Agrinzones said.
Agrinzones will arrive at Emmanuel College, which also has a co-ed sporting clay shotgun team, in August for the start of classes and the beginning of archery practice. Emmanuel College recently had one of its archers, Dusty Clark, named to the 2014 United States Archery Team (USAT) Junior Compound Men’s Team. Even if Agrinzones never gets that far, he said he’ll enjoy shooting a bow for many years to come.
“I always want to go hunting,” he said.
Estrada continues to recruit not just in Georgia, but all over the country and beyond. He’s bringing in one of the top recurve shooters from New Zealand this year and the No. 1-ranked shooter from Texas in his division. He’ll also continue to monitor the NASP competitions in Georgia for future talent.
“There is an open opportunity for any junior or senior NASP shooter,” Estrada said. “I believe in NASP.”
For more information on Emmanuel College’s shooting sports teams, visit www.goeclions.com. To learn more about the National Archery in the Schools Program in Georgia, go to www.gohuntgeorgia.com/shooting-sports.