Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley Outdoor Guide- Fishing, Hunting and everything outdoors......
   Bass fishing logo duck and deer hunting    


Resorts and Lodging



Boat Sales and Storage

Sporting Goods, Bait and Tackle


Kentucky Lake Maps

Hunting Stories and Information

Fishing Report

Fishing Stories
 and Information

Other Stories and Information

Fishing Records


Lake Levels

Land Between
the Lakes


Seasons and regulations



Contact Us


by Steve McCadams

(Part II of a two-part story on the decline of small game in Tennessee and what sportsmen can do to help escort the return of  these great resources.

      Being a third generation quail hunter myself, I’ve shared the emotional disappointment of losing a sport that was once so popular here in the South. The present generation of sportsmen has little idea of what it was like to follow a bird dog or pack of beagles all day in the field. An era when small game and habitat were abundant has vanished.

    It’s a complex series of problems that got us where we are today and it appears it will take a complex series of solutions to right the wrongs and changes that lead to the present day scenario. There’s plenty of blame to go around. Present day wildlife managers and programs have been slow to respond to rapidly changing situations. History seems to show, in many cases, they closed the gate after the horse got out.         

    Developers and private landowners have scraped the countryside where coveys once thrived and farmers have had to adapt to survive in a challenging market.

   Yet there is hope and below are some steps being taken to address the problems. Here’s hoping we can all work together to reestablish small game. )


    Have you missed the sweet serenade of these Dixie delights? Bobwhites, that is, whose two syllable whistle seems to say everything is alright across the countryside.

    What about the sound of baying beagles as they push a cottontail from the overgrown ditch bank through the briar patch and out behind the old dilapidated barn, leaning in the wind as a testament of seasonal survival?

    You’re not by yourself if you answered a resounding “yes”.

    Today in Tennessee bird dogs and beagles are almost a vanishing species as are those who followed in their footsteps. Gone are the days of family traditions where pride of ownership and breeding were part of the recognition among outdoorsmen for bloodlines of setters, pointers, and beagle hounds. The few that remain are but a trickle of what was existed yesteryear.

    Modern day hunters boast about the number of deer and the increasing size of racks. Others swap stories of spring turkey success and how the flocks have increased.

    Before the deer browsed heavily and the turkeys gobbled everywhere there was small game here. It was a time in the Volunteer State when coveys of quail were abundant and rabbits ran the back roads with more regularity than a rural mail carrier.

    Fast forward from the late 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s to today and you’ll see dramatic changes in the landscape, farming practices, and overall habitat loss. Hunting opportunities have drastically declined for small game enthusiasts as the ever present “no trespassing” sign seems to occupy every fence post, gate, or tree.

    Is there a future left for small game? Can this great southern tradition be revitalized in today’s word of fast change farming from fence to fence? Clearing up the thickets for more tillable acreage it what many have had to do to survive in the changing world of agriculture. Can’t blame the farmer for adapting. What can the little guy do to help make a big change in the devastating loss?

    From coyotes and other predators to agricultural applications of pesticides and habitat loss, everyone seems to have a theory how quail and rabbits reached their present day dilemma.

    With emphasis on quail, I posed a grocery list of questions and obtained some of the following answers:

    “I know it is hard for many landowners to understand, but to put it plainly,  the reason for the quail decline is a loss of habitat and degradation of habitat, period. It is not hawks. It is not coyotes. It is not pesticides. The problem is a lack of suitable cover,” says Dr. Craig Harper, Associate Professor and Wildlife Specialist at the University of Tennessee’s Extension Service of Forestry, Wildlife, and Fisheries.

    “Habitat loss has affected quail as much as degradation of habitat. Wal-Mart shopping centers and housing developments will never hold quail again. Drive around Tennessee. Do you see any quail habitat? It's hard to find. Fields of tall fescue and Bermuda grass simply do not support quail. Never have, never will,” continued Harper when asked how we got where we are today.    

    “This includes pastures as well as hayfields. Large-scale farming does not provide quail habitat, unless adequate cover is provided around field borders and with terraces retained in quality cover. Again, perennial cool-season grasses and Bermuda grass are not suitable. Closed-canopied woods do not support quail. Never have, never
will. There is confusion here. People may see quail in woods, but that doesn't mean it's quality quail habitat. Survival is poor and reproduction is poor when quail are forced to live in sub-optimum habitats.”

    Why didn’t wildlife programs on the state and federal level better address the decline through programs like Conservation Reserve Programs in years past?

   Harper says wildlife programs have only learned of the critical habitat limitations for quail in the past 10 years. Specifically, how you can have excellent quail habitat on a relatively small property, but no real increase in quail numbers.

    “What we have learned is that what is present on the surrounding one thousand (1,000) acres is a real limitation for a local population. Without considerable immigration and emigration, populations can be isolated (both geographically and genetically) and become stagnant. It is also in these circumstances where predators are often blamed for the loss of quail where habitat is good. We don't need to worry about predation. With adequate cover, PREDATION CAN BE CONTROLLED, EVEN IF PREDATORS CANNOT. The problem is, few landowners understand what quality cover is,” continued Harper.

    “Tennessee is developing more detailed plans for addressing the statewide needs of quail within the framework of existing Joint Ventures and other bird conservation plans. Quail needs have stimulated our collaboration with NRCS to hire more biologists to deliver plans and programs to landowners. We have a cooperative relationship with many Quail Unlimited chapters to assist in promoting habitat for quail and a number of chapters are active in assisting the department with improving habitat on wildlife management areas,” says TWRA’s Small Game Coordinator Roger Applegate.

    If habitat is the big problem then why have such places as Ames Plantation, considered to be quail heaven and home of the National Field Trials located in west Tennessee’s Grand Junction and under the umbrella of UT’s management, still suffered quail loss?

    “Habitat quality for quail at Ames decreased dramatically through the 1980's and 1990's. Aerial maps show a general maturation of the property, with too little forest management and too little use of prescribed fire.”
    “Our annual quail census at Ames shows quail numbers declining through this period. In the late 1990's, proactive steps were taken to improve habitat conditions there. It worked. By 2001-02, there was at least a bird per acre on Ames. However, the bird dogs participating in the national contest could not find the birds,” said Harper!

    “So, political pressure made the staff at Ames consider releasing pen-raised birds, EVEN THOUGH THERE WAS MORE THAN ONE WILD QUAIL PER ACRE on the property! They now release pen-raised birds every October and more than 95% of them are dead within a year.”

    Here’s a summary of what UT’s Dr. Craig Harper says need to happen:

    (1)  Quail can easily respond where habitat improvements are made and where they are not isolated. People need to think of managing quail much as they would for quality deer. Don't worry about managing quail on 100 acres. Think about forming landowner cooperatives and managing for quail on 1000 acres or more. An island of quality habitat in a sea of closed-canopied woods, pastures, hayfields, clean farming, parking lots and houses is not going to produce many birds.
    (2) Pen-released birds can provide some fun shooting opportunities, but they cannot be used to restock a population. They simply do not survive long enough. For whatever reason, they appear to lose the innate ability to survive environmental pressures long enough to establish. Also, why would anyone want to release birds? Why are there few or no birds present now? Even if pen-raised birds survived, why do people think they would establish and live when the birds that were there previously disappeared?!? Re-stocking is not the answer--it's habitat!
    (3) The hunting mortality placed on quail statewide is compensatory, not additive. Research has shown that over and over. It is a fact. However,  that is not to say someone could not overhunt a local population. That is the responsibility of the landowner/hunter. It is not wise to shoot a covey down to just a few birds. Most people know that; however, the mentality on public lands is that if I don't shoot them someone else will. Therefore, relatively little restraint is practiced on public lands. That is really a mute point, however, when you consider there really aren't any public lands available in the state with good quail numbers (that I am aware of).
   (4) The common denominator, from south Florida to Virginia, across Tennessee and Arkansas, down to Louisiana and back across to Alabama and Georgia is loss of habitat and habitat degradation. That is what every single state wildlife agency in the South is working diligently to improve upon. And in many areas, it is working.
   (5) Quail populations will never again be what they were in the 1970's. However, there are still great quail populations in some areas and with proactive habitat management, increased quail numbers can be realized in many areas.
    Harper had one final perspective:  “I have visited countless properties throughout the region. In all my visits I have never seen A SINGLE PROPERTY in the mid-South region where food was a limiting resource for bobwhite quail. Not one. Without exception, it is always cover. Whether it be nesting cover, brooding cover, escape cover, or loafing cover, cover is always the limiting factor. For bobwhites, when quality cover is present, food resources are present by default.

    Few people realize this. Unfortunately,  way too many people think planting food plots is the answer for quail. That is simply not true. If cover limitations are met, food is not a problem.
    Instead of free seed give-away programs, conservation organizations such as QU should concentrate on helping landowners improve cover, not establish food plots. All the milo seed in the world cannot protect a quail from cooper's hawks if there is no quality escape cover in the winter. And bicolor lespedeza patches are meaningless if fall recruitment is low because there is no quality brooding cover.

     Instead of giving away seed, organizations need to be giving away herbicides to kill non-native grasses and information on how to manage fields with fire and how to thin their forests and manage them appropriately.

(Steve McCadams, like his father and grandfather, hunted quail in west Tennessee until the late 1970’s. He’s taking steps to help small game and encourages his readers to do likewise.)


Steve McCadams is a professional hunting and fishing guide here in the Paris Landing area. He has also contributed many outdoor oriented articles to various national publications.



All contents property of Hometown Network.
All rights reserved.