It’s as old a hunting tradition as there is in the Deep South, and it’s disappearing as fast as Louisiana marshes.

Quail hunting.

Try to find a covey of wild quail in the Sportsman’s Paradise, and you might as well set out on an Indiana Jones-like quest for the Holy Grail.

There are almost as many reasons to explain the dearth of wild quail in our state and across the South.

Loss of habitat, pastures converted from native bunch grasses to nonnative field grasses for cattle grazing, and persistent predation are the main culprits.

Sure there are wild coveys in Texas, but that calls for a road trip. Yeah, there are Lone Star State places that will take you hard-earned money to spend a couple of days tromping over hill and dale, or you might be lucky enough to know somebody with access to vast acreage, but then there’s always the expense of a road trip and the hours you’re going to spend behind the wheel to get to those wild ones.

Or you could book a trip to one of the hunting preserves in the state or in southern Mississippi to hunt pen-raised birds.

Southeast Louisiana hunters have taken to places like Covey Rise in Husser and Thornhill Shooting Preserve east of McComb, Mississippi, to continue the link between hunter and dogs they learned from their fathers and grandfathers and, for some, from their mothers and grandmothers.

“Everybody in my family hunted quail when I was a kid,” Charlie Randall said recalling days growing up on a Florida Parishes farm. “My granddad has two English setters and my dad got in on a couple of Brittanys.

Those dogs were go-getters from the time you turned them out. We didn’t kill all the quail in a covey, and with the dogs my granddad had, we always had places to hunt.”

Randall admits was a long time ago, in the days before and after World War II, and said it’s been a struggle during the past 20 years to get his grand kids on enough quail to know they will continue the tradition of family hunts.

Mardi Gras provided twin brothers Dana and David Vutera a chance to get David’s 15-year-old son, Greg, on his first hunt at Thornhill’s. Gary Littlefield joined them for his fourth hunt there this season. It’s the chance to pass the baton, or shotgun, to the next generation.

Thornhill’s birds flew well on the extra-chilly morning. Dogs worked well, too, despite a stiff north wind. It was a great day.

Hunting preserves charge a fee, some per bird, some per hunter, some per party of 2-3 hunters. Dogs come with the hunt, and provide old-school hunters with as much pleasure as pulling the trigger. Some preserves offer chukar and pheasant.

Time for the preserves is getting short in late February. Quail hunting is a wintertime sport, and the supply of birds and a warming March sun ends the season before state law demands its end in April.

Hunters 16 and older need resident or nonresident basic licenses and Jimbo Geisler at Covey Rise, Robert Lemann at Palo Alto near Donaldsonville, Rusty Cook at Bayou Birds in Bastrop and Randy Smith at Wild Wings in Downsville northwest of Monroe said they have enough quail, chukar and, for some, pheasants to finish out the season.

For information on preserves, call the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ Wildlife Division (225) 765-2346.

Quail Forever

Several Capital City area hunters are working for the Atchafalaya Region Chapter of Quail Forever, a national organization devoted to recreating habitat for wild quail across the country.

The chapter’s start-up meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. March 11 at Long River Lodge, 497 Cannatella Road in Melville north off U.S. 190.

John Wallace is the group’s regional rep (937) 459-8085. Grant Cannatella (337) 658-7100; Camp Matens (225) 802-3435; John Balance (225) 266-1953; and, Louis Hebert (225) 718-1525 are the local organizers. Call any of them for details about this new chapter.