Traditionally, horseracing has been called the “Sport of Kings.” When this title was adopted, no one bothered to contact me to get my opinion. I guess I was a bit too far down the line of succession to the crown to require my approval. To me the sport most befitting royalty would be upland bird hunting, particularly pursuit of bob white quail. Quail hunting behind a brace of well-disciplined and trained bird dogs on a warm fall day is time best relegated to paradise.
Having served several tours of shore duty in the Navy stationed in South Texas, I suppose I was a bit spoiled in this mecca for bird hunters. Throughout the Southern United States, quail hunting has since earliest time been an aristocratic sport. Hunting clubs throughout the country have been organized to accommodate this luxury sport. The stereotypical gentry of South Texas all had a kennel for their bird dogs, a bird lease or their own ranch, and a Winchester Model 21 side-by-side double in 28 gauge that was worth more than my home. To even consider something as large as a 12 gauge automatic would be considered tacky and unsportsmanlike.
Growing up on the Pore Farm, the distinctive call of the bobwhite quail during the day was as common as the call of the whippoorwill every evening. They were integral features in our daily lives. Today, on warm evenings as the sun slowly sets in the west, the song of the whippoorwill is still occasionally heard and a few fireflies are still around, but the call of the bobwhite is almost never heard — any time of day.
Just over a week ago, there was an in-depth article in the Star-Telegram addressing the demise of the bobwhite quail in Texas. State biologists from Texas Parks and Wildlife and game management specialists with the AgriLife Extension Service are puzzled by the persistent decline in quail numbers over the past decade or two. Most of these experts seem to agree that quail numbers have suffered primarily because of recent drought, along with destruction of habitat because of land use changes and commercial development. Although I have none of their credentials in wildlife management, I disagree with their assessment.
As recent as the early ‘90s, there were several large coveys of quail on my farm and surrounding land. This year I have not heard even one call of a bobwhite. While there has been significant land use change in much of Parker County, I can identify tracts of several hundred acres where nothing has changed of any significance. There are abundant ragweed, partridge peas, plum thickets, tall bunch grasses and other seeds for quail consumption. There are water supplies within easy access. Yet, the quail have vanished.
Whether drought, habitat destruction, disease, fire ants, feral hogs or something unforeseen is the culprit, the quail are rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Perhaps the experts can discover a silver bullet to bring about recovery of Texas’ majestic game bird, but I don’t expect it in my lifetime. In the meantime, I have my memories of their soothing call and the excitement of the unexpected flush of a covey. Sadly, my grandchildren will probably never experience the regal bobwhite.
Larry M. Jones is a retired Navy Commander and aviator who raises cattle and hay in the Brock/Lazy Bend part of Parker County. Comments may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.