Mar 11, 2001
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Wildlife institute takes a sniff at 'quail perfume'

Ron Henry Strait, San Antonio Express-News


The Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute in Kingsville occupies a unique position in the world of wildlife education.

It is situated in a million-acre outdoors laboratory where teachers and students supplement classroom work with daily hands-on experience in the study and management of wildlife and wildlife habitat.

Under the leadership of Dr. Fred Bryant, the institute tracks everything from white-tailed deer to black bears and blue quail.

One of the areas of chief concern for the Kleberg is the bobwhite quail, with research efforts under the guidance of Dr. Fidel Hernandez.

Hernandez, with the assistance of Dr. Lenny Brennan, publishes a quarterly newsletter called the Bobwhite Post. It is produced courtesy of the Texas State Council of Quail Unlimited.

While Hernandez and Brennan are scholars of the bird world, the Bobwhite Post is in no way stuffy. Witness the headline in the current issue, "Calvin Quail Perfume," wherein Hernandez details the research of graduate student Jason Hardin.

For the last year, Hardin has been collecting information on quail scent, which Hernandez calls "perfume."

Quail scent is a big deal in the world of quail hunting because hunting dogs locate the birds by following a scent trail, but knowledge of the subject is lacking.

Producing knowledge, of course, is what Kleberg Institute does, and the preliminary results of Hardin's early work, as related by Hernandez, are interesting.

Hardin began his quail-scent research last season by placing radio collars on hunting dogs that were working pastures where radio-collared quail were ranging. Most of the dogs used were pointers. The hunts were monitored on two ranges: open range with scattered brush, and brushy habitat.

Hardin monitored 30 hunts made from trucks. In both habitats, the dogs moved at about 6 mph, covered 21 acres an hour, ranged about 30 yards from the hunters and could detect quail scent at about 10 yards.

Of direct interest to quail hunters was the question about pasture conditions in early season vs. late season hunts.

I have heard several dedicated quail hunters and outfitters proclaim that the hunting gets better after a killing freeze zaps the ground cover.

One fellow believes it has to do with the odor-killing properties of chlorophyll in green plants. According to his theory, a freeze turns green plants to brown and the odor-killing qualities of the chlorophyll disappear.

Sounds good to me, but what does Hardin's early research indicate?

On open-range habitat, covey finds increased from 1.29 per hour in November and December to 2.42 finds per hour in January and February. On the brushier habitat, however, the respective stats stayed at 1.65 finds per hour throughout the season.

Hernandez notes that other factors should be considered when looking at the results of the covey-find data. It could be that the birds get wise to the dogs as the season progresses and thus react differently to hunting pressure.

"Educated quail" is an interesting concept — almost as interesting as educated quail hunters.

One way to get educated on quail is through the efforts of the Kleberg Institute and the research done at Texas A&M-Kingsville.

For information, contact Bobwhite Post, Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute, TAMUK, MSC 218, Kingsville 78363-8202.

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