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A New Approach
But things changed. I’m not sure when, and perhaps no one is sure how or why. But change came. It went unnoticed for me, but not because I held no concern. It was unnoticed because life was pulling and prodding in directions away from the land. College, graduate school, new jobs -- all these became the life I knew. When I looked back and desired what I had known, it was not there.

Even the old place was not there -- at least not like it was, and not still in the family. The new owner cleaned and cleared and manicured and sculpted. It was much prettier than I recalled it when my life was poured into its soil, but that improved masking came at a price. The quail were gone, too. And they were gone in large measure from every other place of which I was aware. For every other place had experienced the same redefining as our old farm.

Four or five years back, after a pair of decades with quail as only a recollection, I was fortunate to discover quail hunting that was as close to what it was in my youth as anything could be, outside the totally wild condition that is now difficult to find. This was hunting early-release birds -- an activity far removed from the typical put-and-take shooting done extensively at many venues. This new approach revived my interest in quail hunting, and I have never seen anyone who tried it say differently -- even some of the old guys (like me) who recall with sentiment and regret those days when quail hunting was that simple and almost assured procedure of walking from the house with shotgun and bird dog. These individuals have a benchmark for decision-making, and when they say early release is good, they know what they are talking about.

The practice of early release is as the name implies: Birds are released early! But not early as this relates to a specific day. Quail are released on a hunting property early in the fall, long before any hunting begins. And they are not just cast to the wild with little hope of survival past one or two days. Feeding and call-back stations are strategically located, and the quail have a safe place to rest for the night and ample food to maintain strength. They become quickly and surprisingly well-adapted to the new environment. Wild, these birds are.

Dr. Ed Carruth of Millbrook Plantation in Stonewall, Mississippi, has taken a tremendous interest in the concept of early release in an effort to ensure solid quail hunting on his property. He began with the call-back stations and supplemental feed but has expanded his operation with an eye on improving existing habitat. He uses plots, herbicides and controlled burning in his management scheme, and visitors will be amazed to see the abundance of native plants that are common quail foods. Not only do the released birds frequent such food sources and thrive in and around them, wild birds are now not uncommon. Management is working.

Is the truly wild quail gone? The obvious answer is no, but no one can argue with the claim that populations are not what they once were. Will they ever return? We all hope. But we must also wait and see. Is this practice of early release a cure for quail-hunting woes? Perhaps … at least for right now. Done correctly, it is extremely close to the original. I shall experience it again this fall. Maybe you should as well.

Contact Information:
Dr. Ed Carruth
Millbrook Plantation
1030 Hwy. 513
Stonewall, MS 39363
(601) 659-9922
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