Bluegrass provides solid quail hunting experience

Column by Larry LaGrange

For outdoor sport, I’m primarily a fisherman. I like golf as well. My third choice overall, and only option for winter, would be quail hunting. There’s something about watching good bird dogs slow down, work a likely looking spot with their tails in hyper mode, and eventually ease to a stop on a rock-solid point. Beautiful.

Unfortunately today it’s tough to find any birds to hunt. Farmers crop fields to the edge, and that’s understandable. The profit margin for many farms is razor thin, so the fields must be utilized to the max. The result: The old style brush and honeysuckle-laden fence rows and unused lands that used to hold birds are essentially gone.

Glendale northwest of Jasper and Bluegrass near Evansville are two state fish and wildlife area options for quail. A couple of friends with good dogs and I made a trip to Bluegrass in early December. It turned out to be an enjoyable day, and we actually found some birds.

Bluegrass has good looking cover for quail as well as rabbits, doves, turkeys, and deer. Its proximity to Evansville just to the south would make one believe that it’s hunted hard, and it is, but somehow there are birds. It’s so easy to miss locating them, even with good dogs, and they’re so darn hard to hit when they explode out of the cover that every year some birds remain to restock their numbers. Last year on a similar hunt we only jumped three single birds. This year we were fortunate to find two coveys. Credit DNR efforts and the fine dog work we got. Holland native Dave Hevron and his pointer Charlie and Huntingburg’s Dave Sprinston and his pointer Maggie were relentless in their quest for bobwhite scent, and when the dogs found birds, they let us know.

Maggie found the first covey, locked in, and Charlie honored the point, a pretty sight. Both Daves moved in while I got my phone ready for a picture. As the birds flushed I snapped something too far away to do much good I figured, but later I found that I had caught a couple of nice images.

As I was snapping photos on this covey rise, one bird crossed right in front of me. This was my only opportunity for a shot that day, but maybe this male bird will help make some more chicks for next year. I watched him zoom away and had to admire how this delicate creature can survive hunters, the weather, and the numerous predators like coyotes, hawks, owls, cats, and foxes that all like to eat quail as much as I do. Raccoons and turkeys will eat or peck the eggs on a quail nest, further decimating the population. Herbicides also play a destructive part, maybe a big one.

Later in a separate area Dave S. made a nice shot on a covey rise that Maggie located. Any shot that scores in quail hunting is a good one, but this one I observed from a distance was better than good. You’ve got to be quick with a gun to get some pellets in a quail. These birds blasted through a thicket of small trees, and Dave quickly picked out one, got the lead right, and hit his target.

The total for the day was three birds, which seems paltry, but any day in Southern Indiana that you can get good dog work and jump some birds is a success. That means there were 15-20 from those coveys that we didn’t get. We left some for seed.

Bluegrass is named not for grass that grows there but for a creek that runs to the east of the property. Amax Coal Company ceased operations at the site in 1993, and the state started re-vegetating the 2,532-acre area with herbaceous cover and woody species planted in rows and strips. Last year’s results were harvests of 23 quail and 398 rabbits. As of Dec. 11 this year’s totals were 5 quail and 49 rabbits. The area has 249 tenant-farmed acres. Officials in 2020 will plant ten 30-foot wide shrub rows along terraces and field edges to provide cover and food for wildlife, especially quail and rabbits. This amounts to over three miles of linear habitat. Bluegrass is managed by the DNR office at Sugar Ridge, phone 812-789-2724. Office hours are Monday to Friday 7:30-2:00 Eastern. Property Manager Hillary Bulcher can give you more information if you desire.

Small game hunting is only allowed on Tuesdays, Thursday, and Sundays. All hunters must sign in at the Bluegrass Lake self-service check-in station, located in a large parking lot on your left as you come in from I69 on the Boonville-New Harmony Road. Sign up on the sheet and fill out a permit card, which must be in your possession while hunting. Drop it off there at the end of the day with your results.

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