Column: Local organization helps quail seasonDecember 7, 2017
By LARRY LAGRANGE
Rabbit and quail are highly sought-after game and the seasons are in. Rabbit runs to Feb. 28, so now is an ample time to get out there. If you have a rabbit dog, you’re in business.
Quail closes Jan. 10 with a bag limit of eight in the south zone. Eight? Some bird hunters I know would be pleased to see eight quail in a season. I grew up loving to bird hunt near my Perry County home, but I’ve not done much lately. There are few quail to hunt. What happened?
The winters in the mid-’70s were brutal. I recall staring out my living room window one year and watching snow that just wouldn’t quit. As a teacher, I wondered how we would reschedule to make up all those lost days. Since then things haven’t been the same. Winters have been warmer typically, but that hasn’t brought back the birds.
Farming practices have changed. Wide, brushy fence rows are vital to quail and other game, but most fields are cropped very closely now. Farmers normally use all of their land, and who can blame them?
Some blame predators like coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, possums, even turkeys.
A local organization, Quail and Upland Game Alliance at Patoka Hills, has a large, active membership that’s doing its part for their beloved bird as well as for all upland game.
Jim Bardwell, former athletic director at Southridge, has led the club for about 12 years. It all began in the early ’90s with two concerned hunters, Eldon Colber and Wes Settle, who kept after it until an organization was formed.
“Eldon and Wes were the inspiration,” recalls Bardwell. “They affiliated with the national Quail Unlimited group, and we’ve thrived since then. We’ve planted a lot of native warm seasongrasses. There were some federal grants and programs we got to help us plant on farmers’ lands. We cleared areas and established food plots — just about anything we could do to get more habitat in the area.”
The demise of QU was shocking to members. Financial carelessness, internal strife — whatever the reason, the South Carolina outfit begun in 1981 folded in 2013 and sold its membership to Quail Forever. QUGA, with five chapters based in Illinois and two in Kentucky, began in 2013. The Patoka Hills club is the only Indiana affiliate so far and boasts the largest membership.
“QUGA was a better fit for us, and that’s not a knock on Quail Forever,” says Bardwell. “We have more access to our own funds, and now we have a good seed supply policy. We have seed giveaways, and QUGA helps a lot with that.” The club had a booth at the Indy Deer, Turkey and Waterfowl expo in February and distributed 1,000 pounds of milo in half-acre bags with planting instructions.
The club has assisted organizations to foster game habitat, including donations to Patoka Lake and Glendale properties to help purchase equipment along with giving seed to other DNR properties to plant and manage habitat. Members have assisted the DNR with hunter education programs as well.
The club has several activities. A fish fry is held in May. Since 1998 members have directed a winter youth hunt at Cane Creek Preserve near Otwell. Members volunteer their time and dogs to host youngsters in taking a crack at these fast-flying birds. A Fun Hunt where members can compete with their dogs is also held at Cane. A fall roast and raffle provides a meal and a chance at prizes.
It takes more than the club president to accomplish all of this. The support crew is Vice-Chair Farrel Weisheit, Secretary Randy Stemle and Treasurer Jay Cox Jr. Stemle has been the banquet chair since 2006. Dave Allen is gun raffle coordinator and banquet emcee. Rick Giesler is ticket manager for the feed. Board members, other than those mentioned, are Jay Cox, Jeff Thompson, Steve Schwoeppe, Ryan King and Derek Roth. Other past board members instrumental in the club are Dave Hevron, Bruce Hawkins and Cletus Seifert.
According to Stemle, the funds generated by the banquet are from live and silent auctions, gun raffle and other fundraisers at the functions. These provide funds for the club’s mission: “to promote habitat for all wildlife and provide outdoor activities for youth, who will play a vital role in conservation and stewardship of wildlife in the future.”
Bardwell adds, “We’re gaining membership. Every meeting we seem to have some new guys, so we’re happy about that.” The group meets at 7:30 p.m. on the first Monday of the month from August to May at Reflections in Huntingburg. For more information you can contact Farrel Weisheit at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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