Managing Quail at Goose Pond Fish & Wildlife Area

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Goose Pond Fish & Wildlife Area has been a prime place for quail hunting in Indiana since opening near Linton in 2006.

Part of the reason is that, during restoration of the area, its quail population exploded.

Since then, annual quail numbers have roller-coastered through highs and lows, depending on several factors. But after more than a decade, Goose Pond FWA remains the state’s top quail hunting destination.

Supporting a resilient quail population requires active management. Northern bobwhite quail need a mix of brushy cover, bare ground, and weedy areas situated in an open landscape—the habitat often associated with grasslands and agriculture. Goose Pond FWA fits the bill with more than 2,000 acres of grasslands and more than 700 acres of farmland, providing tremendous opportunity for gamebirds, especially quail.

Maintaining that acreage to keep it productive means intentionally disturbing habitat to prevent it from becoming overgrown or too dense. Some of the methods for doing so include setting prescribed fire, using a disc harrow, cutting trees and applying herbicides.

Each year, 600 to 700 acres of grasslands are burned at Goose Pond FWA in the spring, late summer and fall. More than half of that acreage also undergoes strip discing and herbicide applications to promote annual plants, which not only provide food for quail, but also create cover needed for raising their chicks.

Staff plants crops like sunflowers and wheat throughout the property to provide more food sources for adult birds and bare ground for broods of young birds to develop. During late winter and early spring, select trees are cut, and shrubs are planted along edges of the fields to promote brushy cover.

Even with all of this intensive hands-on habitat work, the use of agriculture for wildlife is arguably the most critical component of managing for quail at Goose Pond FWA. A rotational farming system is used. This allows small crop fields to be mixed among fallow fields, brushy fencerows, ditches and buffer strips. The idea is to create a complex habitat puzzle in which quail and countless other wildlife can thrive.

Populations of Northern bobwhite have been declining in Indiana for several decades. Even so, State properties like Goose Pond FWA and private lands that also perform habitat projects demonstrate that, if the right landscape and habitat are present and managed properly, quail populations will respond.

More important, such populations can be sustained for future generations so they can experience the excitement of a covey bursting into flight or hearing the old familiar spring sound of “bob-white.”