Fast, hard-flying birds that behave like wild birds—birds that explode from cover in a way that forces hunters to take a millisecond to gather their wits before setting up to shoot. That’s what seasoned wingshooters hope to find when booking a trip to a quail plantation or shooting ground. Hunting operations that consistently produce these types of birds enjoy favorable and widespread reputations. With true wild-quail hunting becoming increasingly difficult to find, the popularity of quality hunts for liberated birds has been increasing. Which is why Wild Wing Lodge, in Sturgis, Kentucky, has become one of the most popular destinations for strong-flying quail in America.
Keith Pierce, the manager of Wild Wing Lodge, has been in the quail business for more than 31 years. His job responsibilities include being a guide, dog trainer, lodge manager and habitat specialist, and in his opinion quality quail require three major things: good breeding, good habitat and good food.
Breeding. It all starts with quality birds that have been hatched and raised by experienced breeders who know exactly what it takes to produce quail that can survive long enough to become “wild.” According to Pierce: “I look for breeders with great reputations that have been in business for at least 10 years. They know the tricks of the trade, like using auto-feeders to reduce human contact.”
Habitat. Quail must have an environment that allows them to feed, loaf and roost without overexposing themselves to predators or extreme weather. Pierce says a tremendous amount of resources are dedicated to making Wild Wing’s property prime for quail. And the good habitat has to hold up throughout the season. “These birds have become wild because they have become survivors,” Pierce said, “and if a survivor loses its protection in the late season, it will leave the property to make a living elsewhere. It’s very important that we’re able to hold our birds.” Additionally, well-managed habitat can strongly influence how well flushed quail fly. According to Pierce: “If the field grass is two feet high, for example, then a covey has the option of rising only four or five feet to make its escape. However, if the grass is kept four feet high, then the birds can get twice as high, making for safer and better shooting.”
Food. Habitat and food are closely related, considering that good habitat always includes quality food sources. Toward the end of the season at Wild Wing, however, it’s necessary to institute a supplemental feeding plan, because the number of birds on the property exceeds what the natural feed can support. Without enough food, the lodge again would lose its ability to hold birds on the property. Not only that, but well-fed birds are healthy birds—and only healthy birds can become wild.
Wild Wing Lodge does several other things to produce great-flying birds. Waiting until a quail is fully mature—and thus more equipped to survive—before releasing it makes a big difference. Introducing birds before the season helps too. The latter allows Pierce and his guides to train dogs on birds during the pre-season, which makes the birds even more wary.
The results of Keith Pierce’s efforts are some of the hardest-flying quail in the country. “You can tell by the wingbeats,” Pierce said. “Our birds are buzzing, not fluttering, and we want to see our coveys rise the way true wild birds do: all the birds getting up in unison, well in front of the dog, and flying a million miles an hour toward escape cover that might be 150 yards away. It takes a lot of extra effort, but the guests at Wild Wing come here because of our reputation for producing wild birds, and we have to deliver.”
Wild Wing Lodge is a Shooting Sportsman Endorsed Lodge. To learn more, visit Wild Wing Lodge.