Tap into excellent East Texas quail hunts at the 3-S Ranch

Buddy Smith had a pair of his favorite quail hunting dogs on the ground and Jimmie Buffett, his go-to pointer, was locked up on a covey in a brush pile next to a huge oak tree. Smith motioned for his yellow lab, Wes, to move in and flush the birds.

Mike Ramsey, his son Michael and I were on point when five bobwhite quail flushed. The birds were surprisingly fast, considering they were pen raised. But only two hit the ground.

“Ya’ll are supposed to shoot those birds,” laughed Smith, who has been putting quail hunters on birds for the better part of five decades. “These birds fly pretty fast, don’t they?”

We had to agree. But within about two hours we had put just over 30 on the ground, along with several chuckers. What was so great about this hunt is that it was only a couple of hours from Beaumont. The three of us, along with Curtis Thorpe and Mark Larson, made the trip over to the 3-S Ranch about 18 miles west of Huntsville. The 3-S is a high-fenced game ranch and lodge that’s set up for hunting a variety of big game from exotics to whitetails in the 200 B&C class. They also offer some very cushy quail hunts.

The quail hunts take place at Buddy Smith’s Possum Walk Ranch a few miles down the road from 3-S. He’s set up to handle hunts for upland birds, as well as sporting clays, skeet and trap shooting. To put it short, this is a bird hunter’s quick-hit paradise.

All of us on this trip have hunted both wild and pen raised quail across Texas. And we all agreed that they were the fastest flying pen-raised bobs we had ever hunted.“I’ve got a guy out of Navasota that does a good job raising the quail we hunt here,” said Smith. “I don’t keep my quail in the pens more than two weeks. Any longer and they tend to lose their ability to bust out of cover like a wild bird.”

So why even bother hunting pen-raised quail? The drought has taken a toll on all Texas wildlife resources, but among the hardest hit are wild bobwhite quail. This iconic game bird already faces mounting obstacles to recovery, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department says the drought is making the problem much worse.

“We’ve been on point monitoring quail declines well before this current drought,” said Clayton Wolf, wildlife director for TPWD. “We’ve been taking steps to address the problem, but the drought is raising the sense of urgency.”

Texas’ bobwhite harvest has declined by 80 percent during the past three decades. Although this decline is not as steep as seen in southeastern states, it is still cause for concern.

Many reasons are cited for these declines, but evidence points to changes in the quantity and quality of habitat as the leading cause.

Potential changes in season length and bag limits for the 2012-13 hunting season will be discussed. Over the next few months, TPWD will review the season length, bag limits and the possibility of regional differences for quail season to determine if modifications to the 2012-13 seasons are warranted.

Even in areas of the state where quail numbers have dropped considerably this year, there are still pockets with huntable numbers of bobwhites. Biologists say every bobwhite that survives the winter will be critical to next year’s production.

According to the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, a coalition of wildlife professionals across 25 states, bobwhite quail populations have plummeted nationwide by as much as 80 percent over the past half century, by some estimates. In addition, entire suites of unhunted songbirds that depend on the same habitat of native grasslands and shrublands have recorded similar declines.

“History has shown bobwhites can bounce back when the weather cooperates and suitable habitat is available,” said Wolf. “Ideal quail production occurs in years that remain wet and cool during the spring and early summer months because it extends the window of opportunity for reproduction. Hens typically would make as many nesting attempts as conditions allow until they pull off a successful clutch.”

Meanwhile we’ve got the option of hunting pen-raised birds at places like the 3-S Ranch. Smith runs his hunts on about 1,000 acres of varying habitat. It’s slow rolling hills, with lots of brush mixed in with towering pines and hardwoods. They are relaxing hunts and easy to walk. Smith has a swarm of pointers that he rotates out about every 45 minutes. That way he’s always got a fresh dog on the ground.

The hunts we made this past weekend were excellent, as was the lodge and the pile of fried quail we had for dinner Saturday evening. This is a quick hit for Southeast Texas bird hunters. We made two hunts with overnight lodging, and quite a bit of lying around a huge fireplace. Cost is about $425 per gun. That included lunch upon our arrival Saturday at noon, an afternoon hunt, dinner, breakfast, a morning hunt, and lunch back at the lodge before heading out. That’s a pretty good deal. They will be running quail hunts through the end of February.

For more information, contact outfitter Bill Fondren at (409) 381-1397.