FRANKFORT - Thanksgiving weekend is traditionally the kickoff of rabbit and quail hunting across Kentucky.
“Rabbit numbers are up, and that doesn’t surprise me, considering the ideal weather conditions we had in the spring and early summer,” said Ben Robinson, small game biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “We’re already getting reports of good hunting.”
Rabbit and quail seasons are now open statewide and continue through Feb. 10, 2013, in Allen, Ballard, Butler, Caldwell, Calloway, Carlisle, Christian, Crittenden, Daviess, Fulton, Graves, Hancock, Henderson, Hickman, Hopkins, Livingston, Logan, Lyon, Marshall, McLean, McCracken, Muhlenberg, Ohio, Simpson, Todd, Trigg, Union, Warren and Webster counties.
In the remaining 91 counties, in central and eastern Kentucky, hunting continues through Jan. 31, 2013.
The statewide daily bag limit is four rabbits and eight quail.
“We had a mild winter and a good carryover of adult rabbits heading into the spring breeding season,” explained Robinson. Rabbits begin nesting in February, with the peak of nesting occurring by early summer, although rabbits can continue to nest into early fall, if conditions are right.
Annual surveys conducted by Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, with the help of rabbit hunters and rural mail carriers, offer important details of population trends and hunting activity.
The 114 hunters that submitted information for the 2011-12 rabbit hunter log survey went on a combined 1,959 hunts in 105 counties, hunted a combined 7,393 hours, jumped 12,875 rabbits and harvested 5,702 (an average of 2.9 rabbits per hunt).
Hunting pressure declined as the season progressed. Hunting peaked during the month of December, in terms of the percentage of hunts and harvest.
The rural mail carrier survey provides biologists with small game population trends, based on the number of rabbits and quail observed along roadways, per 100 miles driven. This survey has been conducted annually in July since 1960.
“The eastern region of the state continues to lead all regions in the number of rabbits observed,” said Robinson. “The mail carrier survey shows a 6 percent increase in the number of observed rabbits statewide between 2011 and 2012 which means there should be plenty of rabbits for harvest this fall.”
Kentucky’s profound drought, especially in the western third of the state (west of I-65), impacted both rabbit and quail breeding success from mid-to-late summer.
“Quail experienced good nesting conditions early on, but over time the effect of the drought likely had an impact,” said Robinson. “The drought limited quail nesting cover and success, food availability (insects) and brood rearing cover.”
The peak of quail nesting in Kentucky is June and July, which is a bit later than some adjacent states. Rain throughout the summer is important to quail because it provides more cover and better food sources.
“Adult quail need seeds, especially as the season progresses,” said Robinson. “When chicks hatch they need insects, and in drier weather there are fewer insects.”
Hunters should expect quail season to be similar to last year.
“Areas where there was adequate rainfall could experience good quail hunting this fall,” said Robinson. “In western and central Kentucky look for forested areas that suffered damage during the 2009 ice storm, which should provide good cover for quail. Forest edges near row crops fields could also be productive.”
For more information on the upcoming rabbit and quail seasons, consult the current Kentucky Hunting and Trapping Guide, available wherever hunting licenses are sold. You may request one by calling 1-800-858-1549 or view a printable version on the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife webpage at fw.ky.gov.