“I want to manage for quail.” That’s a statement made by many landowners across Oklahoma. While managing for quail is an admirable goal, many landowners balk at using the No. 1 tool to manage for quail: prescribed fire. 

This is understandable. Lack of fire on the landscape has negatively affected quail habitat in Oklahoma. Woody encroachment is the biggest cause of rangeland degradation in the state. Historically, Oklahoma has embraced prescribed fire more quickly than other mainly privately-owned states such as Texas. But more prescribed fire is needed to enhance the quail resource. 

One suggestion is to expand the widely acknowleged “burning season.” Many landowners fall victim to the idea of an arbitrary burn season. Typical burning season is during winter and early spring, which is the dormant season for warm-season plants. Burning during that time of the year comes with issues, particularly when looking for the correct weather conditions to burn. Land managers soon discover that burning all the units planned is difficult because of not having the prescribed conditions set forth in their burning plan. Those burns are put at the top of the list for the following year, and the list of desired burns becomes longer as burn seasons come and go. It seems like a never-ending cycle. 

Growing-season burns can be incredibly beneficial for not only quail and other wildlife but cattle as well. Quail managers are often concerned that growing-season burns will harm quail reproduction. But prescribed burning during bobwhite reproduction is not something that should concern managers. Especially in regard to late growing-season burns in September and October, peak production has already occurred by then; it generally occurs around mid-June for bobwhites.  

Growing-season burns have several benefits over spring burns: 

Forb diversity is greater than for spring burns, providing excellent food sources heading into winter.

Burning during this period reduces woody cover. Burning during other times of the year generally increases the growth of woody cover. 

The chances of spot fires and escapes are reduced due to vegetation being green and growing.

This year would be a great year to conduct a late-growing season fire due to the amount of rain received over most of the state and the soil moisture available. Vegetation will bounce back quickly.

When discussing quail management, heterogeneity or diversity is always stressed. Having different vegetative structure and food sources available on the landscape allows for bobwhite survival in varying conditions such as heat stress or food preference. Burning at different times of the year provides this heterogeneity. 

Splitting properties into different burn units and subsequently burning those units in different years and different seasons will provide more vegetative structure and plant community heterogeneity across a property. 

When evaluating vegetative response to late-summer burning, one researcher discovered that forb production was twice the response of early spring burns. This higher production creates a more diverse food source that will be available during winter. 

Burning during late summer and early fall is an excellent opportunity to create bobwhite habitat on your property. For more information on creating and maintaining bobwhite habitat on your property, contact Derek Wiley, upland game biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, at derek.wiley@odwc.ok.gov or call (405) 744-9453 or (405) 301-9945.