My Outdoor Life: Thurman Tucker on saving Minnesota's quail

  • Article by: AS TOLD TO DENNIS ANDERSON
  • Updated: February 28, 2014 - 8:12 AM

In our occasional series about outdoor people and lifestyles, this everyday hunter and retiree recounts the challenges and the joys of trying to save Minnesota’s delicate quail population for nearly 50 years.

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Quail advocate Thurman Tucker was photographed last weekend at Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness • kyndell. harkness@ startribune.com,

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I was born in Memphis. But when my mother died, my two brothers, my sister and I went to Mississippi, a couple hours’ south, to live with my grandparents. I was 7 years old at the time, and that’s where I got my start in hunting and fishing, in Mississippi.

My uncles lived there, too, and like my grandfather, they were hunters. We’d hunt squirrel, rabbit and quail. But mostly rabbit. Sometimes we’d use coon dogs, sometimes rabbit dogs. I wouldn’t say we were necessarily a skilled hunting group. Back then we were hunting for the table, for food, and we enjoyed seeing what we could find.

It was the quail that stuck with me. Invariably, while we were hunting rabbits, we’d bust a covey or two of them and they’d sound like a freight train when they took off! And you couldn’t hardly get a shot at them, scattering in all directions like they did, 10 or 20 at a time.

When I finished high school in 1962, I went to southern California for a couple of years. But California wasn’t for me. Too many people. Not enough wildlife. Eventually, in 1965, I moved to Minneapolis to take a job in the grocery business. I was part-time at first. But 32 years went by pretty fast, and when I retired nine years ago, I had managed frozen, produce — every department but meat. And stores, I managed those as well. My last job was as a customer service manager for Cub.

All the while, since moving here, I’ve been working to rebuild Minnesota’s quail population. Some people think I’m nuts, my wife at times included, because Minnesota hasn’t had a quail season for a half-century. But I’ve always felt it can happen, and some years ago I formed a group, the Bobwhite Quail Society, to look for remnant Minnesota birds, mostly in the southeast, and to count them and develop habitat for them.

I can tell you exactly where I was when I saw my first Minnesota quail. This was in Houston County, by the Iowa border, and I was doing my own personal research, knocking on doors and talking to landowners, asking if they had seen or heard any quail, you know, bob-WHITE, bob-WHITE.

One day in 1989, I was doing just that when I pulled my car onto a back road to have lunch. I had my binoculars with me, as I always do, and was eating a sandwich when about 75 yards ahead, a bird walked into the road and looked around. A quail! Then about eight little ones trotted out behind her, and by the time she got to the other side of the road, five or six more little guys appeared!

Unfortunately, since around the mid-90s, the quail we did have in the state have really suffered. It’s happened across the nation also, in other states, with quail populations falling off. But the problem is especially dire in Minnesota, because we had so few to begin with.

The biggest problem our birds have is a lack of grass and brush. You look at the countryside today, the farm fields, and they’re clean, not like in the past, when brushy and grassy areas provided places for quail to nest and to find shelter, especially in an old-fashioned winter like the one we’re having this year.

A lack of livestock on the land is another big issue. There are still cattle. But instead of grazing on grasslands that wildlife also need, most cattle today are concentrated in feedlots. Meanwhile, what once was grass is now row crops like corn and soybeans.

The good news is that others feel like I do, that Minnesota’s quail population can recover.

Some years ago I folded the Bobwhite Quail Society into Quail Forever, a national group, and now we have two Quail Forever chapters in Minnesota, one in the Twin Cities and one in the southeast. In fact, our annual fundraising banquet in the southeast will be held the 22nd of next month, in Caledonia.

It’s taken years and years to lose as many quail in Minnesota as we’ve lost. It will take years and years to help them recover. But I know we can do it.

We can plant more shrubs, and we can rejuvenate the grasslands we do have by burning them. And we can build more crib feeders to help quail survive winters.

These goals can be accomplished. I know they can.

And it’s not about the hunting. I haven’t hunted quail in 10 years. It’s about the birds.

For me, this is a passion and a challenge. I’m 70 years old, and I like to stay with a job until it’s done.

 

Dennis Anderson • 612-673-4424

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