High-Tech Texas "Hunt" Uses Bird Dogs and Hunters to Gather Data on Quail Populations

The trucks full of dog boxes and pulling trailers full of eager, whining bird dogs start showing up before dawn at this rugged, quail-rich ranch perched on the high, rolling prairies of west Texas.
This is their destination, the 4,700-acre Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch near Roby, Texas.
And this is what the ranch is all about: quail. The RPQRR is a research ranch dedicated to studying, conserving and developing better management practices for quail.
And every year, as part of that ongoing quest to better understand and manage quail, the ranch teams up with Garmin and local bird dog owners to sponsor an annual census of the ranch's quail population.
Bird dog owners from far and wide are invited to bring their dogs to the ranch, where they're fitted with Garmin's Astro GPS tracking collars.
The Garmin Astro is a collar equipped with a GPS tracking unit that allows the dog's owner to know precisely where his or her dog is at all times. Since its introduction it has become extremely popular with upland bird hunters and houndsmen.
But at this event the Astros are being used as a research and mapping tool to determine how many quail the ranch holds and where they're found.
Dogs and their owners are assigned a quadrant of the ranch. The dogs are then set loose to do what they're bred to do: find birds.
The dogs roam far and wide across the ranch, using those remarkable noses to pick up the faint scent of birds.
But some dogs get a few extra privileges. Here, one of RPQRR Director Dr. Dale Rollins' favorite dogs gets a ride in the doctor's ranch buggy. Dr. Rollins is one of _Field & Stream'_s Heroes of Conservation.
Well, actually Dr. Rollins has a number of favorite dogs...
Some prefer riding the buggy...
...while others prefer looking for quail.
There's no mistaking when a bird dog locks up on point.
Although sometimes having a long tail can be a real help in tall cover...
When a covey or a single is flushed, the birds are counted and the location is marked on the GPS unit.
The results are then posted back at the headquarters and the data will be used in the ranch's ongoing research.
The annual census attracts many different bird dog breeds, from high-jumping big-running English pointers...
...to young English setters, who can barely see above the grass, to...
...to high-flying Brittany spaniels.
But all that running requires a lot of water, either from stock tanks...
...or a water dish barely big enough for two.
Prickly pear and other cactus that can tear up a dog's pads means boots for some dogs.
Then it's back out into the fields and back on point.
There's a covey in here somewhere...
At the end of the day it's time to load up and head back to headquarters for a meal and to compare notes.
Rattlesnakes are always a concern, so a snake-proof fence is a must.
Then it's mealtime for the humans...
...and rest time for the dogs.

Field & Stream's Chad Love recently traveled to the west Texas plains for an opportunity to witness how cutting-edge gundog technology is being used to help researchers learn more about managing wild quail. Every year, GPS-tracking-collar manufacturer Garmin teams up with area quail hunters and their dogs at the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch in Roby, Texas to locate and map quail populations on the sprawling research ranch. The data will ultimately be used in the ranch's ongoing research, but big-running bird dogs are the stars in this show. See what happens when the tailgates drop.