There is a reason quail hunting has been such a valued tradition for so many years! These beautiful (and tasty!) game birds can challenge even the best shooters.
For many years, quail hunting has been considered a sport for the aristocracy. In reality, it is a gentleman’s game that almost anyone can play. Quail hunting typically involves a group of hunters and dogs walking through a field. It does not require hunters to wake up and get to a freezing cold blind before sunrise. Even those who don’t like to shoot can have fun walking alongside the hunting group!
There is simply nothing like watching a group of highly-trained bird dogs as they track the scent of quail through the field, and once they point, the action and excitement is unmatched. Depending on where in North America you plan on hunting, there could be several different species of quail to watch for on your next trip.
Even the most experienced hunters and shooters are often humbled by the Bobwhite Quail. Although the Bobwhite is a small bird weighing about 5 to 6 ounces at adulthood, its reputation as a top-notch gamebird stands tall.
Bobwhite Quail have rusty brown bodies with black and white flecks and dark heads with lightly-colored stripes. Although males can be identified up close by their bright white speckling, it is almost impossible to separate them from the females in the field.
Bobwhites get their name from their mating call. These calls literally sound like the quail are saying “Bob White.” From the Upper Midwest and Northeast down to Florida and Mexico, the Bobwhite quail occupies a large range in North America. While their population densities have fallen over the last few decades, they seem to be making a rebound in many areas.
The Mountain Quail is the largest native quail in North America weighing in at 8 to 9 ounces. Unlike many other quail species, Mountain Quail males and females look identical. They have a small head with a long plume that sticks straight out. Their brown throats are bordered in white and stand out among primarily blue-gray plumage across the shoulders and head.
Spending the majority of their time under the cover of thick foliage and brush, Mountain Quail are found in mixed evergreen forests around the Sierra Nevada Mountains or along the West Coast. They prefer steep slopes near a water source.
Mountain Quail typically move in smaller coveys and remain concealed for longer than many quail breeds. This makes them harder to locate when hunting. A good hunting dog goes a long way when going after Mountain Quail.
Like many of its Californian human neighbors, the California Quail loves to soak in the sun. This quail species is quite stylish with its long curving plume. Mature males typically have a black plume, bluish-grey breast and brown flanks with white stripes. Females sport a brown plume, greyish-brown body and lightly-colored underside.
Although their Bobwhite cousins are known for their athletic flying abilities, California Quail rely on short, explosive bursts of flight towards cover. This breed is also more tolerant of humans than others and can regularly be found foraging in urban parks and along roadsides.
California Quail love a good dust bath in the sun, and looking for these 3 to 6-inch wide circular depressions can help hunters find coveys. Some hunters also imitate the California Quail’s “chi-ca-go” call and wait for the return call to help locate birds in the early morning.
The desert-dwelling Gambel’s Quail loves the rough brush provided by saltbush, mesquite, cat’s-claw and prickly pear. Since water is a priority in desert habitats, it is no surprise that these birds stay close to a water source. During years with great rainfall, Gambel’s Quail populations can boom and create excellent hunting opportunities.
Gambel’s Quail are short-necked, plump birds measuring around 11 inches in length. They are well camouflaged with intricate patterns of cream, gray and chestnut-colored plumage. While both sexes sport a comma-shaped plume, males have a much more distinctive head pattern with shades of brown, black and white.
Congregating in coveys consisting of 20 to 40 birds, Gambel’s Quail focus all of their activities around ground cover. They are most active during sunrise and sunset, but their tendency to travel across large exposed areas can help hunters looking for their tracks.
The Scaled Quail is also known by many as the Blue Quail. Black-tipped feathers with a bluish-grey look similar to scales from a distance. Scaled Quail also have a small cream-colored crest on top of their heads. This quail breed typically weighs between 7 and 8 ounces and grows to around 12 inches long.
Scaled Quail live in the arid climates found throughout West Texas, South Colorado, Southeast Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico. They do not rely on water as heavily as some of their other quail cousins, sometimes traveling up to 15 miles from the nearest water source. These quail love to take cover in dry valleys and rocky slopes with grasses and stout forbs.
Although their normal covey sizes typically stay between 30 and 40 birds, these numbers can double at times throughout the winter season. Scaled Quail do not normally flush upwards into the air like other quail species. Instead, they prefer to scatter and run across the ground to cover.
Gear and Equipment for Hunting Quail
The right gear and equipment is crucial to the success and pleasure of any hunt, and quail hunting is no different. However, the proper gear varies greatly depending on the climate, area and type of game you are hunting.
When searching for a pair of quail hunting boots, you should focus more on comfort and protection than waterproofing. Quail are seldom found in wetland habitats, so a strong pair of short leather boots is acceptable in most areas.
If you plan on hunting in the southern and western United States, you need to remember that rattlesnakes and quails often overlap in the same areas. Snakeboots are a good idea in these areas.
Overlooking the importance of brush pants is one of the biggest mistakes a new quail hunter can make. Quail love hiding in areas full of briars and thistles, and anyone not wearing brush pants can be caught pulling thorns and briars off of them instead of shooting at a quail covey. A few unfortunately-placed thorns can ruin your entire hunt.
Hunting Shirts and Vests
A comfortable, durable shirt goes a long ways during a quail hunt, and a highly-visible, front-loading vest or jacket is a necessity. Visibility plays a major role in safety when quail hunting, and you need an easy place to carry your shells and birds.
Quail hunting does not require camouflage like many other types of hunting and, considering the proximity of the other hunters and the quails’ unpredictable flight patterns, it is critical that the hunters can see each other at all times.
Shotguns/Loads/Chokes for Quail Hunting
The debate over which shotgun gauge is best for quail has been raging for many years. The most common choice is probably the 20 gauge, but the 28 gauge is quickly gaining popularity. In reality, you can use anything from a 410 to a 12 gauge to bring the quail down.
The right barrel length and choke are often more important than the gauge. A shorter barrel helps keep your shotgun’s weight down for long walks through the brush, and a more open choke gives you flexibility in the close-range shooting that often occurs during a quail hunt. The majority of experienced quail hunters will recommend a barrel length around 26 inches and an improved cylinder choke.
The best quail hunting dog breed is another controversial topic that has been heavily debated over the years. In general, most hunters use pointers, setters, Labrador retrievers and Brittany spaniels. A good group of hunting dogs will compete to be the first to find the quail covey. Once one of the dogs finds the quail, he should freeze and point. The other dogs should “honor” the point and freeze as well.
Quail Hunting Tips
Quail are well-known for being difficult to find. Without dogs, there is really no way to find a quail covey in a given habitat. However, you also need to put your dogs in the right habitat to find the quail. Consider that quail eat mostly bugs and worms, so areas with recent rain and grassy areas are good place to start. Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas and Illinois are some states that have had recent quail population booms and offer great hunting opportunities.
Patience is a highly-valued skill in any type of hunting, but quail hunters must work even harder to master this skill. Quail hunting requires you to keep your emotions under control and to take smart shots. Even after you think you’ve missed your first shot, you should keep your eye on the quail and try again, they may be injured.
Communication is another extremely important factor when quail hunting. Instead of focusing on the number of quail you bring down, you should be trying to get the most quail as a team. This does not mean that you should be screaming your thoughts every few seconds. Plan some hand signals with your partners before heading out.
Quail are beautiful game birds that create a challenging, but extremely enjoyable hunting experience. Well-prepared and knowledgeable hunters will be rewarded with great memories and a delicious meal!