Quail are small ground nesting birds that live throughout the world. They are frequently found in groups, living in dense thickets. When startled, quail will erupt from their hiding place and fly in every direction. These groups are called coveys, and the explosive nature of their flushing makes them an exciting and challenging quarry.
Unfortunately, quail numbers throughout the United States are struggling due to their requirements for nesting. First and foremost, they have been hammered by a unique predator. This predator, the fire ant, has wreaked havoc on the quail population in the south, as newborn chicks are unable to escape the ants if they find their nest. In addition to this threat, crucial edge habitat that is essential to quail nesting has declined throughout the country. However, quail numbers are beginning to rebound as a result of good management by state agencies.
Where To Hunt Quail
There are several species of quail that can be found throughout the world. In the western hemisphere, there are the Scaled, Gambels’, Mearns’, Northern Bobwhite’s, Sharp-Tailed, and California quail. The Northern Bobwhite quail is the most widespread game bird in the states, and likely the most popular of all the quail subspecies. Great quail hunting can be had throughout the states, but the Midwest offers some of the best. States like South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma have a great deal of quality habitat that supports large populations of quail. Western states like Montana and Idaho, and southern states such as Florida, Georgia, and Texas hold good numbers of birds as well. Further south, some incredible hunting can be found in the bird hunting mecca of Argentina, largely due to the ranches that are managed with the sole intention of supporting game birds for hunting. Several countries in Europe also offer great opportunities for quail and other upland game birds.
Quail Hunting Techniques
Quail are generally hunted in a similar fashion, regardless of the state or country. Most often, pointing dogs are used to pick up a bird’s scent and track them to a covey. This method is extremely effective due to the quail’s ground nesting nature, and the way they congregate in coveys. These dogs are trained to pinpoint a bird’s location, then “point” to let the hunter know it has found a bird. The hunter then gets into position for a shot before ordering the dog to flush the bird, and, if the dog has found a good covey, it is possible to have over 20 birds flush at once. This chaotic explosion of birds is extremely exciting and it can sometimes be difficult to target an individual bird. Those new to quail hunting may make the mistake of simply firing into the mass of birds thinking that it is impossible to miss. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. It is important to take your time, mount your gun properly, and pick out a single bird before shooting, rather than get excited and rush the shot. Also, depending on the terrain you are hunting, birds may flush and fly only a short distance before landing in a new hiding spot. This short travel distance allows a vigilant hunter to follow the bird and often results in multiple opportunities at each covey, thus taking the pressure off each shot.
Quail are small birds that do not require a lot of stopping power. Typically, #6 shot in either a 12 or 20-gauge shotgun is plenty powerful. Also, due to the fast and furious nature of a quail’s flight, open chokes are recommended as they throw a wider and more forgiving pattern.
Quail Hunting Regulations
Regulations concerning quail are usually simple and straightforward. Typically, a small game license is the only permitting required to chase birds during the fall season and unusually high bag limits help keep the hunt going long after you would have limited out on ducks or pheasant.
Quail Food Quality
Quail are remarkably similar to a small chicken. They tend to taste more like the dark meat on a chicken and are often fried, baked, or slow cooked like a pot roast. However, quail in certain areas of Europe can become poisonous during their migration season due to their diet of hemlock, so make sure to research your area if you suspect this is possible.