Break Some New Ground for Quail

Scout with trail cams and other hot tips for your early quail hunting.

Break Some New Ground for Quail

Gambel's male quail, pictured in Salton Sea area, Imperial Valley, California,. (Shutterstock image)

Following a laborious hike, both dogs grew birdy as we crested a steep ridge. Noses to the ground, Echo and Kona separated, each coming to point on opposite sides of a brushpile surrounded by tall fireweed.

As I closed in on the nearest dog, a flurry of mountain quail erupted in front of me. Struggling to single-out a low-flying bird, I managed to connect on the shot, followed by a miss, then another hit.

Each dog made an impressive retrieve in the rugged, brushy terrain. Soon, we were all enjoying a water break, which was long overdue on this hot, early season hunt at 3,600 feet.

No matter where your quail hunting adventures may lead, there are important points to consider before and during the hunt, all of which can have a direct impact on success.


QUAIL BEHAVIOR

The more we know about the animals we pursue, the more effective we’ll be. When it comes to the West’s variety of prized quail, there’s a lot to learn.


California quail have the largest range of the Western quail. Plants make up the majority of the diet in adult birds and they can suffer high annual mortality rates in random areas. Valley quail occupy a wide range of habitats, from brush-choked creek bottoms to rocky outcroppings at high elevations, making them the most adaptable quail in the West.

Mountain quail numbers are currently high throughout their range and our recent dry trends are to thank for that. Both male and female mountain quail will independently sit on a nest and hatch a brood, so they can quickly bounce back from low numbers. Avian predators are thought to account for nearly 50 percent of mountain quail mortality, with extreme winter weather and heavy snow greatly impacting numbers. Mountain quail are secretive, highly nervous birds that live in timber and dense cover.

Gambel’s quail are more relaxed and approachable compared to other quail and have the highest population density of all the quail within their native range, the desert Southwest. They thrive in brushy vegetation, relying on a variety of shrubs for both food and water in their respective range. In their very harsh, dry habitats, Gambel’s quail will seek water, while in other habitats they may get most of the water they need from vegetation.

Montezuma quail are another desert dweller and, as with most gallinaceous birds, they can also experience extreme population highs and lows in any given year. Montezuma quail are homebodies, living in small coveys that don’t travel far. Their range is often measured in feet, not miles or acres. Bad weather in winter and during the nesting season is the greatest threat to these quail, and they are the most dependent upon summer rainfall for survival.


Scaled quail are a desert-ranging bird dependent on a mix of grasses and shrubs for food and cover. They are susceptible to livestock overgrazing and are nervous birds more likely to run than fly from dangers.

SCOUT FOR QUAIL

Western quail population densities are largely impacted by localized weather patterns, be it rainfall, snow ordrought. Predators, from both ground and sky, can have a major impact on quail numbers, too. To best learn of the quail numbers in areas you plan to hunt, consider scouting.

When it comes to scouting, the image of driving countless miles and searching for diamonds in the rough likely comes to mind. If you live close to the habitat you’ll be hunting, summer scouting missions can pay off. This is the time of year when coveys are at their highest number and when birds are most visible.


On scouting trips, listen for quail calling in the early morning and evening hours. You don’t always have to see quail to know they are there. Search areas near brush where quail likely take routine dust baths to cool off and delouse their little bodies. Quail often use the same depressions to take a dust bath every day or so, making these locales easy to identify.

In dry climates, water sources are good places to scout for quail. Search for birds, themselves, and look for tracks and feathers around water and on trails.

Use binoculars and a spotting scope from an elevated vantage point to find quail while scouting as well as on the hunt. Search for coveys on the move and for sentinel adults that often perch above feeding birds. Covering ground with your eyes, not your feet, is a very efficient way to see what quail are out there.

In brushy habitat that’s difficult to glass, consider setting trail cameras. Hunters throughout the West now are discovering how effective trail cameras are in revealing not only where birds are but also the number of quail that constitute a covey.Scouting, to some degree, can also be done from home. Study sites like Google Earth and EarthExplorer to research areas burned by wildfires, that have been impacted by excessive snowfall and more. Some apps, like onX, have up-to-date burn-area layers. Calls to local fish and wildlife offices to ask about localized quail populations can save days of physical scouting time, as well as valued hunting time.

QUAIL HUNTING TIPS

The trend among quail hunters throughout the West isn’t about quantity, rather, quality. If you really want to see what quail hunting the West is like, plan a road trip and hunt each species.

Planning a Western quail slam can be a lot of fun, especially if done in a single season. Be aware that you may be hunting the timber for mountain quail and tromping through the desert for a mix of birds. First and foremost, you need to know your abilities and limitations. A western quail slam can be accomplished on your own, all on public land, or you may need to hire a guide.

Make sure to have the best gear for yourself and your dog as days afield can be long, and days on the road even longer. Do your research and have fun. Western quail hunters are a small fraternity, yet eager to help each other.

To truly appreciate quail hunting throughout the West, one must pursue each subspecies in its native habitat. Such an undertaking requires careful planning, but the rewards will be worth it and leave you with a heightened respect of what it means to hunt quail in this unique region of the country.

Scott Haugen is a full-time author and TV host. Follow him on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and through his many books at scotthaugen.com.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

New Abu Garcia Baitcasting Reels

New Abu Garcia Baitcasting Reels

In the booth of one of fishing's all-time great reel makers, Outdoor Sportsman Group writer Lynn Burkhead and Andrew Wheeler of Pure Fishing discuss one of the brand new baitcasting reels from Abu Garcia being released at ICAST 2019.

As KVD tells OSG's Lynn Burkhead, innovative Humminbird products and cutting-edge technology like that found in the new Mega 360 Imaging sonar are major reasons contributing to his unparalleled success.

Simms

Simms' Solarflex Ultra Cool Armor Hoody

John Frazier of Simms Fishing Products helps OSG's Lynn Burkhead understand the new features of the new Simms' Solarflex Ultra Cool Armor sun protection hoody.

Mustad Skatter Shad Bladed Jig

Mustad Skatter Shad Bladed Jig

As Mustad continues to expand into an all-around tackle company, Reid McKinstry shows off some innovative features that make the Mustad Skatter Shad bladed jig a winner in big bass waters.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Unless you live in Antarctica, the only continent they aren't known to inhabit, there is a species Catfish

10 Biggest Catfish World Records of All Time

Jack Vitek - December 08, 2014

Unless you live in Antarctica, the only continent they aren't known to inhabit, there is a...

Want to test the outer limits of your shooting skill? There's more to successful long-range Ammo

10 Best Long-Range Cartridges Ever Made

David Hart - January 14, 2015

Want to test the outer limits of your shooting skill? There's more to successful long-range

Dozens of different bait types are commonly used for catfish, including these great options. Catfish

12 Great Catfish Baits

Jeff Samsel

Dozens of different bait types are commonly used for catfish, including these great options.

Unlike many game fish, catfish can be harder to catch during the spawn. Here are some strategies. Catfish

Understanding Catfish Spawning

Keith Sutton - June 06, 2006

Unlike many game fish, catfish can be harder to catch during the spawn. Here are some...

See More Trending Articles

More Upland

Lone pheasant hunters can find success if they get creative. Upland

Solo Strategies for Pheasants

M.D. Johnson - November 06, 2019

Lone pheasant hunters can find success if they get creative.

Lone Star State wingshooters could have a stellar season, especially in the south. Upland

Texas Hunters Can Expect Banner Dove Season for 2019

Lynn Burkhead - September 09, 2019

Lone Star State wingshooters could have a stellar season, especially in the south.

These great shotshells are applicable to the dove field. Upland

Gear Trend: Sub-Bore Ammo for Dove Hunting

M.D. Johnson - August 20, 2019

These great shotshells are applicable to the dove field.

Be sneaky, hunt into the wind and know a rooster's routine. Upland

Patterning Mr. Ringneck: The Essence of Pheasant Hunting

M.D. Johnson - September 05, 2019

Be sneaky, hunt into the wind and know a rooster's routine.

See More Upland

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.