Quail hunting has been a part of human culture for a very long time. Quail were once a delicacy for European aristocrats, and as settlers came over to the Americas, hunters took a renewed interest in quail hunting.
Since then, the tradition has been maintained, and at one point, hunting for quail was the most popular game sport in America.
If you’re a modern hunter looking to learn a bit about the history and strategy of quail hunting, this article is for you!
Is Hunting for Quail Legal?
Quail hunting is legal in all of the United States and is federally regulated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Department of Law Enforcement. However, different states will have different laws about the legality of hunting for quail, including what time of year, why type of quail, and what guns you can use.
If you’re confused by the regulations or have trouble finding them, it’s always a good idea to check with your local game warden before you head out and shoot any birds.
Identifying Types of Quail
Based on research done by biologists and zoologists, we know that there were once more than 100 variations of quail throughout the world. These quail are known as Old World birds and were part of the pheasant family.
Today, there are six common types of quail residing in the continental United States, and they are grouped into their own family, separate from the Old World birds, known as Odontophoridae, or New World birds.
The six varieties of quail in the US include:
The California Quail – Known as the valley quail, it’s prevalent in California, Vancouver, and British Colombia. Males are identified by white and black on their heads, as well as a comma-shaped crest. This type of quail primarily eats seeds and bugs and blends in well with the California underbrush.
The Mountain Quail – This bird is the largest of its relatives, and can be identified by its gray, white, and chestnut feathers. Most commonly found in the scrubland out west, they sometimes make appearances in rugged highlands or swampy areas. While elusive, the mountain quail is a popular quarry for hunters because of its larger size.
The Gambel Quail – Unlike its Californian counterpart, the Gambel quail is fond of desert regions, and can frequently be found rooting through thorny vegetation. For this reason, the Gambel quail is primarily located in Arizona, southern California, as well as parts of Utah, Nevada, and Colorado. They can be identified by their cream-colored chest and dark underbelly. Gambel quail are often found wandering in groups.
The Montezuma Quail – This bird is the most distinctive of the bunch, with its dotted appearance. The Montezuma quail resides in grassy or wooded regions in the southwestern US and Mexico, and can often be found in mountain plateaus. These birds don’t often form large groups and will remain within a limited area once they’ve landed.
The Scaled Quail – Where the Montezuma quail has a dark chest plumage with white spots, the Scaled quail has a light-colored chest with black stripes on its wide feathers. This bird can primarily be found in the grasslands and scrublands of the southwestern US, including Arizona and parts of Texas.
The Northern Bobwhite – This variety of quail is found in the eastern regions of the US, and is by far the most common. Their name comes from the distinctive “bob-white!” sound they make. These birds are hard to spot with their dark brown feathers, but they are a popular target for eastern hunters.
Interesting Facts About Quail
- Quail eggs are a delicacy, and they can lay anywhere from 1 to 12 eggs at one time!
- Quail have a life span of less than one year, often shot by hunters or eaten by their natural predators.
- Only about 40-50% of quail chicks survive each year. Contrast that with the fact that 70-80% of the quail population dies each year, the species is on tract for an early extinction.
- While European quail (pheasants) migrate to Africa, the American species remains fairly stationary.
- A group of quail is called a flock, covey, or bevy.
- Quail bathe in dust and mud to clean their feathers.
What Is the Best Time to Hunt Quail?
Generally, quail hunting is best in the winter months after the leaves have fallen and while there is still snow on the ground. The colder weather forces birds down from their high perches, making them easier to spot.
The period between January and February is considered prime time for quail hunting, but it’s always a good idea to check with local game wardens because each state regulates hunting hours according to their own schedule.
For example, in the state of New Jersey, quail hunting is limited to a few weeks from the beginning of November to the end of January, between sunrise and a half-hour before sundown.
Usually, early morning is the best time of day to hunt for quail. The birds descend to look for food, and will often be found rooting through leaves, brush, and other groundcovers for insects and stray seeds.
Best Quail Hunting Tips
Choose the Right Spot
You can’t catch ’em if you can’t see ’em!
Quail typically stay out of sight most of the time, so it’s important to know where they hide.
Search for thick brush and overgrown grasses with low-lying vegetation. Most quail tend to congregate in these areas.
Higher ground is another good spot to find quail, especially in the winter when they are looking for food sources on snow-covered ground.
Water is often a popular location for quail because it’s easier to see predators coming from above. Just make sure you stay far enough away so you don’t scare any birds!
Be Subtly Silent
Quail are extremely sensitive to noises, so the slightest sound could spook them.
Avoid wearing noisy clothes or carrying items that rattle or clank together, like keys.
Instead of walking around in boots, it’s better to wear lighter shoes with good traction.
Stay low to the ground and avoid talking or clapping. Quail can usually hear you coming from a mile away!
Be Patient and Stay Still
Quail don’t like to be bothered, so the best way to catch them is by waiting them out until they feel comfortable enough to go about their business.
Don’t move even if the quail seem unfazed by your presence. Sometimes, they’ll get used to you and go back to what they were doing without giving it a second thought!
Quail also tend to move around during the day, so keep an eye on them and draw closer if they land in a new location.
Don’t forget: patience is key!
Choose the Right Gear
It’s a good idea to wear camouflage clothing so you blend in with your surroundings.
Ghillie suits are especially effective because they mimic what natural vegetation looks like from a distance.
Wearing a bright orange hat is a hunting requirement in most states, which can scare away quail, but as long as you’re quiet and careful you can still come up with a good shot.
Preparing to Hunt Quail
here are a few things you should always do before hitting the fields to hunt quail.
First, learn as much as possible about the birds and the area where they live. Knowing their natural habitat will give you an edge if you spot one of these little guys!
Also, talk to local farmers and hunters about recent sightings and the best places to set up.
Be sure you have all of your equipment before going out hunting, including a shotgun, shells, and something to carry any quail you catch.
Speaking of gear, let’s take a deep dive into the best gear available:
Quail Hunting Gear
Shotguns are the most popular weapon for quail hunting because it’s easy to use, lightweight enough to carry all day, and offers a wide range of projectile choices.
Break-action shotguns are typically more versatile than pump-action or semi-automatic shotguns because you can swap out cartridge sizes. Pump-action shotguns allow for a faster shot because you can pump a round into the chamber without having to reload, but the limited cartridge sizes have higher pellet counts and smaller shots. Semi-automatic shotguns are generally used for hunting waterfowl.
There’s also a variety of ammunition choices depending on your needs:
Shells – You can find these rounds in many different sizes, including 2 ¾-inch, 3-inch, and 3 ½-inch.
The larger the shell size, the more pellets it can hold. The smaller sizes are better for hunting quail because they allow you to shoot multiple rounds without having to reload as often.
Subsonic – This kind of round is commonly used with a suppressor because it fires below the speed of sound, making a lot less noise than traditional shells.
These types of rounds are good for hunting quail, especially during winter months when birds are more likely to fly towards your calls.
Without the loud gunshot noise, you can get closer before taking your shot!
Other essential gear includes:
- Warm camouflage clothing
- An orange hat
- Quail calls
- Twine or string to tie up the birds
- Hand and boot warmers
- Essential survival gear
Hunting for Quail Best Practices
There are a few additional quail hunting tips you should be aware of if you’re going to spend a few days out in the field.
First and foremost, use bait.
Some states restrict baiting for small games, but in the states that do allow it, it’s an effective strategy.
Quail are grain eaters, so they’re likely to come across a pile of food and stick around to munch. Native nuts and seeds act as the best bait, but conventional birdseed will work as well.
Pick a good time…
Hunting during different times of day can be very effective depending on where you live. Quail tend to be most active at dawn and dusk, so look for them during those times.
In the evening, quail will be on the ground more often because they tend to sleep in trees or shrubs close to their nests during the day.
However, hunting a field after rainfall can yield some impressive results as well! Quail are attracted to muddy ground because they use it to coat their feathers.
Bring a hunting dog if you have one.
Quail are best hunted with dogs because they can sniff out birds that are hiding in brush, thick grasses, or other areas where you might not be able to see them.
Hunters have access to an array of hunting dog breeds for this purpose including retrievers and spaniels that love the outdoors!
Hire a guide.
Another option is to hire a guide with experience hunting quail.
They are trained to find birds, scout for ideal spots, and even call out interesting behaviors you wouldn’t be able to observe on your own.
Finally, make sure you have permission to hunt on private property. Even if hunting isn’t allowed in your state, small game hunters are usually welcome on private land with the correct permits!
Hunting For Quail: An Ideal Sport
Quail hunting is one of the safest hunting sports out there, accidents aside, and is popular with new and experienced hunters alike. Many states have a youth fowl day, where kids are introduced to the sports as well as given valuable facts about the various quail species.
If you’re new to hunting for quail, make sure you read up on the rules in your region and get your tags before venturing out. Take binoculars out on your wooded hikes to try and spot quail beforehand, this will make hunting the day of a lot easier!
Hopefully, this article was helpful and good luck hunting!