There are quite few species of quail in the southwest I haven’t hunted yet, but I have hunted the valley quail in Idaho since the mid 70’s. The now endangered mountain quail, (at least in most of Idaho) which I hunted 30 years ago are the more striking looking bird, but the valley quail with the curved top feathers are a pretty bird. They can be a real challenge for a pointing dog, and depending on the cover they can be completely unhunt able. Most of the time valley quail like it pretty dry, with lots of thick cover, and a water source quite close. The thicker and nastier the cover, the better they like it. Rosebushes and Russian olive groves are a favorite place for them to live. I have had some good experiences hunting them with GWP’s.
Growing up on a ranch in south central Idaho we had a good population of valley quail on our ranch. The neighbors had plenty as well. In my pre driving years if I couldn’t walk from our house or ride my horse to a hunting spot it didn’t exist. We had a couple nice trout streams running through our property and areas of thick rosebushes. We would see the quail feeding outside the protection of the thorny bushes, but they would always run for cover when we tried to go after them. The only way we could get them out was a couple of our Australia Shepard cattle dogs would go in the bushes and get a few flushing. If we were lucky enough to get one we had to beat the dog to the bird or the dog would quickly gulp it down. Over the years prior to getting GWP’s I tried many ways to hunt quail, but none were real successful.
In southern Idaho most of the best quail terrain is along the Snake River, or along creeks feeding it. While living in the city of Boise in the early 90’s I would see quail everywhere along the Boise River. The huge covey that was in my yard every morning was the fattest bunch of quail I had ever seen, and very tame since they had not been hunted. The areas I find the most quail are usually in the rocky places close to the Rivers with dense cover. A few years later when I started to hunt these areas with GWP’s I hope to get lucky and find them out in the more open areas, but that doesn’t always happen. Many times the dogs will lock up on point right in front of a large pile of impenetrable bushes. You can throw rocks, yell, even shoot in the air, and the quail will just run around in the bushes offering no shot.
After I got GWP’s I learned hunting valley quail can still very difficult to hunt, and hard for the dogs, but I had better results. One of my 1st successful hunts was kind of by mistake. I was out hunting with Cruiser when he was just a few months old. I was in an area on the dessert close to a small rocky canyon with some rosebushes. While hunting the top looking for huns or sage grouse Cruiser went on point in the waist high sage brush. To my surprise a handful of quail flushed and I got one. They retreated to the canyon where they were safe from me. It looked like a great place for rattlesnakes, and it was still warm enough for them to be out and about. These quail were up feeding in an area we could navigate with normal physical output. Cruiser and I did plenty of quail hunting that season, and it was hard on Cruiser both physical and mentally. Most of the time quail don’t sit very tight and they like to run. If you get into a group of say 20 they will probably run in 20 different directions. This was also the 1st time Cruiser learned what stiches are all about as a result of chasing quail in some rosebushes. He got sliced open about 18 inches by a hidden old car body. The rosebushes and Russian olive trees will tear up even the best coated GWP and a chest protector might be a good idea.
During the next few hunting seasons I used a few different GWPs to hunt quail. While hunting in one of our favorite areas my brother, Trav, and I had a great quail hunting trip. I had a young bitch that was green broke, but was doing a great job as a hunter. Trav was down in the canyon maybe fifty yards below me and the dog when she went on point in a small finger canyon. She was looking down into a small ravine with some rosebushes. I walked towards the bushes and around five quail flushed. They flew directly at Trav which meant he had no shot without shooting me. He was shooting a side by side 28 gauge and when the quail buzzed by his head he would spin and have a couple shots. I took another step and few more headed his way. I repeated this a couple more times before all the quail maybe 30 had left the bushes. After the quail quit flushing Trav said bring that dog down here to find all these quail. He had them scattered all over the place and had a general idea of their locations. It took the little bitch a while but she gathered all of them up one by one. We continued to hunt the canyon and she locked up a few more down up in some shorter sagebrush. This time I was able to get a couple shots before the covey of a dozen or so flew down into the protected zone of thick cover. We had a couple more times that we were able to get some pointed out in the open and get some lead in the air. I think most of these were young birds that had never been hunted and I would guess the next time they knew a dog was pointing them they might not wait around to be shot at.
I think it was the fall of 2001 I hunted with a friend in Idaho who had a GWP in one of his favorite quail spots. When he showed me the area he wanted to hunt I wasn’t thinking we wouldn’t see any quail, huns maybe, and ducks since it was down through a canyon with a deep stream running through it. It was a very warm day maybe 85-90 degrees so we were in short sleeve shirts. We left one vehicle at the end of the canyon, and drove another with the dogs to the top around five miles away. Since the stream was too wide and deep to cross each of us stayed on opposite sides. As we worked down the canyon the dogs were back and forth across the stream and busted a few green heads off of it, but no upland birds were found for the 1st couple miles. Then it got good. The terrain changed just a bit, and got a little thicker, with a few Russian olive trees, and we started getting points on quail out in the more open areas. The thick areas were not too thick to push through if you didn’t mind the scratches, and the quail held pretty tight for wild valley quail. Before we got to the end we had shot all our shells, and still could have been shooting, (did I ever mention they are hard to hit), but we were in need of some bandages for all the cuts and scrapes. The dogs handled the cover much better than us.
Not too far from the area above is what I call the Holy Grail for valley quail habit. It is a large area close to the river a steep part of the canyon with lava rocks, and dense cover. There is cropland above it and plenty of springs along the hillside to keep things green, but there is also some open areas. The quail are pretty safe in this location because not many people have the desire to go after them. It is a very physical hunt, and you should wait until late in the season for the temperatures to cool down because it might be the best rattlesnake breeding area I have ever seen as well. (Yes I’m very scared of rattlesnakes). The 1st time I tried hunting there was around 1980 when I was a teenager. The steepness didn’t faze me then, but now I’m not quite as eager to burn energy unnecessarily. I have come up with a plan to use boats on the river, and ATV’s to get from top to bottom and back to a pickup again. I really need about five motivated guys and at least that many GWPs’ to work the area. There are quail living there that have probably never seen a hunter. It’s just another one of many trips I have planned to remove from my bucket list.
If you want to hunt valley quail with your GWP be ready for some running birds, and thick cover, but when you get into a large covey out in the open it is fast and furious. Good luck hitting them.