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Time to get serious about quail hunting
SANTA YSABEL — Quail season opened with mixed results for many upland game hunters. Prior to opening day there was an abundance of California valley quail and mountain quail, but that early winter storm front that pushed through just prior to opening weekend perhaps scattered the birds more than what was expected.


Western Outdoor News checked with a number of hunters who bagged quail on opening day and on hunts over the past couple of weeks and opinions are pretty much consistent in that quail are still coveyed up in smaller bunches due to an abundance of green food, plenty of native seeds on the ground, lots of water, huge amounts of protective ground cover and ideal roosting brush and trees.


"We had about 25 hunting groups out on parcels of prime quail property that is under lease by My Country Club. Our ground survey by biologist John Massie showed that we had an excellent hatch of valley quail for this year and that there were also good numbers of carry-over adult birds as a result of a good brood last year. I think our comp count indicated that everyone had some gunning, but only about 30 per cent of the hunters bagged a limit or near limit of quail," said Frank Mendenhall owner of My Country Club (760) 782-3503.


Jason Nash, manager of Bolsa Gunsmithing and a member of MCC, hunted opening day and reported, "We had a tough quail hunt. There were three of us hunting and we had a good dog along as well. We covered three areas and only busted one covey of quail bagging just a few birds before they vanished off into shoulder high cover. I know there are plenty of birds on the properties, it's just a matter of time before they covey up and hopefully provide for better hunting."


There were hunters who bagged a few quail while chukar hunting in the High Desert region over opening weekend but no limits of quail were reported to this hunting editor. Harold Horner Sr. of Victorville bagged five quail in addition to a brace of chukar and there were other bird shooters who added a quail or two to their game bag while busting through arroyos or thick brush in quest of chukar.


This hunting editor hunted valley quail in Round Valley, just north of Bishop, mid-last week and didn't see a bird in covering a lot of DWP and public land. There was really too much high sage, lots of water and plenty of new green grass about 1.5 inches tall that most likely kept birds in hiding. Rains also hardened the ground making it very difficult to find any quail tracks and Timber never got birdie.


WON subscriber Lee Watson of Temecula has been hunting valley quail for many years in Southern California and passed on some thoughts about his quest to hunt quail every weekend of the season.


"I think that hunting quail during the early part of the season is really tough. The coveys are smaller and pretty spread out. It takes a lot of scouting and time on the ground with a good dog to produce anywhere near a limit early in the season. By the time December rolls around the birds are in larger coveys and seem to become more predictable and huntable. My black lab Abby just gets more birdie as the winter months set in and there is more scent on the ground," stated Watson.


Hollis Daker of Niland opted to hunt the Tehachapi Mountains for valley quail over staying close to home and chase Gambel's quail across the desert floor.


"We knew it was going to be extremely hot in Imperial Valley, perhaps passing the century mark, so we headed up to the high country near Tehachapi. We found three nice coveys, but getting on the birds before they flushed up canyon walls was difficult. I have no excuses for not bagging a limit of birds, as I shot nearly 2 boxes of shells and ended up with just six birds in my vest. I will be going back after the first snow and hope to catch those same coveys in more hospitable terrain," reported Daker.


Mixed reports are still coming in from Arizona about their quail numbers and the prospects for the rest of the season. Some hunters did ok on Gambel's quail along the lower Colorado River while others, hunting over good pointing dogs, only found minimal results hunting areas that normally produce good gunning. Jim Thompson of Lake Havasu City told WON that he bagged a limit of Gambel's quail hunting by himself and saw plenty of birds winging across open cover hunting public property near the rural town of Cibola.


Randy Babb of the Arizona Department of Game and Fish reported that Gambel's and scaled quail populations are down this year due to a lack of rain this past winter in their normal desert ranges, but added that scaled quail coveys were a little bit larger at higher elevations in some of the southeastern corners of the state.


Baja opened up quail season with a very strong showing of California valley quail for all those hunting UMA's anywhere south of Tecate and down into the huge San Telmo Valley.


"Hunters were busting coveys of quail that numbered 100 to 200 birds. Most the birds would head off into thick choya and thorn brush making getting on the birds are little more difficult, but offering plenty of good shooting. I just got back from hunting with a couple of friends from San Diego a couple of weeks into the Baja season and we found plenty of birds on farm properties owned or under lease of Rancho El Coyote-Meling. Our party was fortunate in that we busted a covey of about 175 birds that flew to the top of a flat mesa that had ideal mixed cover. Birds would flush well within shotgun range as singles, doubles and often ten or more would be in the air at one time offering up excellent shooting opportunities," reported Gregg Shobe of San Diego.


Depending on when and how strong winter storms push through Central and Southern California will determine just how good quail hunting will be in the weeks ahead. There are good numbers of quail along the central coast and inland from Paso Robles and up into King City and across the Southern San Joaquin Valley along the slopes of the western High Sierra. Clayton Grant, master guide with Bitterwater Outfitters (805) 610-4521, reported to WON that there are big coveys of valley quail on properties he leases for hog hunting adding, "We are seeing quail all over the ranches we hunt and those hunters booking combo hog and quail hunts are enjoying a good hunting experience. We hunt hogs early in the morning and late in the evening, allowing plenty of time to bust into coveys of quail."


One thing for sure is that there are plenty of California valley quail and a very huntable population of mountain quail out there to hunt. It's just a matter of time before conditions will be ideal to produce some very successful hunts. This hunting editor can recall a hunt a few years back with Don Geivet, game manager of the Tejon Ranch, where we headed out on a quail hunt after a winter storm dumped about 10 inches of fresh snow. It was an ideal limit style hunt as birds were out feeding and walking though more open terrain just at the snow line, being forced out of their normal habitat by heavy snow. This year the quail population on the Tejon is awesome and there will be plenty of good hunts ahead for those who opt to be a part of the Tejon Ranch hunting program.


This hunter does not pretend to be a weather expert, but those two northern storm fronts, the last one just producing scattered rain, might be an indication on another La Niña pattern for this winter. Rain, if it comes, will possibly disperse quail even more, but on the other hand a wet winter/spring, might make up for those drought years that hurt upland game bird breeding.


good quail shoot

GOOD QUAIL SHOOT — This photo was submitted to Western Outdoor News after a successful quail hunt last season on My Country Club property. Pictured are Ed Jarrin, Roxxanne Lugioyo, Jason Nash, the German shorthair pointer Scout and a nice harvest of valley quail. PHOTO COURTESY OF BOLSA GUNSMITHING

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