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CA Guns & Hunting: Doves, Pheasants and Quail

CA Guns & Hunting: Doves, pheasants, and quail: What fun!

BY BILL KARR/WON Staff WriterPublished: Oct 11, 2018

Upland game hunting includes doves, quail, chukar, grouse and pheasant, and the seasons run from Sept. 1 with the opener of dove season to the end of quail season in January, so there’s a long period of upland hunting available.

Next to turkeys, pheasants are the largest and most brightly-colored upland game bird, and the adult mail rooster will weigh 2½ to 3 pounds and measures up to 35 inches from tip of its beak to the tip of the tail. That long, pointed tail may account for over half the overall length. An adult hen pheasant weighs about two to two and a half pounds and has a much shorter tail.


cgh_karr_gamblequailGAMBLE QUAIL ARE found mostly in the arid districts of southern California.


The long tail of the rooster accounts for the majority of shooters hitting behind the bird after flush.


The ringneck isn’t native to to North America, and the first pheasants were brought from China and successfully introduced into western Oregon in 1881. The birds spread from there naturally and through introduction.


A few small, self sustaining population of ringneck pheasants occur on the very few wildlife refuges and natural land areas that are non-agricultural, but where there’s agriculture, there are generally few pheasants anymore due to farming practices and pesticide use.


Only roosters are allowed to be harvested in California, except on private licensed pheasant clubs, where both species are raised, released and harvested. The vast majority of pheasants are now hunted on private clubs in California.


Starting your hunt early in the day gives you an opportunity to hunt pheasants leaving their roosts to search for food and grit, and active birds in more open country are easier to find. Like many game animals and birds, ringnecks are often most active during the first two hours of the morning and again during the last hour or two before dark.


Pheasants like to roost or rest in tall cover. Try walking any ditch that has cover and is fairly close to agricultural fields. Cattail patches, standing crops (with farmer approval), thick stands of Russian olive and other trees, and high bushes are great placed to try hunting for pheasants. Dogs are almost imperative when pheasant hunting, as they’ll hold until you almost step on them sometimes, or run ahead of you and circle off the side towards the end of a field.


cgh_karr_caquailCALIFORNIA QUAIL ARE widespread, and coveys of these birds can be fround from Oregon to the Baja and as far east as Nevada.


In areas where corn and other grain or seed crops have been recently harvested, hunt the cover immediately surrounding the cut fields for birds that didn’t travel far from their former hiding spots.


Early season pheasants often sit tight and flush fairly close, which makes them perfect targets for small groups of hunters.


Walk a zigzag pattern and stay fairly close together to cover more ground and keep pheasants from sneaking away between hunters. Birds that survive the first few weeks of the season have learned that it’s best to avoid humans and their canine companions.


Pheasants resort to hiding, changing their daily habits, moving to a new neighborhood and/or flying at the first sight or sound of hunters and their dogs. If you want to keep harvesting pheasants, you must change your tactics accordingly. There are several ways pheasant hunters can benefit from teaming up rather than hunting alone. Three or four pairs of legs can cover a lot more ground and kick up a lot more birds into the air.


This means more potential shooting opportunity for everyone involved. Two or more hunters can work both sides of a thick hedge row or brushy ditch line and get shots at birds that fly out on either side. Hunting a field of standing corn, a cattail patch or other tall cover can be an exercise in futility for a lone hunter, but with a small group you can send two or three hunters through the cover and post a couple of “blockers” at the far end of the patch to pick off exiting birds.


Valley (California), Gambel’s quail and mountain quail are found in California. Valley quail are the more abundant of the two species and are found throughout the state, while the Gambel’s quail are found primarily in the arid south.


cgh_karr_mountainquailMOUNTAIN QUAIL ARE the only quail that migrates up and down mountains to stay ahead of the snowline. They are larger than the other quail species, are tough to hunt, and tough to kill, so use a larger shot like No. 6.


Mountain quail are huntable in all of the upper country from about 4,000 feet upwards. The mountain quail is the largest member of the quail family, may weigh over half a pound and measure 11 to 12 inches in length. Its head plume (top knot) is taller and straighter than that of the valley quail, especially when standing on the ground or perched. Males and females look very much alike, with chestnut-colored throat patches and chestnut sides with wide, white bars.


They tend to travel in small coveys, usually 5 to 10 birds. Most common in California, Oregon and parts of western Washington, they’re the only quail that makes an annual migration, moving upslope into the high country during the spring and returning to the lowlands in the fall.


Mountain quail are most likely to be found in two to six year old clearcuts, under power lines, and in tall stands of scotch broom. Their tendency to run rather than fly or hold for a pointing dog makes them an especially challenging uplandgame bird.


California (Valley) quail are originally found from southern Oregon to the sound end of the Baja Peninsula and as far east as the western edge of Nevada.The valley quail has been introduced throughout much of the west, including Hawaii, and both males and females sport a curving plume, comprised of several small feathers that droops forward. The male’s plume is larger and darker than the females. Males have a dark brown cap and a black face edged in white, a brown back, a grey-blue chest and a light brown belly. Females and immature birds are mainly grey-brown with a light


There’s a lot more to hunting quail, and chukar in the few areas where they are found in California, but that will have to wait until another issue of California Guns & Hunting.


cgh_karr_chinesepheasantsCHINESE PHEASANTS ARE the most hunted upland game bird in California, and mostly on private licensed game bird clubs, since there is not that much natural habitat left in the state to make hunting those areas successful.


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