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CA Guns & Hunting: Quail & Pheasant Guns

CA Guns & Hunting: Quail and pheasant guns you can appreciate!

BY STEVE COMUS/WON Guns EditorPublished: Oct 04, 2018

Upland bird hunting is among the finest forms of hunting in the world. For most folks, this means quail and pheasants, but it could mean grouse in some areas or even perdiz for those who want to go to South America. Some of the same gear and techniques generally work for all upland bird hunting, although there are subtle differences, depending on species.

THE AUTHOR SHOOTS at pheasant while hunting with 12-gauge Ruger over/under shotgun in a milo field. Wearing at least some orange-colored clothing is recommended, if not required, for upland bird hunting.

The single most important factor in the winning equation is whether the hunt will be with or without dogs, and if with dogs, are the dogs pointers or flushers?

Although the focus of this writing is on the guns and ammo front, which guns and which loads are best depends on the specific situation at-hand. Regardless what species is being pursued, there will be a lot of walking, which means carrying the gun, ammo, etc. for a long distance over a fairly long period of time (all morning or all afternoon at least). More on that a little later.

The main difference between good quail guns and good pheasant guns has to do with handling dynamics. Quail typically are kicked up at close distances. They hook around bushes and trees, and do not remain at much altitude for very long. This means that for the hunter to be successful, quail must be engaged and shot quickly.

Hence, the best gun is fairly light and very lively – moves fast and goes on-target instantly. A neutral balance is nice (weight between hands).

Since the distances of shots on quail are relatively short, more open choking of the gun makes sense. If the hunt is over well-disciplined pointers, skeet chokes work great. For general quailing, improved cylinder works good for the larger gauges, while modified is better in the .410 bore. Proper lead shot size for quail is No. 8 or No. 7 1/2, or for steel, No. 7 or No. 6. Heavy Shot payloads are not necessary, so opt for lighter shot payload.

Optimum quail guns range from 20 gauge on the heavy end to .410 on the small end. The 28-gauge in between can be totally awesome. Shot charges of 1/2-, 3/4- and 7/8-ounce make sense for the gauges ranging sequentially from .410 through 20. There is nothing wrong with using 16- or 12-gauge guns on quail. They are, however, unnecessarily big and heavy for quail, but they can work fine.

Barrel length is somewhat unimportant. Serious quail hunters often use guns with 25 or 26-inch barrels. Type of gun also is somewhat unimportant. Pumps, autos, side-by-sides and over/unders are most common. Single-shots can work fine.

cgh_comus_goodpointersGOOD POINTERS CAN allow the hunter to get into optimal position for the shot before the bird is flushed.

Guns and ammo for pheasant hunting need to be quite different, especially during the late season. If pointer dogs are used for pheasant, open choking also makes sense, or skeet choking if the dogs are really disciplined. Otherwise, improved cylinder and modified make the most sense. Usually the only time full chokes are needed is during the late season when the birds almost universally break from cover at longer distances.

Another thing to consider in pheasant hunting is what kind of area is it? If it is some kind of tall, wild grass cover or even cut corn, be ready for some longer shots. If the cover is standing corn, be ready for close to medium-length shots for most of the field, and then longer shots right at the end of the field when they run from the corn and then take off soon after (the hunter is still in the tall corn at that moment).

Hence, 12-, 16- and 20-gauge guns make the most sense for pheasant hunting (I have taken pheasants with 28-gauge and .410 bore, but they are not optimal). During the early season, regular 12-gauge 1 1/8- or 1 1/4-ounce loads of No. 6 lead or No. 4 steel shot at around 1,200 feet per second muzzle velocity work fine. In late season with 12-gauge, go for No. 5 or No. 4 lead 1 1/4- or 1 3/8-ounce loads going 1,200 to 1,300 fps. For late season 12-gauge steel, No 4 or No. 3 at 1,300 to 1,400 fps work fine.

Barrel length for good pheasant guns range generally from 26 to 30 inches, with 28-inches a really nice compromise.

Regardless the distance from the hunter to the quail or pheasant, when the bird breaks from cover, the quicker the hunter can get onto the bird for a shot, the better. If there is one mistake a lot of upland bird hunters make, it is to do the sequential things out of sequence.

When a bird flushes without warning, often hunters recoil and then delay any action until they have fully identified the bird and then begin the gun mounting process. This delays the shot by as many as a dozen wingbeats for quail or by five yards for pheasant.

Yes, it is necessary to identify the bird before pointing the gun at it, but there is a lot more in the process than just pointing the gun.

Ideally, with both quail and pheasants, the optimum moment for the shot is just before or when the bird reaches its initial vertical apex. If the mounting process is delayed, the shot likely will be after the bird has leveled out. That is when the bird’s air speed accelerates significantly, and it also is when the pellets will enter the bird fully from behind. At or just before the apex, the head/neck and greater area of the wings are exposed to direct hits from the shot.

cgh_comus_perdizPERDIZ ARE AN upland bird native to South America and are between quail and pheasants in size. Here, author shows some perdiz he took in Uruguay with a 12-gauge Benelli over/under shotgun.

The idea is that the hunter is ready for a proper shot, but has the discipline to hold off when it is not a proper shot. This is much easier to demonstrate in the field than to explain in an article, but there is a totally safe and effective way to move into an upland bird shot. Or, put another way, standing flat-footed when a bird flushes is not the way to go.

With quail, another problem with a late mounting/swinging of the gun is that if there is a tree or bush close-by, the bird often will hook around that obstacle at about the same time as it reaches vertical apex, which means that by the time the shot is taken, the bird is on the other side of the bush or tree. Shooting bushes and trees is a waste of ammo.

If good pointing dogs are used, it is much easier for the hunter to be totally ready when the bird flushes, because the hunter or handler will give the dog the command to flush the bird.

Safety is paramount in all hunting, and especially upland bird hunting.

Even in areas where it is not required, it is a good idea for all involved (dogs and humans) to wear at least something that is blaze orange for upland birding. Wearing shooting glasses is always a good idea for all involved.

Also, avoid shooting at extremely low-flying birds, especially if dogs are being used. Even if dogs are not on the hunt, it is not a good practice to shoot at low-flying birds, just on general principle, because sometime on some hunt, a low shot can cause unnecessary problems. As long as shotguns are pointed upward at the moment of the shot, only the birds will be hit.

KEEP BARREL POINTED upward when going for upland birds. This helps preclude safety problems for other hunters and hunting dogs.

cgh_comus_whenhuntingWHEN HUNTING WITH a dog and dog handler, the hunter can concentrate on getting ready for the shot while the handler and dog work as a team to help assure success. Here, Mossberg’s Linda Powell uses a 20-gauge semi-auto on an upland bird hunt.

AUTHOR SHOWS A brace of really nice ringneck pheasants he took with 20-gauge Beretta over/under shotgun.

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