Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Amazing Vanishing Act Of Gamble's Quail

The sun had just topped the hill as I pulled the truck into a wide clearing just beside the phone line access road we were driving along. Our anticipation was high as we started unloading the truck and preparing for our last Gamble's quail hunt of 2012. This was a brisk Saturday morning, but we both knew the temperature would quickly climb into the 70's as the morning wore on so we left the jackets in the truck and started loading up our vests with water and ammunition. We worked quietly and listened to the surrounding hills for the soft calls that would tell us where to start our hunt.

We were on a small flat area about two thirds of the way up a small mountain range just below where the road slipped into the saddle between two buttes before heading down the other side. We were not hearing any quail calling, so Tim and I decided to head up hill and out of the low mesquite and palo verde trees to get the lay of the land and make sure we were in a safe place to hunt. We found ourselves standing next to a monolithic red edifice that rose another 1000 feet above our heads.  This small range of rugged volcanic mountains swept steeply down into a flat desert plane below. From our vantage point we could see the entire valley spread out before us in a magnificent hodge-podge of saguaro, prickly pear, small thorn bushes, and low desert trees. Every so often a cholla cactus would poke its yellowish arms out of the shrubbery in a sadistically inviting wave. Our view stretched all the way out to the next range of low craggy mountains some thirty miles to the west of where we were without even the hint of building in sight. Perfect quail habitat was laid out before us as far as we could see and we smiled to each other in anticipation.

This was a new area for both of us so we started out just kind of wandering around and getting a feel for what was around. This lasted for about an hour when I decided to stop and take a drink of water. In the pause I heard the soft chatter of quail. I turned silently towards them and slowly started to make my way closer. Tim saw me creeping in with my head cocked to one side and said "what are you doing?"

I quietly replied "don't you hear the quail clucking to each other?"

The rather dismissive reply came in the form of "Those aren't qua..." KABLOWEE!

My shot missed and the quail disappeared around a tree leaving me a bit frustrated. when I looked at Tim I saw the complete look of dumbfounded shock on his face and almost lost myself in laughter. He is the more experienced hunter and had no idea what sounds quail make other then the "CHI-CAAAA-GO" when they are trying to locate each other.  After I quit laughing at him I said "Now you know." and started walking in the direction the quail flew.

It didn't take long at all before we were hearing the quail chattering away again. With cocked heads and slow quiet walking we both started to chase after some more birds and got separated by about 30 yards or so. we kind of kept pace and went in the same direction so when the second bird flushed almost directly out in front of me I didn't hesitate to pull the trigger. I watched the quail fold and hit the ground, but before I even lowered my gun that thing was running for the trees and I was calking my gun again. The second shot missed and that bird was gone. I looked for that poor little quail for about fifteen minutes before I finally gave up. I heard the report of Tim's shotgun and decided to go over and see if he got one.

The Two I Got
He missed his bird as well, but we could hear them calling all around us. The calls were coming from every direction, and we didn't know which way to go first! We finally decided to follow the loudest of the calls and came up on a small covey of about ten birds. We got close enough to see them scuttling about under a tree but they were far enough away that they weren't very afraid of us. We inched up on them hoping to see where they were holding as we got closer, but they seemed to evaporate before our eyes. we never saw which bushes those sneaky little quail went into, and we never got a shot off at them.

The rest of the morning went about the same way. Whether Tim and I were together or apart made no difference we would get close enough to see the birds and they would vanish without a trace. We were on these ghost birds all morning long, but only managed to bag three of them. I got two and Tim got one. These quail just seemed to stay on the ground far enough ahead of us that we never caught up. Or they held tight and never flushed out for us. Even though we didn't bag that many birds, the action was constant and fast paced, and we both learned a lot about our quarry and how to hunt them. This was one of my favorite days in the field so far and I can't wait to get back out to this area again!


  1. Sounds like you could benefit from a well trained Lab.

    1. Laban,
      You are not wrong on that one. Unfortunately I don't have enough free time to properly take care of a dog, and that wouldn't be fair to the dog. And it would result in a well trained dog becoming a poorly trained dog in no time flat.

  2. Rick
    Really enjoyed reading this post, brings back memories of the days I use to chase these little birds. Are these what we called in the South "Mexican Quail"? The birds here I used to hunt would fly super fast and far and were small is size. Glad you were able to bag a couple. Thanks for sharing

    1. Bill,
      Thanks for the kind words.
      I have never heard of any of the three species we have referred to as "Mexican quail". These may be the correct ones, but, I think you may be referring to the Mearns (MONTEZUMA)quail. Which look sort of like a smaller version of the Bob White quail. They are most prevalent in the extreme southeastern portions of Arizona down through northern Mexico. I have not had the opportunity to hunt these birds yet, but I would love to do so some time.