So, what should you wear or bring on an Arizona Quail Hunt?
After 60 years of hunting Arizona quail, here are my recommendations and tips:
- Carry a leatherman. Remove cactus, repair your glasses, remove a jammed shell hull. I also carry a small comb for flipping cacti out of the Britts. Depending upon circumstances and type of cacti, works well.
- Carry water. I use a Hydropack or Camelback with 70 oz. for Britts and me. The last few years I've also started carrying a plastic water bottle and a collapsable water bowl/pouch to hydrate the Britts after the first 30-45 minute hike, especially when the temps are high during early season. Early season can be a problem keeping the dogs cool. If possible, hunt near a water source so they can get wet and cool down.
- Wear light, Gortex lined, waterproof, uninsulated hiking boots. My favorite brands are Keen's, Danner's or Lowa's with Vibram-type soles. Soft-soled boots will be torn to shreds in one or two hunts. Insulated boots are overkill in Arizona. Once you start walking your feet will be warm.
- Wear a blaze orange vest and/or cap. For safety reasons but also so hunters in your group can see you when you are a ridge or two away. The last few years we occasionally carry small radios with ranges of 2-5 miles. They are a great in-the-field communications link.
- Pants. I like either heavy jeans or Carhart-type. If you are hunting in catclaw, definitely get the type with reinforced material on the front. I don't wear snake leggings or chaps but many friends do.
- Snakes: Rattlers will be out until we get a good freeze which is usually some time in mid to late Nov. Sept and Oct just count on seeing snakes. Snake vaccinations for the dogs -- a good idea.
- Shirts. Layer. Most days Nov.-Feb. I wear a light cotton long sleeve. Roll it up when the day warms.
- Quail call: I have started using CJ's quail call to locate Gambel's. With practice, you can do "covey clucks" and the more familiar "Ka-KEE-ta" call to locate and regroup after the covey is split. Wait. Sometimes the giveaway cluck is several minutes after you call. Many times a return call will give away the covey location. I always start with the covey cluck and wait before ever using the Ka-KEE-ta. (At times, a fourth ta can give variety and more realism. Ka-KEE-ta-ta.) Try the cluck first.
- Gloves. Both left and right batting or shooting gloves are great on cold days and for pushing your way through mesquites and catclaws.
- Guns & ammunition: The Corley clan has gone to 20 ga. the last 25+ years shooting 7/8 oz shot, reloaded for 1,175 ft/sec. It is considered a "light field load."
Since 1997 we have loaded size #7 shot. Love it. Still a good pattern with 7/8 oz. but good knock- down effectiveness and fewer crippled birds. Remember also, that we hunt with pointing dogs, so many shots are closer. Big difference. Factory loaded 7's are rarely available, and and good heavy field load of 7 1/2's is the most common shotshell for Arizona hunters.
- Jan. of 2017 I loaded some size 6 shot as a late-season desert bird trial. One oz. at 1,180 fps. Like it. A lot. Very, very few cripples. Have even extended my "shooting range" some with my standard IC choke tube. Wondered if perhaps I would hit closer birds too "hard", i.e., tear the birds up too much for table fare. Has not been a problem. Certainly recommend you try size 6 shot -- especially if you hunt late-season desert birds with no dog. I will, however, stick with my 7/8 oz size 7 shot for Mearn's quail.
- My personal preference is an over/under Beretta with IC/Light Mod or Skeet/IC (for Mearn's). I love the Beretta light weight and balance. My father and son have had great success with Remingtons. Dad used a lightweight 1100 auto and Matt a lightweight 870 pump both 20 ga. with improved cylinders. My "back-up" gun is now a Benelli Montefeltro semi-auto inertia driven, lightweight 20. Choke of choice remains IC or perhaps Mod during early season.
- If you hunt with NO DOGS. Our desert birds are extremely hardy. You can knock a bird down hard (it seems) and if they can run or move you may never find it or put it in your bag. So. . if you have no dog to help with retrieves and you are not shooting over pointing dogs, consider moving to a tighter choke, and size 6 shot and more of it -- say 1 oz for 20 ga or 1 1/4 oz for 12 ga. Put them down hard so that when you mark a bird you'll find it and have fewer lost cripples. If you try for Mearn's without a bird dog, you will be at a severe disadvantage.
- For the Britts: I use "PadHeal" and "Tuff-Foot" as first aid and dog pad conditioners. I use Lewis Dog Boots (out of Okla.) if I hunt the Britts several days in a row and they need the added reinforcement or protection. Use Vet Wrap to protect the ankle underneath the boot, then medical tape or ductape to attach the boot then to Vet Wrap. I much prefer to toughen up their feet and run them barefooted. Dog pads not conditioned to our desert rocks (even volcanic in many areas) can suffer foot damage quickly.
For cuts, abrasions, wounds, I use EMT gel and/or Blue Solution (an iodine antiseptic).
- Carry a light, digital camera for that point and photo of a lifetime.
- Get your muscles and your feet in shape. If you are used to Nebraska corn fields, soft Iowa plowed ground, Texas flatlands, or Michigan woods, the Arizona desert can put a hurt on you. Your feet will notice it before your muscles do!!
- See you in the hills with my Britts!
- How do you identify juvenile birds of the year?
- Mearns: "adult carry-over Mearn's have distinct barring on the wing coverts compared to irregular barring in the juvenile birds of the year." David E. Brown, "Arizona Game Birds", c. 1989, pgs. 116-117. His study and data from 1965 - 1978 shows Mearn's birds of the year percentage ranges to be from 57 - 88% depending almost completely on June - August precipitation and protection from overgrazing, i.e., the higher the percentage, the better the hatch and survival of young.
- Gambel's and Scaled: Brown also tells you how to ID Gambel's and scaled juveniles using the primary coverts. pgs. 6 and 163-164. A great resource if you haven't checked it out.
In center of photo see small secondary covert feathers mottled white with white margins of a juvenile Gambel's bird of the year. Adult secondary covert feathers are completely gray. Scaled and Gambel's are identified this same way. Mearn's young, however, have irregular barring on the covert feathers and immature head plummage , so somewhat different means of identification. Click on photo to enlarge. From David E. Brown, Arizona Game Birds, c.1989
Ariz Quail Hunting Camp Copyrighted by Bob Corley, Globe, Az. Use by permission only.