The Best in the West for Quail Hunting

15c22d7e-02f9-4cf3-9fe9-cc7ce52f62c6 When it comes to determining the “Best in the West” for quail hunting, there can be no clear winner. Each state offers varied species, in addition to unique perks, for hunters and dogs chasing covey rise after covey rise. To help hunters plan for next season, and maybe strategize for a memorable quail slam, biologists and land managers relay what their states have to offer.
 

Arizona

If you are ever curious how seriously Arizona takes their quail, all you have to do is visit the Arizona Game and Fish Department website. The proof is in their logo, as a Gambel’s quail sits front and center—such a source of pride for the state that the bird even overshadows the department’s spelling.
 
Arizona is the only state with five native species, according to small game biologist Johnathan O’Dell. “The reason why we’re on most hunters’ bucket lists is because we are the go-to state for Gambel’s and Mearns’ quail,” he said. The state also contains scaled quail in the southeastern portion of the state as an added bonus for a three-bird hunt. California quail remain available, but in limited areas. “Additionally, we are home to the masked bobwhite quail, the only endangered quail in the country, but the species is obviously not hunted,” said O’Dell.
 
Sixty percent of the state is public land. Most Gambel’s and scaled quail appear on State Trust lands, while most Mearns’ occur on Forest Service lands of the Coronado National Forest. “The future of quail hunting in Arizona looks good,” O’Dell said. “We need to get out and stay out of the current drought conditions to bring back the quail numbers people remember.”
 
Best in West perk: Visitors to Arizona have the opportunity to see five native species of quail, including the rare masked bobwhite, while also having ample chances at a three-species mixed bag in a state composed of mostly public land.
 

California

California offers quail hunting opportunities for three species—California, mountain and Gambel’s quail—on terrain that ranges from valleys and rolling hills to high elevation mountain habitats and deserts. Public land remains readily available statewide, which includes National Forest, Bureau of Land Management lands and State wildlife areas. Though private land is typically difficult to access in California, the state maintains the SHARE program for access to private lands.
 
Quail populations range from the deserts in the southeast part of the state to the mountains in the Sierra Nevada, from the Coast Ranges to the Nevada border. Regardless of where hunters choose to tread, tourist destination sites exist within close proximity. “Quail populations are generally strong and have survived the droughts well in most places,” said senior environmental scientist Scott Gardner. “There is plenty of opportunity on public lands for people to get out there and get involved in hunting.”
 
Best in West perk: With populations scattered across the entire state, quail hunting in California can be combined with just about any destination someone wants to visit in the state—from catching a ball game to visiting Hollywood or Disneyland.
 

Idaho

Idaho is nearly 70 percent public land, with millions of acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) acres, Idaho Department of Lands and U.S. Forest Service parcels, as well as many state-owned Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) in the Southwest, Magic Valley and Clearwater regions of the state. These regions are where the majority of hunting occurs for California quail. While Idaho holds mountain quail, the season remains closed.  
 
California quail are abundant on public and private lands. Some of the best quail hunting opportunities can be found off the beaten path and on private lands. For a mixed bag opportunity, the highest pheasant harvest typically occurs in the Southwest, Magic Valley, and Clearwater regions. Hunters willing to wear through some boot leather, as well as knock on doors, can find good success, according to Jeff Knetter, upland game and waterfowl staff biologist with the Idaho Department of Game and Fish.
 
Idaho also has a successful access program called Access Yes! This fall there will be over 370,000 acres of private land open to the public. Information can be found on the Idaho Department of Fish and Game webpage. Season lengths are long and the bag limits are generous.
 
Best in West perk: “Cast and blast” opportunities mean hunters can alternate mornings and afternoons chasing coveys and big game in Idaho, then spend late evenings slinging flies and wading through steelhead and salmon streams.
 

Nevada

Nevada’s populations of California, Gambel’s and mountain quail are all accessible and open to hunting on public lands, which compose 86 percent of the state. Terrain varies from mountainous canyons with heavy cover in the drainage bottoms to valleys with agriculture and associated croplands. Additionally, some river bottom areas along the Truckee, Carson, and Walker rivers provide cover in the form of willow, cottonwood, buffalo berry and mixed shrub species. Mojave desert habitats in the southern third of Nevada provide habitat for Gambel’s quail, according to upland game specialist Shawn Espinosa, while the Mason Valley WMA offers some great California quail hunting.
 
Mountain quail harvest numbers are fairly conservative and limited to two per day and four in possession. “The Nevada Department of Wildlife is optimistic about most California quail populations and their existing distribution offers sportsmen with ample opportunity,” said Espinosa. “Mountain quail habitats are somewhat limited in Nevada; however, we are engaged in translocations into suitable habitats when and where appropriate.” Gambel’s quail populations are of concern due to habitat drought conditions, though precipitation receipts so far in 2015-2016 are trending towards a better production year in 2016.
 
Best in West perk: Due to the amount of public lands and wilderness areas within Nevada surrounding quail habitats, sportsmen and women have great opportunities to travel almost anywhere and run dogs through varied cover without encountering another soul.
 

New Mexico

The majority of New Mexico quail—which includes scaled, Gambel’s, Mearns’, and northern bobwhite species—are harvested on public lands, according to resident game biologist Casey Cardinal. Much of the southern half of New Mexico is public land, either BLM, U.S. Forest Service, or state land. Most of the public lands are open for hunting, though some of the state lands and wildlife management areas are closed on certain days of the week, so make certain to review regulations before heading out. As well, Mearns’ (also known as Montezuma quail) are subject to stricter regulations compared to the other quail species, with the Mearns’ having a bag limit of five compared to 15 for the other species.
 
When visiting New Mexico, Cardinal recommends bringing along a map or a GPS unit that delineates land ownership, since many areas have a checkerboard pattern of public and private lands. Most private lands are closed to hunting, but some landowners participate in the Open Gate program which allows sportsmen and women access to hunting on private property. Open Gate Properties with quail hunting can be found at the website: http://www.wildlife.state.nm.us/hunting/maps/open-gate-program/
 
Best in West perk: New Mexico provides a great quail hunting experience for a variety of hunters. In one day, a hunter could chase three different species of quail. Over a weekend, it is possible to harvest all four species and accomplish the New Mexico grand slam.
 

Oregon

“Just based on phone calls—a fair amount from places like Kentucky and Georgia—people want to hunt mountain quail for the slam,” said upland game bird coordinator Dave Budeau. “Southwest Oregon accounts for most harvested mountain quail.”
 
Most of the eastern portion of the state is closed to mountain quail hunting, while the entire western portion is open. “We have mountain and California in the western part of the state,” Budeau said. In the rain forest segment of the state and at lower elevations in heavy cover in western portions of Oregon, flushing dogs have an advantage, while pointing dogs are optimal for wide open areas in eastern parts. California quail are found statewide, though not at Cascades elevations.
 
Budeau encourages any prospective quail hunters to visit the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife webpage and review the hunter access map, which lists loads of information and provides pop-up bubbles or icons to distinguish state wildlife areas, federal refuges, public access to private lands, forest service lands and BLM. The map even displays ownership layers and lists what species are found in what areas.
 
Best in West perk: Oregon is a state where varied terrain allows both flushing and pointing dogs to excel – every dog plays a crucial role in discovering coveys in Oregon. Due to the terrain, hunters need to use different tactics based on what portion of the state and what species they pursue.
 

Texas

When bird numbers are up, the huge state of Texas presents the chance for a 20- to 30-covey day, according to upland game bird program leader Robert Perez. Bobwhite quail is the number one hunted species, followed by scaled quail in western third of the state. Texas also contains small populations of Gambel’s and Mearns’ quail, though there is no season for Mearns’.
 
Texas core hunting area is the Rolling Plains, in the panhandle of state, where both Matador and Gene Howe WMAs present good public hunting opportunities. South Texas is brush country and contains the Chaparral WMA. Numbers are up in these WMAs. “If we get any worthwhile spring,” said Perez, “we should have another good season.”
 
Great hunting opportunities also exist on private lands. Perez recommends visiting the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s website then contacting an area’s chamber of commerce or visiting their county’s website to find an outfitter who can set up non-residents with productive locations.
 
“Our numbers are way up; quail are back,” said Perez. “You have to buy a $7 stamp here. Those funds go back into quail species conservation, since we have dedicated funds for conservation.”
 
Best in West perk: Aside from great, authentic barbecue—“the real thing, the real hot sauce” according to Perez—Texas, in its best years, makes for unprecedented covey numbers. Lately, weather has been conducive for quail production and numbers continue to rise.
 

Utah

Quail are not overly abundant in Utah, according to upland game program coordinator Jason Robinson, but there are areas with good hunting. “Decide which species to hunt and make sure you are in the appropriate part of the state and habitat,” he advised. Utah offers hunting seasons for California and Gambel's quail. While scaled quail are present in a very small portion of the state, they are off limits for hunting.
 
Gambel's quail are mostly found on public lands and BLM lands, but are limited in their distribution. California quail are typically located on private lands or within city limits. Utah has a Walk-In Access program, but it only provides limited opportunities for California quail, said Robinson.
 
“We are trying to expand quail hunting opportunities to a larger area of Utah,” Robinson said. “We have an active trap and transplant program for quail. We hope to have a large enough scaled quail population in the future to have a hunt.”
 
Few hunters hunt quail in Utah, according to Robinson. “If a hunter is interested, it is unlikely they will see other hunters,” he said.
 
Best in West perk: In Utah, a hunter can go quail hunting and skiing in the same day, or pursue Gambel’s quail and visit red canyons or scenic national parks.
 
 
Story by Jack Hennessy. Jack is the author of the blog “Braising the Wild.” Follow him on Twitter @WildGameJack or on Facebook at Facebook.com/BraisingtheWild.
 
Photo credits: First and fourth photo – Bob St.Pierre, Quail Forever / Second photo – Hot Flash Photography via Flickr CC license / Third photo – Garmin