Hunting & Heritage  |  03/01/2023

A Modest Proposal


Escaping the misery of late-season pheasants

By Chad Love

There are, quite frankly, quite a lot of differences between pheasant hunters and quail hunters. Differences of species, habitat, and (mostly) geography, obviously, but also differences in dogs, style, attitudes, culture, and habits. For example, if a quail hunter ever yelled “COVEY” on a covey rise like pheasant hunters yell “ROOSTER” on a pheasant flush, well, it’d get some quizzical looks. That’s all I’m gonna say.

That subject in and of itself is eminently worthy of future examination (and probably some heated mail sent my way...) but one thing that has always struck me is the differing rhythm of the seasons themselves. Pheasant season has — to my warm-blooded southern sensibilities, anyway — always seemed like a frenetic race against time and weather.

Pheasant hunters talk about pheasant season for 48 weeks of the year, then the season opens and they seemingly get about two weeks of doing whatever it is pheasant hunters do out there in those cornfields before 16 feet of snow ends the season and they’re forced to spend the last two weeks of the year watching the inscrutable melee known as hockey (or as I like to call it, “Burly Dudes On Ice Pummeling Each Other”) while reminiscing about what a great season it was. And yes, that was a spectacular run-on sentence.

I’ve always marveled at the dichotomy of that: how a group of hunters who, on average, walk about as quickly as banana slugs while in the field are forced to endure a practical season length that streaks past them at jackrabbit speed. I mean, that’s hardly time to yell “ROOSTER.”

Meanwhile, quail hunters haven’t even burned a full tank of gas or gone through a box of shells by the time most pheasant hunters are booking rooms for next year’s Pheasant Fest.

In most quail states bird season generally opens in November (and don’t send me pedantic hate mail, early quail state residents. That’s why I used the qualifier “most”) and runs either to February, through mid-February, or even to March.

If a quail hunter ever yelled “COVEY” on a covey rise like pheasant hunters yell “ROOSTER” on a pheasant flush, well, it’d get some quizzical looks.

For as fast as quail hunters tend to walk (and we need to in order to keep up with dogs that actually know how to cover ground) that is a downright languorous seasonal rhythm, and in my opinion is part of the reason quail hunters tend to be a little more contemplative and philosophical, a bit more cerebral, than pheasant hunters.

It’s not because we’re smarter (although I suppose that’s a debatable point). It’s simply because we have some actual time to think and ponder things in the field, rather than walking very slowly while frantically worrying about the things it seems most pheasant hunters must worry about in the limited time they have to hunt. You know, things like “When is the blizzard going to hit?” Or “Is it my turn to yell “ROOSTER?” Or “Man, I really need to tune up the snowblower.” Or “Well, there’s always ice fishing.”

So here’s a modest proposal for all my pheasant-hunting, hockey-watching, “ROOSTER”-yelling, ice-fishing, weird ear-flap-hat-wearing brethren: Try quail hunting sometime.

Now I don’t mean give up your “ROOSTER!” yelling and your skirmish lines and your pheasant hunter’s shuffle (yes, it’s a thing), your questionable upland fashion sense, or your vaguely weird obsession with tailfeather length. The upland heart wants what it wants, and pheasant hunters want pheasants every bit as passionately as quail hunters want quail. It’s not my place to question why — at least publicly.

But when the snow starts flying, the walls start closing in, your snowblower won’t run, and you feel like throttling the next person who makes a “Winter is Coming” joke, ponder this: Half the upland world is still out there hunting, often in t-shirts, with nary a parka or “Fargo” accent in sight.

And they’re hunting quail.

Now I am admittedly not a pheasant hunter. In fact, I once penned a story wherein I likened encountering a pheasant while quail hunting to attending a concert expecting a Bach string quartet and instead getting “a fat dude in a clown suit riding a unicycle around stage while strumming a ukulele.”

I heard from a few folks on that one, and perhaps with good reason. So consider this an invitation to experience the other half, the dark side, or whatever you want to call it.

Give quail hunting a go. Put a full tank of gas in the truck (if the battery’s not dead and the fluids aren’t frozen) pack your sunscreen, and head south. Stop trying to convince yourself that an Upper Midwestern winter is fun and invigorating. Because it’s not.

But you know what IS fun and invigorating? Hunting without the aid of snowshoes, that’s what. Following a dog across the good earth with the warm sun on your face. Covey rises into cobalt blue skies. Sitting on a tailgate without physically freezing your ass to said tailgate. Baseball caps instead of...whatever it is you northerners wear. And time. Time to enjoy the moment without having to calculate how long your skin can be exposed before risk of frostbite.

Give quail hunting a go. Put a full tank of gas in the truck (if the battery’s not dead and the fluids aren’t frozen) pack your sunscreen, and head south.

Honestly, I have no idea why more pheasant hunters don’t try quail hunting, and I suppose I should keep my mouth shut about it, but in the end despite our differences both real and imagined, we’re all bird hunters at heart, and we want to share what we love (but not too much). We want others to understand why we feel so passionately about the same things we do.

So give quail a try some time, all you “ROOSTER!” yellers. It’s a no-risk proposition. The worst that could happen is that you’ll love it. The best that could happen is that you’ll love it more than pheasants....

Chad Love, an upland hunter who has never had the pleasure of "tuning up" a snowblower, is editor of the Quail Forever Journal.