A Season of Opening Days

a2a5629b-f5a3-4535-86be-312d67a2f520 With most states' quail seasons either already open (for some western states) and the rest of them looming, here's a story from the fall issue of Quail Forever Journal to get you stoked whether you’ve already had your opening day or you’re still eagerly anticipating it…

By Scott Linden

This hunting season hasn’t even started yet and I’m already anticipating opening day. Maybe you are, too. There is something entrancing about that first hunt of the season, rolling all our hopes and dreams into a single, solitary eight-hour stretch in the field with dogs and friends. There is only one opening day.

Or is there?

We plan, train, and prepare for that first hunt, when the state unclips our leash and says, “go for it!” Our expectations are manifested in our dogs, the weather, prospects of a new location, or a return to an old standby where we know there are birds – or there aren’t. Mother Nature cooperates or doesn’t, our dog goes off the rails or excels, our shooting is dismal or Olympic caliber. Then, it’s over. We plod through the rest of the season like shift workers, one day following on the heels of the next, all running together in a blur.

It’s not that bad. It is, after all, hunting. But what if we were granted a mulligan, a do-over that would rectify everything? What if we could look forward to naïve birds, new scenery, and fresh dog work again … a Second Opener? I’m not talking about an alternate dimension. It’s simply a matter of looking at the calendar in other states.

With a little planning and some flexibility in your schedule, you and your dogs could experience any number of season openers offering unseen vistas, unmolested coveys and an earlier start than your own state’s season. You could test-drive quail season somewhere else, returning to your own state like a pumped-up pro baseball player after spring training.

And don’t forget the most important part: a redux of that sweet, sweet anticipation. Organizing gear, talking it up with friends, poring over maps and making all those calls. Like roller coasters and chocolate bars, the first is always best, but a second go-round isn’t so bad, is it?

A jump-start to your hunting season has other advantages: more favorable weather, for example. A chance to tune up your dog before your friends judge him on your home turf. New quail species. A dry run for new gear, guns, vehicles … a maiden voyage for your artificial knee. Got a problem with that? I didn’t think so.

“Go west, young man” takes on new meaning when it comes to early quail hunting. So if winter’s icy grip has you in mental tatters when your state opens the gates to quail, mosey out our way first. Summon your best “Twas the night before Christmas …” mindset and let these sugarplums dance in your bird-crazy head: 

Idaho’s quail season opens in mid-September, Oregon and Washington the first weekend of October, Nevada and California a week later. Out here, it’s a valley and Gambel’s quail game, both may be a bonus on your life-list. Add mountain quail, and most western states open early or mid-September. 

The usual caveats apply: Be ready for scorching weather, condition yourself and your dogs, and bring plenty of water. Be ready for rattlesnakes. Plan morning hunts and afternoons fishing. In some places you’ll be sharing the field with locals but there is plenty of public ground to go around. Revel in the fact that you’re hunting quail when everyone at home is gazing longingly at their calendars, counting the days to that other opener.

Without question, openers are magic, but the other end of the calendar also has its charm. A late closing day can be as therapeutic as an early opener. Southern seasons often mean hunting in shirtsleeves as the season draws to an end – nice if you’ve been shoveling snow at home. Some people actually like tracking the little birds in snow, which is possible in many states. If for no other reason, hunting the dregs of a season is testament to your perseverance, insanity, brilliance or all three. Here, for example:

Arizona and New Mexico let you chase birds until mid-February, Texas until the 25th, Georgia and Alabama until the 28th. Many southeastern states run into February, and on a good year South Carolina will let you chase bobwhites until March 1. (Of course, season dates change annually, so consult each before you start packing.) 

A March 1 closer leaves plenty of off-season for training, clay targets, reminiscing over the birds shot and missed, Quail Forever banquets and sportsman’s shows. On top of weather perks, more dog work, and new country, there’s another bonus to stretching your season at both ends: When you put up your guns, you only have 180 days until the next season starts on Sept. 1 … or Sept. 15, Oct. 7, 14th, and well, you get the idea. 

Start counting, and start dreaming.