So You Want to Hunt Oklahoma Quail, Huh?

5e919826-06e0-4ca9-bb19-096d2cc6c235 By Chad Love

The Southeast has the rich tradition and history. Texas has the sheer size and numbers. Kansas has the reputation and the marquee public-access program. 

But if you’re wanting to hunt wild bobwhite quail – and do it on public land – there is another option, one that an increasing number of bird hunters in-the-know are quietly taking in favor of other “name” destinations.

And while you could argue that a state generally regarded to be in the top three or four for wild bobwhite quail hunting isn’t exactly a “sleeper,” the fact remains that when the discussion turns to destinations for bobwhite quail hunting, Oklahoma doesn’t seem to come up quite as often as other places.

Which is a shame, because the Sooner State might just be the best-kept non-secret in the bird-hunting world. With a surprisingly large number of wildlife management areas (WMAs) that hold huntable numbers of quail, and a new and rapidly-expanding public-access lease program known as the Oklahoma Land Access Program (OLAP) that has opened up even more opportunity, Oklahoma offers a lot of bang for the buck if you’re looking for a place to stretch out your legs and your dogs.

But quail hunting in Oklahoma is not all roses and sunshine. It can be tough. In fact, I’d argue that more often than not, “tough” is the rule rather than the exception. So here then are a few honest words of advice from someone who’s been getting his rear handed to him by Oklahoma quail for most of his life but keeps going back for more because like most bird hunters he doesn’t know any better and wouldn’t stop even if he did.
 

GET READY FOR WILD, WILD BIRDS 

Let’s get this out the way right now: There’s no such thing as “Gentleman Bob” in Oklahoma. Never has been. Never will be. I don’t know who coined that ridiculous phrase, but he obviously never ventured west of fairytale land. You will find no gentle and gentlemanly specimens of Colinus virginianus here, unless the birds you hunt began life in an incubator and are found behind a fence. 

The fact is, Oklahoma quail have zero interest in accommodating your cliched notions of what they should be and how they should act. What they do have is an abiding interest in living, and pretty much everything they do is geared toward continuing that. They are not going to wait for you to light a pipe, wax your beard, adjust your cravat, or strike the perfect Instagram pose.

If you can’t adapt to that reality and you’d rather shoot well-mannered poultry, there’s always the game farm.
 

FIND YOUR OWN DAMN SPOT 

Second, I’m not telling you where to go. You think I’m nuts? Go figure it out on your own. Hell, that’s half the fun of bird hunting, or at least it should be. 

Sure, I could write the exact same thing everyone (including, if I’m honest, myself) always writes in a story about Oklahoma quail hunting, which is some variation on the theme of, “Go West!” followed by the names of the same half-dozen or so WMAs that always get featured. And subsequently hammered.
 
But I won’t do that. It’s a disservice to readers, and I may also accidentally give up one of my spots in the process. Besides, it’s a good rule of thumb to never believe hook-and-bullet writers. What we publish is usually wrong, intentionally deceiving, or both. But I will give you some tips. 

Yes, the majority of Oklahoma’s best public-land quail hunting is found west of Interstate 35, and yes, those well-known WMAs do offer some fantastic hunting. However, I will say that there’s a whole lot more opportunity out there than the usual suspects. You just have to put in a little effort to figure it out. 

Beyond that, you’re on your own. All the information is out there. Go find it. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation is a friendly, helpful organization with a very good website at www.wildlifedepartment.com, and they also publish an excellent public-lands atlas. Do a little internet research, make a few calls, and even a person who’s never set foot in the state can create a game plan that has a good chance of putting him or her on birds.

Worth mentioning specifically is Oklahoma’s new private-land access program, now in its third year. OLAP, like Kansas’ Walk-In Hunting Area or WIHA program, leases private land for public hunting and fishing access. This has opened up thousands of additional acres of quail hunting opportunity across the western half of Oklahoma and is well worth exploring for anyone mulling a bird hunting trip to Oklahoma. All the information and maps on the OLAP program can be found on the ODWC website.
  
So with that out of the way, what CAN you expect if you come to Oklahoma on a public-lands quail hunt?
 

BE PREPARED TO WALK … AND SUFFER

Expect to walk for miles up and down sandhills, canyons and draws, and across prairies. You’ll sweat, you’ll eat dust, you’ll swear. You’ll get sunburned. You’ll probably freeze, too, and probably get rained upon, sleeted upon, snowed upon, freezing-rained upon, hailed upon, and occasionally tornadoed upon. Sometimes all in the same day.
 
Your dogs will get cut, scratched, poked, punctured, and sometimes quilled or snakebit. They’ll come up lame with sandburs, and prickly pear and cholla spines if you’re far enough west. You will, too. So damn good boots for them, double damn good boots for you.
  
On a hot day you’ll all suck down more water than you thought possible. Four dusty, windy, birdless, sweat-sopped miles from the truck combined with 80 degrees in late November will give you mirage-like visions of a cold beer on the tailgate – if you make it back. Your dogs will circle around to you, tongues lolling, sandburs poking everywhere, with that look that only dogs can give, the look that usually questions your marksmanship, but in this case questions your judgement for bringing them to this sun-scorched hellscape. 

On a cold day you’ll sit in the cab of the truck as it rocks back and forth in the winter gale, heater blasting while the landscape outside freeze-dries around you. You will question if you have the gumption to step outside and face it, and wonder if perhaps you should have taken up golf instead.
 

FACE THE WIND             

And through it all – through every hot day, cold day, good day, bad day, whatever kind of day the hunting gods in all their capriciousness decide to throw at you – you will suffer through a ceaseless, pervasive, soul-sucking wind. Because the wind on the southern plains ... Never. Stops. Blowing. If it did, the natives, with their permanent lean into it, would probably all fall over.

And as a native who knows from whence he speaks, I promise you this: At some point in the season, that wind will get to you, like it’s gotten to everyone who’s ever spent more than a day or two out in it. There’s a reason it drove early settlers insane.

But if you wait for the wind to stop blowing in Oklahoma, you’ll never hunt, so you’ll clear the dust from your eyes, your throat and your sand-blasted, wind-burnt, wind-chilled soul, pick up your shotgun, call in the dogs, and get back to hunting.

You will count your birds (or lack thereof) in windy- miles-walked per, gallons-of-water-drunk per, sandburs-picked-out per, hopes-dashed per, and a dozen other varied metrics per of misery, futility and frustration. 

You will swear there are no birds under this white-hot orb of sky that burns from one horizon to the next. You’ll become convinced it’s all a cruel joke. Those damn outdoor writers again. No birds. Only ghosts and fools. You’ll want to call back the dogs and trudge back to the truck; tiny, defeated figures crawling across a vast windswept and whitewashed canvas shimmering with heat.
 

FIND WHAT MATTERS 

And then, as it always happens, never when you want it but usually when you need it, a tumbler in some unseen cosmic lock clicks into place and the world as you envisioned it and suffered for shifts into focus before you. The birds are there and the dogs are there and you are there, finally, in that beautiful, mystifying triangulation that pushes you to endure everything up to that moment, that which always pushes you to endure everything leading up to it.
 
And that’s all that matters, really. No one but a liar or a fool can promise you quail if you come to Oklahoma. But if you’re looking for promises or assurances, you’re in the wrong game, anyway. Bird hunters know that. 

So come to Oklahoma, where I can promise you only a helluva lot of potential discomfort, a helluva lot of natural beauty, and the possibility of a divine moment or two … and a few more than that if you’re lucky or your dog is good. 

And if that isn’t enough to stoke what drives you – what drives us all – then I suggest another destination. 

Disneyland, maybe?
 
Chad Love, editor of Quail Forever Journal, hails from Oklahoma and has done so his whole life, chasing quail about the roughhewn countryside for much of it. And that explains a lot.

This story originally appeared in the Quail Forever Upland Bird Hunting Super Issue 2019. If you'd like to see more stories like this, join Quail Forever today.