Bird Dogs,Bird Dogs & Training  |  06/20/2016

The Perfect Quail Dog

Every time I hunt quail there comes a moment when I want a different dog breed, gender or color. Fortunately for my current dog, I soon arrive at the one and only truth: at any given time, mine (and yours) will be the wrong dog for the quail we're hunting.
There are six quail species in North America that will bedevil you and your dog every time you step out of the truck. There are dozens of dog breeds that might – or might not – be perfect for those tiny, infuriating birds that haunt our dreams. But let’s try to crystallize this paradox, distill to their essence the qualities of some dogs and some quail and maybe – just maybe – make a few matches. My guesses will not be your guesses, and yours are just as valid. In fact, between the two of us we probably have three opinions on the topic. See if you (sorta) agree:


Bobwhite quail are often called “gentlemen” by old-timers because they will freeze for an elegant pointer, flushing in a tidy bunch that in magazine stories often culminates in a double. In a world where everything is relative, those stories may be true – who’s going to argue with Nash Buckingham? But pressured birds on bare ground may waddle off while the pointer trembles, wide-eyed. Luckily, singles from that whirring covey rise will act more civilized, restoring the species reputation. My dog choice? Any of the pointing breeds. Warmer climates where many bobs reside favor short-haired breeds, but is there anything prettier than a statuesque setter, even in Florida?


Out west where I hunt, the predominant bird is the California (or valley) quail. The terms I use for this bird are not printable in a family magazine. I use the same terms for my dogs when they abandon all canine principle and go ballistic on a covey buzzing in all directions. But valley quail can stand just like their southern cousins. These top-knotted demons hunker, never making eye contact with the gun-toting human that may scare them into a footrace or a flush. For me it’s pointers that range hundreds of yards left and right who get the call – they cover ground I don’t have to until the GPS collar says “point.”
Most of my friends use a Labrador and are plenty happy when we convene around the campfire. They and their spaniel brethren gladly sacrifice ground coverage for a dog that gets to birds quickly and puts them in the air instead of running. Many a “dead” bird will run dozens of yards, so I concede to the flushing retriever crowd for that after-shot attribute.

Springer spaniel hunting scaled quailScalies

You spaniel fans have your very own quail – and can keep it, thank you very much. It’s the blue (or scaled) quail, denizen of habitat that will bite, scratch or sting you and your dog. In fact, a thick, healthy coat is good protection from the burrs and thorns. That’s good reason to put a merry Springer or Cocker on the chase. But there’s another reason. If you see them, they’ve seen you and are lacing up their track shoes. If you get close, it will be for a fleeting moment and somebody’s gotta put ‘em in the air quickly – a field-bred flusher fits the bill. Those who hunt scalies on purpose insist they will hold for a pointing dog after that first flush. They also believe in Bigfoot.

Mountain Quail

Thickets of rhododendron or blackberry are home turf for elusive mountain quail. The difference between “mounties” and their cotton-topped cousins is you won’t see them before the race begins. You’ll hear them beeping to each other, then pant-and-stumble uphill toward that siren song. Your Lab will gladly shoulder his way through the impenetrable shrubbery, and you will happily let him, then stand, wheezing, as the birds buzz out the other side. Without old Gunner though, you wouldn’t have even heard wingbeats as birds jinked their way through the trees.

Gambel’s & Mearns’

If you’re one of the 17 people who hunts Gambel’s or Mearns’ (Montezuma) quail, you’re already composing your angry email to me for giving them short shrift. I confess, my experience with each is minimal. From what I’ve seen personally, and what I’ve heard from more experienced dog men, it goes something like this: Gambel’s are like valley quail. Mearns’ too. Except when they’re like blues. It’s a moot point because we are so dazzled at their coloring that we never shoulder our gun anyway – choose your dog accordingly.
Six quail that mesmerize us, a myriad of hunting styles to confuse us, and uncountable dog breeds to confound us. That’s the joy of hunting. Based on this knowledge, I will revise my one truth: The perfect quail dog is the one you own.
Vizsla hunting bobwhite quail 
Story by Scott Linden
Photo Credits: Main image – BoraPir via iStock / first image – jeffdalt via iStock / second image – Quail Forever Staff Photo