When bird hunters think of the Pacific Northwest,
waterfowl come to mind. But in addition to waterfowl
and other upland bird hunting, quail are available to
eager scattergunners. Both mountain and valley
(California) quail range throughout this region, and
now is the time to seek them out.
Often taken as secondary quarry on big game or grouse
hunts, mountain and valley quail are worthy of being
pursued in their own right. Both offer differing
challenges, yet both can be had on the same day, in
the same areas. Here's what to look for when it comes
to outwitting these blue bombers of the West.
It's difficult to single out which of North America's
quail species is the most breathtaking, but the
mountain quail has to rank atop the list. His slate
blue breast and head, and maroon with ivory highlights
-- coupled with a distinctive 4" plume -- set him
apart from other quail. A mature male will measure
11" in length, making him North America's largest
The habitat of the mountain quail is what you'd
expect: rugged. They prefer hanging out along the
Coast Range and western slopes of the Cascades
anywhere from 500 - 10,000 feet. Mountain quail east
of the cascade range can be sparse, and tough to
locate. In their western habitat, rarely have I found
these birds amid large stands of Douglas fir, or
scurrying along a green carpet of lush moss, where
you'd think they might thrive. Rather, I find most
mountain quail in areas that have been logged or
thinned and are now dense in brush. Not only do the
bushes and grasses which grow in such areas provide
sanctuary, they provide food as well.
During the hunting season, a mountain quail's diet
consists of seeds from grasses, sumac, pines, clover,
thistles and ragweed. They will also dine on
manzanita, elder and service berries as well as
acorns. Finding where these food sources prosper is
key to locating birds. Reclusive by nature, your best
opportunity to spot mountain quail will be when they
are scurrying around for food.
The edges of logging roads and stream beds are prime
locations in which to find mountain quail. At the
elevation at which these birds live, little grit
exists beneath the forest canopy. Thus, quail
frequent roadsides, searching for grit to grind their
food. I've also caught them several times along
rushing rivers and high mountain creeks, where erosion
has exposed gravel.
Given the quail's expansive habitat, hunters usually
have the best success driving logging roads or walking
streams, hoping to catch the birds feeding or
gathering grit. Once seen, the birds usually run and
must be approached on foot. This may force them into
heavier cover, but if you get on them quickly they may
take to the air, where the shooting can be quick.
Mountain quail are among the toughest upland game bird
to hit, thanks to their lightning quick speed and the
thick foliage through which they maneuver.
Hunters using dogs may have success in large areas of
scrub brush where the canines can work their magic.
Groves of scotch bloom are favorite hangouts of
mountain quail and will test any dog, as will
frequently visited tangles of alder and fireweed.
Utilizing dogs for valley quail is a different story.
These smaller cousins of the mountain quail typically
hold tighter and inhabit terrain that is more
dog-friendly. From sea level to approximately 2,000
feet you can expect to find these little speed demons,
west of the Cascades. East of the summit, valley
quail will occupy higher elevations, usually wherever
there is farmland with ample cover and a supply of
Stunning to the eye, valley quail gather in flocks of
up to 200 birds in the fall. Their slate gray bodies
with scaled breasts offering multicolored yellow, buff
and chestnut hues, all combine in the making of this
gorgeous little bird. The curved, black plume of the
male sets it apart from the more drab, petite female;
but don't let their dainty features fool you. They
are fast fliers with a strong instinct to survive.
When these birds flush they sporadically take to the
air, scattering in different directions, offering
shooters chances to take multiple birds.
River bottoms meandering through valley floors are my
favorite place to hunt these birds. One season, a
buddy and I worked less than a mile of prime creek
bottom before taking our limits of ten valley quail
each. These birds love hanging around large swaths of
blackberries as they provide impenetrable shelter and
promote the growth of grasses around their fringes.
They can also be found foraging for clover, grass and
weed seeds, as well as grains and wild berries.
The edges of grain and seed fields with water and
shelter nearby are good bets for holding valley quail.
Look for fence rows covered in grass, providing
sanctuary. Birds will often work out of fence rows
and brush bordering fields. These are ideal settings
in which to work a dog, especially since pheasants
occupy the same habitat.
Valley quail are more vocal than mountain quail.
I've had good luck using my Lohman quail call to
locate birds, then stalk to them. I've also broken up
flocks, then called. This appears to have a calming
effect, and like turkeys, seems to promote reassembly.
Hunters can use the gregarious nature of these birds
to their advantage.
While I have my best luck on mountain quail early and
late in the day, valley quail can be happened upon at
any time. I've caught them along fences, ditches and
in dirt fields taking dust baths throughout the day.
I've also found them congregating near water at
If you're looking to score a double on this unique
quail duo, hunt the zones where their ranges overlap.
I like the 500 to 1,000-foot lines, as both birds seem
to thrive in the habitat that exists there. Long
range shooting in their brushy domain is rare on these
speedsters, so modified or improved cylinder chokes
throwing a payload of 71/2 Game Loads works best. If
I'm hunting open fields for valley quail, I'll slip in
Remington's Express 6 shot for a bit of extra distance
Underrated and somewhat overlooked, the quail of the
Pacific Northwest have much to offer. Miles of
searching and challenging shots in tough terrain make
bagging them very rewarding. Once in hand, you'll be
hard pressed to find birds so pleasing to the eye, and
Editor's note: Scott Haugen's recently released book,
Hunting the Alaskan High Arctic, is available directly
from the author. To order your copy contact him at email@example.com.