Desert quail hunt spurs new upland passion

I’ve been flirting with upland bird hunting most of my life. As a teenager, I had a weimaraner named Remington. Together, we’d shoot pheasants busted from fencerows in the agriculture lands of northern Indiana. There wasn’t a lot of skill to it, but I grew to love the flush, and I loved that bird dog. 

Recently, I ventured to Arizona for a desert quail hunt. There are three species of quail to pursue in the region we were hunting along the border; Gambel’s, Mearn’s and Scaled. Gambel’s are adorned with a topknot that arches forward giving them a unique look. Scaled are more of a gray bird with a checkered pattern to their feathers. The Mearn’s, also called Montezuma, have a beautiful white face. Three distinctly different quail species occupying the same general area. Attempting to take at least one of each makes for an exciting quest. 

On this hunt, I was a guest of Quail Forever’s Development Director, Jordan Martintich. My employer had recently made a substantial donation to Quail Forever. As a thank you, we were invited on this hunt with Border to Border Outfitters. Unfortunately, my boss couldn’t make the dates work, but I was able to represent our company. I know, it was a tough assignment. 

I’ve not hunted a lot of wild quail. I can count the number I’ve killed on two hands. All of those being Bobwhites. I have shot a number of them at game farms over the years, but that’s a totally different experience. Also, with quail numbers far below where they once were in the Midwest, I have not found much desire to kill them. 

What I am interested in, is creating habitat to help restore quail. Learning about native grasses and quail’s specific need for food and cover is driving me to want to become much more involved in the species. This does of course include reaping the rewards of those efforts through the occasionally buttermilk fried quail or one slow smoked then grilled. I plan to invest a lot more time on quail in the future, which is why I joined Quail Forever as a life member during our time in Arizona. 

Upon arriving in the desert, we were greeted by a blizzard. I mean, whiteout conditions, blowing, and howling wind kind of blizzard. I had packed shorts. The preparations I’d made did not meet the climate needs. Nonetheless, we headed out blind behind Jordan’s dogs and within an hour both of us had shot our first Gambel’s. 

The next morning, Jordan and I were joined by Joe, another Quail Forever employee, for our first day of guided hunting. We spent the day with Patrick Flanagan and his expert team of dogs. What a day it was. In all, we dropped 26 birds. A mix of Gambel’s and Scaled. It was my biggest and best day of wingshooting ever, having knocked down 11 myself. It’s safe to say, a new passion was born in the desert that day.

Due to work and school requirements, and the fact that my feet were killing me after pounding out 14-miles the first day, I took Day 2 off. Once I had completed my tasks, I took a drive to the small town of Patagonia. My sole purpose was to see author Jim Harrison’s home where he died. I did, and it was worth it. I strolled into the Wagon Wheel, a restaurant Harrison frequented and asked what he would have ordered. I was served excellent enchiladas. 

Day 3 was about trying to complete the trifecta with a Mearn’s. The Gambel’s and Scaled were tough to flush. They would run out in front of us and often took to the air too far out for a shot. I was told Mearn’s held tight, but my brain had been hardwired over the previous two days to look out in front of the dogs 10 to 20 yards. So after a long hard day of hiking, when the dogs finally went on point, I focused on where I expected the birds to flush. Instead, they rose from literally beneath my feet. One flew between my legs. I was so startled, I whiffed on both barrels. Jordan did complete the trifecta. I was happy for him, but frustrated with myself. 

A couple of bird dogs are in my future. I love labs, and probably will always have one, but adding a couple of pointers to the family is something I now have my heart set on. I know this is likely going to get expensive, but oh well, what hunting hobby isn’t. If it means long walks with good friends, it’ll be money well spent. 

See you down the trail… 

Brandon Butler

Pic: The Arizona border is home to three species of quail; Mearn’s, Gambel’s and Scaled. 

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