Quail Hunting


Hunting bobwhite quail is one of the most exciting adventures in hunting. A covey explosion at your feet, even when your dog is on point, may leave you quivering, holding a full gun, no shots, no birds.

Quail populations are highly dependent on the weather. Severe winters can eliminate a high percentage of the birds. With small bodies, they can not store enough food to survive long periods of cold weather. Therefore, quail must eat to survive cold weather, and they can’t scratch through snow as well as larger birds such as turkeys. This makes it very important to have food plots including plants that hold their seeds and stand in heavy snow. These heavy plants also allow the quail to eat without being exposed to predators.

Hunters can estimate the number of birds that survived the previous winter by listening for “bob-white” calls in the spring. This call, which can be heard for some distance, is one way wildlife managers estimate the number of birds for the following season.

After the birds mate, frequency of spring rains becomes important. While the nest may be flooded, hens will normally attempt to nest again if their first attempt fails. However, once hatched, the chicks are reasonably small creatures and a cold rain can chill them to the point where they do not survive.

Like several other animals, quail are known as an edge species. They prefer reasonably dense cover within walking distance of food. During hunting season, the primary food for quail will be weed seed and waste grain in the field. If the landowner has planted food plots, quail may have all food and cover requirements in one convenient area. Early in the season, birds may still be including insects from the grasses, but after the first hard freeze, insects will be eliminated. With this in mind, the best areas to find a covey of birds will probably be within 25 yards of the edge between cultivated grain fields (or food plots) and weedy or grassy field.

Normally, quail get all the water they need from morning dew or small watering holes. In extremely dry weather, hunters could focus on those food plots that have continuous water such as a small creek or pond. As quail are vulnerable to predators when they are in 38 - BASIC HUNTING the open, an area having corridors of heavy cover to the water will be the area where they will concentrate.

Native grasses that allow the birds to search for food within the grassy cover are ideal cover plants for quail. These grasses can be identified easily. If you can see barren soil between tall clumps of grass, that is good quail cover. If it is a mat of grass on the soil, the birds can not move easily through the grass and food is more difficult to find.

Coveys of quail will be found in the same area year after year, if the habitat remains constant and weather conditions are good. Individual quail will leave their home range during the mating season, but one mate or the other will be in the same habitat as the previous year. During the hunting season, the covey may move from one primary location to another within a few hundred yards, but as long as the habitat is good, the birds will stay in that general area.


Work With Your Dog

A good hunting dog is a great asset with quail. By preparing your dog for hunting season, the hunt will be much more enjoyable and successful. Work the dog on holding point and searching for simulated downed birds. When you get in the field, a trained dog that uses a slow approach with careful search of quail habitat will produce the most birds.

Shooting Skills

Hunters also need to train themselves prior to the first covey flush. Quail are skillful flyers, and will offer only quick shots. Target shooting should include throwing targets at various angles with the gun at ready rather than shouldered. To simulate confusion of covey rise, throw multiple targets in rapid sequence.

Know Quail Habits

Quail are predictable to be in the same fields nearly every day. They will eat or rest at the same time each day as well. When the hunter knows these habits, it will simplify the hunt and eliminate hunting areas where the birds are not present.

Be Aware of All Hunters

Many times the birds are found in very heavy cover, tall enoughPractice to hide other hunters. Because of this and the excitement of a covey flush, each hunter needs to know the location of other hunters and establish safe shooting lanes. Blaze orange hunting clothes will help all hunters maintain visual contact.

Covey Rise

Flushing a covey of quail is as exciting as any activity in shooting. When you locate a covey of quail, they will typically flush from a very small area, no more than a few square feet. Take a mental note of the number of birds that flush, pick a single bird, shoot, pick a second bird, shoot, mark downed birds, and watch the flight path of the remaining birds. All this will occur in 2 to 3 seconds.


After you retrieve downed birds, the information on number of birds and flight path becomes important. Hunters who are looking to the future will not over-harvest a covey of birds. You want approximately 7 to 8 birds from a covey to survive hunting season as brood stock for the following season. Remember they will still face many perils before spring mating. Therefore, hunting singles should be a consideration only when the covey is large enough to support additional harvest. When this is the case, allow the dogs to find individual birds in the area where the covey landed. Again, be aware of your harvest goal.

Retrieve Downed Birds

Quail are a valuable wildlife resource, and hunters should make every attempt to find each downed bird. Don’t rely on your dog to see it fall, as it may be difficult for the dog to see a downed bird in heavy cover. Mark the location of the bird and direct your dog to that spot for the best opportunity to retrieve it. If not found immediately, mark the spot with a hat or glove and proceed in slowly increasing circles. Listen for “fluttering wings” as a wounded bird that has hidden will have a few seconds of wing action as it dies.


Quail are small birds and will cool quickly if you desire not to field dress them. If you are planning to be in the field all day, removing the internal organs will reduce the amount of material from the intestines that may penetrate into the meat. By simply splitting the skin between the end of the breast bone and the tail, and folding the bird open, all organs can be quickly removed.

Bobwhites can be skinned or plucked. Plucked birds will be slightly more moist when cooked as there is some fat stored in the skin. To skin them, push one finger under the skin on the breast and remove the skin and feathers from the bird. By gripping the edge of the skin after the initial split, large sections of skin and feathers can be removed. If you desire to pluck the bird, dry plucking is recommended. Be careful around shot entry holes as the skin will tend to tear as you are removing the feathers.

Quail can be cooked whole or you can cut across the back to remove the thighs and legs (which can be cooked as one piece). The breast and wing can also be split if you want them to cook faster. Cut through the back from the neck to the tip of the breast and split the breastbone. One wing and half the breast will be in each resulting piece.

As with other game, carefully clean all shot entries. Remove feathers and shot if possible. Split the meat with a fillet knife to penetrate and remove this material. Wash thoroughly and soak in iced salt water for at least an hour before cooking or freezing. They can be frozen using the same technique as rabbit or squirrel. If the birds are frozen, they should be used within a few months to preserve flavor.


Fried Quail for Breakfast

Art Boebinger, Retired,
Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources

  • 6 Quail 6-9 Slices bacon
  • 1⁄2 Cup of flour
  • 1 Tsp salt
  • 1 Tsp pepper Gravy (optional)

Mix flour, salt and pepper and place in a bag. Split quail in half, add them to the bag and coat them in flour mixture by shaking. Fry bacon in a cast-iron skillet until crisp; transfer bacon to plate with absorbent paper (cover to keep warm). Fry quail in the bacon grease over medium-high heat until they are nice golden brown on both sides. Reduce heat and continue cooking the birds until they are just tender. Transfer to the warm platter with bacon. Serve with eggs, biscuits & gravy or new boiled potatoes & gravy.

Quail Pie

Preston Jolly, Retired,
Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources
  • 12 Quail Seasoned salt
  • 1 Can of peas Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Small can pimentos Cornstarch
  • 1 Cup chopped celery Butter (to saute)
  • 2 Pie crusts

Cook quail in water until tender. Remove and cut meat into small pieces. Save broth and add peas and pimento. Saute celery in butter and add broth mixture, and quail meat. Use salt and Worcestershire sauce to taste. Bring mixture to slow boil and add cornstarch to thicken. Place one pie crust in large pie plate. Pour mixture into pie crust and cover with top crust. Dot with butter and bake in 350 degree oven for 45 minutes.