An Official Website of the Commonwealth of Kentucky
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
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.
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.
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
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