Quail Hunting Without Dogs
of sound and sight. Move slowly and deliberately, so that you might hear a distant covey rise or spot birds flying into feeding areas or cover.
You must balance the need to cover a lot of ground with the need to go slowly enough at times to be sure that the birds feel the pressure of your physical presence. Stopping frequently can cause a covey or a single to flush that might otherwise let you walk right by. Listen also for that "bob white" whistle of birds in a broken covey that are trying to regroup.
Be ready to shoot! That covey will often flush when you least expect it, and the success of several hours of hunting may come down to 10 seconds of shooting opportunity. Don't walk around with your gun's safety off, just learn to expect the unexpected.
If you're hunting with companions, it can help to holler "birds" or some other signal when you flush quail. This alerts the other hunters, who may not have heard the flush, to be ready to shoot.
When you shoot a flushed bird, be sure to mentally mark the spot where it falls before you swing your gun on another. And while you're picking birds to shoot and mentally marking where they fall, watch the rest of the covey to see where they fly. Accomplishing all of that in a matter of seconds can be quite a challenge.
When you finish shooting and you have birds down, before leaving the spot where you were shooting, drop your hat or handkerchief to mark the spot. If you have trouble locating downed birds, it can be helpful to return to where you shot from to mentally replay the shot and reorient you on where you need to be searching. If hunting with partners you can direct them to where the bird fell before you move.
Losing a downed bird can ruin an otherwise successful hunt. Twenty minutes of fruitless searching when I want to be going after more singles is frustrating enough to make me reconsider getting dogs. However, even with dogs, an occasional bird is lost, because that shot that looks like a sure kill may be a bird that hits the ground running or even flies again after going down.
Check the crop of the first birds you kill to see what they are feeding on. This will help you target areas to hunt, especially if you're familiar enough with the area to know what grows where. Soybeans and corn will be easy to recognize, but you may have to educate yourself a bit to identify other quail foods by seed.
When you scatter a covey and have walked up a few singles, don't give up too quickly. You may be leaving birds that could be flushed if you thoroughly walk out the area, stopping often. On the other hand, you don't want to shoot a covey down to fewer than four or five birds, or you'll be hurting the covey's ability to reestablish itself during the off-season.
My memories of successful hunts stay with me for years, providing incentive to get out into the field again. I recall in detail particularly memorable shots or covey rises from hunts of 25 years ago. This month I'll be remembering a hunt on the last day of the season in a bottomland cornfield flecked white with remains of a recent snow. The quail were plentiful, and I had the place to myself.
When I stopped at the edge of the woods, I watched Canada geese circle and land to feed. With or without bird dogs, it's time to get out in search of your next memorable hunt.