Hunting Valley and Mountain Quail in Oregon and California – “The Journey Within, A Bird Hunter’s Diary”

by Mark Peterson
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Species: Quail
Location: California

After South Dakota, and a long pick-up ride, our next stop was in southern Oregon.  This would be a multiple purpose stop as we would be hunting Valley Quail but also Columbia Whitetail.  Columbia Whitetail, which I will cover in a future blog, are one of the many whitetail subspecies, and specifically found in a small area around the Columbia River in Oregon.  Our original plan was to hunt Valley Quail in Northern California along with Mountain Quail.  However, just before the Valley Quail opener, the state of California announced that they had changed the season opener so that it was 10 days later than normal.  This would mean that they wouldn’t be open when we were hunting in California.  Luckily, Valley Quail, which are also known as California Quail, have a population that stretches along the west coast from southern British Columbia all the way down to the Baja Peninsula of Mexico.

I have hunted quail before, but they were bobwhites in Kansas.  I thought I had some idea of what to expect, but was I surprised on the difference in cover that Valley Quail call home in southern Oregon.  On our first day out, we had no problem finding coveys.  Within minutes of letting the dogs out, they were on point. But the quail did not hold or fly.  They ran! Those coveys ran full tilt into one, of the many, nastiest thorn patches I have ever seen.  The dogs would slowly work up, and eventually surround thorn patches on point.  These patches were 5-10- feet high and most were 20-100 feet in diameter.  They were so thick there was no way the dogs could get into them to flush the birds.  Having brush pants, I decided I would push through them to get the birds to flush.  That was a “no go”.  After 30 minutes of effort, I ended up jumping up and down on the top of the thicket.   It was obvious to me that the Valley Quail were running around in the thicket and had no intention of flying.  The retreat signal was sounded; we backed out and looked for another covey that was, hopefully, in a more huntable area. 

We went to another area and it didn’t take long to find another covey.  Just like the earlier coveys, they ran into an even bigger thorn patch.  We attempted the same techniques and got the same results; no birds took flight.  We continued on and found another covey.  This covey ran into a thorn patch just like the previous ones, but this time the patch was narrow and had two fingers.  I started walking through the fingers, and as I made my way to the last five feet of the patch, no less than 25 birds exploded from the last 5 feet of cover.  A couple of quick shots and we had our Valley Quail.  We then spent the next hour going after singles from this covey. Some went into small patches that we could work much easier.  The dogs did awesome as we worked along picking up singles.  We continued for the rest of the day playing the same game with larger coveys.  Some we would eventually get to flush, but more often than not, we wouldn’t be able to get them to move out of the thick thorn patches. Hunting Valley Quail in these thorn patches was just not fun.

After finishing up our Columbia Whitetail hunt in Oregon, we drove five hours south into northern California to hunt for Mountain Quail.   Mountain Quail live at higher altitudes and in some of the thickest, nasty habitat that you can think of.  Instead of taking to flight, their usual habit is to run like crazy and use the thick cover to separate from their predators.  The same goes for trying to separate themselves from bird dogs.  Both northern California and southern Oregon have Mountain Quail.  Both seem to hold great populations, but in the end, I choose California based on the vastness of the area we could hunt there.  Mountain Quail are one of the tougher upland birds to harvest in the Upland Slam. 

Our mornings started out early in California as our goal was to get into the mountains and be at a good starting point as the sun rose.   We wanted to catch coveys moving early.  As we pulled into the mountainous area of Trinity County, California, we were greeted with an amazing sunrise.  As we looked below us, the lower elevations were packed in with fog.  Being higher up the mountain, we could look right over the top of the fog.  There is always a lot of luck in hunting, but if you are in the right area, your chance for success increases.  We were in the right area and less than 20 minutes after starting, we saw our first covey of Mountain Quail. They took off running for thicker cover.  But we moved quick enough to get them to take flight.   Both Dad and I made our first shots count.  Within 25 minutes of our first morning hunting Mountain Quail, I held a gorgeous male in my hand. 

At that moment, I thought to myself that I may actually be able to complete this Upland Slam.  The project had started off with a grand plan, but then as it started there were so many things that would need to fall in place.  From the first day of hunting snowcock in Nevada, things worked out and just lined up.  The key to this plan is having great, hard-working dogs, which we have.  We needed to be in shape and have the ability to cover the needed terrain, which we were able to do.  Then, it is hunting the right places to have the opportunity to succeed.  I can’t thank Tony Witte, at WTA, enough for finding this hidden gem of an outfitter in northern California.   If you are looking for one of the very best places to hunt Mountain Quail, which later in the season can be combined with Valley Quail, give the team at WTA a call.

After California, we had a long forty-hour drive back to Michigan.  Next up, after a couple days of rest, we head north to Safari River Outfitters in Saskatchewan to chase Spruce and Ruffed grouse and, hopefully, find a snipe.

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