Originally titled, Arizona Quail Hunting 2020 and Beyond by M.L. Anderson
At AZ Quail Today we wanted to invite one of our journalist friends to help us capture some quail intel from the legendary Dan Priest, founder of AZ Quail Today, Q5, and Arizona Outdoor Adventures.
Dan Priest has been quail hunting in Arizona since 1967, and he says that this year, for Gambels and scaled quail, was one of the best in the last few years. But even at that, there were areas where you had to work hard to get three to four small coveys. Relatively no hatch, he says. “We’re in a twenty year drought,” Priest explains, “so it’s not that good for desert quail. You can still get out and find some, but the old days of getting a limit every day are about done.”
Dan says that there wasn’t much rain this winter, so there probably won’t be a good season next year either. As a general rule, he says, out of every ten birds in your bag, seven or eight will be young ones in a good year. In a bad year there may be no juveniles, or only three or four out of ten.
He found that there were scattered areas where the birds were plentiful, but if you moved even three or four miles, there were no birds. Scouting is the key.
As a general rule (for Gambels and scaled quail) if you put a covey up a time or two, a small number will set. Dan says if you get a half a dozen good points, even out of a large covey, you’re doing pretty good.
Priest once sat up on a high spot and noticed three hunters coming across the cover and he could see the covey of quail they were following, moving ahead of them. The dogs would creep and creep, and birds just started peeling off right and left, a little at a time. When they finally caught up with the covey, only about half the birds were left. Even with great dogs, those birds can be hard to pin.
Dan’s Tips for Finding Desert Quail
For scaled quail, look for soft rolling country, somewhat flat. If there is too much grass, there won’t be so many birds. They need some open areas and grass that isn’t too high or too thick. They also like diversity in the terrain, like patches of prickly pear, mesquite, and a water source.
Gambels are usually in lower elevations, 4500 feet or less, although he’s found them higher occasionally. He says they seem to like lots of prickly pear, different kinds of grasses like Grama grass (the stuff that resembles wheat), new green sprouts after a rain, and filaree (those low-growing little fern-looking plants with tiny lavender flowers). This time of year he’d be looking for green sprouts when he’s out scouting. Gambels also like draws and ravines with lots of cover – not big canyons, just little draws.
Gambels want to put something between you and them, he says, and they’ll fly over a hill or look for a draw to get down into. They love cholla and scrub oak, oak brush like turbinella oak, and manzanita. Those make great cover for them, but if you find them in a creosote flat, that is poor cover so they’re gonna run.
“People walk over an area and think they got them all out of there,” he says, “but if you go back over an area where your dog got some points, you may find a couple more, regardless of how good your dog is.” He says people tend to hunt too fast and leave a lot of singles behind, so slow down and let your dog work an area a couple times.
Dan Priest has a website at www.arizonaoutdooradventures.org. He provides adventures in the White Mountains for kids with disabilities.