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 help us capture and some quail intel from our friend at Double Aero Guides, Matt Russell!
Matt is a quail guide, so he has some good practical tips for quail hunters. Like Dan, he says that quail hunting wasn’t that fantastic this year, particularly for Mearns. He had a couple guys who were insistent about wanting to hunt for Mearns, but he just had to turn them down. The monsoon was so poor and there were hardly any winter rains, so Mearns hunting was bad. The Mearns quail need grass for cover and they also need insects, so when the monsoon is a “non”-soon, Mearns numbers will be low. Russell says that even if we somehow got a 20-inch monsoon, it would still take two to three years for the Mearns to be good.
Matt has been guiding for friends for about fifteen years, and professionally for eight or nine years. He has Braque du Bourbonnais dogs. He won’t run his dogs when it’s warm out, including October and even half of November. One of his dogs was bit on the chest by a rattler and it cost 2-3K and he still almost lost her. It’s just not worth the risk running dogs when it’s hot enough for snakes. He goes by nighttime temperatures. Even when it’s in the 60’s the snakes will come out and bask in the sun, he says – he wants it to be cold for multiple weeks before he’ll let his dogs out in the desert.
Finding quail requires lots of homework, says Matt, including researching topography, vegetation, and habitat. Scouting takes time and gas. Buying, training, and caring for dogs is also a lot of work and expense, so a good quail guide isn’t cheap. Matt says prices vary a little, and guys with better reputations might be a little more. He prefers to take no more than two hunters out at a time, but he said he wouldn’t turn down a grandpa, dad, and kid. He absolutely loves his profession and works at it all year. He’s out scouting and looking nine months out of the year. Matt told me he charges $600/day for the first gun, and $300 for the second. If there is a third, that would also be $300.
When hiring a guide, Matt says communicate and be honest. Be open about what you expect. He says ask around to see if any of your buddies have referrals, and look at Instagram and Facebook pages to see photos and reports. Social media is a great way to find a guide, and he says he gets a lot of clients because A, they want to see his unusual dogs, or B, they figure an Eagle Scout is trustworthy. Gotta agree there, my son is an Eagle Scout. A good guide will tell you up front what to expect. Matt says he turned away three potential clients this year who wanted to go for Mearns because he knew it wouldn’t be a good experience.
I specifically asked Matt about the etiquette involved in hiring a quail guide. I’m familiar with fishing guides and I know they occasionally have a problem with “hole jumpers” who hire them just to learn their spots. He says it is public land, but it’s pretty rude to use the guide to find a place, then show up again and shoot the quail down. A lot of guides won’t even take Arizonans out, especially if they have dogs, he says, because they know those guys are just going to pound that area all year and decimate the coveys. Use a guide to learn generalities of habitat and vegetation and behavior, then you can find your own quail. He says if you keep your eyes open while you’re out doing other things like deer hunting, off-roading, etc., you can find good quail areas in the off season. Make a note of those places, and when you go out, hit an area again even if there were no quail one day. They do move around.
As a general rule, he looks for scaled quail from 3000-5000 feet, in places with grass, sotol, yucca, agave, etc. Gambels can be anywhere from 1500 to even 6000 feet – they are very hardy and resilient, he says, and can be found in diverse habitats. In the desert, they like prickly pear, cholla, grass, and ocotillo, and he’s even found them in junipers. If he needs to boot his dogs, he uses Lewis Dog Boots. He says they’re easy to put on, and tough. They’re actually made from tire rubber. You wrap first aid tape around the dog’s leg, slip the boot on, then use duct tape to secure the boot to the first aid tape. They stay on but are easy to remove when you want to.
You can see Matt and his gorgeous dogs at www.doubleaeroguides.com. You really should check his page out. The dogs are amazing.