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Quail Hunting 101 – Walking Behind Bird Dogs

Deer season is not over yet, but the hot topic around the proverbial water cooler is the start of quail season. The non-hunting public can appreciate hunting with bird dogs because of the heritage aspect, but hunters cherish the sporting challenge of wingshooting. This is the time of year when people are asking for the basic knowledge about where to hunt or how to hunt, so here’s some Quail Hunting 101 knowledge.
Football season is a big topic in December, but my ears have been hearing more about quail season queries via email, FaceBook and even while grabbing some groceries. Stopping at the local IGA the other day I marveled at their renovations, and also had the chance to say hey to a friend in passing. His groceries were going to feed a group of quail hunters after a Colleton county quail hunt the next morning. My first reaction was to wish him luck and to hope that the conditions proved good for the bird dogs to use their keen sense of smell to locate the birds.
Any dog handler know that humidity levels can affect the canine’s olfactory abilities to find the quail and understanding this offers new appreciation for the work they do. Several quail dogs will be rotated during the hunt, and its rewarding to view them all perform the task that they were bred to do. But each outing is different and one day a bird dog can act like a champion and lock up on point without fail, and another day a lack of wind or too much cover can make them seem like they have a cold and can’t smell a darn thing. Of course, this is simply a part of the hunt, and one comes to know the difference between good bird dog work and less successful days only through experience.
Hunting for quail in South Carolina begins October 1 for those with a commercial quail preserve operation, selling hunts daily for pen-raised quail. The quail season for private lands, hunting on the Back 40 acres so to speak, begins at Thanksgiving. A recent friendly email asked if I was able to provide a hunt for wild quail for two upland hunters. I explained that finding wild quail is no easy task, but to try the Webb Center WMA in Hampton County where the SCDNR has been working for years to cultivate and improve the habitat for bobwhite quail. Hunting on a public property like this requires an extra WMA permit along with a hunting license.
Another recent query asked how come quail hunting at upscale lodges has become so expensive, costing more than a deer hunt at the same location. My answer is that quail hunting is a gentleman’s sport and these hunts involve fine meals, quality lodging and a total outdoor experience. Feeling the frustration from that fellow’s messaged, I explained that owning your own bird dog is one of the surest ways to cut down on paying to quail hunt. Factoring in the vet and food bills you have to manage 365 days a year, its no bargain, but it is a commitment to hunt more and to hunt when you are ready and able.
Quail hunting is unique in that the start time of the hunt can be flexible in order to accommodate the weather. For instance, duck hunting begins before dawn and if you are late, then the best hunting will pass you by. Quail hunting is not subject to the control of sunrise, and while it is best for all parties to pursue gentleman Bob in the cold, a later start is a possibility. For instance, if the temperature is below freezing at 9 a.m. but by 10 a.m. it will be not quite as bone-chillingly cold, then simply begin the hunt later.
A 12-guage shotgun is best for most wingshooting sports like dove hunting and duck hunting, and it is certainly the most popular gun for shooting skeet. Quail hunting differs again from the rest because bobwhite quail are a small gamebird and the shooting range will be fairly close, so a lighter gauge shotgun is a better choice. Whether shooting a side-by-side shotgun or and over and under shotgun, a double-barreled 20-gauge shotgun makes the most sense for hunting quail.
The chief concern for the novice quail hunter is safety, so wearing a blaze orange hat and vest for high visibility is imperative. Walking behind the dogs through the woods calls for comfortable footwear. Pants that offer a degree of toughness can shield your legs from any briars or vines that may grab your attention below the waist. A shirt that does not bind your range of motion will better aid your chances when turning to shoot a quail that is certain to fly an erratic path towards escape cover. Novice hunters need only be exposed to this suite of sensory experiences once, to know whether they want to pursue upland hunting in the future.

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at LowcountryOutdoors.com

Jeff Dennis, Contributor (351 Posts)

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com