All hail the quail

Field and Game - - ALL HAIL THE QUAIL -

Quail pro­vide an­other amaz­ing hunt­ing ex­pe­ri­ence: spend­ing time out­doors, watch­ing ea­ger dogs work, sport­ing shot­gun car­ried open in the au­tumn sun­shine. David Mcnabb shares his pas­sion for hunt­ing quail, plus a few tips. Whether work­ing point­ing dogs or flush­ing dogs, quail hunt­ing is an en­gag­ing pur­suit for all. For some, it’s ad­dic­tive. As quail hunt­ing sea­sons get un­der­way around Aus­tralia, here are some point­ers (ex­cuse the pun) for the early sea­son hunters. Dogs

Our ca­nine com­pan­ions bring gen­er­a­tions of breed­ing for this work. Keen dogs will out­run their phys­i­cal con­di­tion and then you will have all sorts of prob­lems. Make sure you’ve pre­pared your four-legged friend for the hunt­ing sea­son well in ad­vance, and that in­cludes a good diet and plenty of ex­er­cise. It’s as im­por­tant for reg­u­lar long runs to con­di­tion their pads too. Above all, make sure you have ac­cess to wa­ter, and that’s not a muddy stock wal­low. Take reg­u­lar breaks when hunt­ing, es­pe­cially in the early part of the sea­son. If you have sev­eral dogs, ro­tate them through­out the hunt whilst the other rests in the shade. It’s not a race to fill your bag, af­ter all what will you do when you go home, mow lawns? I’d pre­fer to stay in the coun­try and en­joy it all. It is worth re­peat­ing pre­vi­ous ad­vice from vet Dr Karen Davies: hy­dra­tion is vi­tal, and keen dogs will work to ex­haus­tion, so you need to pro­vided breaks. You can find Karen’s pre­vi­ous col­umns at

Habi­tat

Do you know your game and what are they feed­ing on? Check the crops of the birds you har­vest for their pre­ferred tucker. You can then ap­ply this knowl­edge when scout­ing. While the ma­jor­ity of hunt­ing is of stub­ble quail (know your lo­cal reg­u­la­tions for where to hunt stub­ble quail or brown quail), these wily game birds love na­tive grasses and seed.

Look for vari­able cover that pro­vides food sources, ac­cess to wa­ter or mois­ture, and cover from preda­tors. You know you’re in quail habi­tat when you spot their dust baths or lit­tle cir­cu­lar de­pres­sions in the soil, and you may spot drop­pings nearby.

ID your birds

As quail hunters it’s our re­spon­si­bil­ity to know our game and the rules of the hunt. This means we must dis­tin­guish the dif­fer­ent species of quail as they flush. Reg­u­la­tions vary across states, and in Vic­to­ria and South Aus­tralia we’ll be hunt­ing stub­ble quail. In Tas­ma­nia we’ll be hunt­ing brown quail, and stub­ble quail are pro­tected.

Care is needed when hunt­ing stub­ble quail near marshy and wet fringes, you may come across brown quail too. Do you know the dif­fer­ence? You may also come

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across but­ton quail in some dis­tricts, af­ter all, it’s been an in­cred­i­ble breed­ing sea­son for all birds and wildlife, not to men­tion the flies and mos­qui­toes. It’s crit­i­cal to avoid tak­ing a shot at the wrong quail, and the sim­plest method to avoid prob­lems is, if you’re in doubt, don’t shoot.

Hunt­ing strat­egy

Take ad­van­tage of the cool, dewy morn­ings au­tumn has to of­fer. You and your ca­nine hunt­ing mate will en­joy bet­ter hunt­ing. Scent­ing con­di­tions are bet­ter and your dog will not wear out so quickly. Use the breeze to your ad­van­tage. Work your dog into the wind wher­ever pos­si­ble. While you don’t need to be a slave to this with more ex­pe­ri­enced dogs, it is help­ful with younger dogs learn­ing their craft.

What about your shooting skills. Are you up to the task of tak­ing a quick and hu­mane shot? How much did you prac­tice your shooting in the off-sea­son? Re­mem­ber to use your sec­ond bar­rel as a fol­low-up shot to cleanly and hu­manely kill the bird you wing-tipped with the edge of pat­tern. Do not be tempted to use your sec­ond shot on an­other bird in a flushed covey. What if you wound it? Chances are it will get away.

Re­cov­ery of all game shot is fun­da­men­tal to eth­i­cal hunt­ing, and our own Code of Con­duct. There­fore, in all the ex­cite­ment of a flush­ing covey, focus on the first downed bird and re­trieve it straight away. If hunt­ing in teams, di­rect an­other hunter to where you saw the bird drop and get the dog to scent straight away.

Fit for the ta­ble

Noth­ing shows more re­spect for game birds than the care taken to pre­pare birds for the ta­ble. There are many ways to clean and dress quail; take your time and you’ll en­joy a won­der­ful feast.

One method that works when hunt­ing with young dogs, and also in warmer weather, is this: af­ter the flush or point, and the bird is well shot and killed cleanly, re­trieved ten­derly to hand by your ca­nine hunt­ing com­pan­ion, then stop. Sit the dog, give them a drink and clean loose feath­ers from their mouth. Then pluck the bird straight away. The feath­ers come off cleanly with­out mark­ing the skin and be­fore any blood con­geals. It set­tles down young dogs af­ter the ex­cite­ment of find­ing birds; it gives all dogs a spell. Re­mem­ber, some breeds will cover four times more ground than the hunter; if you’re clock­ing up five to 10 km, think about how far your four-legged mate is run­ning.

Here at Field & Game Aus­tralia, we wel­come new game bird recipes. What’s your favourite way to cook and serve quail?

Pri­vate land

Most if not all quail hunt­ing re­lies on pri­vate land ac­cess. Ac­cess to hunt on some­one’s prop­erty is a real priv­i­lege and is to be re­spected. It takes time to build good re­la­tion­ships, and share an un­der­stand­ing of what we do and why. Many farm­ers have work­ing dogs and our hunt­ing bud­dies are not that dif­fer­ent. Be sure to have your FGA mem­ber­ship card. Of­fer to pick up equip­ment from the city or in town on your way through. Re­mem­ber the re­la­tion­ship af­ter the hunt­ing sea­son is over, stay in touch through­out the year. >>

Equip­ment

You can write a chap­ter on favourite gear for quail hunt­ing. Aside from a good, keen, fit gun­dog and a well-worn pair of boots, the other essential item is your shot­gun. There’s plenty of choices to be made here, too: the main ones we’ll ad­dress are for quick, hu­mane dis­patch of your game, which is such an im­por­tant part of eth­i­cal hunt­ing.

You may favour fast-mov­ing sub gauges, or you’re a tra­di­tion­al­ist who seeks out the bal­ance of a side-by-side across your arm, or you may find the sin­gle-sight­ing plane and fa­mil­iar­ity of the over-and-un­der. It doesn’t mat­ter pro­vided you ad­dress two crit­i­cal as­pects.

Firstly, you are fa­mil­iar with your gun and con­fi­dent when us­ing it. Quail hunt­ing seems to hap­pen in sec­onds, and when you’re start­ing out, it can feel like mi­crosec­onds.

Sec­ondly, be sure to pat­tern your gun with your se­lected am­mu­ni­tion. Quail are small and fast mov­ing; have you ever tried catch­ing up to the quail that flushes ahead of your dog and curls off down­wind in a stiff breeze? It’s gone in the blink of an eye. En­sure your gun/choke/ ammo com­bi­na­tion de­liv­ers large, even pat­terns at the typ­i­cal range you shoot quail. Con­sider your pre­ferred style of hunt­ing too — point­ing dog or flush­ing dog. Point­ing dogs al­low you to get right up to the ac­tion; with an open choke for the first bar­rel, shots are taken at a sport­ing range and the bird stays in good con­di­tion for the ta­ble. Hunt­ing over flush­ing dogs the range will be longer, then you will con­sider tight­en­ing the choke some­what.

And prac­tice. More.

Safety

Don’t take the shot if your dog breaks to the flush or the shot. Sim­i­larly, don’t be tempted to shoot at a rear­ward flush­ing bird (shooting be­hind the line). You’re ei­ther hunt­ing or you’re train­ing your dog. Very few of us can ef­fec­tively do both at the same time. You can train your dog in the hunt­ing field, but it prob­a­bly means you aren’t shooting and you’re putting all your ef­fort in work­ing and con­trol­ling your dog. And you know what, that gives some­one a fan­tas­tic in­tro­duc­tion to one of hunt­ing’s in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ences (sub­ject to all ap­pro­pri­ate li­cences, of course).

There is no game bird on this planet that’s worth tak­ing an un­safe shot or putting your dog or your hunt­ing com­pan­ions in dan­ger. That’s all that needs to be said; it’s up to each of us to put this into prac­tice. Ev­ery time. With­out fail.

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