If you own a good pair of running shoes — or better yet, a trained hunting dog — hunting Gambel’s quail in southwestern Utah might be a fun adventure this fall.
The number of Gambel’s quail has dipped a bit this year, but decent numbers of birds should still be available when Utah’s quail hunt opens Nov. 3. You can hunt both Gambel’s and California quail until Dec. 31. (Utah is also home to a small population of scaled quail, but hunting for them is not allowed.)
Jason Robinson, upland game coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, says opportunities to hunt California quail in Utah are limited: most California quail are found in Duchesne and Uintah counties on land that’s either privately owned or part of the Ute Indian Reservation. (If you decide to hunt California quail, look for them in river bottoms that have Buffalo berry and Russian olive trees in them.)
Hunting Gambel’s quail is different: they’re found mostly on public land in the western part of Washington County.
“Gambel’s quail are colorful birds that live in areas filled with Joshua trees,” Robinson says. “Hunting them is a unique experience many in Utah have never tried.”
Robinson provides tips to help you locate quail and take some birds this fall:
Tip 1 — Look for Joshua trees
To find Gambel’s quail, look for Joshua trees. “If you’re seeing Joshua trees,” he says, “you’re likely in the right area. It’s a good place to start.”
Tip 2 — Focus your efforts in dry washes and draws
Once you’ve found a landscape with Joshua trees on it, focus your efforts in dry washes and draws. Gambel’s quail zero in on these areas, especially washes and draws that have desert almond or black brush in them.
Tip 3 — Use a trained hunting dog
Gambel’s quail are excellent runners. Because they’d rather run than fly, hunting with a trained dog is a huge advantage. “A dog can often cause a quail to freeze in place,” Robinson says. “Once it’s caused a bird to hold, you can walk to the spot and cause the bird to flush.”
Even if your dog flushes an entire covey of quail before you get there, that’s not a bad thing. “When a covey flushes,” he says, “individual birds often get separated from the group. Birds that are separated typically hold tighter than birds that are still with the group. If your dog breaks up a covey, it’ll have an easier time finding and pointing individual birds.”
Tip 4— Get ready to run
If you don’t have a dog, you can still hunt Gambel’s quail and find success. But you need to be in good physical condition and ready to run.
Robinson encourages you to walk through dry washes and draws, staying alert and watching the area ahead of you. “If you see quail running,” he says, “don’t be afraid to go after them. If you close the gap fast enough, you might cause the birds to flush close enough for a good shot.”