Mountain Quail in Southwest Oregon
By Gary Lewis
A jewel set in a glacier-scoured valley between Mt. Thielsen and Mt. Bailey, Diamond Lake was named for John Diamond, who discovered it in 1852. For the fishermen who have sampled its waters, it sparkles in memory, but for the bird hunter, the real treasure can be found in the foothills to the west – ruffed grouse and some of the highest concentrations of mountain quail in the state.
Diamond Lake sits at an elevation of 5183 feet above sea level. Heading west, the mountains slope away toward the valleys of the Umpqua and the Rogue.
Two paved highways intersect at Diamond Lake, bringing travelers from Medford, Roseburg, Bend, Klamath Falls and beyond.
Highway 138 heads to Roseburg and Highway 230 points to Medford. Both of these arteries are intersected by gravel roads. These in turn, are joined by secondary ribbons that take the hunter deeper into the hills, through active logging areas and along small freestone creeks.At higher elevations, pines, firs and alders dominate. Drop closer to 3000 feet and the hunter encounters stands of oaks.
I knew I had made a mistake when I flushed two grouse at the edge of a clearing on the first day of our elk hunt. For the next two days, we saw dozens of mountain quail and several groups of grouse. My 20-gauge was home in the safe.
When I headed home to re-supply, I brought back my 20-gauge and a box of No. 8s. My preparations paid off on a narrow trail when I found grouse and a covey of close to 20 quail. For the next hour, they provided good sport among the head-high rhododendrons.
West of Diamond Lake, toward Steamboat on the north, Trail on the south, and Tiller in the middle (on Highway 227), mountain quail can be found at elevations down to 2,000 feet. The birds live along brushy edges of conifer forests and streams. They eat berries, clover, and seeds of weeds and grasses; the quail roost under heavy brush or in small trees. Home territories take in large areas. When snow falls, they head to lower elevations, following the snowline down to avoid severe weather.
Few upland game birds are as difficult to hunt. They run at the sight of a hunter. Coveys are likely to move ahead of the dogs, but once they flush, in the rhododendrons and conifers, a pointing dog can find singles holding tight.
To locate quail and grouse, drive forest roads where the birds seek gravel for their crops. Birds are likely to be found close to water and food sources. Because of recent logging activity, the roads are well-maintained, but deeper in the mountains, a hunter might encounter washouts and downed trees. A high-clearance 4x4 is a good choice.
Groups of quail generally number seven to nine birds. They do not form large coveys, but hunters sometimes see loose groups of birds feeding in the same area.
Listen for the call anytime of day, but pay close attention in the evening, as feeding birds reassemble near water prior to roosting.
This section of Oregon's Cascades is primarily public land or timber company ground, open to public access. For BLM and Forest Service maps, call Bend Mapping at 541-389-7440.
A 3-day nonresident hunting license ($21.50) allows the hunter to pursue upland birds (and migratory waterfowl). Licenses are available at sporting goods stores. For information, or to request regulations, call 800-720-6339. The bag limit is 10 mountain quail with 20 in possession.
The nearest airport is Rogue Valley – International Medford Airport. The hunting area is only an hour's drive to the east on highways 62 and 230.
Campgrounds and primitive campsites are easy to find along either highway and in the forest.
In October and November, the temperatures range from daytime highs of 30- to 65-degrees Fahrenheit. Rainfall is more common than snow, but a hunter should be prepared for both.
Diamond Lake Resort makes a good base camp for mobile hunters. Accommodations range from primitive campsites to a motel and vintage cabins.
The season runs September 1 through January 31. Because of seasonal migrations, October and November offer the best opportunities to find quail. With a few days to spend in the field, the upland hunter should be able to find birds among the rhododendrons, manzanita and blackberries.