Southwest Oregon’s Quail of the Mountain
By Gary Lewis
Mountain quail sightings are short affairs punctuated by whirrs of wings and palpitations of the heart, but a hunter is more likely to hear mountain quail before he sees them.
An alarm call cle-cle-cle is the sound a hunter is most likely to hear. After the covey is disturbed, mountain quail regroup with a series of whistled how-how-how assembly calls.This is the most overlooked bird hunt in the state, if not the continent. Darren Roe of Roe Outfitters in Klamath Falls guides a few hunters for mountain quail every year, on both sides of the Cascades. He prefers to chase them with a single pointer.
"I won't throw a dog down until I see birds. I'll drive around until I see the birds graveling or watering. They will run like the Dickens unless you break them up first."
Most coveys go unhunted over the course of a year. "There are many areas where you can definitely get away from other hunters." Roe said. "Some of these places are so remote they may never have seen another hunter."
The birds thrive on the brushy edges of conifer forests and streams. They eat the fruit of the blackberry, elderberry, hackberry, seviceberry, Oregon grape, gooseberry, poison oak and manzanita. Mountain quail make good use of pine nuts, clover, and the seeds of weeds and grasses. The quail roost under heavy brush or in small trees, and home territories can take in large areas. When winter comes, they head to lower elevations, following the snowline down.
Birds are likely to be found close to water and food sources. 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.
The season runs September 1 through January 31. A hunter may take 10 mountain quail a day and have up to 20 in possession. Because of seasonal migrations, October and November offer the best opportunities to the traveling quail hunter.
Focus on Roseburg and points south: Grants Pass, Medford and Ashland. For a base camp, consider Union Creek or Diamond Lake. Typical quail habitat is between 2500 and 6000 feet above sea level, in the regrowth of an old logging area or burn. Coveys may be widely scattered. Since they live on steep, brushy hillsides, a good way to hunt is to ride logging roads on a mountain bike.
With a few days to spend, the upland hunter should be able to find birds among the rhododendrons, manzanita and blackberries.
Be ready to shoot when the birds bounce from the rhododendrons. It will be a challenge for a pointing dog and a hunter used to open country, but it's hard to think of a more interesting and agreeable quarry than the mountain quail.