Hunting Mountain Quail in the High Sierra is not for the faint of heart or weak of mind. First, there is the terrain and the weather. The high altitude makes for a tough trek trying to flush a covey and the dry air makes you dehydrated quickly. We caught up with wild-food chef and hunter extraordinaire, Hank Shaw, to chase these blue buggers up and down the mountain. “This is real quail hunting,” he said. “This is arguably the hardest quail hunting in North America.”
There are various reasons that Shaw zeroed in on these tasty birds being so difficult to hunt. For starters, they keep a tight knit crew. Mountain Quail have smaller coveys than most other quail, with 14 being the max he’s been able to spot in a single covey. Compare that to the upwards of 30 quail you can find in a Valley Quail covey and you’re bound to get less based on simple math alone.
Besides the small number of quails in each covey, and the rugged terrain they call home, it also becomes increasingly difficult to hunt them because of their color. They just blend into the ground and surrounding area. “You never want to get two in a single shot, unless you have a dog, because you’re bound to lose one,” Shaw said. Finally, there isn’t a lot of places you can go to actually hunt them, with the majority of the hunting done in the High Sierra in California.
Be prepared to hike and hike and hike to get one, and one might be all you get. Shaw told us that he has had days where he’s hiked in excess of ten miles to come up empty. But this is a labor of love for Shaw. “It’s so hard to get on animals up here that everyone is a trophy, every single one,” he said.