Copyright ©1999 Spring Creek Communications
Dove and Quail: Littlest Birds, Fastest Action
In terms of meat gained for shells shot, Idaho has magnificent birds to be chased: pheasants, chukars, forest grouse, plains grouse, huns, and so on. But if you factor in the sheer sport of quail and dove gunning, these two small Idaho gamebirds have a great deal to offer. Nearly everyone agrees high-flying doves are among the hardest targets to bring down, especially when theyíre pitching off a high sage hill with a stiff tailwind behind them. (Jumping slow-rising doves at high noon in a sunflower patch you can keep, thank you.) And quail buzzing from tangled willows in all directions like so many giant bumblebees sure causes a lot of confused barrel-flailing for each topknotted bird brought to bag.
By Lew Watson
Like Texasí and Arizonaís exotic whitewing doves, Idaho mourners donít hang around long after shooting starts September 1. Cold weather and the gunning disruption of comfortable daily patterns sends most birds south within several days, even though the season lasts a month or two, and youíll probably find other doves have moved in from farther north to replace those migrated out.
Locating good wheat stubble is my favorite method for hunting both early and late in the season. To draw birds in closer, Iíve started using full-bodied dove dekes, with the added twist of mountain them on a string stretched tightly between two elevated sections of PVC pipe. Works like a charm, and saves running back and forth to opposite ends of big fields trying to get within smoothbore range of incoming birds.
Oh, yeah, use good camouflage clothing and hide in deep shadows and/or thick brush. Doves are fairly dumb, but theyíre not outright stupid. Besides wheatfields and sunflower patches, other good ambush sites include low passes between high hills, anywhere along a brush line in otherwise open country, and especially near isolated waterholes right after sunup and just before sundown.
Idaho dove hunting usually isnít as great as that in other states, so you must work a bit to locate concentrated bird numbers. When you finally hit the jackpot, your barrel will stay hot till you run out of shells or wrap up a limit!
Though doves must be hunted in September, I almost never gun valley quail before late October. Partly thatís due to early-fall heat and many other hunting and fishing opportunities, but itís also because quail arenít mature before then, and sometimes not until late November. Already a small bird, there just isnít much meat on juvenile quail. After the gourmetís delight of ruffed grouse, I find quail the best tasting upland bird in Idaho. I therefore want my 10 birds as plump as I can get them. In fact, I often refer to quail as "The December Bird" Ė I like to hunt them when theyíre fully mature and are easy to locate and track in the lighter snows of southern Idaho.
If you hunt quail in foothills, pick any brushy ravine, position a hunter on each side and a brush-bucking dog in the middle, and proceed with finger on safety. Move slowly, or tight-sticking birds will let you pass them by. If you trust your gunning partner, hug the shadows and wear dull clothing rather than blaze orange; this maximizes shots at birds whizzing back down the wash. Shoot fast but carefully Ė itís easy to pepper your cross-ravine buddy in the heat of heavy quail action. Youíll also find quail far out in valley flats, but almost always near heavy brush. If you can ever separate such birds from tall cover, singles hold wonderfully well in shallow grass and sage to pointing dogs. Otherwise, a small, eager "brush dog" of almost any pedigree is probably a better bet to root valley quail out of the willows.
If a fair fraction of last yearís quail crop survived as breeders, start stocking up on ammo!
In southwest Idaho, we have a smattering of bobwhites in the lower Payette and Boise River Valleys. Pheasant hunters run into these little guys more than deliberate quail hunters. "Gentleman Bob" is known for sticking tight in large coveys, then blowing up like a land mine under a pointerís nose. Good luck in finding these rare bobwhite coveys. They make great gunning when you finally run into a bunch (they are included in your 10- quail Daily Bag Limit.)
There are no seasons in Idaho for the Gambelís quail or the mountain quail. The Gambelís quail was introduced near Salmon, Idaho in 1917, and a small population still exists there. The mountain quail, a native bird, exists in small, scattered populations in dense mountain brush fields usually associated with riparian areas. It is found primarily in the mountains from Boise to Bennett Mountain, the Owyhee Mountains, and along the Little Salmon River, Main Salmon and lower Snake River. They have become so rare that mountain quail are no longer hunted in Idaho. If you spot any populations of these two species of quail, notify the Wildlife bureau of the nearest Fish and Game office.