Make no mistake, wild quail can be hard to come by: changing agricultural practices, loss of habitat, increase in predation or just poor management. In the Golden Triangle of Georgia, millions of dollars are spent on private, invitation-only quail plantations. Although this doesn’t help the average Joe, it does insure the future of the wild quail population. On the flip side of the coin, at public spaces the competition can be fierce for the limited acreage and number of hunters. However, a wealth of local and national information about those kinds of hunts is available through conservation organizations such as Quail Forever (it’s also a great way to meet likeminded hunters who can keep you in the loop on nearby hunting conditions).
Armed with quail-hunting intelligence and abundant public land, in areas of Missouri, Kansas, or California I say load the dogs, pack up your gear and head on out. Scheduling a public-land hunting trip during the week is a smart move (if possible) to avoid the weekend rush. Just be ready for mad rush of hunters if you’re part of the opening day crowd.
What if you don’t have dogs or live near a decent area for quail hunts? An outfitter is your best solution. Many reputable and qualified wild-quail outfitters can be found in Texas and elsewhere throughout the west. These outfitters hunt vast tracts of private and leased land, which allows for their clients to often find birds. I strongly recommend avoiding “wild quail” outfitters who say they have 500 acres, because there is no way a viable commercial operation can have sustainable hunting of wild quail on such a small acreage (unless they take two groups per year, in that case are they really an outfitter?) As with all outfitters, check references and ask questions. The right questions will tell you plenty about the outfitter. Make sure they hunt enough land to be chasing new birds at the end of the season. An outfitter who has been in business for more than five years is doing something right.
If you want to travel, a reputable outfitter increases your odds of success while at the same time helps ensure that your money is well-spent on results, lodging and meals. Wild quail hunts can range from roughly $1,500 to as much as $10,000 for two-to-three days of hunting, depending on the location and accommodations.
There are some beautiful lodges that have wild quail, and generally they occupy the high end of the price spectrum. Hunting out of a lodge is an excellent way to go if you’re entertaining customers or if enjoy a more refined experience. Many outfitters can accommodate guests in ranch houses or cabins close to the hunting. Several guides I know work out of hotels in the various areas they hunt, which could help significantly reduce the cost of your wild quail hunt. Of course, accommodations rarely have anything to do with the shooting. A five-star lodge may have the same quality of hunting as a guide who works out of a Motel 6.
Meanwhile, Mexico has plenty of fair prices and great lodging for wild quail hunts. The only difference between Mexico and a hunt in the U.S. is that many Mexican quail hunts are without dogs, and instead you walk up on the birds. Mexico is the place for sheer numbers if you’d like to get into 30-to-40 coveys in a day. One of my favorite trips is to hunt the little black throated quail in the Yucatan over good dogs. There are a lot of birds down there and few hunters regardless of the area of Mexico you choose. If considering a Mexico quail hunt I highly recommend using an agent to ensure a reputable outfitter who can give you a successful hunting experience.
Based on my own years of experience as an outfitter, here are some things you should avoid when looking for a wild quail destination:
- Small acreages just can’t handle hunting wild quail on a commercial basis. They’ll shoot out 500 acres in the first couple groups.
- Any place that lets you shoot more than the state limit is either a preserve or running an illegal operation. I know of some “put and take” places that advertise wild quail, but in actuality they are early release birds or put out that day by one of the employees.
- Avoid long drives to the actual hunting field. An hour or so to and from is not uncommon, and not a big deal. It’s when you’re put up in a hotel and the shooting is two or more hours away, this can get to be too much. If the drives are long, an honest outfitter will tell you that. Make sure you ask up front.
- Mixed groups can be a warning sign. Most good guides and outfitters do not mix groups. Quail hunts are personal and an operation that is piling people in will eventually miss something, or drop the ball in some way. It’s not always the case, but definitely something to consider.
- New operations are always a gamble. Some of the new guides we’ve found over the years have turned into well-respected and nationally known outfitters. Many others have faded away never to be heard from again. While not a hard and fast rule, it’s one to think about.
- No internet presence is a red flag. If an outfitter has zero presence on the internet in 2017 he’s either old school (and possibly one of the greats) or is hiding something (like numerous complaints). Most of the legends in the quail world have at least a Facebook page or a mention somewhere.