by Terry Knight
The early quail season gets underway on Sept. 24 when the early coastal season opens, followed by the general quail season opener on Oct. 15. This year, because of the wetter than normal spring, the quail population is in excellent condition. In some areas there was even a double hatch.
Quail are one of our most interesting and least hunted wild game birds in California. There are two species of quail in Northern California—the California quail (often called the valley quail) and the elusive mountain quail. A male California quail can be identified by the black plume of short curved feathers on top of his head. He weighs about seven ounces and is a social animal, spending most of the year in large coveys. Typically a covey will consist of 10-12 birds.
As they feed there will also be a sentry on lookout for danger. When danger is present the sentinel will give an alarm call and the covey will scurry for cover. Mountain quail are normally shy birds. They are the largest species of quail in the state with an adult male weighing up to 12 ounces. The males and females look alike and can be identified by the long, slender straight black plume on their head. They are normally found at the higher elevations. As the weather turns bad in the winter the quail will migrate to the lower slopes.
They would rather walk then fly and it's not unusual for a mountain quail to walk up to 30 miles from the summer range to their wintering grounds. Both species of quail are nervous little critters. They rarely stand still and when they feed they are constantly communicating with each other with short peeps. When the covey is separated they will call incessantly until they regroup. Quail will usually be found near water and will actually drink several times a day. They also like to hide in brush piles.
Hunters should concentrate their efforts in these areas. Another technique is to listen for the birds to call. Quail are very vocal in the mornings when they regroup. In fact, a few hunters even use a quail call to locate the birds. The valley quail will average 10 to 12 birds per covey while the average size of a covey of mountain quail is about six birds. The real challenge are the mountain quail and they are my favorite bird. These critters would rather run than fly and to bag a limit of mountain quail is equivalent to shooting a trophy four-point buck.