Good year for AZ Mearns’ quail

Good year for AZ Mearns’ quail

Good year for AZ Mearns’ quail

Published by
January 15, 2014

Quail hunters heading into the rugged mountain terrain of the Santa Rita Mountain range are enjoying the best Mearns’ quail hunting in a number of years. Monsoonal rains came at the right time this summer which triggered a better than average hatch of chicks and tall native grasses protected these young quail allowing clutches that were better than average. In addition to ideal nesting conditions, there was a good carryover of adult birds from the previous season that allowed for more dispersed nesting.

“We kind of hoped that the Mearns’ quail population would bounce back this year and it did. Hunter success has been good and upland game hunters are seeing more coveys during the course of the hunt, but unfortunately the size of a covey can number from anywhere from a couple of birds to as many as a dozen. Wing shooters hunting over gun dogs are doing fine when working out a canyon from the floor on up to the top of ridges. Those hunters concentrating on northern facing slopes, that have good oak tree cover, are finding bigger coveys of birds as compared to those working the flatter savannahs and mesas,” said Kirby Bristow, Wildlife Biologist with the Arizona Game and Fish Dept.

NEARLY A LIMIT OF MEARNS’ QUAILBuzz Brizendine almost bagged his 8 bird limit of Mearns’ quail on a snowy day in the Santa Rita Mountains just southwest of Sonoita. Brizendine shows off a game strap with 7 mixed Mearns’ quail that he shot with a 20 ga. O/U. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC

Western Outdoor News headed over to Arizona just prior to Christmas to check out the quail hunting. A couple of weeks earlier this hunting editor had shot a handful of Gambel’s and scaled (blue) quail and was looking forward to a small western quail slam after already having enjoyed a very productive California Valley quail hunt in Baja Norte with outfitter Rancho El Coyote-Meling.

WON traveled with longtime sport captain Buzz Brizendine who took a few days off from painting his vessel to test his shooting skills on hard to hunt Mearns’ quail. Our plan was to arrive in Sonoita, check in at the dog friendly Sonoita Inn, (800) 696-1006 and then meet up with Kirby and fellow Arizona biologist Randy Babb of Mesa.

Upon arrival at the inn the weather was building up as a huge winter storm front was approaching this part of the state with the prediction of heavy rain after midnight. Much to this hunting editor’s surprise standing at the check-in desk was Kevin Howard, owner of Howard Communications, a long time working associate, friend and PR guy for Browning Firearms, Bushnell and other firearms industry manufacturers. Howard had just visited with Safari Club International in Tucson to finalize media communications for the upcoming SCI Hunters’ Convention to be held at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas the first week of February. Howard would be joined on our hunt the following day with his son Andrew, both of whom would be on their first Mearns’ quail hunt.

The rains arrived just before dinner and continued steady all through the night, not making for ideal hunting conditions on wet grass that morning. All gathered at the Sonoita Inn for a complimentary “Hunter’s Breakfast” and talked about options as the rain turned into sticky snow at our elevations of some 3,800 feet, with the surrounding mountains already covered in snow. We opted to wait for a break in the storm and then head out to one of the canyons off State Hwy. 82, that Bristow had successfully hunted the previous week.

The rain backed off as we headed up a dirt road that wound up into a couple of big canyons with hillsides covered with a mix of oak and Juniper trees. There was about 2-inches of snow on the ground but the sky was opening up to a bright blue allowing for much improved hunting conditions. Our group broke up into two parties, each with a good pointing dog, and headed out to flush the first covey of Mearns’ quail.

Bristow had his pointer heading down a canyon when Shorty flushed a single quail, dumped by Bristow and retrieved to hand. Mearns’ quail are a family group and often hold tight. The dog went on point again and then flushed a nearly fully mature cock quail that this shooter dropped with a single round of a Federal Premium 20 ga., loaded with 1-oz. of 7.5 copper-plated shot. Brizendine and Bristow stayed with the dog, while this shooter opted to walk out a smaller adjacent canyon. Wrong decision! While Sierra and this shooter worked hard there was not a bird flushed, while my hunting partners each bagged a couple more birds out of the first covey and then moved on to a second covey for a couple more bagged. By this time the snow was melting fast and hunt conditions diminished due to mud.

Getting back in the vehicles we headed for another bigger canyon that forked about one-third the way up a mountain side, a good place to finish off the day. Switching with the local experts had Brizendine and this shooter hunting with Babb, while Howard and he son headed off into another direction with Bristow.

Each party enjoyed multiple flushes with some success when all gathered as the sun sank over the western mountain range producing a lot of shade, which is not ideal when hunting Mearn’s quail. It was a good day of hunting with a total of 18 Mearns’ quail bagged and both of the Howards’ had shot their first Mearns’ quail. Brizendine was high gun with his harvest being just one bird shy of the daily limit on Mearns’ quail of 8 birds.

The Sr. Howard’s comment on hunting Mearns’ quail was, “Jim, I honestly think that hunting Mearns’ quail is the toughest of all upland game bird hunting. I want to thank you for your tips last night at dinner and your continued encouragement on those rugged mountains today. My feet a killing me, but it sure was worth the effort!”

Looking ahead for the remainder of the season, which runs through Feb. 9, Bristow feels good about prospects for those hunting over good gun dogs. A couple of the more productive canyons to hunt that are close to Sonoita are Gardner and Hog Canyons, but Bristow feels pretty strongly that Mearns’ quail could be found throughout the Santa Rita Mountain range and the remainder of the Coronado National Forest public land around Patagonia.

Most all Mearns’ quail hunters will shoot a 20 ga. over/under or SXS shotgun loaded up with 7.5 shot. An open choke is ideal for tight holding quail, but on a strong flush it’s a good idea to have at least one barrel with a modified choke in place. There is a non-resident 3-day hunting license available and they can be purchased on-line. To find out more about upland game bird hunting in Arizona log on to their web site at and for a local guide contact Web Parton at

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