Hunting Hotspots: January 2014

What hunter isn't looking forward to their next shot? PF/QF profiles a new location monthly to serve as a handy way to get you started on your next wingshooting adventure!
Five Things to Know about Hunting Mearns’ Quail
Mearns’ quail, also known as the Montezuma quail or Harlequin quail, are one of the most beautiful game birds in North America. Found in the U.S. in southeast Arizona and southwest New Mexico, hunting this secretive bird in its rugged habitat – often above 4,000 feet – is a challenge for dogs and hunters alike, which puts the Mearns’ on the top of many bucket lists for traveling wingshooters.
Later Seasons
Sporadic, localized summer rainfall determines Mearns’ quail numbers, which can be good in one mountain range and poor in another. Except in the best summer rainfall years, predictions about Mearns’ quail numbers based on precipitation are less reliable than site-specific field observations. Mearns’ quail breed much later than Gambel’s or scaled quail, so the hunting seasons start later (mid-November to mid-February) to allow chicks to mature.
Found in canyons and hillsides, the terrain can be treacherous. In fact, hunting Mearns’ quail is probably about as challenging as quail hunting gets. If you’ve hunted elk or big game out west, you’ve probably conditioned prior to the hunt. That same type of conditioning is recommended for hunting this desert country.
Bird Dogs
Chances are if you’re a traveling hunter, dogs aren’t just part of your arsenal, they’re why you go! Much like pheasants of the Midwest, desert quail are extremely hardy, so dogs with excellent tracking abilities on cripples are extremely helpful. Simply put, hunting Mearns’ quail without a dog is a low-return proposition.
Mearns’ quail inhabit the mountain ranges of southeastern Arizona. While the Santa Rita, Huachuca and Atascosa mountains are among the most popular Mearns’ hunting areas, any oak woodland or savannah on the Coronado National Forest can hold birds. Look for oak woodland with good grass cover and concentrate efforts on forested hillsides and drainage bottoms. Mearns’ numbers can be high in thickly vegetated habitat. Some is so remote, thick and steep it gets little to no hunting pressure. In New Mexico quail occur in the Gila National Forest, southwest portion of the Cibola National Forest, San Andres Mountains, Sacramento Mountains, southwestern portions of the Coronado National Forest (Peloncillo Mountains), and associated sky islands in the extreme southwestern portion of the state.
Public Hunting
Arizona and New Mexico have thousands of acres of public land open to quail hunters, including some remote areas that receive low hunting pressure. However, not all public lands provide suitable quail habitat. For Mearns’ concentrations, key in on oak woodland with good grass cover and concentrate efforts on forested hillsides and drainage bottoms.