Dog Training Collars
Hunting pen-raised birds
For many of us, the privilege of hunting wild quail is a rare event. Every few years, we may be fortunate enough to receive an invitation from a friend or a business associate to hunt his private land, chock full of coveys that rarely see humans. In the meantime, we must be content with hunting at game preserves or on private land where pen-raised birds have been released.
The term "pen-raised birds" causes many a purist to turn up his nose in disdain. It's kind of like preaching the virtues of jonboats to someone who never takes to the water in anything less than a Donzi. All I can offer in response is that I hope each and every purist has the good fortune to hunt wild quail as often as I hunt pen-raised birds. I'll admit right up front that pen-raised stock don't explode on a covey rise like wild birds, and in many situations you don't have that element of uncertainty when approaching a dog on point; are there two birds in here or twenty? But those facts aside, I just cannot see denying myself the beauty of being in the field or forest, or the near-sinful pleasure of watching dogs work, or the pounding of my heart as a covey takes to the air, simply because the birds were born in a protected environment. And by the way, I've had a whole hell of a lot of fun in jonboats, too.
Now that I've established that I am an advocate of pen-raised birds and in the process have provided a spark for debate, let me push that issue aside and talk about getting the most out of released quail. I've broken the article down into three sections: Buying Birds, which covers a few things to look for when you seek a breeder; Releasing Birds, which offers a few tips on how to place the birds so that they are still there when you come back to hunt them; and Early Season Release, which brushes the topic of "stocking" a piece of land with birds several months before the season opens.
Buying BirdsThough you're not likely to find most breeders listed in the local yellow pages, there are a surprising number in operation. If you have trouble finding one, ask around at the store where you buy hunting supplies or at a sporting clays course. A really good place to find out about quail breeders is from dog trainers. Don't be ashamed to ask where they get birds and why they go to that particular breeder.
Once you've located a breeder or two, drop by and visit the operations. In most cases, you'll see more chicken wire than stainless steel, but rest assured that this is the norm. A couple of things to look for:
Flight pens - Operations that have flight pens generally produce birds that fly a little better. The pens are long and narrow, providing the birds ample room to exercise their wings. More importantly, these pens allow a person to enter one end and scare the birds to the opposite end, doing what some believe is "training" the birds to flush instead of run.
Placing only one covey in the field at a time not only eats up your hunting hours, it also mixes too much of the work with the play. If the land is available, I prefer to set all of the coveys out prior to the hunt, which precipitates another set of challenges.
Unless you're into liberating birds, you'd probably prefer the quail to be in roughly the same spot when you return with your dogs. Gleaned from guides and from personal experience, here are a few tips to make sure they don't stray:
Build a nest - Take some of the surrounding grass and weeds and form it into a circular nest on the ground. Ten inches to a foot in diameter is plenty for a covey of five birds. When using this method, I've rarely had birds bust when I released them, and they tend to hold a little better for the dogs, too.
Early Season ReleaseMuch has been written, and much research is still underway regarding the viability of releasing pen-raised birds onto a piece of land well in advance of the hunting season. The school of thought behind this is that the birds will behave more like wild quail if they've had to survive for a few months in the outdoors. Non-believers in this method preach a litany of evils including poor survival rates and damage to existing coveys of wild quail.
I've had first-hand experience in early season release, and I've read nearly everything I can get my hands on regarding its virtues and vices. Still, no clear-cut answer exists. I'll do my best to relay what I know to be true.
Covey support systems
An alternative to this is one of the commercially made systems that feed and water quail automatically. Quality Wildlife manufactures one of these, the Anchor Covey Release System, pictured at right. The device is concealed with brush and provides a sheltered location for quail to feed while substantially reducing the covey tender's number of trips into the field.
Fast and furious, that's a synopsis of techniques that will help you get the most out of store-bought birds. I'm certain that many of you have gleaned additional tidbits from personal experience, and I'd be glad to update this article as suggestions arrive. Send them here and I'll put you in the spotlight.
Yes, when it comes to the challenge of shooting one, pen-raised birds are a far cry from wild quail. But for those of us lacking the resources to hunt wild birds, they allow us to enjoy being in the field, working our dogs, swinging a shotgun, and they taste darn good, too.