Mearns Quail

Notice the steep grade! Candy is pointing, Rooster is backing and Jake and Beechnut are closing in awaiting the covey of Mearns quail to explode from the deep grass. Mearns quail season in Arizona opened yesterday. Mearns quail are hard to find and hard to hunt preferring rough country, so rough, that this very secretive bird wasn’t identified until the 1850’s by a Lt. Mearns of the U. S. Cavalry.

Mearns quail, Cyrtonyx Montezumae, or fools, harlequin or more properly Montezuma quail are the largest of all the varieties – bobwhite Colinus Virgianus, blues or scaled quail Callipepla Squamata, Gambel Callipepla Gambelii, California Callipepla Californica and masked bob white Colinus Virginanus Ridgewayi. They are found in southern Arizona, New Mexico, the Guadalupe Mountains in west Texas and in northwest Mexico. Overgrazing of cattle has eliminated most of their habitat in Mexico.

The Mearns country of southern Arizona is beautiful. This area is where the “last” Chisolm Trail ended. John Chisolm, himself, moved his entire cattle heard here from Texas in the late 1800’s. The country remains much the same today, buck brush, native grass, mini mountains and rolling hills, dotted, with small oak trees, much like our post oak in Texas. This is not the Arizona of deserts and saguaro cactus, but reminds me more of north-central Texas, along the Colorado River, near Lampassas and San Saba.

Having hunted all of the species of quail, I believe Mearns are the hardest to hunt and hardest to shoot. They are a very specialized breed living at four to six thousand feet elevation and requiring good stands of grass and oak trees to be in their habitat. They “root”, or dig, acorns, tubers or grass roots, with their feet, larger than other quail’s, and they hold better for a pointing dog than any other quail. I have had a covey rise while I had been standing in the middle of it, the birds coming so close I could feel the wind from their wings.

The hunting is all walking, all “up and down” with very few flats, so the hunters and their dogs must be in good shape. On an average day Jake and I would walk behind our dogs for five to six miles, up and down the hills, carrying our shotguns, shells, two or three canteens of water and food. By the end of the day add a limit of big, fat, Mearns quail to our loads and quitting time was a welcomed event.

Candy is all smiles while Jake and Beech show off the results of a morning hunt for Mearns quail. Notice the rocks, small oak trees, steep grade and long grass that are all prerequisites for good Mearns hunting. Good bird dogs that will hold a point are also required!