You can miss a quail with any shotgun made. Don’t ask me how I know. I’m an expert. My knowledge is based on years of personal humiliation. Of course, the same applies to just about any gamebird that I’ve hunted, but quail are fresh on my mind after the recent Readers & Writers Adventure at Quail Country Plantation.
There may be an ultimate quail gun somewhere, but I’ve not seen it. There are, however, some good choices when pursuing Mr. Bob. I’ll talk about bobwhites here, not blues and Gambel’s, with which I have had little contact. I once hunted blues in Colorado but, as I said, I had little contact with them. I shot. They flew. Far, far away. For all the inconvenience I caused them, I would have been just as well off donning my PETA beanie and using binoculars.
So what to look for in a bobwhite gun? As always, work back from the bird. Quail shots are generally fairly short range. Chokes and loads that work at 20 and 30 yards would be about right. Skeet for the first barrel and Improved Cylinder or perhaps a small-gauge Light Modified for the second might be good choices.
Pellet size is a personal decision, but I’ve always had good luck with readily available, good-quality No. 8 target loads in all gauges. Bobwhite quail are not that hard to kill, or at least knock down for a certain retrieve. But they sure are hard to hit.
So with the distances, chokes and cartridges out of the way, which gun? Custom at many of the quail plantations indicates a break-open 20- or 28-gauge. These guns are pleasant to carry, have ample patterns to properly take the birds and, no less important, have a little bit of cachet. Plantations sometimes look in askance on pumps and autoloaders because it is difficult for guides to monitor that the guns have been made safe when carried.
Over/under or side-by-side? That’s personal. For fast, close work, I sort of like a side-by-side because I find it easier to pick up the bird with the broader barrels. The barrels on a 28-gauge O/U can be pretty skinny, and for me that leads a little more to aiming. Of course the longer the shot, the more I appreciate the precision of the O/U. Double or single triggers are again personal preference, but on a quail flush, you will most often shoot the open barrel first, so there isn’t a constant need for the rear-trigger option.
Whichever configuration you pick, try to get a gun that moves quickly but isn’t so light that it’s whippy. Guns in the 6-1/4- to 6-3/4-pound area work the best for me. The lighter the gun, the more you want it to balance weight forward. Heavier guns can be more neutral.
So what do I shoot plantation quail with? Glad you asked. Since I don’t pay the slightest attention to my own advice, I enjoy using an ancient Winchester Model 42 .410 pumpgun. It certainly is not the most efficient gun, but if I concentrate on one quail at a time, I usually can take the bird cleanly. The .410’s half-ounce of No. 8s is certainly effective out to 30 yards. No, it’s not in the same league as a 28 or a 20, but it is fine within its limits. I shoot it because it’s fun. And that’s the biggest compliment I can pay to Gentleman Bob.
Bottom line: Don’t quail at the thought of getting pumped up for Bobs. Boots off. Beer open.