Photo Essay: The Mearns’ Quail, a Southwestern Beauty

Written by: Dave Brown, of Dave Brown Outfitters

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The male Mearns is a gorgeous bird.

all photos courtesy Dave Brown

One of the most beautiful game birds to be found in North America is the Mearns’ quail. Although there is a small population in West Texas, only Arizona and New Mexico have huntable populations. The range is limited to the Davis Mountains of Texas, the southeastern corner of Arizona and the southwestern corner of New Mexico, then south into Mexico. Unlike its two desert-dwelling cousins—the Gambel’s and scaled (or blue) quail—Mearns’ quail are generally found above 4,000 feet in the oak-lined canyons of the area’s sky islands or mountain ranges that make up the Coronado National Forest. This area is considered the Mearns’ quail-hunting epicenter of the U.S.A.

Mearns’ quail hunting requires lots of hiking up and down mountains and canyons for a few shots at birds that seem to be able to put an oak tree between you and them in a hurry. Another factor that messes up shots is unstable footing caused by loose rocks. The good news is that, of all the quails, the Mearns’ sits really tight for pointing dogs, so much so that when they are flushed, the birds sometimes seem to fly right up your shirtsleeves. Hunting Mearns’ is not a numbers game. The population fluctuates from year to year, as they are dependent on the summer rains. If you are moving six coveys per day, you are doing well. You would be lucky to harvest four birds out of those coveys. The bottom line is that it’s a tough hunt, but the rewards are the day spent with bird dogs, double guns, and friends in a beautiful landscape.

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The rugged beauty of Mearns’ country.

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An English pointer returns from a quick visit to Mexico.

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This look says, “They are right under my nose, Boss.”

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A male and a female Mearns’, side by side.

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This is a tough point to cover.

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A classic “open country” point.

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The views are often majestic.

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Mearns’ quail are masters at using the trees as cover.

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A double gun and a male Mearns’ make an attractive pair.

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Walking up and down steep hillsides is part of the game.

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Mearns’ country on a beautiful day.

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Covering a point in a canyon bottom.

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The reward for much effort: a hard-earned Mearns’ quail.

Dave Brown is the owner of Dave Brown Outfitters, based in Arizona and western Canada.

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