Review: “Hunting Gambel’s Quail” by Ben Smith

Certain birds are tough to hunt, and by “tough” I don’t just mean “challenging.” I mean birds that live in the kind of rugged terrain that can be truly harsh on both people and dogs. Wild pheasant in certain places can fit this bill, as do wild chukar in most places they’re found.

But I would also certainly add Gambel’s quail to the list. For those who’ve never chased this particular quail, picture a hot, dry, rocky landscape. Now throw in several varieties of cactus, thorny mesquite, catclaw and acacia, dense creosote and other wonderful obstacles. And while we’re at it, add venomous snakes and occasional packs of javelina (that don’t tend to take kindly to dogs) into the mix as well.

Now that you have an idea of the landscape and some of it’s lovelier denizens, it’s time to add the bird. Gambel’s quail will not tend to hold politely for a pointing dog, so forget about quaint notions of a “gentlemanly” approach to this. They will run, as evolution has taught them to do, and they will tend to run for cover – which means right into the thickest, thorniest, nastiest stuff they can find, drawing your dog in after them. If this doesn’t work, as a last resort they may flush. But a “flush” in this case tends to mean getting up low and fast, sometimes just a few feet over your dog’s head. And, at the end of the day (if not sooner), you can expect to be spending time with a good pair of tweezers, extracting lots of painful, pointy things from your dog, and probably yourself. Are you in?

Maybe I’m being just slightly dramatic here, but not really, at least not in my experience of trying to hunt these birds. But the flipside of all this is that despite everything I said above, hunting Gambel’s quail is a frickin’ blast, and you will certainly gain a newfound respect for this tough little bird. You may also gain a greater appreciation for one of the most amazing, and surprisingly diverse environments on the planet – the Sonoran desert.

Our friend Ben Smith, over at the fine blog AZ Wanderings, has been chasing these quail for some time now, and has thankfully decided to offer his thoughts and advice for those thinking of giving it a try. Available in e-book format, “Hunting Gambel’s Quail: A Beginner’s Guide to Chasing Southwestern Quail” is packed with great info, especially if you are new to this particular game. Trust me – you will save a lot of wasted time wandering around the desert by first absorbing all the tips that Ben has to offer in this guide, from behavior and natural history of Gambel’s, to finding the best habitat, to gear tips. I would highly recommend it before heading off on your first desert quail trip.

Other nice features of “Hunting Gambel’s Quail” are a pictorial guide for quick and easy field dressing, a couple of great recipes, a printable gear list and links to important online resources for planning your trip.

As an aside, I also have to add that one thing I really like about the e-book revolution is that old publisher’s notions about how many pages a book needs to have, in order to be commercially viable, are being thrown out the window. In the past, this led to many books being far longer than they really needed to be, just to achieve “X” number of pages that a publisher deemed was necessary for the book to succeed. With e-books, a book’s physical thickness has nothing to do with it anymore. And Ben’s book is a perfect example of this – at 29 pages, it would likely never have seen traditional publishing approval. But really, who cares about page count – isn’t it about focused content? The book contains all that it needs to and nothing more. And that’s a good thing.

“Hunting Gambel’s Quail” can be purchased and downloaded online directly from Ben’s site at this link, and is a steal given all the quality information it has to offer.