Betsy and I traveled to southeastern Arizona in early January as both a vacation and an opportunity to hunt Mearns quail with our dogs.
That corner of Arizona is distinct with converging areas of desert, grasslands, rolling hills and several mountain ranges. We explored an area southeast of Tucson near the towns of Patagonia and Sonoita.
The country inhabited by the Mearns quail is beautiful, but rugged.
The birds are found in plant communities such as Madrean Evergreen
Woodlands , which are characterized by canyon after canyon dotted with
evergreen black oaks and oneseed junipers. The ground is rocky and the
hillsides are steep. Footing can be treacherous and it seemed we rarely
walked on level ground.
male Mearns are truly distinctive with colorful, black-and-white heads
and brightly speckled, black-and-white breasts. The females look
similar to a hen bobwhite but have a thicker beak. Mearns eat tubers
which they find by scratching the ground with their exceptionally long
general, the coveys we saw held well for the dogs’ points. In fact,
sometimes they were reluctant to flush and almost had to be stepped on
to get them to move. When a covey did flush it usually did so in
several waves instead of one big flush. We found some coveys that ran
quite a bit and then flushed wild and others that the dogs worked
diligently only to see one or two birds flush out of range. Experienced
Mearns hunters we talked to thought these runners and small coveys had
been hunted hard and were just wary.
were pleased with how our dogs handled the country and the birds.
Silk, Moxie, Maggie and Oscar pointed the first coveys they smelled and
handled them like they’d done it all their lives. Our black Labrador,
May, was very effective in getting those tight-sitters to flush once
they were found by the pointing dogs. After the first day, all dogs
seemed a bit foot sore from the rocks but warmed up quickly. The
weather was perfect—we usually hunted in temperatures between 50 and 70
with bright sunshine.
We rarely saw javelinas, but
noticed quite a bit of sign indicating their presence. One day, Oscar
went into a juniper clump and after a burst of squealing and snorting
came out—proudly carrying a young piglet in his mouth.
good friend, Jeff Hintz, who lives in Minnesota and winters in Tucson,
and Tom Gardiner of Vail, Arizona, hunted with us. We appreciated their
time and truly enjoyed their company and seeing good dog work by their
We had a wonderful time and hope to make another trip!