The other boat on the water had been playing hop-scotch with us all day long. My buddy Ryan and I would pull onto a small riparian bar along the Snake River to hunt quail; they would motor past hooting and hollering at us. The boaters seemed to be more intent on the 12oz curl and being our peanut gallery than doing any hunting, thank God. They never fired one shot but the offered our own private heckling section during parts of our quail hunts.
It never failed that they would motor to within shouting distance when a covey of quail would bust up. The boaters would offer shooting suggestions to us while we fired away at the birds. Comments like “Oh! Just missed!” and “A little behind that one!” came off the water, unwelcome. They thought they were being hysterical, we did not.
It occurred to me later that this was a classic case of arm-chair quail hunting. Offer advice on how to shoot a quail while not actually shooting at the birds. Most hunters I know, myself included, are fantastic at this. We can tell others, all day long, the proper technique, lead time and choke to use for hunting the little birds. That said, in the field most of arm-chair quailers can’t hit one in five birds.
Over time I have noticed that arm-chair quail hunters tend to have a rash of equipment issues when actually out hunting. The guns action isn’t working right. The safety is sticking. The wrong choke is in the gun. Creative reasons de jour escape every honest quail hunter’s mouth. As well as some profanities when a shot is missed.
It seems that the birds also have a great sense of timing. Hopping the fence? Time to bust up. Taking a pee? Never fails, birds will fly.
It is this combination of poor shooting; equipment failure and the birds’ knack for timing that make every precious ounce of quail meat all the more valuable. A hunter can spend an entire day out and get four birds with pride, only to not have enough for an appetizer course with his family. Hitting a flying quail is hard plain as simple. They humble me.
Over the years I have picked up on a few tricks for getting quail into my vest. The first thing that recommend is learn to whistle like a quail, or just buy a quail call. When a covey busts they will often starting calling out to each other in hopes of reconnecting and relocating. Give a busted covey a few minuets and then hit the call. They will often reply giving you the location of a few more birds in the rough.
After busting the covey it is also a good idea to stop and mark the location they flew to. Then take a five minute break. If you immediately follow the birds they will tend to run and disappear. If you give them a little time to settle they will be more apt to bust giving hunters a good shot opportunity.
The single biggest factor for success with quail is a dog. I don’t care if it is a Yorkie with ear plugs just about any dog while hunting quail is better than no dog. That said the dog has to stay close to be effective. While a nice pointer would be invaluable any mutt with its nose to the ground and the drive to have birds fly will prove effective.
We did not reach our limit on the river that day. But we did show ourselves the limit of our shooting capabilities. It showed me that I need to bust more clay in the off season and that I needed to check what choke I had in my gun.
One day I will be able to limit out on quail. The perfect shooter somewhere inside me will show itself and I will manage to whack ten in one day. Take that limit home and actually be able to make a whole meal for my family. But like my buddy and fellow quail hunter Matt Lindley says – “You need to walk a lot and shoot a lot just to get a little stew.”
Recipe – Smashed Quail with Mountain Dew and Soy Glaze
8ea Quail, plucked and gutted
To “smash” the quail all that you need to do is lay them on their backs, breast up, and press firmly down with your hand. This will crush the ribs and flatten out the bird. This will allow it to be cooked more evenly.
Another option for a “smashed quail” it to cut the back and ribs out of the bird with a pair of kitchen scissors. Place the bird breast side down on the cutting board. With the scissors cut between the legs and then remove the rib cage with two additional cuts. The cutting will look like a “Y” shape. With out the backbone the bird will cook quicker and more evenly.
Marinate the quail over night in the Mountain Dew Ponzu.
Mountain Dew Ponzu
Like many people of my generationMountain Dew was a food group growing up. That said I have, over the years, tried to turn the beverage into various things. I have made desserts, corn cakes and in this case a sauce for quail.
The drink has two major flavors in it – citrus and sugar. A classic Asian Style Ponzu sauce has three flavors – citrus, sugar and soy. Use the Mountain Dew as a base and you are 2/3 the way to a ponzu sauce.
Mountain Dew Ponzu Recipe
1 can Mountain Dew
½ cup soy sauce
1 tsp red chili flakes
2 green onions, sliced
1 thumb sized chunk of ginger, peeled and sliced thick
Add all ingredients to a small sauce pan. Bring to a simmer and let cook for 10 minutes. Chill. Use as marinade for game birds.
To use as a glaze. Pour small amounts of the sauce over the top of a grilling quail. It has a high sugar content so be careful not to burn the bird. Repeat until a firm crust of sauce is formed on the bird. Enjoy!
Soba Noodle Salad
With this recipe any type of round noodle will work. I have used angel hair and spaghetti in the past. Soba noodles are just a Japanese take on the thin round noodle. You can find them dry or fresh in most grocery stores. Look in the ethnic section for the dry noodles and in produce for the fresh.
12 oz cooked and chilled soba noodles
1 ea lime, juice and zest
1 red pepper, sliced thin
½ red onion, sliced thin
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
2 each green onions
Toss all ingredients in a bowl. Mix zest and juice evenly. Season with salt and pepper.
Bringing it all together
Place a 3 oz of noodle mix in the center of a plate. Pour a small amount of mountain dew ponzu around the noodles. Top with hot “smashed” quail. Serve.