A quail hunter loads a side by side shotgun.

What is the Best Shot Size for Bobwhite Quail

Take a look at selecting shot size and choke size for bobwhite quail hunting.

Nowadays, I use a 20 Gauge, Beretta 686 Silver Pigeon chambered in Skeet and Modified, Under-Over respectively. When I walk out into the uplands with a 30-inch barrel, I have a bad habit of slinging my gun over my shoulder a little too confidently.  Why? Because the gun is a nice piece and I can trust that my #6 shot Kent Cartridge loads will consistently drop the explosive, bobwhite quail.  If you really want to be picky about it, I prefer to shoot my game birds with steel shot. I personally just don’t want lead in my meat but that part is really up to you.

If you think about the flight and escape habits of quail in their natural habitat, often they will sit tight in cover and hold for a pointing dog…assuming you have a pointing breed.  Outside of that, if you’re anything like me, you’ve got a flushing retriever and you keep your actions closed and barrels loaded. There’s no time for tea, but…I digress. Quail will flush fairly close and will often provide a reasonable shot if you take a little time to breathe before the shot.  If Prince Bob gives Pup a half-a-time-a-day,you should have within a 20 to 40 yard shot on a flushing bird.  If you want more options you’ve got the choice of #8’s as well, I often skip over #7.5’s simply because every time I shoot them birds never seem to fall dead on. My dog tends to do a little more work with the #7.5 shot as birds, yes,little 6 ounce Bobwhites, seem to run off. I think there may be some kind of jinx with me and #7.5s, but regardless, I do not recommend them for quail. Blame it on my Southern superstition if it pleases you, but regardless, you won’t catch me shooting #7.5’s anymore.

It is my thought that if you’re reading this you have some kind of appreciation for the finer things in life. Why?  Because you are chasing  Mr. Bob. You’ve got some kind of fine shooting dog who’s working the heavy cover,thorns, and thickets that house and host our quarry.  In addition to that pretty dog, you also likely have a nice looking Over-Under Beretta like mine or your Grandaddy’s Winchester Model 12 pump gun.  At a time, Grandaddy was a quail specialist and now you’re in his footsteps.  Either way, quail hunting requires a bit of class and nostalgia, so shoot a gun that means something to you.  The bird demands that much respect.  The dog demands that much respect.  The habitat and landscape demand that footsteps be left by dog and man, birds are successfully retrieved in full, and memories are made along the way.  I’ve shot quail everything quail with gauges 12 through 28 and even attempted with a 98 year old .410.  That didn’t last long due to more wasted gun power than shot birds. My choice gauges for wild bobwhite quail are primarily 20 gauges and secondarily, the classic 16 gauge side-by-side.  20 gauge ammunition is typically more readily available, especially in a pinch, though I would highly recommend soft-shooting 16 gauge RST shells. For an older shotgun especially, the RST shells are a much lighter shooting load than most other loads and will put a little less wear and tear on Grandaddy’s old gun. 

For sake of length, I will conclude because I’ve got a knack for talking shotguns to great length. Obviously, if you have not noticed, I am a bit biased towards #6 loads.  I’m biased because they are a size that’s been proven time and again. In the world of consumerism, many manufacturers are constantly producing loads for one reason or another.  Til this day I still do not understand the need for 3.5-inch loads and one definitely does not need them for a 6-ounce bird. 2 and 3/4 inch shells will suffice.  Hunting wild, bobwhite quail is much simpler when you stick to my choice load, there is just not much more to it.  Quail are fairly fragile birds, so shooting #6 or #8 have been proven effective, but, being honest…stick to the 6.

Two quail hunters and bird dog our hunting quail.
Author Durrell Smith Quail Hunting – Photo by Josh Same

Much of a man’s quail shooting ineptitude comes not from selecting the wrong shot size, but from the hunter’s irreverence to the ethics of hunting.  Ethical hunting is inclusive of finding and retrieving downed game, with or without a dog.  For many like myself, hunting with a dog is essential for not just the experience of following a dog through the woods, but also to increase my chances of finding downed game.  Shooting #6s for me has additionally made retrieving shot birds significantly easier as seldom do I find crippled bobwhites and runners.

Configuring your shot size, pattern, choke and barrel length as well as studying the habits of the birds themselves all come together to make a complete and successful hunting experience. Hunting ethically understanding all aspects of your shotgun including the best shot size and gauge, and with respect to King Bob, I would rather chase game birds in a dignified and ethical manner.  That means shooting #6 shot (preferably steel) through any gauge .410 through 12, choosing a Skeet and/or Modified Choke configuration, as well as bringing along an enthusiastic pup that will find and retrieve your game.

Last modified: November 9, 2019

5 Responses to :
What is the Best Shot Size for Bobwhite Quail

  1. Kevin M. Worfe says:

    Great article! #6’s rule!

  2. Josh says:

    100 percent agree especially since I dont use dogs I prefer the heavier loads

  3. Todd Knight says:

    I’m fairly split on the #6 vs #7.5 loads. I haven’t seen enough of a difference to lean either way. I do however disagree on your choice of chokes. I’ve had significantly better luck shooting an Improved Cylinder/Light Modified setup out of my Beretta.

  4. Bill says:

    I agree with your choices but prefer 71/2s. I see very few cripples VS other shot sizes so maybe it is because I only use lead shot shells not steel. My guns were made before steel was required. Lead 6’s would be my choice if chasing quail out West and is my preferred for grouse.

  5. Mike Littrell says:

    I agree with the author that quail are a fragile bird. #6’s will definitely do the job but seem to be overkill for the Bob White, especially when you consider that is the size shot used for pheasants. I have killed a lot of pheasants with #6’s in field loads when they are flushing close, like quail do in the south. 7.5’s & 8’s in a light load are typically what you see for quail and my preference is the same in 28 gauge. It only takes a few pellets and the meat is not torn up like it is with bigger shot. As far as chokes goes, anything from skeet to mod works great in a double gun with one bbl for close work and the second for the going away shots (IC for a single bbl gun). Just be sure and pattern you gun to see what gives you the best pattern at different ranges.

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