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Choosing Shotguns, Shot Size, and Chokes for Scaled Quail Hunting

Choosing Shotguns, Shot Size, and Chokes for Scaled Quail Hunting

A bird hunter holds a scaled quail in Arizona.

Learn about hunting scaled quail with the proper shotgun setup

Scaled quail can be very frustrating to chase. Blue quail, as they are often called, have a well-deserved and notorious reputation for running—a trait that is frustrating for bird hunters, as it leaves them mystified as to how the birds vanished into the warm desert air without a chance for a shot. But when one pellet hits its mark, then it becomes a rewarding and gratifying moment that results in a great-tasting dinner.

Scaled quail are not gentlemanly like bobwhites. On the contrary, they are devilish and they like to run. Scaled quail run a lot and run far. It’s a matter of survival for these quail. Birds that run live, birds that take to the air die. In their minds, that pretty much sums it up, so why not run instead of fly?

If you’re a bird hunter chasing these blue streaks across a vast geographic area that encompasses south-central Arizona, northern New Mexico, east-central Colorado, southwestern Kansas, south through western Oklahoma, and western and central Texas, then you’d better be ready to move fast and be ready to shoot at a moment’s notice. Wingshooters need to be in decent shape and come prepared wearing a good pair of boots.

Venturing into the realm of what is considered the best shotgun, choke, and shot size for scaled quail hunting is going to be dicey. Everyone has their opinions. But let’s look at the scaled quail’s radical running behavior to determine the best choices for you.

First off, when scaled quail flush, they fly the length of two football fields—more or less. Sure they covey up, but once flushed, they scatter like the wind. If hunters and bird dogs are not able to get on them fast—and at times even if they do—scaled quail will quickly be out of shooting range, be it by running or flying. Can we say that there is a potential for long shots?

The key is to pressuring scaled quail into the air. Easier said than done. If a covey can be scattered into open cover, then the time comes to get those bird dogs to start earning their keep by working up singles. In theory, this means tighter holding and closer shots with an open choke.

A brief look at shotguns for scaled quail

At this point the question is, does one shoot a 20-, 16-, or 12-gauge? Any shotgun can bag scaled quail, but lighter and faster usually proves better when hunting these desert trail runners. When scaled quail do decide to take to the air, their goal is to rapidly put distance between themselves and the hunter. Gun mounts must be fast and shots snappy if there’s to be any kind of hope of connecting. A lightweight shotgun is definitely an asset when trudging across vast areas of the desert grasslands and savannah these birds prefer.

The majority of doubles solve most dilemmas. But for those who don’t own an over-and-under or side-by-side, the choice is obvious; go with a repeater of some sort. These shotguns offer the shooter additional backup shots for those running scalies that flush like popcorn when working singles after the covey has been scattered. The potential downside that comes with carrying these is their weight. Mind you, there are several semis on the market light enough to carry afield all day long when in big open country.

Choosing the right choke size for scaled quail

The next thing you’ll need to ponder is whether to shoot open or tight shotgun chokes to accommodate the range of flushing distances.

A choke is a tapered constriction of a shotgun’s barrel bore at the muzzle end. The choke’s purpose is to shape the spread of the shot to gain better range and accuracy. Chokes determine to some extent the shotgun’s effective range. One significant advantage that doubles have over single barrel repeating shotguns is the ability to have access to more than one choke at a time. Having two barrels lets the wingshooter use a more open choke for near targets and a tighter choke for distant targets, providing the optimal shot pattern for each distance

For example, a full choke is most effective at 40 to 50 yards, perfect for those long shots at scaled quail that flush far out. An improved cylinder is most effective from 20 to 35 yards, much more suitable for singles that peeled off the main covey and are now holding a bit tighter for hunter and dog.

Chokes are described as either screw-in (interchangeable) or fixed (permanent). Your selection is suitable for a particular application such as the size of the game bird and shooting distance. Interchangeable chokes make it easy to hunt when transitioning from close-flushing birds to a longer-ranging quarry.

If shooting a double of some sort, lean towards full and modified chokes in 20-gauge, or modified and improved cylinder in 16- or 12-gauge. If you are going with a pump or semi-auto, then a modified choke is a good compromise for varying flushing distances of scaled quail.

Choosing shot size for scaled quail

I may offend hunters with my next statement, but there’s really no magic shot size. If one pellet works on a particular bird, the next size bigger and smaller will, too. Still, clad in their armor-like getup, scaled quail are tough and will hit the ground running, resulting in lost or hard-to-find bird. So shot size is a little important.

Therefore, it is typically recommended to shoot an ounce of No. 7 followed up by No. 6 if carrying a 12-gauge. This combination seems to work great overall as it spreads a good amount of shot downrange. If shooting a 20-gauge, then No. 7 1/2 shot with No. 7 or No. 6 for backup is perfect for longer flushing birds. If going with the sweet 16-gauge, then carry 1-ounce loads in No. 6 for all-around action.

When a scaled quail is knocked down, the hunter should never take their eyes off of it and mark where the bird landed. The hunter and/or dog needs to get to the bird quickly. Scaled quail live in a dry climate and scenting conditions could affect your canine partner in locating downed birds. Also, blues don’t die as easily as bobs. Scaled quail that are wanting to live will find the nearest rat hole in the ground or burrow under a cholla or yucca plant and disappear forever. You’ve been warned.

View Comments (5)
  • Excellent article about these persnickety but wonderful birds. I live in NE AZ quadrant and hunt them from here in our rolling lava cone fields, down into the desert areas. I mainly use my old 28ga. 1100 due to it’s lightweight with fast and deadly pointing ability, a trait you mentioned yourself on these critters and I couldn’t agree more on how they seem to surprise all of us when walking. Thanks for the great article and platform.

  • I would love to chase scaled quail next year. I am going to have next year’s goal to get up to 5 different types of upland species over by American Brittany!

    • Excellent goal! I’m trying to find a small group who wants to hit the southwest here where I live to do the “big 5” of quail.

  • Great article on these desert speedsters. I hunt them in the SE corner of NM and reiterate the need for #6 shot. Had to dig two out of holes they dove into this year when winged with 71/2 shot. Drives my lab crazy.

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