Quail hunting isn’t too gear intensive. A gun, vest, some shells, a worn-in pair of boots, and a good dog about covers it. Still, the shotgun and loads you choose to use will be instrumental to your success. Quail aren’t big birds or exceptionally hard to bring down. However, in many parts of the Midwest and Great Plains, bobwhites are often bagged as incidental takes by pheasant hunters. Where ranges overlap, hunters must be prepared to encounter both species. What follows is a list of shotguns, chokes and loads that are suitable not only for quail, but also larger upland birds, if necessary.
The good news is many waterfowlers probably already own a sufficient quail taker. Any shotgun can bag quail, but lighter and faster is always better. Speedy bobwhites erupt from cover and quickly put distance between themselves and the hunter. Gun mounts must be fast and shots snappy if there’s to be any hope of connecting. A lightweight shotgun is definitely an asset. I like 12-gauges to weigh around 6 ½ pounds, and sub-gauges, like the 20 or even 28, a pound less. To keep weight down and facilitate a quick swing, I prefer a 26-inch barrel on repeaters, 28 inches on doubles.
Browning’s new A5 is the perfect example of a lightweight 12-gauge. Although it’s marketed to waterfowlers, I use my A5 mainly for quail. At around 6.6 pounds with a 26-inch barrel, the A5 shoulders easily and swings fast. Its inertia-operated action means there aren’t any gas pistons straddling the magazine tube up front, so the forearm is thin and feels more like a double than a semi-auto.
Benelli’s Ethos is another lightweight contender. With a 26-inch barrel, this 3-inch 12-gauge inertia-operated semi-auto weighs just 6.4 pounds. Everything said about the A5 could also apply to the Ethos, plus its Progressive Comfort system helps manage recoil.
Likewise, Franchi’s Intensity weighs only 6.7 pounds with a 26-inch barrel, and it represents one of the best values going in 3 1/2-inch 12-gauge inertia-powered guns. If you’re one of the wise waterfowlers who has discovered this affordable autoloader, you’re in luck, because it makes a nice upland gun, too.
My favorite Franchi offering, though, is the legendary 48 AL. Whether you choose a 20 or a 28, the only gauges offered, it doesn’t matter — both work equally well on quail. I personally own one of each, and at around 5 ½ pounds, they are a delight to carry and are lightning fast on wild bobwhites. This featherweight Franchi is the only long-recoil-operated semi-auto still in production, so there is a friction ring that must be adjusted for light or heavy loads. However, it’s a small price to pay for what might be the ultimate upland autoloader.
Lightweight, soft-shooting gas guns include Browning’s 12-gauge Maxus, which weighs around 7 pounds, and Beretta’s A400 Xplor Action line, available in 12- (6.7 pounds), 20- (6 pounds), and 28-gauge (5 1/2 pounds).
Quail hunters who prefer pumps should consider Remington’s 870 Wingmaster. The 12-gauge model with a 26-inch, light contour barrel weighs just 6.75 pounds. Among Browning’s many BPS offerings is the 16-gauge Upland Special. It has a straight, English-style stock, also weighs about 6.75 pounds, and is available with a 26- or 24-inch barrel, the latter perfect for quick acquisition of quail-sized targets.
Doubles provide a two-choke advantage, which can be a real asset when hunting quail over pointers. The first shot might be ultra-close and the second at medium range. That’s why a lot of upland hunters prefer an over/under or side-by-side.
Benelli’s new 12-gauge 828U over/under weighs just 6.6 pounds with 28-inch barrels (6 1/2 with 26), and its adjustable shim kit provides a customized fit. Unfortunately, it’s a little pricey. Stevens 555 provides an affordable alternative, and at only 6.15 pounds with 28-inch barrels, it is one of the lightest 12-gauge over/unders available. Plus, 20-gauge and new 28-gauge and .410 models are also offered, all under 5 ½ pounds.
When choosing a choke for quail, more open is usually better. Anything tighter than modified is never needed for bobwhites. Modified is also a good all-around choice for pheasants, especially if hunting over flushing dogs, like Labs, where shots are a little longer. If you’re hunting quail over a pointing dog, shots are usually up close and personal, so you’ll want to open things up a bit.
In a double, where two constrictions are available, improved cylinder and modified are a good pairing, especially in fixed-choke guns. If screw-in chokes are an option, try a more forgiving match, like skeet and light modified. Shoot the more open barrel first on the covey rise, then the tighter barrel as the birds make their escape.
In single-barrel guns like pumps or semi-autos, which are limited to one choke choice, I’ve found light modified to be the ideal compromise constriction. LM opens up relatively fast for quail, yet provides enough pattern density to drop birds at medium yardages. Although LM is my first choice, last season I had to occasionally switch to a skeet tube in order to connect with close-range quail over my Kleine Munsterlander pointer.
The best lead shot upland choke I’ve tried is Muller’s U2 (LM), although the more open U1 (skeet) also works well on quail. Another top pick is any of Carlson’s various LM chokes, which have the added benefit of being steel-shot safe.
If you don’t want the hassle of worrying about chokes, simplify your life and carry a few spreader loads in your vest pocket. Spreader loads are designed to disperse very quickly and can usually open up patterns one or two choke sizes without necessitating a choke swap. Stick with, say, LM in your repeater and use a spreader load to widen patterns as needed. I’ll initially load up with regular shells in anticipation of either pheasants or quail. If the latter flushes, I simply shoot what’s in my gun at the covey rise, then load up with spreader rounds and go after the singles, which tend to sit tighter and present the closest shots.
Leading the spreader load pack is Polywad’s extensive Spred-R line, offered in 12-, 16-, 20- and 28-gauge, all of which are effective on quail. Available shot sizes include 6s, 7 ½s and 8s. Personally, I prefer 7½s for quail, since they offer a nice balance between pattern density and knockdown power — an important consideration when only a few, quick-dispersing pellets might actually hit the bird.
Other 12-gauge spreader loads include Herter’s Super Spreader with a potent 1¼-ounce payload of rare lead No. 7s, and Kent’s Velocity with 1 1/8 ounces of No. 8s.
Regular 12-gauge loads, such as Herter’s Select Field Pheasant with 1¼ ounces of No. 5s or Environ-Metal’s new Hevi-Game with 1 1/8 ounces of lead 6s, have also proven quite effective on both midrange quail and pheasants.
In nontoxic zones, Kent’s Upland Fasteel No. 5s (6s and 7s also available) work great on quail, as does Environ-Metal’s Heavy Metal Pheasant in 5s or 4s. Both loads come in 12- and 20-gauge and are powerful enough to also bag surprise roosters if necessary.