Skip to main content Skip to main content

Bobwhite Quail: Game Bird Profile

For many throughout the southern and central portions of the United States, chasing Gentleman Bob behind pointing dogs is a way of life.

Bobwhite Quail: Game Bird Profile

Is the bobwhite quail America's favorite game bird? Many would say yes and here's why. (Photo By: Walter Eastland/Shutterstock.com)

A look at North American quail species is an interesting study, as hunters in the United States have six different species to pursue, all with different features that make hunting them a unique adventure. 

A member of the Odontophoridae family, Colinus virginanius is the most hunted species of North American quail. That’s not just because of the challenge and fun involved with hunting “Gentleman Bob” over pointing dogs, but also because this popular little game bird has the most widespread range of all the quail species. The bird is so-named because of the distinctive two-syllable “bob-white” whistle call of the male.

Bobwhite Quail Range

The bobwhite quail is found as far west as eastern New Mexico, eastern Colorado and southeast Utah. From there, the range spreads eastward all the way to the East Coast, inhabiting much of the coast except the southern tip of Florida and Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.

The bird’s range stretches well into northern climates, too, with populations occurring into South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and even lower Michigan. Moving south, bobwhite are found throughout all but the western edge of Texas, along much of Mexico’s eastern coast and even into Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic.

Interestingly, in the western part of its range the bobwhite is known to cross breed with the scaled quail, commonly called blue quail or “cottontop.” Hybrids look just like you would expect them to, exhibiting features of both species, and are highly prized by hunters in western Oklahoma, much of Texas, and eastern New Mexico.

quail hunters in grassland
Bobwhite quail can be found in a wide range of habitat from grasslands and rangelands to agricultural fields and even open-pine forests. (Photo By: Steve Oehlenschlager/Shutterstock.com)

Bobwhite Quail Biology & Habitat 

The bobwhite is a distinctive quail between the size of a robin and a crow, with a short crest to its head. Rich, chestnut upper parts sit atop scaled lower parts of mixed brown and white. The male exhibits a black and white striped face with white throat and brown crown. The female is a little plainer, with a buff-colored face instead of white.

male bobwhite quail
The male bobwhite sports a distinctive black and white striped crown. (Photo By: Kane513/Shutterstock.com)
female bobwhite quail
The female bobwhite quail has a more drab and dull coloration. (Photo By: Dennis W Donohue/Shutterstock.com)

The ability of the bobwhite to adapt to different habitat types has helped account for its vast range. The birds typically live in agricultural fields, grasslands, open pine or pine-hardwood forests and grass-brush rangelands. They usually avoid mature woodlands, preferring instead to inhabit early stages of regrowth after farming, fire, logging, or other vegetative disturbance. Consequently, prescribed fire is used to manage the species throughout much of its range.

Bobwhite pair up in the spring for reproduction and choose a nest site often near an edge where thick habitat meets more open country. Females typically lay about eight to 24 dull white eggs, which they incubate for 22 to 24 days. Young hatch active and covered with down, but are still reliant on the parent birds for food and warmth for a short period.

The heyday for quail hunting in much of the United States was back in the late 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s. Since then, populations have fallen rapidly throughout much of their range, largely due to disappearance of suitable habitat. Still, estimates put bobwhite numbers at around 5.5 million birds, and hundreds of thousands of hunters still pursue them with a passion. Because of their widespread popularity as a game bird, they are one of the most studied species in the country.


Hunting the Bobwhite Quail

The bobwhite is found in groups, called coveys, of anywhere from a half dozen to 20 birds or more. Known to sometimes hold tight for hunting dogs, the thunderous sound of a covey flush will make your heart skip a beat and has certainly been responsible for turning many into diehard quail hunters. 

In vast parts of the country when you hear the term “bird dog,” what they’re referring to is a pointing dog bred to hunt bobwhite quail. Throughout much of the South and Midwest, bobwhites are pursued with a passion that would rival that of ruffed grouse hunters in the northeast portion of the country. 

female bobwhite quail
Pointing dogs are often preferred over flushers for their ability to cover large expanses of bird-holding habitat. (Photo By: Isaias Miciu Nicolaevici/Shutterstock.com)

Quail season dates vary throughout the country but typically fall somewhere between October and March. In Oklahoma, where I grew up hunting the birds during the heyday of quail hunting and still pursue them each year, the season runs November 13 through February 15.

As mentioned, quail are typically hunted over pointing dogs of a variety of breeds, including English pointers, English setters, German shorthaired pointers, and even field-bred Irish setters. Hunters turn their dogs loose in likely habitat and walk—often for miles—until the dogs find and point birds. If the birds hold tight, hunters walk ahead of the dogs, flush the birds and try to shoot them on the wing. When successful, they’re in for a treat, as quail meat is very light colored and quite delicious.

Shotguns & Shotshells for Bobwhite Quail 

While most hunters have their favorite quail gun, just about any shotgun can be used, from the diminutive .410 bore all the way up to 12-gauge. Most hunters find the 20-gauge to be the best compromise, and choose either double-barreled or semi-automatic shotguns. The classic Southern quail gun is a side-by-side 20-gauge double barrel.

For ammo, quail are tough, but not that hard to knock down. Low-brass number #7.5 or #8 shot usually get the nod, although some hunters go up to number #6 if they are hunting in ring-necked pheasant territory and might get a shot at a rooster during their quail hunt. Open chokes are preferred, with improved cylinder having widespread acceptance.

female bobwhite quail
Because of their widespread distribution and challenge to hit on the wing, bobwhite quail continue to be one of America’s most favorite game birds to hunt. (Photo By: Steve Oehlenschlager/Shutterstock.com)

The vast decline in bobwhite quail numbers has hunters as well as biologists greatly concerned, and many state wildlife agencies within the species’ range have ongoing management projects intended to restore bobwhite populations. Private groups like Quail Unlimited also are working to rebuild bobwhite numbers throughout much of the United States.

As with any species of game bird, always check the regulations in the area you intend to hunt before heading afield on a bobwhite hunt. This will ensure you do your part in proper management of the species, as well as keep you out of trouble with the law.


To Continue Reading

Go Premium Today.

Get everything Gun Dog has to offer. What's Included

  • Receive (6) 120-page magazines filled with the best dog training advice from expert trainers

  • Exclusive bird dog training videos presented by Gun Dog experts.

  • Complete access to a library of digital back issues spanning years of Gun Dog magazine.

  • Unique editorial written exclusively for premium members.

  • Ad-free experience at GunDogMag.com.

Subscribe Now

Already a subscriber? Sign In or start your online account

Get the Newletter Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Gun Dog articles delivered right to your inbox.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Gun Dog subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now
Dog jumping out of phone with Gun Dog website in the background
Make the Jump to Gun Dog Premium

Gun Dog Premium is the go-to choice for sporting dog owners and upland hunting enthusiasts. Go Premium to recieve the follwing benefits:

The Magazine

Recieve (6) 120-page magazines filled with the best dog training advice from expert trainers.

Training Videos

Exclusive bird dog training videos presented by Gun Dog experts.

Digital Back Issues

Complete access to a library of digital back issues spanning years of Gun Dog magazine.

Exclusive Online Editorial

Unique editorial written exclusively for premium members.

Subscribe Now

Already a subscriber? Sign In or Start your online account

Go Premium

and get everything Gun Dog has to offer.

The Magazine

Recieve (6) 120-page magazines filled with the best dog training advice from expert trainers.

Training Videos

Exclusive bird dog training videos presented by Gun Dog experts.

Digital Back Issues

Complete access to a library of digital back issues spanning years of Gun Dog magazine.

Exclusive Online Editorial

Unique editorial written exclusively for premium members.

Subscribe Now

Already a subscriber? Sign In or Start your online account