Quail prefer not to fly. They would rather run on the ground and covey up than hit the skies. They only tend to fly in a last resort attempt to escape an imminent threat. They are also well camouflaged, so if you’re not careful you’ll walk right over the top of a covey of 10 birds. They will stay hunkered down unless they are truly in danger.
That’s where the dogs come in. Bird dogs are excited to get into the field and find birds. It’s literally the job they were born to do.
Upland hunters bring one or two pointers, setters, or spaniels, then pair those with a retrieving dog (usually a Labrador Retriever). The lab will heel close to the guide while the pointers work in patterns to hunt for the birds. When one of the pointers smells a bird, it will go on point. This is a distinct look—the dog is completely still with its tail in the air and its nose pointed directly at the birds. The second pointer will honor this point, as he may not know exactly where the birds are but trusts his buddy.
The guide then moves in behind the pointers with the lab, and the hunters spread out in a line. When the hunters are ready, the guide commands “Birds up!” and the lab charges into the covey.
Suddenly, the bush or grass explodes with quail. It’s a difficult moment for the shooter—you can’t just shoot blindly into the group. You need to calmly pick out one bird, do your best to swing smoothly around, gain the proper lead, and squeeze the trigger. Quail are small and fast. These are difficult shots. You have a split second to shoot and then they are back on the ground hiding in the tall grass or bushes again.
If you’ve knocked down one or two birds, the dogs retrieve them. Rinse and repeat.