In this episode of the podcast, we’re talking about scaled quail, also known as blue quail, with something of a unicorn: Ryan O’Shaughnessy, who is both a PhD game bird biologist and a hunting outfitter, with West Texas Quail Outfitters.
Every episode of Hunt Gather Talk digs deep into the life, habits, hunting, lore, myth and of course prepping and cooking of a particular animal. Expect episodes on pheasants, rabbits, every species of quail, every species of grouse, wild turkeys, rails, woodcock, pigeons and doves, and huns. Thanks go out to Filson and Hunt to Eat for sponsoring the show!
Scaled quail are perhaps the quail that runs the most, making them especially challenging to hunt. Ryan knows these birds as well as anyone, and we go deep into how to chase them, what makes them tick and how to cook them. We also get into some of the South African gamebirds O’Shaughnessy hunted as a kid in Africa.
For more information on these topics, here are some helpful links:
- A cool web page all about scaled quail, from Cornell University.
- Here is a link to scaled quail calls, from Audubon. (Bottom of the page.)
- A cool article on hunting scaled quail from Project Upland.
- My favorite way to cook scaled quail, slow barbecued over a smoky fire.
- A basic roast quail recipe.
- The dove popper recipe I mention in the podcast, which works well with quail.
- Here’s how to process cholla buds, which we also talk about.
I am bringing back Hunt Gather Talk with the hopes that your generosity can help keep it going season after season. Think of this like public radio, only with hunting and fishing and wild food and stuff. No, this won’t be a “pay-to-play” podcast, so you don’t necessarily have to chip in. But I am asking you to consider it. Every little bit helps to pay for editing, servers, and, frankly to keep the lights on here. Thanks in advance for whatever you can contribute!
As a service to those with hearing issues, or for anyone who would rather read our conversation than hear it, here is the transcript of the show. Enjoy!
Hank Shaw: Hello everybody welcome back to the Hunt Gather Talk podcast sponsored by Hunt to Eat and Filson, I am your host Hank Shaw. And this time we are going to talk about scaled quail, also called blue quail. This is a particular species of quail that lives in the Chihuahuan Desert, which is to say, the big giant deserty place from West Texas, up through a little bit Oklahoma, all the way down into Mexico, and out into New Mexico, a little piece of Arizona, and a little piece of Colorado.
It’s a very cool quail in that it’s not only beautiful, but it is a runner, it is a difficult bird to hunt because it tends to run away rather than fly. And today we’re going to be talking to an expert who is not only a PhD on scaled quail, he’s also an outfitter, Ryan O’Shaughnessy of West Texas Outfitters. So without further ado let’s take it away.
Welcome to the Hunt Gather Talk Podcast, Ryan, I am very happy to have you on because I had been looking for a scaled quail expert, and that seems like I found one in, of all places, West Texas, which is one of the two or three epicenters of this bird I’m not wrong. So let’s jump right in and talk about what your background is, and how did you get to West Texas, and what you do there, and how you focus on scaled quail.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Sure Hank. Yeah. So obviously, you and your listeners can probably tell from my accent that I’m not a native in any regard. I actually was born and raised in southern Africa, born in Zimbabwe and they went to school in South Africa. My dad lived up in Botswana and has been in the safari industry there for gosh most of my life, 35 years now I think.
I actually met my wife, she is American, I met her over in Botswana she was up there with the Peace Corps, and I was finishing up my master’s degree at the time and she said, “Hey, well you want to come home with me?” And I did. And that was, oh gosh 10, 11 years ago now. So we moved to Florida originally that’s where my wife, Karen, is from. And from there we popped up to Illinois, to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale for the-
Hank Shaw: The Salukis.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: The mighty Salukis; I’m impressed that you knew that. And I finished my PhD up there working on waterfowl.
Hank Shaw: Oh, okay.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yeah and then funny enough, my advisor on my master’s was an American guy who’s affiliated with New Mexico State, and he was friends with my boss out here at Seoul Ross, they were looking for a post doc. And Jimmy called me up and he said, “Brian listen man, I think you’d really like that corner of the world down there.” He said, “I think that you should put in and see if you can get an interview and go out there and take a look at the place.”
And, yeah, it was love at first sight. Came out here and just fell in love with the area, nice small town that we live in. And since then, yeah, three baby girls that are all been born and raised right here in Alpine.
Hank Shaw: Wow. So, I mean, it makes sense because that part of Texas looks quite a bit like Zimbabwe or the orange free state; they both look more or less the same way. I’ve actually spent some time in both South Africa and Zimbabwe. So, yeah.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yeah fantastic. And you’re quite right, Hank. I mean, I say to my parents when I moved out here, I said, “You know, if you made me close my eyes and you drop me off out here, or somewhere in South Africa, it would have taken me a good while to figure out which place I was in because they was so similar.”
Hank Shaw: And I went there in 1995, and I was like, “Wait, this looks like Montana.”
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Right, right.
Hank Shaw: So before we actually get into the scaled quail, I’d be interested, did you grow up hunting birds?
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: So I did. Again, like I said, my dad and my stepmother have been in the safari industry gosh for as long as I can remember. And I can remember as a child in Botswana back then we were able to get what they would call ration permits to be able to shoot game for camp meat. Because some of these places were so remote, there was no ways that you would be able to get into the store and back.
And we would drive around and you’d shoot a buffalo or a kudu for camp meat. But funny as far back as I can remember, we’re chasing guinea fowl, and franklin, and game birds was always what I preferred to do. So yeah, I grew up doing it, shooting game birds in Africa.
But it wasn’t until I moved over here where I really got that exposure to gosh, to all the equipment and the tactics, and the resources including dogs that we have here in the U.S. I think wing shooting is probably Africa’s best kept secret.
Some of the areas that I would go hunting, you never saw another person hunting game birds out there. Then gosh, just off the top of my head I think on any given day during the season, you would have a chance that somewhere between 12 and 15, 16 different species.
Hank Shaw: Crazy all the-
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Oh yeah. So that I think really nurtured my love for game birds. I had a couple of dogs over there, but again, like I say, the resources available to you are somewhat limited. So it wasn’t until I moved over here to the U.S. about 11 years ago where I realized, “Holy cow this whole gun dog world is a world unto itself.” And so now I’m sitting here and I’ve got 16 dogs in my kennel now so-
Hank Shaw: Oh my God. That’s a lot of dogs; I imagine they’re all different ages too.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: They are, they are. Gosh they range … Right now I’m trying to think what we’ve got from eight months to about eight and a half years in our kennel right now.
Hank Shaw: I guess you have to retire the old ones too?
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yep. Yeah, one of them we’ve just retired, she’s our only Weimaraner, she’s the old girl in the kennel; so she’s retired. She’s actually moved inside the house right now, so she’s loving life. Hank Shaw:
I bet. We’re going to get into dogs a little bit but … So yeah actually it’s funny you talked about that. I’ve got a colleague of mine who’s a taxidermist in Cape Town.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yeah.
Hank Shaw: And he has invited me to hunt ducks and upland birds in South Africa. And it’s funny, I talked to Holly all the time like, “You know what? I’m not really a big safari guy right? But I would totally go to Africa to chase rabbits, and squirrels, and game birds.
I’m a kind of a small game junkie. And I see … It’s funny, you watch the TV shows and taking pictures of lions, and giraffes, and that kind of thing and I’m always looking at the birds in the background.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yep, as am I, Hank. So we’re cut from the same cloth.
Hank Shaw: Oh be like, “Hey, there’s Egyptian geese in the background of that picture.”
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Even driving around here, the buddies of mine, they get all excited when they see a nice big mule deer, but I get excited when I see a cubby of quail flashing.
Hank Shaw: Right. It’s super cool, so I will preface this conversation by saying that of all the quail species … I have shot all of the quail species in North America. But of all of them that I’ve hunted, I know the least about scaled quail. So my one and only experience with blues or scales is in South Texas near McAllen where, basically, I was a guest on a guy’s ranch and we were hunting all kinds of things.
And he happened to have scaled quail on his ground, and like, “Well, I’ve never shot a scaled quail.” So it wasn’t exactly the most dramatic hunt in the world. It was I went out with my … I shoot a 20 gauge over/under. And I went just out walking around among the cactus in the tall grass, and then a bunch flushed, and I shot two, and came home and had lunch.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Nice.
Hank Shaw: So I really want to get into it, but I know they’re a different bird. They’re kind of a grass bird versus a … Well you explain it to me. So what’s scaled quail habitat versus, say, bobwhites on the east or say Gamble’s or Mearns quail on the west?
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Sure.
Hank Shaw: So they’re kind of the in-between bird.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yeah so your scale the quail, I’m sure you noticed when you were chasing them in the cactus, their first and primary mode of escape from predators is to run.
Hank Shaw: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: And so because of that, they tend to prefer that more open country where visibility around them is really good. So they’re looking for areas that are maybe 50 to 60% open cover where they can see predators coming and they can run off if they need to.
Now that’s not to say that they don’t need cover, because they certainly do and they’ll duck into it to get away from predators like hawks, and coyotes, and bobcats, and they certainly need that cover to roost in at night. But you’re not going to find them in that really, really thick stuff that you can find your bobwhite in down in South Texas when your dog runs off 20 yards and you can’t see the dog anymore.
You won’t find them in that really thick riparian vegetation that you tend to find your Gamble’s in. And you tend not to find them in your higher elevation cedar oak moss like you find your Mearns quail either.
Hank Shaw: Interesting I guess they seem to me like … So Gamble’s is a Sonoran bird?
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yep.
Hank Shaw: And Mearns is kind of a Sky Island bird?
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Right.
Hank Shaw: And I get the sense that the scaled, he’s the quail of yuccas. The Chihuahuan Desert?
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yeah, yep. I was going to say that, I was going to say the Chihuahuan Desert. They seem to live where just about any other ground dwelling bird can’t, because everything pokes and sticks you and is rocky out here; but they love it.
Hank Shaw: I guess roadrunners are out there too, so and if I’m not wrong, I think roadrunners eat quail don’t they?
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: So they do, and there’s been quite a bit of controversy over that, certainly, in quail hunting circles. I’m not sure that they have a tremendous impact on the quail populations, but they certainly do eat baby quail, and I will stand by that statement. A lot of people will argue with me on that, but I’ve seen it happen, I wouldn’t have believed it unless I’d seen it with my own eyes.
A lot of guys will say, “Oh a single roadrunner my take out a whole clutch of quail.” I think that maybe happens very rarely. They’re more opportunistic feeders I would say; your roadrunners. But yeah they certainly do predate on the odd chick when they can.
Hank Shaw: Okay, so it’s the chicks that they’ll go after? My friend, Johnathan O’Dell, he’s a biologist in Arizona, and Jonathan O’Dell had … There was one resident roadrunner that lived around where they were rearing some quail, and he called it the QEB – the quail eating bastard.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yep.
Hank Shaw: And it was this one particular roadrunner that had figured things out.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yeah, they’re smart little birds. And I will say that oftentimes when I see roadrunners, I’ll start to get real vigilant for quail and vice versa, particularly during the breeding season and the nesting season when you’ve got those little baby quail running around. Often you’ll see a roadrunner hanging around in the area just waiting for that opportunity to run in and snatch a little fledgling up.
Hank Shaw: Interesting. So the food habits of all quails seem to be more or less the same. So they all seem to be … In the spring they eat a lot of bugs, and then for really not the rest of the year, they eat primarily seeds and forbs. And are there plants out there that if you’re, say, walking around you say, “Oh wow, this is the thing that the scaled quail really loves to eat?” And so you can be more vigilant.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yes so you hit the nail on the head there. The forbs, if you shoot a mature bird during the fall and you open up that crop, there is a lot of green leaf matter in that crop and, primarily, they’ll be your little forbs. So if I’m walking around a tank where you’ve got a nice green forb growth, that always looks really, really good to me.
Your grasses, your grass seeds always a really big one. Like to see a grasshopper, heck if I’m out running the dogs and there’s grasshoppers flying around, that gets me really excited. Like you said too and just like all the other quail species, there tends to be a shift to a larger proportion of insects in the diet during spring; I think that can go up to about 20% insects in the diet.
And primarily you’ll see that shift in the diet in the females; they’re trying to pack on a lot of protein for nesting and producing those eggs. And then the little chicks, when they’re hitting the ground, they’re really trying to hit those grasshoppers. It’s real energy rich food sources while they’re growing too, and then they’ll start to transition more into vegetation and seeds as they get older.
Hank Shaw: In Arizona where it’s just … Most of my arid quail experience is in Arizona. They say that … I think they … What is it? It’s winter rains for Mearns quail and summer rains for Gamble’s quail?
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yeah.
Hank Shaw: I think that’s right.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yeah.
Hank Shaw: So what is the good indicator in scaled quail country for like, “Oh it’s going to be a good hatch?”
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: So some of the [inaudible 00:15:15] Gamble’s, it’s our summer rains here. Out in West Texas we have what we refer to as our summer monsoon which, in a year like this year, would be very misleading. I think we’ve only had about six and a half inches this year. But usually around June, middle June, I’ve heard people say, “July 4th, we really want the rains to start by then.” But certainly irrespective of the day, we’re looking for that good summer rainfall.
Hank Shaw: Okay, so it is very similar to the Gamble’s then in that … Sadly, this year has been terrible for monsoons throughout the Southwest. I mean, Arizona had terrible, terrible monsoons.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, but like you say, they’re very similar to Gamble’s. We have Gamble’s out here too, closer to the river along the Rio Grande. We’ll get into Gamble’s every now and then. Certainly not in the levels that you would expect in Arizona and, say, Southwestern New Mexico, but we do overlap on that Gamble’s range. But yeah, take our message we need it to rain during summer.
Hank Shaw: So I understand that while there’s no shortage of scaled quail that their populations are slowly declining and that’s from habitat loss isn’t it?
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: So I would say just like every other quail species, yes that their populations are slowly declining particularly on the, I would say, the periphery of the ranges where you’re getting more and more urban development and, potentially, even your oil and gas development.
Where we are, we’re very fortunate in that we’re still in the heart of ranching country. A lot of big, wild, beautiful open ranches out here that have not had that development yet, that energy development, so our populations have remained stable notwithstanding the weather, of course. But, yeah, just like every other population of quail, they’re on a slow decline.
Hank Shaw: Talk to me about how natural oil and gas affects quail. Because I just finished doing a podcast about the sage grouse and energy development is a huge limiting factor for sage grouse because of noise for one thing. The noise of the-
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Right.
Hank Shaw: Rigs. And then the fact that they’re big. And so anything that’s really tall, a hawk can hang out on and look down on you, and the worst enemy of the sage grouse is a raptor. Is it similar with the scaled quail?
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yeah it’s very similar with your scaled quail. I would say the majority of predation on your scaled quail comes from aerial predators.
Hank Shaw: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: I would think too that with your oil and gas development … And this is just my anecdotal thoughts on it. Typically, when you get your oil and gas development taking place on private property, a lot of times those ranchers who are now drawing those paychecks from oil and gas royalties, because of the disturbance on the landscape and the increased traffic, they’ll tend to pull their capital from that landscape or that particular pasture.
When they do that, one of the first things that they’ll do is they’ll shut off water. You do hear people talking about these [inaudible 00:19:31] of quail saying, “Oh well they don’t really need the water.” Well in my opinion, that’s both true and not true. They can get a lot of metabolic water from the foods that they’re eating, but it’s going to be a heck of a lot easier, and they’re going to survive a lot better if there is free standing water available.
So it’s just this culmination of a fix that just makes it just that much more harder for these little guys to survive on the landscape. As you and many of your listeners know … I heard a great saying the other day, “If you find a year old quail, well that quail’s been dead for a long time.” If you know what I mean.
Hank Shaw: Yeah, I mean, all of the gallinaceous birds to my knowledge … I mean, there’s a few exceptions like sage grouse can live for a few years. And there have been really, really old spruce grouse oddly because they’re notoriously difficult. It’s funny, they’re one of the easiest birds to hunt because they just stand there and look at you.
But their ability to evade natural predators allows them to live a little bit longer than all the other gallinaceous birds. But in general, I mean, it’s been my experience that that’s kind of true with pheasants, and all grouse, and most of the quail and they live, short, hard fast lives.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Right, right. When we’re shooting birds, I’ll often get clients asking me, “Hey, well how old is this bird?” When you’re looking at coverts and you can tell whether they’ve got that little white buffing or not, you can tell well heck this is a young of the year bird versus a bird that’s probably a mature bird, and maybe about a year old, but that’s about it. All of our knowledge comes from birds that we, obviously, put transmitters on.
Hank Shaw: I was going to ask you, do you guys do transmitters or banding?
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: You’re right so we use transmitters quite a bit just because we haven’t had much luck with the banding in terms of finding a lot of those-
Hank Shaw: Uh-huh (affirmative).
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Dead birds. But the backpack birds, heck if you’ve got a bird that’s making it to a year and a half, two years old, that is a really old scaled quail.
Hank Shaw: Interesting.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: And he’s doing really well. I’ll say the average lifespan is probably eight months to a year.
Hank Shaw: Yeah, I’ve heard that with a lot of different quail species. One funny banding note is … So Holly, my girlfriend, she used to band ducks for the state of California.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yeah.
Hank Shaw: And she stopped doing it two years ago, two or three years ago … God, it could be three years ago now. And there is still one banded male that comes to the backyard almost every day.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Awesome.
Hank Shaw: And so he’s a four year old bird at least.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Wow.
Hank Shaw: And my guess is that in captivity a scaled quail can live probably for six or seven years but.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yeah, yeah with the captivity, with a good reliable source of food, and water and then, obviously, the protection, I think the protection is probably the most critical aspect of it, particularly from weather. And that’s the one thing that I think a lot of people don’t take into account, but those really, really hard freezes that we get, or hail storms, they are really hard on the populations.
Hank Shaw: Interesting. Because that’s the same thing with Mearns quail in southern Arizona, they … I think most quail huddle up, they all go back to back and sit in a circle like the penguins do?
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Correct and we’ve seen that with scaled quail. And it’s an interesting thing when you see a nice big cubbies of, say, 20 to 30 birds, they’re not all huddling up and roosting under one bush all together. They’ll break up into groups of, say, six, seven, eight birds where they can huddle in and not really have any exposed flesh feathers to the elements. As you can imagine, if you try to arrange a circle of 30 birds, there’s going to be a big open space in the middle, right?
Hank Shaw: Right.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: But if you cut that down to seven or eight birds and you arrange them a nice tight huddle, that thermoregulatory effect’s a lot more efficient.
Hank Shaw: So this leads to a good hunting question. So I talked to Dwayne Elmore, who’s a bobwhite biologist, and he said that in a place like where you are in West Texas where you’re not at the periphery of their range-
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yeah.
Hank Shaw: That the whole thing about like, “Oh you’ll shoot the covey up.” So only shoot that covey once a year or whatever and you got to preserve the quail da, da, da. He says that when you are with bobwhites and you’re in contiguous bobwhite habitat that it doesn’t matter. Because those flocks and coveys are fluid. He says where it does matters if you are hunting a covey on an isolated piece of habitat. And I was wondering if it’s a similar thing with scaled quail.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Absolutely. If you’re on a nice big contiguous property where you know you’ve got multiple coveys, those birds tend to … If you would just sit for an afternoon and, say, watch them come into a little water tank, you may have three or four coveys start to walk in from all different directions. They all muddled together and then they all head out in their separate ways.
Now it’s not like they’re these independent family units that are arriving together and leaving together, you’re getting a mixing of the individuals as they come in and then they depart. But what I will say is that … And I think this is another common misconception, particularly when it comes to game birds. And I’ve heard a lot of landowners say this particularly to me when I’ve been trying to secure more leases, you’ll hear people say things like, “Oh well I don’t want you to shoot my quail because I want to look off to the quail.”
Hank Shaw: I hear that a lot in California, by the way.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Right. And that in itself is kind of a misconception, and that goes back to what we were discussing previously on the very high mortality rate that these birds have. They what we call your R-selected species. And R, I always say easy way to remember it, R for reproduction. They’ve got very low adult survival, but tremendously high reproductive output. So a momma quail, I mean, she’s laying gosh up to 12 eggs in a clutch and if conditions are right, she may nest three times in a breeding season.
Hank Shaw: I didn’t know that.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yeah, so right there, I mean, you’ve got one momma quail there could, potentially, be putting up to 36 new baby quail on the ground. We know that they’re not all going to survive, they’re going to die from things like weather and predation. And so when people say, “Hey I want you to shoot my birds because I want them to survive.” We start talking about something called compensatory mentality.
Hank Shaw: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: And what we’re really just saying is, “Well, heck your average quail is going to die within a year. So whether it’s me taking that bird from hunter harvest or a coyote taking that bird, that bird essentially is lost anyways.”
Hank Shaw: Yeah, you see that a lot in wildlife management all over. Because the goal of good regulated hunting is for it to be … Correct me if I’m getting the terms wrong, it’s compensatory not additive?
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Correct, yep correct.
Hank Shaw: Yeah, so like if your hunting starts to be additive mortality, then you got to scale back?
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Absolutely and like you say, additive just like the name suggests, that is adding to the mortality rate, where we tend not to see that in things like quail hunting. Out here, you’ve got to think there’s are just tremendous, tremendous safety margins built into the hunting system. So where we are in Texas, we can take up to 15 quail per hunter/per day.
Hank Shaw: So let me stop here for a second.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Sure.
Hank Shaw: Okay. I have shot a 15 bird limit of quail exactly once in my entire life. It seems to be like okay … It’s like the snow goose limit where it’s 20 birds for us in the west and like “Really, are you really going to shoot 20 snow geese in one day?” Really? I mean, what’s a normal bag for a day?
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: That’s the million dollar question that we get asked by clients all the time. I hate it when guys ask me, “Oh well what’s the limit?” And you kind of have to say, “15.” And I immediately try to say, “Hey, but even when we’ve had just off the chart, good years, it’s only a handful of guys every year that are actually able to shoot the limit.”
Hank Shaw: Yeah, I mean, because not only are there … you got to see a lot of quail, because you may figure there’s four guns in any given group. But you’ve got to shoot a quail.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Right. And that’s where it comes in. I would say if I look back over our numbers over the years, our guys are probably averaging, I’d say, five to seven quail per gun/per day.
Hank Shaw: That seems reasonable.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yeah, yeah. You can get those guys who are just crack shots, and then they might walk away with 14, 15 birds. But then you get some guys who come out and are quite happy to shoot three four bucks of the shells and take two birds home with them.
Hank Shaw: Oh man, that’s like the dove hunters.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yep.
Hank Shaw: I think the national average of shells per dove is somewhere around seven, which I find out amazing.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yeah I wouldn’t be surprised.
Hank Shaw: Like, “Seven?” Oh my. I mean, I’m apparently a better shot than that because, typically, it’s five for the first day and then I narrow down about two. You chase these quail a lot. Have you chased the other species in North America?
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: I have. I’ve been fortunate enough to go out to Arizona and chase Gamble’s and Mearns; same in New Mexico, and an even bobwhite here in Texas.
Hank Shaw: So I will ask you what is the … So I like asking this question of people who have wide range in a particular set of species. What makes scaled quails different? And so how is their attitude, their character, their personality, how are they different from, say, their neighboring quail?
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: I would definitely say your scaled quail … And I’m going to preface my answer by saying that even amongst the multitude of African game birds that I’ve hunted throughout my life, I still think that your scaled quail are probably one of the toughest game birds that you can hunt.
To me, that’s partly because of their running nature, and it’s also because of the habitat that they live in. I certainly compare them to Mearns and to bobwhites, if you were to bust that cubby and you see those birds flushing land, chances are you walk up to that area and those birds are going to be right around there. Whereas these dang scaled quail, they might flush 50, 60 yards but when they’re hitting the ground, they are running. And so when you get right back up there with the dogs, well heck there’s no telling where those birds are. We’re averaging, Hank, I would say eight to 12 miles in a day when you come out hunting with us after these birds.
Hank Shaw: Could be worse, you could be doing the same thing for ptarmigan at 13,000 feet.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Well that’s true, I was going to say ptarmigan and chukar may be the two game birds that have these [scalies 00:32:03] beat on the ground in terms of hunting difficulty.
Hank Shaw: Oh my, chukars are hateful grey birds; hateful.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yeah.
Hank Shaw: Is there a perdix species in Africa or is it just in Eurasia?
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: So we have a couple of species. We get what’s called a buttonquail. But then outside of that gosh, we’ve got about seven or eight different … And I’m talking about Southern Africa, seven or eight species of francolin that you can hunt. Of course there’s guinea fowl, everybody knows guinea fowl.
Hank Shaw: Yes.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Gosh maybe same thing; about seven, eight different species of dove, eight species of waterfowl. We get sandgrouse, these three species of sandgrouse so like I say, it’s just a plethora of options available.
Hank Shaw: What would a francolin equate to in the United States?
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: I would say in size, probably a chukar.
Hank Shaw: Okay.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: But in hunting style, probably most similar to pheasant I would say.
Hank Shaw: Gotcha.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Unless you’re hunting your gray wing francolin in the Eastern Cape, you’ll be in beautiful high elevation grasslands up in the mountains. So they would probably be pretty close to the chukar at that point.
Hank Shaw: Back to scalies. If you are going to recommend somebody to … If I got to get my scale quail, blah blah, blah so I’m working on this plan. I need to know what do I need to know to hunt successfully?
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: That’s a great question. And there’s a lot of, I would say, misconceptions about hunting scaled quail. There are a lot of guys out here in Texas that will flat out not believe you if you say that you’re going hunting scalies with dogs. Where people just believe that these birds run far too much to be able to hunt them over a dog. Well, obviously, we would disagree with that because we do it year in and year out, we hunt them the good old fashioned way.
So my first bit of advice is if you wanted to do that, would be to either hunt with somebody who’s got dogs that are used to hunting these birds, or get a dog that’s really used to hunting running birds like maybe pheasants or chukar.
The next thing would be to get out to some country that holds a lot of birds; I mean, that might be silly to say. But you can go out to some of the public lands out here, and I guess the difference between public and private land, we can post a whole other podcast on that down the line. But these birds if they are pressured, heck you’re going to have a real hard time getting within 80 yards of them.
Again, that’s just due to their running nature. If they feel pressured, they’re going to get out of town. So try to find un-pressured populations. Look I know that’s the goal of every wild bird hunter right? But I think with these birds and their running nature, that really becomes maybe more important than a lot of your other species.
Hank Shaw: It’s interesting because the public/private situation in Texas is very different from where it is in, say, New Mexico, or Colorado, or Arizona.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Absolutely. I think we’re what, 94, 95% private lands here in Texas?
Hank Shaw: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Although I think pretty much the best of the public land in Texas is out by you.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yeah so we’re fortunate out here we’re … Jeepers, not including the national park, I think there’s close to 400,000 acres of public land available.
Hank Shaw: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, it’s starting to get into more of this desert southwest kind of a landscape versus it’s a East Texas or even South Texas which is almost exclusively private.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Right, right. Yeah.
Hank Shaw: All right he’s mentioned dogs, I know everybody gets their tits in a ringer over like, “Oh it’s this breed versus that breed.” But you can talk about breeds all you want, but design for me a perfect scaled quail hunting dog. What would it have to do?
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: So I think my attitude on that sort of dog may be a little different from, say, a weekend hunter. Obviously being an outfitter, I expect a little more from my dogs. But out here because of the open country … Hank I got to tell you, I like a big running dog. I want a dog that is going to cover a lot of ground for me, and I don’t mind whether he’s out the 200, 300 yards.
Obviously when he locks up on point, I need that dog to be rock solid on point. That dog’s got to give me and my guys enough time to walk over there, to get behind the dog, and into position to shoot any birds that he may have pinned down.
More than that, my ideal dog … Like if you took me to the quail dog superstore and I was looking on the shelves, I like my dogs to be collar conditioned. And I’m not necessarily talking about used to stimulation. More importantly I have all my dogs to a tone. There’s nothing worse, in my opinion, than going out with a buddy who’s got a dog who isn’t caller condition to a tone, and he’s yelling, and screaming, and blasting on a whistle all day.
Hank Shaw: Oh yeah.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: It’s quite a headache by the time you get home.
Hank Shaw: I didn’t know your dog was called ‘douche bag.’
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: [inaudible 00:38:55] yep. Yeah so other than that, a dog’s that’s going to handle and listen to me, to the beep, and hold steady is really what I’m looking for. A lot of people, I think, get intimidated by big running dogs and usually that’s a function of the environment. If I was hunting in thicker South Texas vegetation, yeah, I would want a closer working dog, obviously. But for me, a scaled quail dog, big riding, solid on point, responsive to a caller.
Hank Shaw: And I would imagine also you want them to be good in hot weather, and probably not with a wiry coat that picks up all the cholla and everything else right?
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: And that’s a great observation. So when you and I first got chatting, I mentioned that I have a Weimaraner. I’ve got one Weimaraner and then a couple of Brittany’s, and then the rest are all English Pointers.
Hank Shaw: I knew you were going to say English Pointers. Because when you said, “Big running dog that wants to …” All the chukar guys in Nevada are like yep, “English Pointer. Because the English Pointer runs up the mountain and then you’ve got to run up after the English Pointer; but yeah it can be like 200 yards.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Absolutely and now look, I will be honest. On an average a German Shorthaired, people always say to me, “Okay, Ryan, well which is the better breed?” The Brittany’s out here because we have a lot warmer weather than most other parts of the country, with their thicker coats I would rule Brittany’s out. They are fantastic dogs, though, don’t get me wrong. My male Mickey and my little female, Carrie, I mean, they’ll take on any dog out there. It’s just that with that heavier coat, they do get hotter faster. Between the pointers and my German Shorthaired [inaudible 00:40:58], I couldn’t pick a winner, Hank. I just, to me, I love seeing that long, straight tail-
Hank Shaw: Yeah.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: On English up in the air, and so that’s my personal preference. The Weimaraner, she was a fantastic dog, she’s getting a little old now. But out here in this country, she’s big and she’s dark so she fatigues a heck of a lot faster than the smaller bred dogs.
Hank Shaw: Interesting because I would have thought that a slick haired dog like a Weimaraner would be a good choice because … Well, I mean, that is if you can actually get one that hunts it’s [crosstalk 00:41:38] more rare.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Well we’ve been fortunate with her. She doesn’t run as big as the other dogs, she’s an excellent retriever. But her dark coat, she does overheat very, very quickly compared to the others. She’s running 10 minutes, the pointers are putting out like 80/90 minutes in comparisons, so.
Hank Shaw: So I don’t hunt with a dog because … Well other than living life in the time of Corona. I normally travel just too much for it to be fair to a dog. So I have become a very good dog-less hunter, infinitely aware that I can outlast any dog out there because-
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yeah.
Hank Shaw: I can sweat and the dog can’t.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Right.
Hank Shaw: So what would your tips be for a dog-less scaled quail hunter?
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Oh, boy have a good set of track shoes. But outside of that, I think we’re in the desert; everything needs water. So my probably single best piece of advice is to hunt around water sources. Nine times out of 10 you’re going to find birds near a tank.
Hank Shaw: That makes sense.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yeah, I mean, there’s really no mystery to it. With our dogs and when they aren’t pointing birds, even if you can break up that cubby, you’ll get singles and pairs that they’ll sit in the hold a lot better than when that whole cubby is together.
So if you’re out there by yourself and you do happen to kick up a cubby, head to the areas where you’ve seen your singles and your pairs go down. Chances are that if you bump a bird that is held tight for the first time, and then he flies off and you miss your shot, if you get a good location on where that bird’s gone down, if he’s held well that first time, chances are he’s going to hold while again. So go after that bird rather than trying to leave him and move after the rest of the cubby.
Hank Shaw: That’s a good piece of advice. So here’s a question, most western quail do not flush as a unit the way bobwhites do.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yep.
Hank Shaw: But I’m not entirely sure where scaled quail fit into that.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Your scaled, you can get a really nice big cubby flushes out of it. But like I say, that’s usually the first time that you get on the birds when they’re all huddled together under a big mesquite or some other big bush; they’re all flushed together as a unit. It’s after that when you’ll start to get them breaking up and flushing in smaller groups.
Hank Shaw: Gotcha. See so I hunt primarily California quail and mountain quail, and neither of those flush all at once ever, ever.
Hank Shaw: So it’s always the rookies who like take a shot at the first flush and I’m like, “I’m going to wait for the guys who are tailing by.” And then the best thing to do is after like two or three guys have shot, turn around and then … Because there’s going to be one that’s going to flush right out the back of you and you’ll usually have a clean shot at it [inaudible 00:44:56].
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yeah, I was going to stay there usually is a straggler about. So if that first cubby rise gets up out of their, hang on a minute because, invariably, there’s going to be that one guy who didn’t get the memo who’s going to flush late.
Hank Shaw: Yep. How about calls? So calling walking around in valley quail or mountain quail country, and even actually the Gamble’s quail as well, the ability to use a quail call to get them to reveal themselves can actually be very effective, and I’m just not aware that they do that with scalies.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: I can say that I’ve tried it all. I’ve tried doing a little mouth call, I’ve tried throwing a Frisbee over the cubby to get them to imitate a predator so-.
Hank Shaw: That’s hilarious.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Kind of stuff, but you spend a lot of time retrieving a Frisbee and not much time retrieving downed birds. If anybody listening to the show has any success with that, I would love to hear about it, [inaudible 00:46:05]. But no my opinion on that with everything that we’ve tried is … Yeah, people have even said use a hawk call, try to get on a hawk call because they’ll think there’s a predator, and then they’ll sit tight too, but I have never seen any of that work with any regularity at all.
Hank Shaw: Are they a talky bird?
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: They can be yeah. First thing in the morning and in the evening, you’ll get a couple of males sitting up on top of cholla and they’ll be calling, so they can be very vocal. Often they’ll give themselves away that way, so yeah indeed.
Hank Shaw: Yeah, so our valley quail are very talky but our mountain quail are not.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Okay.
Hank Shaw: Mountain quail, I mean, you’ll hear when they’re freaked out. But you can wander around the Sierra Nevada all day long, and you might hear one talk once.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Okay. Yeah when you get on a covey… I’m really bad at that impersonating quail, but they do a very short shrill little screech when they’re alarmed. And so oftentimes when you’re walking behind these birds and they’re running on the ground through the brush, and you’ve got your dogs relocating on them, you’ll hear this very short shrill little call, which I like because it lets you know exactly where those birds have gone.
Hank Shaw: Well I’ll put a bunch of scaled quail sounds in the show notes for this so that people can play them and not hear us try to imitate quail.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Excellent, excellent. Because I think if I try to imitate a quail, it’s probably going to sound like a drunk chicken I would imagine.
Hank Shaw: But it’s like the only good bird that I can imitate is the Eurasian collared dove because it sounds like a seabird or a dying penguin. It’s the weirdest thing, it’s like it doesn’t sound anything like any other doves, it’s just like this [inaudible 00:48:08]. Let’s get to the eternal upland game bird question that I ask every single episode. Do you ever pluck your quail when you get them?
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yes, I do. And it pretty much just depends on what our clients want. In the really good years where we’ve harvested a good batch of birds throughout the day, usually then we’ll just breast those birds out. But other than that, when we’ve shot 19 to 20 birds yeah, we’ll pluck them, I’ll pluck them, and then spatchcock it.
Hank Shaw: Gotcha. The iron rule of plucking an upland bird that I have learned through bitter experience is that there are only two ways to pluck an upland bird. The second after you kill it, within the next … I mean, with all reality within the next 15 minutes or so; they have to still be warm. Or you need to put them in the refrigerator and then let them sit for two, to three, to four days. Because if you try to gut them when everybody wants to pluck a bird, which is to say that night after you’re done with the hunt, or the next morning, they’re still in rigor and you will tear, tear, tear that skin like nobody’s business, and you’ll become Superman who will never want to do it again.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Right. And I would say that that latter is generally my experience. Because our clients might be wanting to hit the road the next morning and so while we’re having a couple of beers back at the rig, we’ll start trying to pack the birds. And I would say, invariably, we’ll end up just skinning that bird. Which, as you know, causes some issues down the line when it comes down to cooking them; you got to be real careful not to dry that bird out.
Hank Shaw: Yeah, I mean, it’s virtually none of the birds in this entire second season of Hunt Gather Talk get any kind of fat on them. I mean, it’s that’s kind of the nature of all upland game, whether it’s a mammal or a bird.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yep, yep. And I hate doing these birds injustice. Most people, yeah, I would say cook these scaled quail just like they would a dove. They breast that bird out, they put it with jalapeno cheese and wrap it in bacon.
Hank Shaw: Ah the venerable popper.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yep. And I think that just detracts from the taste of the bird. My wife and I, we really like making quail potpies. The season, we’ve got a bunch of quail built up, we’ll [inaudible 00:50:54] that quail meat, cook it up and make a whole series of little potpies that we can have for lunch over the next few days.
Hank Shaw: That is supremely British Commonwealth.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Right. What else can I say? With a cup of hot tea and maybe a gin and tonic [inaudible 00:51:10].
Hank Shaw: So the single greatest food item I ate when I was hunting in New Zealand were their meat pies. There were everything else in New Zealand was like, “Yeah, that’s okay.” The meat pies were amazing.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Probably my two hardest transitions since moving over here from the colonies is no hot tea and no meat pies.
Hank Shaw: So you do have great meat pies in Southwest Texas; they’re called empanadas.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Well yeah, yeah you are right.
Hank Shaw: So, I mean, yeah I would just … All I would do if I was in your spot is I would do your same potpie filling and then put them into empanadas. Or if you want to go full on British, put them into a [pasty 00:51:59].
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yeah, yeah. Well we usually put them into a pasty.
Hank Shaw: Yeah, it’s just a question of the different dough. And you can do all of them, although there is something to be said for a fried flour empanada which they’re pretty epic.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Oh you’re making me hungry now, Hank, so.
Hank Shaw: This is the coolest thing about the quail species though. It’s like I did an episode about doves a couple of weeks ago. And doves are a little bit more tricky because you can stew them, it’s not necessarily a sin against God and nature, but they are really better done cooked medium.
Whereas all the white meat birds like scaled quail and all their cousins, you can stew them much more successfully than you can, say, a pigeon, or a dove, or a duck. Duck breasts stewed are vile, now legs and wings on the other hand are that’s pretty much all I do with them.
But the other thing that’s interesting I find about quail is … And I want to hear your opinion on this as well. I have now eaten all eight species of North American quail. I don’t notice a ton of difference even with the skin. Like I tend to find them like, “Oh it’s quail.” So slightly funky white meat chicken-ish.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yeah. I do think … And I do get this feedback a lot from our clients. If we’ve got a few birds on the string by lunch, oftentimes I’ll grab one or two of the birds off there and cook those up for our little lunch appetizer. And I have had a lot of people come in and state that they felt like the scaled quail was particularly gamey compared to, say, your bobwhite; I think I would agree with that. Certainly compared to pheasant, I’m just trying to think of the most recent examples of game birds that I’ve eaten within a close enough time frame to really compare scalies to. But I think your scaled quail does have a slightly more gamey taste compared to, say, bobwhite and even Gamble’s.
Hank Shaw: I’m just going to have to kill more scaled quail and do ataste test.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Give you an excuse to come out to West Texas and chase some birds with us.
Hank Shaw: You know, funny you should mention that. I actually on a … I do cooking schools that are also hunts in southwest Oklahoma in December. So it’s primarily is a deer hunt but after that, I’m headed straight down to south of San Antonio to hunt with a friend there of various random creatures, and then I’m heading home. So home for me is Northern California, so it’s a 4,000 mile round trip road trip. And hell if I’m going that far, I might as … It’s not that hard to detour over to Alpine.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: No, we’re not too far off I-10 then, so when you’re heading back, please give us a call and let’s see if we can’t get you out in the field with us. And I’m going to put the pressure on you to cook up some birds for us at lunchtime.
Hank Shaw: That’s a serious deal. Yeah, I mean, I’d be happy to cook; I mean, I love cooking quail. So you said potpies, how are other ways that you like to cook quail?
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: I think in many ways I can be quite a traditionalist when it comes to game meat. So I don’t like to detract from the true flavor of the meat as much as possible. I do like smoking quail on my barbecue, I like grilling them. I must say though, and I must confess that I need to be very careful when I do that because if I’ve got some friends over and I’m having a beer while I’ve got the quail on the grill, I do tend to go a little long on the time and dry them out.
Hank Shaw: It can be a problem especially for a skinless. And I think we both would agree that a skinless grilled quail can be delicious, but a skinless smoked quail, it’s almost certainly going to be dry.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Absolutely. And then so I find that I have to be very careful with that. I’m in the field at lunchtime I’ll, I want to say, fry cook I guess is the most accurate description. Just get a nice cast iron with a fine layer of oil on the bottom, put some herbs and spices in there and spatchcock those quail and grill them that way.
I love doing that in the field. I always find it’s a huge hit with our clients taking birds off the stringer that you’ve gotten that morning, and having a little appetizer seems to hit home with a lot of people, and I love the way those birds taste when they’re fresh like that.
Hank Shaw: Oh yeah, quail are very, very versatile. I mean, one of the things that if you’re worried about dryness, obviously you can’t do this in the field, but you just brine the bird. You’re brining … Especially the skinless a brine in a quarter cup kosher salt to one quart of water, and you brine those birds overnight in that, it does wonders for their ability to retain moisture.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Oh fantastic, yeah I’m going to bear that in mind.
Hank Shaw: It’s a super [inaudible 00:57:33] … All it is is a quarter cup of … I use Diamond Crystal kosher salt, but Morton’s would work as well. They have different salt levels in the sense because they’re cut differently. Virtually every chef in America uses Diamond Crystal. So, generally, if you see generic kosher salt, it’s Diamond Crystal. No, they’re not paying me to say that.
But yeah it’s a simple brine. You don’t need anything else other than the salt because you’re just really trying to help the bird retain more moisture when it’s cooked. The legs, of course, another thing to do is you can cook the quail whole and which I do quite often, but if you got a just a ton of them. You can separate and do a whole bunch of legs, and then do a whole bunch of breasts in a different dish, and then it’s just another thing that I find very useful if you’ve got a bucket of them.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Oh absolutely. And I think that’s probably one of the hardest things that I deal with every season. And I can understand it when we’ve got a pile of birds, and people are tired at the end of the day, and then we’re trying to clean those birds, and we hit the road. And guys just like, “Oh well, can you breast those out for me?”
I hate to waste the legs, because I think they’re just these delicious little morsels that you can snack on at dinner time. But, unfortunately sometimes certain circumstances dictate that you just don’t have the time nor the will of the clients to sit there and clean those foods to the full extent.
Hank Shaw: Right. I mean, I understand too. That’s why when I discovered the three day trick … I’m about to go on a road trip in a couple of weeks, actually, to North Dakota. And so that’s another 3,500, 4,000 mile road trip, but I’ll be hunting the whole way.
So if a hunter, if one of your clients or anybody out there is interested and they feel the same way like, “No, I’m really tired, I don’t want to do this, but I really feel bad about myself for not giving the bird the honor it deserves.” Know that if you have whole birds in the feathers, they don’t have to be gutted because quail lose heat very rapidly. Just keep them dry and they’ll hold.
If you can find block ice. Block ice in your cooler, and you have, let’s say, two plastic bags so they won’t get wet or something like that; just rig something. They will sit in your cooler on the road for a week and they’ll be fine. And I’m not sure I want to go more than a week. No problem I’ve done it many times. And then by the time you then get the chance to pick them, they pluck so easy after four or five days.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Okay.
Hank Shaw: It’s so much easier. You could almost have the situation where you can have like stunt birds or if you had a client who didn’t want their birds or something, you can have them like pre-aged and ready to go for the next client. So, I mean, you can serve them for lunches at the camp. It’s just that you get this rolling period like, “Oh, it’s time to do those birds from two days go.”
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Right, right. Oh that’s a great piece of advice, Hank, I’m definitely going to retain that little snippet of information for this season.
Hank Shaw: Yeah, I mean, another kind of wei- … It’s a little weird but it’s good, especially because you’re dealing with large numbers. I have done … I finally found a liver mousse that I actually like; like a liver pate. I hate liver pate in general; it’s not my thing. So I’ve written four cookbooks and the first one that actually has a liver pate is pheasant, quail, cottontail, the upland bird. Because I finally came across a recipe that I actually want to eat and it doesn’t feel like an obligation.
It involves cream cheese of all things. So I hate cream cheese in poppers. I use roasted garlic for my poppers. So I don’t like cheese with the quail breast or the dove breast. What I do is I roast a bunch of heads of garlic and then squeeze all that garlic out before the hunting even begins. So then when you build your popper, instead of the cream cheese use that amazing squished roasted garlic and it’s way better.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: That sounds delicious.
Hank Shaw: And you’re also heading into like hatch chile season. So what I do is I will roast … I mean, if I see good hatch chiles, I have control issues I can’t not buy them, and roast them all off. Roast them all off and they freeze well and here’s another really cool thing. So just south of where you are in Chihuahua, there is a thing called chiles pasados. And chiles pasados is … Typically it’s a green chile, but it can be a red as well. It is a roasted hatch chile basically, so imagine that in your head; dehydrated. So you could have just buckets and buckets of these dehydrated chiles and you rehydrate them, and they still retain a lot of their structural integrity, and they never get as soft as a freshly roasted hatch chile. So they make a perfect wrapper for a quail or a dove breast. So you see what I mean? So you rehydrate it and it becomes … It looks like chile leather when it’s dry, but then it rehydrates well, but it’s still firmer than a fresh chile would be.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Okay.
Hank Shaw: So those two things. You put down a layer of bacon, because you got to have bacon. Then you put a layer of this rehydrated chili, and then what I would do is I put the roasted garlic in there and then your quail breast or your dove breast. And if your clients demand poppers, do that popper and their heads will explode. “This is the greatest thing ever.” But, I mean, I definitely find that serving quail with things that are around it are … It’s not only fun, but it works together on the plate. So one thing that you have in your part of the world that is surprising delicious edible are cholla buds. Are you familiar with them?
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: I am. I’ve never tried them myself but I’ve had numerous people from out here tell me about that.
Hank Shaw: So that it’s the unopened flower buds of the cholla. And, typically, you’re going to want a staghorn cholla or even the jumping and teddy bear chollas will work. And you pick them off … I have a whole tutorial on how to do it on the website that I’ll post in the show notes. But those with some … Because you do dehydrate them, because if you eat them fresh they’re slimy like okra.
But if you dehydrate them and then rehydrate them, all of that slime is gone, and they taste like an artichoke heart.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: That sounds really good.
Hank Shaw: If I were out in Alpine when I was surrounded by cholla, you’re damned right I would make just buckets of that, because that’s something that you could give your clients that is uniquely desert southwest that they’re never going to get anywhere else.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Absolutely. Well and this is all giving me more motivation to get you to stop by on your way back to California and come in and give a tutorial.
Hank Shaw: I’d be happy to, yeah I’d be happy to. So what else should people know about these birds before we go? I don’t know if I’ve missed anything or if there’s something that you are dying-
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yeah.
Hank Shaw: To say about these birds that a listener needs to know.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Sure. The thing that I tell most people when they ask me what I love most about these birds is I love their resilience. When you come up here and you’re walking through the desert and, like I say, everything is rocky, and spiky, and thorny, and you’re after these birds and they’re just so gorgeous. That blue tinge that they have on those scale looking feathers, they’re absolutely beautiful birds. But you need to take that bird in the context of its surroundings too. Some of this country out here is spectacular. A lot of people say, “Oh, you don’t have mountains in West Texas.” Well we consider them to be mountains.
But when you’re out there on a ridge and you’ve got these beautiful vistas surrounding you, and you’ve got dogs and your friends with you, and you’re chasing these beautiful birds, to me, it’s that all encompassing experience that adds to the experience of hunting your scaled quail.
And that, I think, is what I would really implore people to remember when they go anywhere chasing scaled quail be it Southern Arizona, or New Mexico, or out here in West Texas is just to realize you’re chasing a beautiful bird in some absolutely beautiful country, and nine times out of 10 with some great company. And so just to really enjoy that experience rather than the bird in isolation.
Hank Shaw: There are virtually no calorie positive upland hunts.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Right absolutely, absolutely.
Hank Shaw: I mean, I suppose it’s possible to expend fewer calories than you bring home in an upland hunt, but it sure is [inaudible 01:07:11].
I mean, so what you’re talking about is exactly right. It’s we do this we chase these birds to put ourselves into environments that are often either very familiar to us or are new and different, and it’s the entire thing that comes with a good meal at the end.
And I hesitate to use the word ceremonial because it gives it a bit more weight than I think I want to, but I also want to impress upon people listening to this is that upland bird hunters, in general, and quail hunters in specific, we are primarily interested in experiencing the environment in which that quail lives, and to hunt quail successfully in those environments shows that those environments are not messed up.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Right. And we always tell people that … If I had a motto for hunting these birds or even for the business, the motto would be, “I want you to have a great experience not necessarily a great hunt.” If that makes sense. Of course, we want you to have a fantastic hunt too; that’s why you’re out here. But it’s more of that holistic experience that you should be looking at while you’re out here chasing any of these game birds, rather than just focusing on-
Hank Shaw: Bag limits.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: On a bag limit, right. If you’re after a 15 bird bag limit, you know what? Don’t come out here because you should be focused on having a wonderful experience instead.
Hank Shaw: Yeah, it’s like I said, I love to hunt quail and I’ve shot a 15 bird limit exactly once. And I probably hunt quail more than most people do.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Right. Yep, absolutely. And I can say the same thing, gosh and I can probably count the number of limits that we’ve had with us over the past seven, eight years on one or two hands. And that’s not to say that there’s lack of opportunity, it’s just A tough little bird and rather slow down and enjoy everything else happening around you rather than being too focused on just getting out limit.
Hank Shaw: Yeah, I want to do … One thing we did forget to touch on and then I’ll let you go, but is guns. So typically, I shoot 20 gauge over/under and if I’m quail hunting, I tend to shoot nontoxic so I tend to shoot steel sevens. And that seems to work pretty good for me but I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: So I am a 28 gauge devotee.
Hank Shaw: Fancy, fancy.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: No, yep but a good buddy of mine gave me a 28 gauge a few years back, all of my other shotguns prior to that had been 12 gauges. And it kind of sucks because now all I do is I shoot that 28 of the rest of the 12 gauges sit in the gun safe. But I will say that on the scaled quail because they run quite a bit, I think they tend to flush a little bit further out in front of you then maybe your bobwhite would, I shoot six lead shot. That’s what I recommend to our clients as the money maker on these birds.
Hank Shaw: That makes sense. I mean, I think Prairie Storm makes a heavy six as well which is a … I mean, again Prairie Storm doesn’t pay me to say that, but I tend to use it when I’m up north.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yep, yep. We get some guys who come out from leases in Southwest Texas and they’ll try to shoot these scalies with seven and a halves or eights, because that’s what they use on bobwhite. And we just seem to get a lot of birds that get knocked out of the air but then get up and run off and hide somewhere compared to using six shot.
Hank Shaw: Gotcha, good to know.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yeah so with me, I mean, on the 28 gauge six shot with modified and modified in the barrels, that’s my happy place.
Hank Shaw: Well we’ve alluded to it this whole show, but I want to close by giving you a chance to let people know what you do because you’re kind of unique in the sense that … I mean, I brought you on the show, primarily, because of your expertise with the biology of the quail, but you also are an outfitter, so you’re kind of a dual threat.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yeah.
Hank Shaw: So tell people how they can find you.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Well they can find us, we’ve got a very simple Facebook, Instagram, and website name and it is West Texas Quail Outfitters. Type any of those in, we’ll pop up on one of those three platforms. And yeah, if guys are interested in coming out, and having a great experience out here, and walking the wilds of the Chihuahuan Desert with us after the scaled quail, we’d love to have them.
Hank Shaw: Very cool, West Texas Quail Outfitters. Which is kind of amazing that you got that, because it seems like it would be a competitive name.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: Yeah, and I couldn’t believe it when I went into The Business Development Center and said, “Look, can you guys run this name and see if it’s available?” They did, and they came back, and they said, “Yep, it sure is.” And I said, “Okay well here’s my fee, let’s get this limited company liability company set up right now.”
Hank Shaw: Very cool. Well, I will put a link to West Texas Quail Outfitters in the show notes. I mean, this has been fun, super fun, and I am going to do my best to take you up on your offer and swing by Alpine in December.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: That sounds great, Hank, and thanks for the opportunity to chat with you and, yeah, please come December give me a call and let me see if I can convince you to pop off I-10 on your way home.
Hank Shaw: Yeah, and I’ll be happy to cook for you because it sounds like it would be a lot of good things to see in the environment to put in a pot.
Ryan O’Shaughnessy: That’d be fantastic.