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In an essay on hunting, the late Canadian author Roderick Haig-Brown wrote that one virtue of chasing after upland birds is that it takes hunters to places they otherwise would not have gone. I think Haig-Brown was right, and I believe his premise is especially true in regard to mountain quail. Found primarily in four Western slates—California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho—mountain quail are surely the most elusive game birds in North America. Here's the story of two Texans who learned the truth of this by chasing mountain quail long and hard.
The call came on a Sunday in late October 1982. "Is this the Michael Baughman who writes?" a deep voice asked.
"Right," I said, puzzled.
"You're the one who hunts mountain quail, then."
"Right," I said. "A few years ago I gave up hunting everything but them. But this season I'm training a new dog, so I'm mostly chasing birds around without a gun."
"Oh...fine. But you have hunted mountain quail, and you wrote about them in National Wildlife magazine a year or so ago, right? My brother just sent me a copy of the article. Is that you?"
"That's me," I said. "Why?"
A brief silence followed, then a clearly audible sigh of relief. "This is Bill Kimbrough speaking," the voice continued. I'm from Houston, and I need to get a mountain quail. Two of them, actually. Well, four, as a matter of fact. And I'll tell you God's honest truth. I've been trying for three years now, and sometimes I wonder if the damn things really exist!"
"They do," I said. "I can guarantee you that. Where have you been hunting them?"
Now that Kimbrough apparently realized that I was friendly and interested in his situation, he said, "The last place was Idaho. My brother Dick and I just got back from a week there—a solid week. We hunted every day from morning till night, and we not only didn't get any mountain quail, or any shots at mountain quail, we never even saw one. We talked to a hell of a lot of people, guides included, and we went where they told us, and we got every kind of bird in season in the state except the one we really wanted. Maybe you think it's crazy for two grown men to chase birds all over the country, and maybe it damn well is crazy, but here's what we're trying to do. We want a mounted pair of every species of quail in North America. And we've got them all, too, except for mountain quail. I thought scaled quail would be tough, but we got our two pairs of those easy enough. Now we're desperate. We've been desperate for a good long while. Just tell me this: If my brother and I came up there to Oregon, is there a chance we could each get us a pair of mountain quail?"