« With the Old Breed: At Pelelieu and Okinawa | Main | How Good is Good Enough? »

May 01, 2008

This page has been moved to http://www.fieldandstream.com/blogs/gun-nut

If your browser doesn’t redirect you to the new location, please visit The Gun Nut at its new location: www.fieldandstream.com/blogs/gun-nut.

Bourjaily: Which Bird Would You Shoot First?


This covey has just taken wing – the tail-end bird is still tucking his landing gear away. Which one to shoot first?

The hunter in the picture has chosen his intended victim wisely. Bird number three is the highest and most obvious, but number one is the better call. It’s not only in front of, but lower than the two behind it. When the first bird folds, our hunter will have two birds right where he wants them, above the bead and easy to see, while the lower birds will be “lost” behind his gun. Bird number two seems the obvious candidate for the second shot. It’s beginning to bank left, closer to the hunter in the picture. He should shoot his double, then reload quickly. Sometimes six birds only represent the first wave of a multi-stage covey flush.

The other reason not to shoot the obvious “candy bird” is that everyone else shoots at it, too. If you look closely you’ll see a wad above bird six, and pellets in the air to the right of it, showing up as white dots. Shooter two (off-camera) has picked bird number three, and it looks as if he missed. Best thing for him to do is stick with the bird he’s shooting at until it goes down.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Bourjaily: Which Bird Would You Shoot First?:



Very interesting. What an excellent photograph. Where was it taken? Those look like wild quail flushing.

Chad Love

I would have picked bird one as well, not for the excellent analytical reasons you cite (my brain simply doesn't work that quickly) but because I always tend to pick the outside bird on a covey flush. For me, it's all about isolating a target, and picking either the lead, tail or the one that always seems to peel off a little from the group makes it a little easier for me to concentrate on that one bird.
Of course, shot selection in my case is usually a moot point anyway. Lead bird, tail bird, a miss is a miss...


That's obviously a doctored photograph. My experience has shown that the wild quail is nothing more than a mythological beast these days, much like the unicorn or the hunter who never gets lost.

Wild quail, indeed! Hmph.


I would shoot the air right behind bird one, and then cuss my dog.

Chad Love

Fortunately LowRecoil I live in a region (NW Oklahoma) that still holds a fairly stable population of wild quail.

At least that's what they tell me. I've never actually hit one to verify that so you may be on to something...

WA Mtnhunter

Who is the idiot standing down range taking the photo? Does he hunt with Dick Cheney?

Speaking of him: "I'd rather hunt with Dick Cheney than ride with Ted Kennedy"...

Dr. Ralph

Just let them get a little farther away, point at the crowd and hit three... cylinder choke of course. Then stomp the ground and shoot the single.


I would aim for #1, screw up my follow through because "Holy Crap There's 6 Of Them!"

Fire both barrels.

Get lucky and hit #3 - piss off #4.

Fall down laughing.


Chad Love:

After hunting up near the panhandle last fall, I still cling to my mythological quail theory. However, since you are a NWOK resident, I will accept your idea that there is a stable population. I can only assume that they have all hired little tailors to outfit them in meadowlark costumes to confuse me.

Jim in Mo.

Swinging right to left I'd shoot the first bird in my sights which is the last bird and continue my swing and try for more. Also hunters to my left will have a shot at an undisturbed flock that I haven't shot at yet.
Oh wait I just woke up. Can't remember the last covey that scared the crap out of me.

Mike Diehl

Was I to spend any time analyzing the set up the birds would be gone by the time I shot. When I flush quail, I just pick one and shoot at it.

Scott Linden

As usual, I would close my eyes and point skyward while praying to the hunting gods.

Ralph the Rifleman

Haven't seen a nice covey like that since living in ND, but I would have taken #1 bird, too. Close to me, not engaged in full flight, and I can swing thru the shot for another forward flying bird.
Now WHERE did you say this photo took place?;o)

Del in KS

Billy and I would both shoot the candy bird then say "I got 'im" and Buck (German Shorthaired) would bring back a bloody mess of feathers, meat and shot. It has already happened on Pheasants and ducks and would happen with quail. We don't get many shots at quail these days.


Good choice of the gunner on #1. Anything dropping below a shotgun barrel is a missed bird in my experience.

It's also been my experience it's good quail are sorta slow. It allows me to ponder a shooting strategy. Something you don't have with ruffed grouse...or Huns.

Trae B.

I would empty my gun in their direction and knowing good and well that I missed I would argue with my buddy saying that I killed the bird untill he gives it to me.

Clay Cooper

WA Mtnhunter
"I'd rather hunt with Dick Cheney than ride with Ted Kennedy"...
That’s a good one SHOOTER!

Clay Cooper

Want to have something really scare the crap out of you. You’re out deer hunting and walk up to a small bush and a covey of Mearns quail explode right at your feet!

Clay Cooper

Which bird would I shoot?
Hell with a 4 gauge what difference does it make!


Were I shooting a certain AH Fox double barrel I would take #1 first and then #4 as the left full choke would disassemble any closer bird I hit with my second shot. If I were out with a single barrel the IC tube would be in and I could go for 1 and 3 then try for the hat-trick on 2 as it claws for air going the other way. Then I would wake up and be holding two or three empty #71/2 low brass casings as the birds laugh at me from just out of the hunting area!


I came up on a shot like pictured back in Montana on opening day of huns. I was using a 20-ga Browning light feather. My setter went into a perfect point, and held the birds has I positioned myself in back.

The first covey of the season flushed and I doubled. The dog didn't break point. The dog actually retrieved the birds, without his characteristic gagging, and dropped them at my feet.

All of this in front of two fellow USAF officers as witness. The Curse then fell upon my poor skull.

For the next four weeks I couldn't hit anything, but blue sky. Every time I took my setter out he got mixed up in barb wire and it cost me then $50 un-inflated bucks a crack to have the vet sow him up.


Who the hell has the time to assess a true covey rise like a photograph? My heart is in my throat beating 1,000 times per minute and it is pure instinct shooting. (and sometimes missing)


You guys need to sell ALL of your worldly possessions, take the Money and go Quail Hunting in South Texas. Lots of Wild Birds. 30 Covey Days with 20 to 30 birds/ covey rise. Truly the Sport of KINGS. I got to go once because I interrupted my former boss with his hair dresser (fortunately a woman) and he was trying to keep me quiet. The Best memory was of Three Birds "Dead In The Air" (two of Mine and one of his).

Dr. Ralph

As long as we're reminiscing, let me tell you about the first Ring necked pheasant I ever shot. Lenawee County Michigan, grandma's farm and I'm maybe 10 with a single barrel 20 ga. (of course). I had walked in the snow for a good three hours, my socks had fallen into my boots, my face and fingers were numb, I hadn't seen a living thing, I was freezing my butt off and all I wanted to do was get back to the house. My dad is walking the other side of a fence row from me and suddenly Sam our English Pointer stops dead in his tracks like a statue. My dad whispers "Sam's on point get over here and I'll back you up..." I say "I wanna go home it's too cold and the stupid bird is probably a hen." I limp over to the fence kicking snow to show my disapproval and tell my dad I can't climb over the fence. We argue for a while and he finally slowly backs up to the fence and lifts me over and says "walk right up on Sam's ass and stomp the ground". I can still remember the next few moments like it happened this morning. Not two feet from Sam's nose the biggest, brightest most beautiful bird erupted from seemingly nowhere in slow motion and much to my amazement I dropped him. That bird and dog were locked up for a good five minutes and from then on I was hooked and Sam was my new best friend. A good bird hunt beats out almost any other activity except maybe getting into a school of Smallmouth or dropping a big buck. The sad part is that so few of us are able to enjoy these experiences.

Jim in Mo.

I'll tell you the sad part. The first pheasant I ever flushed as a boy startled me so badly I landed on my ass and never got a shot off!

Our Blogs