I grew up in Virginia in a better time when the standard quail hunting protocol involved cruising the countryside in search of promising hedgerows and briar patches.The birds were wild, often plentiful and, since we didn’t have enough money to join a high-dollar hunt club, it worked out well. We’d find the landowners the day before and assure them that all gates would be closed, no livestock would be liberated and, if needed, we were available to help with any heavy lifting or grunt work as repayment.
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Many years later, I was quail hunting with a group of locals in north Alabama when they remarked that there just weren’t as many quail as there were several years before. They knew where to find every covey in the county and they did their best to kill them all. Hmmm…wonder where the quail went? Had they left half of the covey intact, there would be plenty the following season. Very few folks in the U.S. brag about the abundance of quail in their areas. I suppose that, if you do have a boatload of quail in your neck of the woods, you’d want to keep that to yourself.
Wild quail populations have taken a big hit during the past couple of decades. Whether you blame fire ants, farming practices or predators, there just aren’t as many quail today as there were when I was a teenager in Virginia. It seems like the southeastern U.S. has been affected the most. Finding accessible public ground with good quail habitat is a real challenge. And unlike larger game, you need to shoot a limit of quail to feed your family. Hopefully, groups like Quail Forever can help make a change in habitat and quail numbers and we’ll see more of these fast flyers in the future. They’re worthy of your support. At minimum, a $35 yearly membership is money well-spent.
People often ask me how to keep quail from being so dry when cooked. The solution is simple. Quit cooking them so long. If you use a recipe that instructs you to cook a quail “until the juices run clear,” the recipe was written by someone who doesn’t know squat about cooking quail. It’s time to take the quail off the grill with the thigh joint where the leg is connected to the body is still just a bit pink. If you wait until the juices are clear, there aren’t any juices. As they rest for a few minutes after removing from the heat, they will continue to cook. The solution to dry quail isn’t to submerge them into a slow-cooker with a can of cream of salty mushroom soup. Just cook them a few minutes less.
VIDEO: This video illustrates how to stuff and cook quail. In the video, I used quail with the rib cages removed for easier stuffing and eating. Your quail will more than likely have all of the skeleton intact (and a pellet hole or two). No worries. Unless you’re adept at boning out a quail, go ahead and stuff without boning. The recipe also calls for rabbit-rattlesnake sausage, but any sausage will do.
Just recently, I learned a cool tip from Rene Boyzo, Executive Chef at the “Purveyor” restaurant in Huntsville, AL. He wraps uncooked rabbit sausage with prosciutto and stuffs it into a quail before browning and roasting until just done. The prosciutto helps keep the sausage intact and adds a great salty flavor to the stuffing.