Johnny’s House a Home on the Range

article by Jim Evans

(originally published in Q.U. Magazine March/April 2003)

When I was a youngster staying on Uncle Jim’s rural farm in Virginia, the Johnny House was a place you ran to answer the call of nature. Back then we rated them as One Holers or Two Holers. If you train your own bird dogs you are probably familiar with a different type of Johnny House, often referred to as a Recall Pen.
The most common structures used are about four feet square and about six to eight feet tall. (Of course, in Texas they are twice this size.) The house has a screened in top area and ledges for the quail to fly up and sit on. Part of this screen area contains a door that can be lowered in order to let some or all of the birds out. The floor can be either solid plywood or hardware cloth. (I prefer a solid floor. Well talk about this later.) There is also a one way catch funnel located in the bottom of the house. This allows the quail to reenter the house but not leave again.
Johnny House or Recall Pen
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The typical structure will hold 15-25 quail and can be set up in a small field. The objective is to keep the confined birds healthy and available until you are ready to work your dog. After you pick up your dog and leave the training area, the quail are recalled back to the Johnny House by the birds that were not released or with the assistance of a digital recall device.
Inside, the quail find protection from predators and extreme weather conditions. They also have feed and water to hold them over until you return again.
The ledges, located near the top of the house, help the birds maintain flight muscle strength as they fly from the floor up to the shelf. (Many people dont realize this but most of the wing exercise is generated on the rise.) It is rare but if you should have a small varmint get into the house through the funnel, the birds can fly up to the ledge to get away.picture3
If you dont own a large piece of hunting land or the land you have access to is not close to where you live, then the Johnny House may be just what you need. The most common use of the house is to provide quail for dog training purposes. Training a dog to be steady on point or to honor another dogs point by backing requires having birds with which to work. The Johnny House becomes the ready source for such birds. Quail can be manually caught and placed in a bird launcher or dizzied and placed in the field before the work begins. As the dogs training progresses, you can release all or part of the birds from the house by lowering the release door and letting them fly out into the field. Once you have watched to see which cover patches the quail land in, you can then go get your dog and begin working the field.
Another use for the house is to train a young bird hunter how to work the dogs and be a safe hunter. This is a more controlled setting that presents a youngster with enough action to keep him/her interested in learning the finer points of wing shooting.
If your quail hunting area is only large enough to have a few wild or early released coveys, then the Johnny House can be used to provide additional birds during hunts. These additional birds will take some of the hunting pressure off your premium coveys.

Getting Started
Of course, the first thing you need to do is build the Johnny House. Plans are available from several catalogs that sell dog-training supplies. The plans used in this article are available from Quality Wildlife Services, Inc. (

Site Location
The field setting for the house should be good quail habitat. A field of fescue or bermuda grass will not work. Instead, find a field dominated by native grasses and weeds along with scattered small patches of heavy cover such as briars or small shrubs. If you are able, it is also a good idea to add a few scattered food plots of Egyptian wheat or sorghum to the setting. This gives the quail a visual target to fly to as they leave the house.
Place the Johnny House out in the field away from any rank or unhuntable thickets. The goal here is to make sure when the birds are released, that they dont peel off into the jungle but rather they fly out into the work area.
Once the house is set in position, you can place some light brush tops around the funnel entrance on the outside of the house. This will give the returning quail some concealment cover as they mill around the funnel entrance.
Preparing for the Quail

First, you will need a way to feed and water the birds. For many years I avoided using a Johnny House because of the time it took to keep the birds serviced. The quail were constantly fouling up the feed and water with their droppings or the feed would get wet and nasty after rainstorms. Thats why I developed the LessMess feed and water system. The system holds enough feed and water to take care of 25 quail for two to three weeks and is designed to prevent any contamination from the droppings. This feeding system also prevents you from taming down your birds because it is not necessary to enter the house as often.

LessMess Feeder and Nipple watering system takes care of 25 quail for about 3 weeks.

LessMess Feeder and Nipple watering system takes care of 25 quail for about 3 weeks.

The kind of feed used is important. Wild or early season released quail are free ranging so they do very well when supplemented with grains. This is because they are able to pick up green forage and insects as they find them. Since the Johnny House birds are only free ranging off and on, you need to provide a more complete diet. I obtain commercial game bird feed from a local bird grower or a feed store and mix it about half and half with either sorghum or wheat.
I said earlier that I prefer a solid floor in my Johnny House. Now let me explain why. First, with a solid floor I can place about a one-inch thick layer of clean sand in the bottom of the house. This gives the quail sand to preen and clean their feathers. The sand also absorbs moisture from the droppings and makes for a more sanitary environment. Secondly, I add a double handful of hay and place it in a corner of the house. The hay, along with the sand floor, enables the birds to stay much warmer during extremely cold weather.

A happy bird is a healthy bird.
Managing the Quail
The first thing you need to do is to get the quail into the Johnny House. I usually place the birds into the house one at a time by feeding them into the funnel. To do this, just open the door of the house and place the first bird inside. Next, put the remaining quail in through the funnel. As each bird gets started up the funnel it will see the remaining bird inside and not hesitate to go on in. This allows the birds to get familiar with the funnel.


I like to leave all the birds in the house for about a week. During this time they can begin to bond as a unit and get familiar with the surrounding landmarks and horizon. After this, I return and let about one third of the birds out. If you are using a Total Recall (digital recalling device) on the house, now is the time to turn it on. The unit is designed to give a sequence of covey-up calls at various times of the day. When the unit begins to call, the released birds begin to make their way back toward the house. If you do not use the digital caller you will have to depend totally on the remaining birds to do the job. I repeat this process several times until all the birds have made several trips in and out of the house.picture8
When you go to release birds for working your dog you will notice that wherever the first bird goes, the rest want to follow. This can work for you. Lets say that the first bird flies out straight to a briar patch about 50 yards out in the field. I like to let four or five more follow him and pitch in while they can still see him in flight. Then I pull the release door shut to stop the flow. Once all the first birds have set down, I reopen the door and see if the next batch will pick out a different spot. This way I can often get a good spread without having them all pitch into the same patch of cover. If the first bird sails out of the house toward an undesirable place, just pull the release door shut until he is no longer visible and try it again.
I like to leave at least one or two birds in the house to give the returning birds a stronger desire to get back inside.
One last note. All this is fine during the fall and winter months, but once the days get longer and spring approaches the hormones start flowing. This means that the cock birds will begin to get feisty and the covey behavior breaks down.
At this point I empty out the house and get it clean for next season.

About half way through the season I perform a quick house cleaning. To do this I take a flat point shovel with the handle cut off, and remove all the old sand and hay. Then I replace it with clean sand and put a double handful of hay to one of the corners.

At the beginning of the season it is also a good idea to get a block of bar bait and place it underneath the house. Bar bait is a waxy block that contains a grain treated with rat poison. This can be purchased from your local feed and seed store. Repeat this when you perform your mid-season cleaning.
During this article I have used quail as the focus species. However, Hungarian partridge and Chukar partridge recall very well also. In very harsh northern climates you may find it more to your benefit to use one of these species. The only changes you would have to make on the house would be to increase the funnel dimensions accordingly. For instance, the standard quail funnel is 14 inches long and is 4 inches in diameter at one end and 3 inches in diameter at the other. For Huns and Chukars the funnel would be 6 inches in diameter at one end and 4 inches in diameter at the other.
The other equipment is easily adapted as well. If you use a LessMess feeding system the directions will tell you the proper height for each species of bird. The Total Recall (electronic recall device) is also available in both the Hungarian and Chukar partridge.
Recall pens are not for everyone. However, if your time and space are limited, Johnnys House may the way you can keep some birds Home On The Range.
For more information about Johnny House plans or the equipment mentioned in this article, contact Quality Wildlife Services at 1-877-242-2482 or visit the website at

8 thoughts on “Johnny’s House a Home on the Range


    Jim, I enjoyed this article on Johnny Houses, and I have ordered the
    DVD as well as the booklet of plans to build them.
    I have one question — when you say at the end of the season that you “empty out the house” due to the “… cockbirds getting fiesty and the covey behavior breaks down.” Does this mean that after having “trained” the covey of birds to re-enter the house after being worked by the dogs, after having kept them dry and safe from predators all winter and after having improved their flight capabilities thru regular releases and re-captures, that you just flush them out of the house to fend for themselves? I guess you buy new birds in the early Fall and start all over? Seems a waste, what am I missing? Thanks, Dan

  2. Jim Evans Post author

    Quail coveys begin to break up as spring arrives. Members of the covey begin to break off from the main group. By the time the breeding season is in full swing, the male bobwhites are pairing up with hens.
    If you try to keep the adult quail in the confinement of a Johnny House during
    this time, you will be attempting to force the birds to remain in a “covey” during a time of year that their biology requires “elbow room”. This will result in an increase in fighting and injury to the birds.
    Since the birds are wanting to disperse , rather than covey, they will not want to recall to the house either.
    Some dog trainers have to hold birds longer . They try to get around this problem by just confining hens, but this can lead to other problems unless the diet is changed to one of a higher protein.
    Holding quail in a Johnny House during the summer is a good way to have
    a lot of snake problems as well.
    For me, when spring approaches, and I am finished with my Johnny House for the year, I just leave the release door of the house open and let the quail come and go as they please. I keep food and water in the house until the quail eventually quit coming back to the house and shift to their summer diet of insects, buds and berries.

  3. Jim Evans Post author

    Birds that are established through a “pre-season or “early release” process become free ranging and establish a home range similar to a wild covey. I and many others have documented survival of some of these quail throughout the summer and into the next season. In fact, reproduction has also been documented as well but at a level that is under what would be expected from pure wild stock. For this to happen, you have to have habitat that is managed just as you would for wild birds. By this I mean that you need the area to contain some patches heavy cover for shade and protection, brood habitat, nesting habitat and predator control. I usually have some birds produce broods on my project (150 acres) each summer but I still conduct an early release every year to assure a huntalbe population for me and the dogs.
    Birds that are released from the Johnny Houses at the end of the season would probably have less of a chance under the same conditions, but if you are actually managing the area for quail you should still be able to have some results.
    We have a DVD called “Managing Quail Fields” that shows all the various habitat requirements for quail and explains how to create them on your property. This DVD can be obtained from our website at
    If you are like me, I like to hear the males calling during the summer around the farm.
    Jim Evans

  4. Dirk Eichler

    Good morning,
    I really enjoyed reading the information on your site. I really enjoy bird hunting but live in the mountains of Colorado. I have a ranch leased and was wondering if it would be feasible to raise quail and release them to work our dog through the summer. I would place a Johnny house and have a quail pen at the ranch base. Thanks

  5. Jim Evans Post author

    We are located in the southeastern part of the U.S., and have no experience using a Johnny House out west. Maybe you could try to get in touch with Rich Robertson at Robertson Kennels in Payette, ID. He has used them in the past, and could give you some first hand advice.
    Jim Evans

  6. Sam Hathcock

    I am located in SE Alabama….about 45min from Ga and 30min from FLA. When I decided to use a Johnny House , I contacted Jim Evans about his feeders/waterers….Take my advice…THEY WORK!!….I Tried a bunch of other units…save you time and money….My Johnny House is on the larger size (4′ X 8′)base with an additional 2′ protruding/cantilever out approx 2′ from the base at the top(this whole area is screened , for airing out/sunshine and encourage them to fly up with an easy landing.I have Two(2) sets of waterers/feeders in my house because I have as many as 40 birds at a time during the heat of the season or for Hunts for others , charities,etc….Gives me excellent opprotinities for training….I typically don’t keep that many birds , but it easily supports them on a short term basis…Also..Sometimes due to work I may not be able to get up there for 2/3wks , but with these feeders/Waterers it’s no problem.Call Jim @ Quality Wildlife…He gave me a bunch of advice when I was working on mine!!
    I would like to share an experiance I had TODAY about predators….Keep in mind…I’ve had mine for years and Never had a problem like Jim said”in a rare occasion”….I had put 40quail in about 10days ago…Today was the first time I had been back there…I noticed some wood boards laying next to the house-strange-…then I noticed the entry ramp to the two screen funnels was moved-Then I noticed bad scratches all over ramp/ext walls,everywhere…Heart in throat I looked in a silent house…all but 5 quail either killed or escaped…HAD to have been a Raccoon…a screen entry tunnel ripped out…around the entryway to tunnel..knawed ,chewed…Y’all get the picture!!!…I HAVE Covers for the entrance tunnels (2@each end) and I failed to shut and lock them!!!….So..anytime you might not be around your JHouse for more than 4/5 days….I would suggest shutting and lock them…This coon even took a stretched bunji cord loose from one of my draw/release gate at the top!!!!!… Fortunately the bunji was a backup security…Racoons are smart…And NOW he knows what’s in there , I am going to have to LOCK/SECURE Every Entry spot if I am going to be gone for a while
    …I hope this helps somebody with your JHouse…I was furious , then SAD , because they had No way to escape , I didn’t secure it well enough….But I never dreamed!?!

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