There are those among us who have a gun and a dog and a hunting license, and the patience to rise early and walk the meadows trying to raise a covey of quail or pheasant.
And there are those of us who do not. But fall is the time for game, for dinners of wild fowl and wild rice and wild stories about the one that got away. And it's a shame to pass it up just because the last thing you hunted was a collar button. If you are lucky, some friend might call offering a gift of plump little partridges or a bag of bobwhite quail. More realistically, you can buy them.
Game birds need to be covered with strips of bacon or pork fat or basted frequently with melted butter during roasting so that they won't dry out. Often, they are served with a fruit-based sauce and, with the larger fowl like geese, fruit stuffings. The Romans (you will be fascinated to know) did not eat quail because they thoght they fed on hemlock.
Your butcher should be able to suggest how many birds per person, and, if by any chance you have leftovers, you can turn them into the game bird pate suggested by Geraldine Steindler in her "Shooter's Bible Cookbook":
Remove the skin of cooked game birds and bone. Grind the meat twice, using fine blade of food chopper. Leftover bird livers and giblets may be included. In the proportion of 1/2 pound fowl to 1/4 pound butter, work the two to a smooth paste. Season to taste with salt and pepper, mace or ginger. Pack firmly in a small casserole and place in a slow oven to heat through. Press down again after it is heated, cover with clarified butter and chill .
Here are some sources for game birds:
Arrow Live Poultry , 919 5th St. NW, 789-9422. Has quail, both wild and domestic ducks, Pekin, Muscovy, Rouen and mallards, Chinese white and grey Toulouse geese.
Georgetown Market Poultry , in the Georgetown Market at 3206 Grace St. NW, 337-4217. Expects to be carrying pheasants, ducks and quail, but check to be sure they've come in.
Market Poultry , at 225 East 7th St. SE, inside the Eastern Market, 543-7470. Pheasants, quail, squab, guinea hens and Muscovy ducks. They are closed on Mondays.
The French Market , 1632 Wisconsin Ave. NW, 338-4828. Quail, partridge, guinea hens and mallards.
Neam's , 3217 P St. NW, 338-4694. Pheasant and quail.
Magruder's , 5626 Connecticut Ave. NW, 332-3366. Pheasants, quail, geese and chukar partridges.
You also can order quail by mail from Wild Oak Plantation, Inc., P.O. Box 2405, Jacksonville, Fla., 32203. They send 16 bobwhite quail packed in dry ice for $39.95.