My grandson Jake and I normally start our fall bird hunting with a sage-grouse hunt. It’s getting tougher to find time for outdoor activities in September as Jake enters high school and his life is filled with many priorities and conflicting interests.
Still, we always find a day for hunting sage-grouse in some of Idaho’s wind-swept high mountain sagebrush country. This year marked our fourth sage-grouse hunt together.
I prefer hunting sage-grouse in high-elevation, sagebrush-dominated valleys where we are just as likely to come across elk, deer, and pronghorn. There’s a risk here because winter can come early to the high country and more than once I’ve had to slog through mud and snow to access a favorite spot.
Dogs are a big part of our hunt. I currently have an older German Short-haired Pointer named Lulu and a young punk shorthair that shows periods of brilliance interspersed with episodes of wildness that would make a Viking berserker look like a kindergartener.
This year’s hunt started out on an ominous note. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game had reduced the sage-grouse season in eastern Idaho to only two days because of low populations. Additionally, I spent many hours in sage-grouse habitat over the previous couple of weeks and never saw a sage-grouse. I warned Jake that we might not see a bird. Still, the weather was beautiful and the dogs were eager.
We started with Lulu and only hunted about 15 minutes before she locked into a point. Jake approached and a flock of four grouse erupted. Jake shot, then exclaimed that he hit a grouse but it kept flying! I noticed that one of the four was clearly flying lower and lagging behind the other birds but all of the grouse flew about a half mile before landing. I told Jake that we would eventually work over that way and might find that bird.
Lulu had no time for idle chitchat. She was off and soon had more grouse pointed. They flushed a little wild and didn’t offer a good shot. A few minutes later another point, surprisingly, a covey of gray partridge. Jake and I were both so startled by this turn of events that we did not shoot until the partridge were almost out of range. A few minutes later, another point and this time some grouse were within range. I knocked one down. As soon as Lulu checked to make sure the bird was in hand she hurried back to work. By then she had covered about five miles, plenty of work for an old dog.
We returned to the pickup for a quick lunch, then headed off to look for Jake’s grouse using our young dog. I knew I would have my hands full controlling him because he had been sitting in the dog box and listening to our shots. He was excited and raring to go. He’s got a tremendous nose so I also knew he would find birds.
Sure enough, within a few minutes he bumped a grouse. He quickly jumped into full berserker mode before settling and actually pointing a couple of grouse. Unfortunately, those birds flushed wild as we approached but as I watched them fly off, I heard my grandson shoot. He had found the wounded bird and added it to our bag.
We had a wonderful outing. The birds were a little wild and our young dog had his struggles but we each shot a grouse and enjoyed Idaho’s great outdoors. Another successful sage-grouse hunt went into the books. As we drove home, I reflected on the plight of sage-grouse and worried that this might be our last Idaho sage-grouse hunt.