There’s few western game birds that are as iconic as the Sage Grouse. A species that has withstood the test of time is now in need of your support and attention. To further enjoy experiences such as the one we’ll share below, we’d invite you to learn more about these birds and how to ensure they species we can enjoy for years to come.
Once upon a time, a handful of friends and I would truck out to the vast and vacant areas of Idaho and enjoy a day of Sage Grouse, chukar, huns, quail and any other species that was in season. It was one of those trips that I looked forward to each year.
Both fortunately, and unfortunately, Idaho decided to change their regulations due to recent biologist observations and conservation suggestions. With a decrease in tags, and to protect the opportunity for the state’s residents, they limited the number of non-resident permits and raised the cost to $75 for 1 Sage Grouse.
Personally, I applaud and appreciate that Idaho 1 - Used data and science to make immediate changes and 2 - protected the best hunting opportunities for their residents. Did it change my personal plans? Yes. Can I blame them? Heavens no.
So, with Idaho making some big changes, we turned to our other neighboring state and ventured into new oceans of sage, in search of opportunity to chase a special bird we love and enjoy.
Not being one to ever pass the opportunity to hunt with good people, one of my best hunting partners, Carson Ward, invited me to tag along on an early season waterfowl hunt for a day and then another day spent chasing Sage Grouse.
Hunting waterfowl and upland in the same weekend? Sign me up!
While I won’t bore you with the unreal hunt we had on a secret pond that morning, it was as good of early season waterfowl hunting as I’ve experienced. Such a blast!
After a great day of water-fowling, we drove to the other side of the state, set up the pop-up camper for the night and waited to explore the next morning.
As the sun came up and the desert coolness burned off in the morning sun’s heat, we geared up, collared the dogs and took off into the endless sea of sage.
With an early antelope season being open, there were quite a few trucks driving around and even more side by side and four wheelers driving on roads..most of which were supposed to be closed. Damn people..
Regardless, we hiked.. And hiked.. And hiked. Wandering in any direction we saw green grass and the topo maps showed water, we put in a solid 10 miles that morning before anything eventful finally happened.
To of course cover more ground, Carson and I had split up. He was walking the ridges while Chief, my dog, and I worked down low.
The ridge Carson was on worked south and the draw continued east. Chief and I stayed our course as we hoped to soon have at least a single contact with the birds.
Roughly 10 minutes after I’d last season Carson, I heard the report of his gun.. ‘BOOM!’... BOOM!”... silence.
Chief and I started our way up the ridge towards where we assumed Carson would be to hopefully congratulate him on his success or help him find any downed birds, because he was without a dog at the time.
As we crested the ridge and worked our way down, I could see Carson standing in the middle of a big sage bowl. I spotted him from several hundred yards away and he never moved the entire time I approached.
When I got within speaking distance, I asked “How’d you do?”
“Great, I shot both my birds”.
“Well, where are they?”, I asked, assuming I’d see him triumphantly raise them from behind the brush.
“I’m standing on one of them right now but haven’t looked for the other,” He replied. “When I walked down to pick this bird up, 10 more birds flushed. I think there’s more so to not blow them out, I figured I’d stand here and wait for you”.
Carson had no sooner said this than the beep of my garmin sounded and notified me Chief was down the hill, below Carson, on point.
Carson, being the great hunter and intelligent person he was, had fortunately created an opportunity for Chief and I to also bag a bird.
I tip-toed past Carson in silence and worked my way down to Chief.
Because of how tall the brush was, I couldn’t see him tell the direction he was pointed. Judging by the slight breeze, i erred on the upwind side of the dog, hoping I’d walk into or flush the bird that way.
I took a few steps and stopped to wait. A tactic I often use when birds know there’s pressure but haven’t decided whether to fly or stay put. It’s also good for the dog to stand there and learn to wait through the process.
With no flush, I edged forward until the brush to my left erupted!
If you’ve never had a Sage Grouse blow up at your feet, you’re missing out on a very special experience. Regardless of the sex, these birds are HUGE and it is flat out exciting to have them rise in range.
A single bird jumped and I gave it a moment to get out to a good range where I knew my bottom barrel would perform.
Mounting my 28 Gauge Red Label, I swung through and punched the primer. The bird folded and fell to the ground. A beautiful find, flush and shot. I couldn’t be happier!
Chief, never having retrieved, or hunted Sage Grouse, wasn’t quite sure what to think of this large bird and wasn’t sure if he wanted to retrieve it or let me handle the heavy lifting. I slid the beautiful bird into my Final Rise Summit vest, patted Chief on the head for a job well done and began hiking back up to Carson.
I no sooner did this than another bird jumped up the hill to our right and attempted his escape. Having reloaded my gun, I repeated the action performed only moments before and fell my 2nd bird, to finish the daily limit.
With both Carson and I having full vests and a very long walk back to camp, we took a quick break, watered the dog, shared our experiences with each other and began the trek back home.
A big thank you to Carson for the invite to join him on this hunt. I’m grateful for selfless, hard working and ethical hunting partners. I don’t share the mountain with many, but the few that I do are salt of the earth.
Until next time.. We’ll be patiently waiting for another adventure into the rolling hills of sage.
Safe hunting and God Bless,
Matt Davis / Founder