Last Saturday morning, I only had a few hours to hunt as I needed to be home for my son’s 11:00 a.m. soccer game. Even though it is sharptail season in Idaho, I decided to try and chase some blues at my favorite blue grouse covert, Grouseketeer Ridge.
As I drove towards my destination, I noticed multiple hunters parked all along the road. Dang, I forgot it was the deer hunter opener, I thought to myself. I hope Sunny and I don’t get shot!
To make matters worse, when I reached my the parking spot, I found a good four or five inches of snow on the ground. Sunny and I half-heartedly hunted up the logging road but after about a hundred yards I decided to scrap this plan. With the limited time, the snow and cold weather (which undoubtedly would keep the blues in the roost later than usual), and the many high powered rifle hunters in the area, we needed to head down towards Bone and see if we could find some sharptails. “Come on Sunny, let’s get out of here!” I commanded. Sunny and I quickly hoofed it back to the car.
As we came down in elevation, the snow decreased to a mere inch or two. I had in mind a place that I had observed numerous times in the past, but never hunted. I specifically recall thinking: This place has got to have some sharptails! This unexplored covert was a patchwork of farmland (hay and grain producing), CRP ground with some sage brush in the mix, and patches of quakies here and there near the rolling hills. If you have ever read Ben O. Williams, Western Wings, this area perfectly fits Ben’s description of good sharptail cover.
As Sunny and I hunted through the CRP field, the light snow brushed off of the grass, leaving a definite trail of where we had been. Finding no birds in the snowy grass, we hiked towards a slight hill with a big quakie patch thinking that the birds might have sheltered there during the storm. We found no birds in the grove, however, on top of the hill was a CRP plot choked with alfafa. In my experience, sharpies love alfafa leaves, which further confirmed my belief this area was a good spot for the object of our pursuit.
As we hiked back towards the car, about a quarter mile away, I observed a huge flock of birds flying across the road towards a patch of sage brush interspersed with chokecherry or service berry bushes. From the distance, I could not tell what they were at first–song birds, ducks, geese?–but then I saw the eratic flap and glide that is characteristic of sharptails. “Those are sharptails!” I said excitedly to Sunny.
Having marked them down perfectly, Sunny and I quickly worked our way through the CRP and then across the red clay dirt road. I then took a minute to catch my breath so that I was not winded when we approached the birds. Also, wanting to get into good position for a shot, we hiked above the sage brush patch where the birds landed and dropped in. As soon as we stepped in, sharptails started bailing out en masse–at least twenty birds. In my excitement, I threw two shots after the grouse to no effect. However, the birds flew in a huge semi-circle and landed only seventy-five yards or so to my right. I had them marked down.
Knowing grouse behavior, I thought: There may be a few stragglers who did not get the group evacuation memo. Sure enough, a bird flushed at the edge of the sage brush patch giving me my favorite left to right quartering away shot, which I made good on. After bagging the bird, Sunny and I began to work towards the main group I had marked down.
Again, another straggler ripped out of the cover heading west towards his friends. With my new over and under, I have been trying to figure out exactly where it shoots and frankly, have struggled with it. Opening day, I missed numerous easy shots at Grouseketeer Ridge in which I truly believed I was on the bird when I pulled the trigger. A few weekends ago, a person I was hunting with told me the gun was too short for me and that I was probably shooting below the birds. He suggested that I get measured and have the gun’s stock extended. Good ole’ Charlie Waterman once said, however, that he could not figure out why shotgunners spend so much money to get a gun that fits. His advice was to simply figure out where your gun is shooting by patterning it and then adjust your shot accordingly. With this in mind, I purposely aimed high, covered the bird, swung ahead and–to my surprise–the bird crumpled with the shot. Two for two (well, okay two for four, but two in a row is pretty good for me). Thanks Charley!
In the snow dusted grass, this downed bird was not as easy to find as the first, but Sunny and I continually circled the area until she pounced on the bird and brought it to hand. “Good girl, Sunny!” I praised. With our two bird limit in hand, Sunny and I had to walk away from the flock of sharpies that I had marked down, but that was okay. . . more for next time.
I learned a good lesson from this hunt. As hunters, often our hunts don’t turn out the way we planned. Much can go wrong. In these situations, it truly pays to be flexible and, if necessary, to switch it up. Sometimes this may require trying a new birdy looking spot or knocking on a landowner’s door to get permission. Other times, it may be adjusting your sight picture in an attempt to improve your shooting. In some situations, you may want to enter a covert from a different angle than your usual approach. Whatever challenges you face, trying something different may just be the key to success. What seemed like it was shaping up to be an uneventful hunt turned into my very best day afield so far this year and I have a new covert not far from home! Of course, I’ve named it “Switch-it-up.” I can’t wait to go back!