“Would it spoil some vast eternal plan, if I were a wealthy man?”
-Tevye, “Fiddler on the Roof”
According to the standards of the world, I am no wealthy man. I’m an attorney by profession, but I don’t own a nice home or drive a fancy car. I have six kids, a beautiful wife, Kristin, and most months, we just barely get by, but I am not complaining.
I have known some phenomenal bird dogs these past twenty years and I am currently owned by a puppy with so much potential. Within an hour of my home, I can find good populations of ruffed grouse, blue grouse, sage grouse, sharptailed grouse, Hungarian partridge, and pheasant, and a few other upland species a little farther away. I have my own private cutthroat trout stream . . . okay, I don’t own it, but I know it better than anyone else and I usually have it all to myself.
This past week was the weeklong sage grouse hunt in Idaho. Last Saturday, a good friend, Scott Johnson, his son, Wyatt, and I headed north to hunt these grand birds at one of our favorite covers. Over the years, we have always found a few flocks of sage grouse around, but we have always worked hard for our birds. The vast sea of sage is intimidating and makes you feel like you are looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. We have learned from experience that the big birds like to hang around the shallow, open divots. So, that at least gives us places to target.
It had rained the previous night, but by the time we hunted, the cover was dry, although dusky, gray clouds blanketed the sky. The temperature felt uncharacteristically cold for this time of year, which instilled a little more confidence that we would find birds. Sometimes while bird hunting, this feeling of wellbeing overtakes you. This was one of those times for me. After about a half hour of walking, we walked up two sage grouse and one flew right by Scott, but he wasn’t ready and missed the shot. I smiled as Scott (a salesman by trade) tried to sell a few excuses for not getting the job done.
Scott and I soon came to a huge divot in a sage flat and we split up to sweep all of the cover around it. It wasn’t long before Scott’s Labrador Retriever, Ruger, kicked up a huge flock of grouse on his end. Scott quickly sent out three shots to no effect. I on the other hand was 100 yards away and in no position to shoot.
My pup, Rainey, and I continued to work the sage around our side of the divot and I noticed some intense birdiness on her part. As a puppy, she points everything including grasshoppers, butterflies, mice, and tweety birds, but her behavior was a little more focused than usual. I followed her as she worked the tendril of scent and my vigilance paid off. A grouse got up in front of us presenting a quartering right to left shot. I missed the first shot, but swung ahead, and without even conscientiously thinking, tugged the back trigger. The huge bird tumbled from the sky.
“WOOHOO! Alright Rainey!” I hollered in excitement.
Rainey made it to the grouse before me and, in her excitement, denuded the bird of much of its plumage, but that was okay given that this was her first sage grouse.
With all the shooting and excitement, Scott, his son, Wyatt, and Ruger soon made it over to us. Ruger eagerly began to work the cover to the right of where Rainey had found her bird. Within two minutes, he flushed up another grouse and Scott made a nice shot with his twenty gauge. The two year old, Ruger, made a nice retrieve. At that point, we both had filled our one-bird limits and headed for the truck. We then drove into town and ate Curry Beef at the local Chinese Restaurant. Life felt rich.
When I got home from the hunt, my wife asked me if I wanted to come with her to see a few homes in the Parade of Homes, which is an annual event in Eastern Idaho put on by numerous local home builders to show off their latest projects. I usually shy away from such events, but wanted to spend time with my wife so I said, “Okay. What the heck?!”
Admittedly, at first, seeing all of these new and expensive houses with lush furnishings, made me feel a little inadequate. As these negative thoughts crossed my mind, however, I reminded myself of the beauty and excitement that I had just experienced in the seas of sage. Most people who are pining and struggling to obtain such material possessions will never know the companionship of a good bird dog, the excitement of the flush, or the thrill of a nice shot. How can anyone even put a value on such things?
I may not be a wealthy man after the things of this world, but I am blessed beyond measure.