“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.”
I’m a grouse hunter through and through. If I had my druthers, I would opt to hunt for blues, ruffs, or sharptails nine times out of ten. And in Idaho that generally means heading to the mountains.
Thursday of our week of hunting in Idaho, I wanted to retry my all-time favorite covert we call, the Royal Macnab, which holds sharptails, Huns, ruffed grouse, and pheasants in good years. But Shawn and I struggled there the previous Saturday.
“It’s Ron’s last day, so we should let him choose where he wants to hunt,” said Shawn.
“Why would we want to leave birds to find birds?” Ron Coiro asked. “That doesn’t make any sense.” Both Ron and Shawn wanted to go chase those crazy Huns again at our new covert. Admittedly, there was a pile of birds not far from home. So, I got outvoted.
“Okay,” I conceded, “but when we get tired of chasing those crazy Huns, then we should drive up to the Piney Strip and find some blue grouse.”
“I’m okay with that idea,” Shawn agreed.
“That sounds good to me,” added Ron. “I’ve never seen a blue grouse.”
That morning we pursued Huns in the grassy, sunflower covered foothills. And, as usually happens with Huns, we got schooled. We saw birds near the road, but when we put the dogs down they bumped the birds out of range. Shawn’s setter, Gretchen, found and pointed a tight holding covey, but I whiffed the shot. Next time I have to remember to pick just one bird. Try as we may, we just couldn’t find the coveys like on Tuesday. I recently wrote: “Huns are fun, frustrating, and fun.” On this day, they were more frustrating than fun.
Around lunch time, Shawn and Ron finally agreed it was time to the head to top of the mountain. I’ve written before about this particular mountain. I killed my first muley buck up on top with my Dad and brother-in-law, Eric. I’ve spent numerous days there with the late and great Sunny and Misty pursuing blue grouse. If you read my book, Heaven on Earth: Stories of Fly Fishing, Fun & Faith, this is the place where Murphy (of Murphy’s Law fame) had his way with us as Eric bottomed out his horse trailer on huge boulders near the lake. Good times!
The first time I took Shawn up there in October of 2010, as we were driving home after a successful hunt, Shawn turned to me and exclaimed, “This place is sacred!” I had to agree as his declaration captured my sentiments exactly. So, needless to say, I was excited to return to this haven in the clouds this year.
Ron was amazed as we climbed up from the desert floor to the top of the mountain, 10,000 feet above sea level. With it being the end of October, there was already shin-deep snow on the north-facing slopes including our destination, the Piney Strip. Shawn opted to let Ron and I hunt the strip while he took a nap.
Ron and I postholed through the crusty snow hoping to find a few blues. With the snow, the cover looked harsher than usual and I’m guessing that Ron wondered if this was the equivalent of an Idaho Goose Chase. Experience has taught me, however, that it was only a matter of time before we’d find a few blue bombers.
About a half mile down the Strip, the trees and the snow petered out into a sage brush opening and I had that sixth sense that, if any were around, the birds were near. I then looked down at the thinning snow and saw fresh grouse tracks. Rainey and I followed the tracks, and within twenty yards, a big blue flushed across the opening and I missed the first shot. However, another grouse flushed and followed the exact same groove as the first. I swung, slapped the back trigger, and the big bird folded. As I was reloading, another bird escaped unmolested. Ron, who was out of range, watched the whole scene unfold. For me, this was my favorite moment of the whole week.
Ron and I finished pushing through the strip with no further shot opportunities and we took a few photos of the gigantic grouse.
“I’ve never experienced any bird hunting quite like this,” Ron commented. “That was awesome!”
“I wish we could have gotten you one to end your hunt,” I replied.
“Next year!” Ron proclaimed. I think I recruited a new convert to the joys of blue grouse hunting.
But as great as the blue grouse is, I cannot separate it from the mountainous places they inhabit. It’s like the blue grouse is the very essence or spirit of the mountain. For without them, the mountain tops would seem barren, especially in the late fall and winter when they migrate to the mountain peaks.
Though he may have meant something entirely different, when I hunt these special game birds, I can relate to John Muir’s statement: “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.”