We are having an unusually good year on Sharptails locally here in E. Idaho. My last morning chasing them was in an area that was pretty good for Sage Hens back in September. I hadn’t been seeing many of them recently though- one here and there is all, and no coveys. Our Sage Hens are migratory. They winter and lek in the valley, come up here for nesting and raising chicks, and then leave again some time during October. So, I had been wondering if they were already headed for the wintering grounds a little on the early side.
First dog out for the morning was a 16 month old female named Blaze. Pretty quick into the hunt she went on point at the base of a hill, moved a little, and then went solid. I walked in, expecting sharptails, and to my surprise the whole hillside got up. There were at least 80, maybe 100 Sage Hens. It’s been a LONG time since I’ve seen that happen. 20-30 years ago it wasn’t too uncommon to see groups like this, but the population has declined since and such large groups, at least during hunting season, have been non-existent. The coveys from September have probably just grouped together in preparation for migrating, but it was still nice to see so many. Hopefully the recent conservation efforts will make a better future for these iconic western birds.
Blaze of course was quite excited about the big flush and proceeded to chase them over the hill, and then race all around looking for more. While I was waiting for her to get over that a couple of Sharptails flushed wild off to the downwind side of the area. Then some more. And more. Probably 50 of them got up in waves and flew over the horizon. Apparently this was the place to be. When Blaze was finally convinced there were no more Sage hens to be had I took her for a swing through the area the Sharptails flushed from. I didn’t have much hope there would be any stragglers but it’s always worth a try. As luck would have it, Blaze got to point and retrieve her first Sharptail! My morning was made.
On the way home I stopped at a grouse cover for a short hunt with another young dog, Prince, where he got to point and retrieve his first Ruffed grouse. Well, he pointed until he saw the grouse:-) These Idaho grouse are not the best for young dogs- sometimes they are reluctant to flush and they don’t hide. We don’t put young dogs on them much until after they’ve seen real grouse because of this. Prince thought it was pretty cool though. This was a case that shows how important having a dog can be, even an inexperienced one. I was fairly sure I hit the bird but it flew off, and I didn’t have a great line on it. I followed and didn’t go too far before Prince pointed about 20 yards to the side. I walked in watching for a cripple, and the grouse was laying dead in a depression where I never would have found it on my own.
Back at the car Prince refused to pose for photos with the grouse, so this is the best I got. Happy dog.