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Grousing May 2022
Gerhard Schroeder  

In 2021 Montana called twice. As usual, Mary and I spent the summer months near Bozeman. Then in September our friends there made me an offer I could not resist – house-sit while they were traveling.

On my long drive I stopped and slept in the 4Runner right before crossing into Utah. That put me the next day across the Idaho/Montana state line in the early afternoon. Well, I had done some researching and Google scouting. Turns out that Sage Grouse can be found in the Centennial Valley. You get to that by taking the very first exit after entering Montana from the south.

It felt good to take Ms. Franchi for a walk after those long hours of driving. That valley, like a sage desert, appeared overwhelming. Basically no trees, no change in vegetation from horizon to horizon, where would one go to find a sage grouse? That afternoon I did not, and a bleached antelope skull did not enhance my hope. Still, I spent the night there, tried again the next morning. No grouse, no rabbit, nothing came into view, except plenty of antelope, far in the distance. They call it hunting, not shooting. I drove the rest of the way to Bozeman, made myself comfortable in our friends’ home.

Fishing the next day yielded three sassy 14” trout, good for several meals. Then the mountains called. That’s potential Grizzly country, meaning the last two shells in my Franchi were always rifled slugs. The first day I heard but never saw a blue grouse depart from a mature fir tree. It got slightly better an hour later when I caught a glimpse of ruffed grouse, but not enough time to even mount the shotgun. At least the woods contained birds.

The next day I was in a different section of woods, about 30 minutes from town. I just randomly labored up and down. After a good two hours a big grouse thundered out of a tall fir tree. The Franchi was now in my hands. Sure enough, another bird departed to my right, which I shot at before it disappeared behind the next tree, but missed. Luck was with me as bird #3 flew straight away when my lead hail made it sail out of the air, over a small rise. I did find it there, triggering a fat smile. My first Blue Grouse.

Very encouraged, I continued my assault on the wooded hills. But it soon got too warm that late morning, and no further birds flushed. Then it was a matter of heading downhill until I got to the Forest Service road and follow that back to my Toyota.

From that day on I rested the fishing even though conditions were quite favorable. Instead I hit the grouse woods again. More by luck I came to the same opening where I’d bagged my first Blue. And son-of-a-gun, another bird flushed off the ground and landed in a tree about 30 steps out. I could see it, so sent a high brass #6 its way. The bird fell but hung up a few branches down. I walked closer, pondering how to get it unstuck. That’s when the hen fluttered and fell to the ground. Only, she was merely winged, rushed to the nearest dense brush. But I could grab Blue #2 there.

That was fairly early in the morning. So I kept hunting. Eventually I had more luck yet. A whole covey of ruffed grouse! But here is how it typically goes in those grouse woods, as it was true for me, and as the locals say it mostly is: Heard at least 8, of those saw 3, of those shot at 2, of those got one.

We baked all three the next day at my son’s place. “Delicious” does not quite describe it. I wanted that whole experience again, kept hunting in the woods, but found no more.

On my way home lay the Centennial Valley, and sage grouse season ended the last day of September. I wanted to give them one more try. This time friends Glenn and Marcus came along. They brought their dogs. It almost worked. An hour into the first day’s hunt Marcus’ young dog kicked one up. But for our scatterguns way out of range. At least I’d seen one.

We hunted for two days, found no more. Still, a fun experience. I drove home with mixed emotions.

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