Sunday, September 18, 2011

Good Year For The Blues

Most of Montana had a wet, extremely wet, spring. As a bird hunter, we worry about the spring hatch as much as we worry about getting water in our basement. One thing I am learning is that the spring weather on the low ground, the stuff that adversely effects grouse, partridge and pheasants, may not be as detrimental to the mountain grouse populations.
In fact, we have seen some very nice broods this fall and a lot of them. It doesn't seem to matter what mountain range we hunt, what the weather is that day or what our horoscopes say; this is shaping up to be one of the best falls for chasing blue grouse up high.
But, there is one caveat to keep in mind before grabbing the shotgun and heading up in the hills: You will need to hunt hard and hunt high. Most of our birds have been above 7,000 feet and our daily jaunts have been pushing 10-12 miles.
As a result of the good fortunes up high, I have delayed most of my trips locally to look for Huns and sharptail. Those birds can wait, however. By late September, planning any trips to hunt blue grouse can get dicey. Snow comes early to the high country, making travel and hiking more difficult, if not impossible. Then, it is prairie birds or nothing. Let's hope they had a better-than-expected hatch too.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Birds and Dogs On The Front

Since I wasn't as fortunate as some of the bird hunters I know, I didn't get to hunt the opener on September 1st. But, thanks to an invite from Shoco Ranch, I was hunting Saturday morning in some of the most beautiful country around.

Shoco is located just outside of Augusta, along the Rocky Mountain Front.Shoco is an oasis amidst mostly dry cattle country, with good bird habitat along a gem of a little trout stream. The fourth-generation owner of the ranch, Sally Shortridge, now manages the ranch for birds and also releases pheasants and chukars. Not truly wild birds, but you wouldn't know as you never see a pen of caged birds on the place and they fly as strongly as any game bird I have hunted.

Sally was a good host, as we hunted over both her German shorthair and my setters. (Guess which dogs required an hour of combing and grooming that evening) The dog work was good, the shooting decent and we finished the evening at a campfire at one of the three rustic, secluded cabins along the creek.

The next day Laura and I decided to trade the shotguns for fly rods and did a little fishing. The early September day was prime hopper time and Laura landed her first brown on a Joe's hopper. The creek held good numbers of fish and there were more deep runs than we could get to in a weekend. I really couldn't think of a place I would rather have been.