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NEAR HILGER, MONTANA: Even rotating dogs every hour, we were concerned. Temperatures hovered near 90 degrees by 2 p.m., and we were burning through the water (pardon the pun). Most, of course, was going into and onto the dogs.
We were making one of next season’s episodes for Wingshooting USA, and my first sage grouse hunt began auspiciously, sighting a small flock as it fled our trucks. Whatever you’ve heard about them, know that they love to run, fly, run, fly, then repeat. The best news? Most flights were a few hundred yards and we could mark them for another stalk.
Here’s a sampling of – truly – “Big Sky” country … from our sky cam, and my audio field report, too:
Al Gadoury’s English Setters had seen it all before, maintaining their distance and approaching scent cones with delicate steps. Up a draw carpeted by snowberry, one dog locked up and we approached as cautiously as she had. One bird up, and a shot by Al dropped him. As it rolled, another launched and both of us connected. As I reloaded (just my luck), the third rose, low-frequency wingbeats drumming accompaniment to a hasty gun mount and perfect miss.
The giant ranch harbored more grouse than I’d seen in my entire hunting career, and a short drive later we jumped a small bunch in a steep draw, one catching a few of my pellets but winging further down-canyon. Buddy careened down one side, Al’s Labrador snuffled purposely along the other, and as Buddy approached one brush patch from upwind, both cameras were at parade rest.
Consummate instinctive shooters, camera operators Tad Newberry and Lynn Berland captured a sequence that started with a wild flush (low and slow – he was already wing-clipped). Tad and I were strafed by the giant bird as it fought gravity to escape Buddy’s canines. It jinked hard left and almost hit Lynn and Al on the other side of the draw, where it was finally felled for good by Al’s artful shot.
Both Montana hunts drove home a point made to me at least, byOregon dog trainer Don Hewes. I’d complained that my dogs wouldn’t retrieve in hot weather. Don reminded me that dogs cool themselves by panting – and a hot, dry bird obviously makes that impossible. It’s pretty basic after that: pant and cool, or retrieve and die? I’ve been cutting dogs slack ever since.
Where would you wear a new pair of Irish Setter boots? Make a comment below, and you’re entered to win them. Thanks to our other Awesome Upland Road Trip Sponsors as well: Black’s Wing & Clay Waterfowl, TriTronics and the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s www.wingshootingusa.org.