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What You Need to Know About Hunting Sage Grouse With a Dog

What You Need to Know About Hunting Sage Grouse With a Dog

A sage grouse hunter with his Brittany's

What to expect with a bird dog in sage grouse country

Being a dog trainer allows me to see all kinds of dogs work in the field, from close working dogs to horse back field trial dogs. They could be big or small, pointers or flushers. Each trait comes with its own strengths and weaknesses. When it comes to hunting sage grouse, some traits are more desirable than others.

The way you hunt sage grouse depends on the time of day, year, and the weather. Most of the time you might be hunting in very big country with heavy or occasional sparse cover. It can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack. In early September during most hunting seasons, however, you can find birds in some pretty open country.

Most states only have an early season that goes until the end of September. This is important to keep in mind, since the food source at that time of year affects how we’ll need to handle a dog.

I typically focus on green fields like alfalfa. Alfalfa can be either high or short depending on the moisture received during the year. The birds tend to hold better when we have higher, thicker cover. When the cover is shorter and sparse, birds don’t hold as well.

Hunting sage grouse with pointing dogs has major advantages. That’s not to say that there hasn’t been many prairie birds shot over a lab. Nevertheless I would argue pointing breeds over flushing breeds for sage grouse. My rule of thumb is that if the birds are going to hold, I like to let the dogs run bigger. By bigger, I mean farther. If they are in areas where the birds tend to be flightier, I want a dog to hunt closer.

For the most part, I like a dog that will range out away from me. I used to have a “the further, the better” mindset. Not anymore. These days, I like to see a dog range out around the three hundred yard range. When they get further than three hundred yards, I begin to question their intentions.

The GPS on a dog collar is the greatest tool invented by human hands. See, I’m a Brittany guy and a thirty-five pound dog hundreds of yards away in heavy cover is not the best combination. My dog would go missing on point and I would have to spend an exorbitant amount of time searching for him. With a GPS, I get a distance and direction to head in within five seconds of my dog going on point. That is a lifesaver, especially for people who are not used to keeping track of what they have hunted in sage grouse country.

When people ask me about hunting in Montana, I tell them to trust their dog. Let them get out of gun range. When you are walking the vast prairies, take a look around. It will make you feel small. There is so much land to cover. It would be impossible to walk each section of it with a gun range dog. You can cover more ground when you let your dog get away from you. That may mean your dog accidentally busts a bird. Mark it down. You can bring your dog in for a followup on the bird.

Hunting with a dog is a major part of the experience of upland bird hunting. Short of watching my kids grow, nothing compares to what I feel when chasing pointing dogs in Montana. I can’t fully explain how much freedom I feel when following a brace of dogs on the open land I get to call home.

View Comments (4)
  • I have lived near and hunted sage hens for 50 years. I am from southern Idaho and have probably missed more sage hens than you have shot. That said, I have found that sage hens do not hold well for pointing dogs. They are used to flying from predators, namely, coyotes. Our best dogs have hunted close, not far out like you suggest. You are talking but obviously do not have much experience.

    • Maybe Brandon’s dogs have been trained to not creep, to be steadier than Jeff is accustomed to, and to recognize how much earlier they need to lock up on grouse, compared to pheasant or quail. I tend to have dogs I prefer for different game species. The preference is based on a combination of natural instinct and a little on training. For grouse, I like my dog to be stealthy, patient, and exceptionally keen on scent. Don’t mind an unproductive point at all; let the dog work the runners patiently. For desert quail on the other hand, I prefer my big running, type A, “let’s mash’em boss” dogs. Both have to be steady, but the grouse dog has to be steady further out.

  • Jeff, I find your comments a little odd – Sage Hens do not hold well for pointing dogs? I run big country setters and they might be out there 500/600 yds (or more), they’ll lock up on Chickens and hold’em quite well. Under most circumstances, I don’t see how a flushing dog would outperform a good pointing breed

    • Loving theses posts on Sage Grouse hunting.
      I’m planning on hunting sage grouse in Montana or Wyoming next year and this info helps a lot. Living in British Columbia,Canada I do a lot of upland hunting mostly chuker,Huns,California quail,pheasant and some sharptail.
      My question is are you hunting sage grouse the same as other upland birds and maybe where to start if you guys don’t mind and I hunt with Hungarian vizsla,s.

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