Yes, you can successfully hunt Sage Grouse without a dog.
Hunting sage grouse without a dog — is there such a thing? The fact is that many people hunt birds without a dog. Lots of times a big game hunt will need to add some diversity to the hunt, resulting in a walk with a shotgun. Other times people just want to get out in the uplands but don’t have the connivance of a bird dog or maybe just do not want one along.
Sage grouse tend to live in big open country with lots of sage that can look all the same. Walking aimlessly through that country hoping to bump into a bird may work, but there are ways to add structure and purpose to your stroll.
Look for Sage Grouse sign with a Planned Path
If you have been to sage grouse country before, think about where you have seen the birds, especially during that particular time of year. Where did you bump into them? Was it by a road, or walking a coulee? Around a pond, or some source of water? Remember those places, go back to check them out. Look for signs birds are still in the area. If you are exploring a new location, look for an area that has the type of land where you have seen birds in the past.
Identifying sage grouse habitat is the foundation of good hunting. Even when hunting with a dog, I like to look around ponds in the area. I walk around them to see if I find any tracks, feathers, or droppings. Sage grouse like to walk. Many times you will find them walking into the pond in the evening to get a drink. If you see signs on one side of the pond, most likely the birds have been walking in from that direction. Head out the way the tracks came from.
Once you start walking out from the pond, figure out a pattern for your walk. It might be there is a draw below where the birds have followed up. One approach would be to take a section of land and start a crisscross pattern so you cover it thoroughly. After working that section, move to an adjacent section of land and come back up using the same pattern. Sage grouse can walk long distances so lengthen your walk to around a mile.
As you are covering the ground continue looking for signs of sage grouse such as tracks, feathers, or droppings. Droppings are the best because they will tell you if the birds have been in the area recently. If no sign is found then move to a different area. Remember sage grouse can cover big sections of land daily by either walking or flying. Another simple approach would be to make teardrop-shaped loops away from the pond. Look for the same signs and distance as mentioned with a crisscross pattern.
Leks can lead you to Sage Grouse
Leks are breeding grounds sage grouse have used for many years. Research where the leks are in the area and hunt around them. The males tend to stay within a distance of the leks, which is a good indicator sage grouse are in the area just depending on the year. Some leks are old and abandoned but still considered a lek. With the type of country sage grouse live in, this could mean they are a mile or more away, so branch out away from the lek. It would be a good idea to use the same strategy as described with a pond.
Dirt Roads are your Friend
Many times I have found birds crossing roads, or within a close distance of leaving the truck. Walk down the road and look for any sign of sage grouse. This would be best if it has rained or snowed within the last couple of days. Sage grouse will move around, but do like the same places when not disturbed. If you find that tracks start to make circles or half circles on one side of the road, switch to the other side. As you are doing this look for more sign, and take note of what type of cover it’s in. Is it in the open grass, or sage? As you see more sign of where the birds have been, focus on those types of areas and just around them.
Having a dog definitely adds to the experience of sage grouse hunting for me. However, you are not limited to hunting upland birds with a dog. Just being in the country sage grouse live in is a surreal experience, something which can be enjoyed with or without a dog.
Brandon Moss's life motto is, "I don't care what I'm doing as long as I have two straps over my shoulders." He is a 4th generation hunter who can't spend enough time in the field. Born and raised in Montana he has nurtured an addition to following American Brittany's out on the prairies. Brandon hopes by telling his story it will inspire others to head to the field and experience, what he has come to love, for themselves.