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.
Last modified: April 22, 2019