If you’re a quail or pheasant hunter, September is sort of a holding pattern month. The cool(er) weather gets your anticipation factor jacked up and you’ll probably go on a few dove hunts, but what you really crave – the bird season opener – is, in most states, still a couple months away. So you pace, work the dogs, pace some more, look at the calendar and wait. For gundog and upland fanatics, it can be an agonizing wait. But it doesn’t have to be. In fact, if you’re willing, you can be in the field behind your dog as early as September 1.
How? By temporarily forgetting about quail and pheasants and instead focusing your attention on those “other” birds, our native prairie grouse; sage grouse, sharptails and prairie chickens. Overlooked and underloved by most hunters, overshadowed by the two 800-pound gorillas of the upland world, these magnificent native gamebirds offer a fantastic opportunity to get you and your dogs in the field and hunting weeks or months before most quail or pheasant openers. And often as not, you’ll have those fields mostly to yourself, if you’re willing to drive and more importantly, walk.
The fantastic scenery, the vast horizons, the (mostly) pleasant weather and the chance to add an iconic prairie species to your dog’s lifetime list are all great reasons to try out the early prairie chicken, sharptail or sage grouse seasons in the states that offer them. Last week found me in northern Kansas doing just that. I was hunting the greater prairie chicken opener with Ted Gartner, director of corporate communications for Garmin. Ted is a die-hard bird hunter and the early Kansas chicken opener is a yearly ritual for him and a small group of his hunting buddies. I was tagging along ostensibly to try out the new Astro 320 (more on that in a future blog), but I was really looking forward to finally getting out in the field and watching my dog run after an absolutely brutal summer had limited our training activity.
And indeed, the scenery was fantastic and the horizon was vast. The dogs ran well and so did the fireside libations and conversations. The weather, on the other hand, sucked. It was cold, wet, rainy and all-around miserable. We trudged mile after mile over sodden hills. We trudged wearily up and down the sides of canyons (Don’t let anyone ever tell you Kansas is flat.). We got soaked, chilled and exhausted. I rubbed blisters on both heels and ended up hobbling along behind the dogs like Quasimodo. What birds we found flushed wild before the dogs. In two days of hunting over dozens of walked miles, I managed to scratch down one lone prairie chicken, and I’m pretty sure that was an act of gentlemanly charity on Ted’s part.
In short, I and the pup had an absolute blast. It was a great way to kick off the season and I’d highly recommend an early-season prairie grouse hunt if you’re looking for a way to exorcise those lingering summertime blues and really get you and your dogs tuned up for quail and/or pheasant season.
Anyone else hit their state’s prairie chicken and/or sharptail opener or made a road trip?