Shooting the Air – Grouse Season Begins

The endless view from the mountaintop.

When the opening of the upland bird season comes each September, I tend to have a bit of uneasiness about the coming of a new season.

I worry about what kind of spring hatch the grouse might have had in the mountains though there’s nothing I can do about that. The mountains are there and the only thing I can do is put on my boots and go see for myself if the birds are there.

Taking those walks across those mountainsides is what makes me uneasy. There’s no getting around that I’m a “senior” hunter. There are benefits to being a senior citizen. We get breaks on the cost of licenses. Better yet, we can usually get out during the middle of the week when most people are stuck in the workplace.

On the other hand, as we advance through geezerhood, we’re trying to beat the relentless forces of aging. As a friend recently commented, “When you hit 80, you hit a wall.” Another friend, who has had several health issues the last few years, commented that, “It’s one big game of whack-a-mole.”

After getting up before dawn on the first day of September, and driving up the Forest Service road to the top of a mountain, it was a good feeling to look across the landscape and see, once again, the panorama of mountains for as far as the eyes can see. An even better feeling was to drop a couple shells into my shotgun and start hiking up the mountainside in search of blue (dusky) grouse.

I’ve been hunting this mountain for the better part of the last 30 years and have had some great success in some years and, unfortunately, not much success in recent years. In that first walk of the season, I didn’t see any grouse. At one point, Kiri, my black Labrador retriever, got excited about a scent and started following the elusive trail of bird scent. The trail eventually faded to nothing, and our first walk ended back at the truck without seeing any grouse.

A couple walks later, on a sagebrush ridge, Kiri got excited about another scent and her body language said, “Hey, pard, this is a hot one.” She followed the scent through the sagebrush, faster than I could follow, and about 50 yards up the hillside a blue grouse took to the air with a thunder of wings. It was out of range but I took a shot anyway. The bird kept flying, of course.

Kiri in search of scent.

Kiri returned to me after this flurry of excitement and flopped down on her belly, her body language now saying, “I need a break.” Indeed, the day was heating up and it felt hot in the sunshine. Taking timeout for a few minutes in the shade was welcome for me, also.

We finished our walk and returned to camp for a late breakfast.

The next morning Kiri and I were again on the mountain hoping for better success. That was not to be the case. This morning we didn’t find any scent and didn’t flush any birds.

Still, when we got back to camp and sat down for breakfast, I told my wife that, in spite having nothing to show for our efforts, I felt good about it. My legs felt good. I felt good.

I give credit to a love for tennis. Since spring, and for many years, I’ve been playing tennis two to three times a week. We play a relaxed style of doubles tennis. We have no aspirations for going to the U.S. Open. Still, the game is a great way to maintain good legs and wind and most hunting is all about legs and wind.

So, the season started off with lack of success, but I’m looking forward to many more walks in the grouse woods in coming weeks. I figure that even if my grouse hunting doesn’t put much meat in the freezer, when I turn to hunting pheasants in October, those treks across the prairie will be a walk in the park.

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