Hunting Sage Grouse in Colorado

Sage's Sage

The dogs paw the slug trails from their eyes as I wake them at the God awful hour of 3:30 in the am. I’m not sure they’ve fully recovered after their backbreaking duties of the previous weekend, entertaining me and four friends in the grouse mountains of Colorado. They’re troopers, and I’m pretty sure they’d both hunt with broken legs if need be. I wish I had half the drive as they do in certain areas of my life.

Today’s agenda is to take a new friend and hunter, Ross, out to hunt the precious few days the state allows for us to chase sage grouse. From what I’ve seen from Ross so far, he’s a pretty stand up guy. I think the Army instills those characteristics in many of their men and women and Ross happens to be one of them.

Ross went through two tours in Iraq pushing the front lines as an Army scout. No matter what my feeling are on the current wars, I have the utmost respect for his service. This won’t turn into a rant of any sorts, hell I don’t even have a leg to stand on in this one as I don’t know how I feel on the subject completely. I do however want to introduce you to one of our soldiers and fellow hunters.

The morning couldn’t be more perfect, which happens all so often in Colorado. Not for one second have I regretted the decision on my migration out here from the armpit of the east.

So the question of family asking “When are you moving back home to New Jersey?” are usually answered in hysterical laughter.

“Just as soon as MTV invents a time machine, goes back and gets Congressional permission to deport the cast of Jersey Shore to Nigeria instead of giving them that God-awful reality show.” is my alternate response. That’s also when they ask if I’m still seeing my therapist.

We get an early start, the sun hasn’t shown it’s smiling face yet. Just the alpenglow, two dogs and two content hunters. We press the sagebrush.

Sage, my yellow lab, hits the ground with the focus of a Ritalin infused CEO. He’s all business when he’s out here and takes his job very seriously. Braker, my girlfriend’s pudelpointer, on the other hand... Well let’s just say he is that CEO’s hormone infested teenaged son in need of his dad’s prescription.

After a few miles the routine sets in. The dogs are quartering like champs. Ross and I are separated by a football field’s worth of sagebrush. It’s quiet, like it’s supposed to be out here. There is no other place in the world I want to be, other than the rolling field I am standing in right here and now. This is one of the things that gravitates me towards bird hunting. With the chance of a flushing bird at any given time, it reminds me to stay in the present moment. To enjoy this exact second, craving more to follow.

I snap out of my stupor as Sage gets birdie and I call Ross in closer. I haven’t have many years experience with bird dogs, so maybe this is common among all of them, but when Sage is birdie an observer from a jetliner above would notice it. His tail wags so hard it seems to defy inertia. According to the laws of science, it should be spinning him in circles.

In he goes and up goes a grouse, a sage grouse to be more specific. Two guns roar only a second and a half apart. My finger might have been a little faster but Ross’s aim was just as true. Before the feathers touched the ground Sage has the bird in my hand.

This was the first time seeing a sage grouse up close. Bigger than a dusky and a good bit more pungent for sure. Like an alcoholic expelling his intake from the night before, this grouse exuded such a strong odor of sage that I celebrated my chance to find something that my girlfriend couldn’t cook to perfection.

We wander the rest of the morning thorough the foothills, not seeing much more action, but not caring either. With a handshake and future plans of antelope hunting Ross and I part ways.

There’s a smile on my face as I drive back to Denver. The Broncos take there second win of the season on the radio and from time to time I look over at the two passed out dogs next to me in a comatose state, dreaming of next weekend's hunt.

Yea, New Jersey doesn’t stand a chance, Snooki or no Snooki. I’ve found my home.

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// Fred