My first experience was with CZ-USA crew in Riggins, Idaho. I enjoyed it so much I’m going back there to visit Andy Savage and his outfit Heaven’s Gate Outfitters in the next couple of days. The well-proven CZ Upland Ultralight is coming and I’m also bringing the extremely accurate 28 ga O/U Canvasback Gold. There will be another write up about the world’s best Chukar and Grouse hunting. What makes it special is the terrain and the people. I understand this is very subjective opinion but the action, birds, dogs, guides and scenery is hard to beat.
In the meantime the season is on and I’ve gone out to look for birds few times. Some time successfully, some time not, but always returning tired with big smile on my face. I just could not wait for the Upland bird season to open in the West. There are plenty of species to hunt. It just takes lot of work to get to them on most occasions. The challenge only enhances the experience.
Wyoming and Idaho species include Hungarian/Gray Chukar Partridge. Grouse family includes Blue/Dusky, Ruffed, Sharptail and Sage. The Sage grouse can be found throughout Wyoming and Idaho in very low numbers. Some parts of Wyoming have short season with one grouse being the limit. Idaho is closed to Sage grouse hunting altogether as they’re trying to recover the population. It is a beautiful bird but I do not appreciate hunting species struggling for survival. The Ruffed grouse, on the other hand is a fun hunt. Their habitat is near or at young forest floor, sometimes in an area with recent wildfire where the forest is recovering. I have seen many birds hiking around Jackson Hole and they manage to spook me every time I almost step on one. They hold and hold until the last moment and then take off. I love listening to the beautiful wing fluttering sound. I’m getting reports from friends getting one or two every so often. It takes lot of walking through the woods, especially without dogs. We are all new to the sport and have not gotten the right dogs. Our dogs were fostered and then adopted before I became a bird hunter. I made sure in a conversation with my wife the next time we’re adopting a dog it will be one with bird hunting potential. Potential is all I’m looking for because they give us so much already. Couple days before I started writing this blog we had to put one of them down because of old age. She was the first animal we had the fortune to see live a full life. We’ve lost horses, cats and dogs to disease, illness, injuries and accidents. I will share some stories about GO-GO at the end.
The Blue/Dusky grouse is larger grouse with habitat in much higher elevation. I actually got out to deer hunt for couple days and saw one every time I was above eight thousand feet. I wished at that point I had the over under combo like my grandfather had for wild boar and pheasants. It would be one day to remember to get Blue grouse and mule deer buck.
I did see both on the same morning but did not have a shotgun nor a good shot at the buck (to be exact three young bucks). I was following few does and heard such a commotion across the hillside. I was on very steep slope sitting in a tall grass. Suddenly the young bucks came out of aspen grove and stopped no more than two hundred yards away. I shouldered the rifle but could not get them in the scope sitting down. So I stood up and they immediately started moving again. I sat down, they stopped. I still did not have a shot, sitting down on extremely steep slope is not my “favorite” shooting position. Finally I made the move and got them in the scope, yes all of them. They were so tightly together, for some reason I could not make up their individual bodies. I decided to try stalk them but the moment I moved they kicked it into higher gear and I was left with just another great experience.
I decided to change venue and dropped down few thousand feet and explore the other game birds of our region. Very good friend of mine’s family owns close to three thousand acres of agricultural land under conservation. They do not harvest the property anymore but it still has remnants of wheat fields and lots of grass bordering unimproved land. I asked for permission to hunt and it quickly became my private practice ground. The Sharp tail grouse can only be found in eastern Idaho. They are considered a “trophy bird”. At least in my books. The perfect habitat is the edge where open grasslands meet the brushy area mostly with ever so popular western sagebrush. The other bird specie found on the property is the Hungarian partridge. They were brought in as new game bird alternative more than hundred years ago for Central European plains. Some articles even mention Czechoslovakia. Their place of origin helps them handle the winter conditions across the northern part of the United States very well. They are plentiful in numbers and great bird to hunt. I needed to get know the almost three thousand acres of rolling hills so I headed towards Idaho one early morning. I brought my dogs along not anticipating tohunt. I just wanted to walk the property and mentally map it. To find out where the birds are. It was a great day for all of us as non bird dogs helped to flush out few Sharptail and many Huns. Now, I was ready to hunt.
The next time I went I brought along couple new CZ shotguns. I picked the 12 ga Wingshooter and the 28 ga Canvasback Gold. They performed well with clays but I needed to find out how good they are in the field. Beautiful fall day with temperature in the 50’s and my most comfortable pair of boots complimented the shotgun nicely. I parked my truck and walked many miles and took many shots. I was very rusty but I learned more about the birds, the land and got to see two bull moose and a big moose cow. I also spotted very fresh elk and mountain lion tracks. The birds frustrated me little bit and I decided to get my chores done as soon as possible and head back to Idaho couple days later. It was a Wingshooter day. I was heading back towards my truck after few hours and few missed shots along the line separating the Sage brush and the fields. I had a good feeling about my choice of path when pair of Sharptails flushed out. The literature I studied said they like to be exactly where I found them. The first one took of straight ahead, I shouldered the gun, pulled the trigger and missed. The second one took off to my left with little delay. I have never done this before but after missing the first one I decided to chase after the second one. I always take the first shot and if I miss I shoot the second shell at the same bird. I don’t know what change my mind but it worked out. I swung to the left pulled the trigger and the “Sharpie” came down. Many have told the Sharptails are some bird to hunt and I got one my second day out. This is awesome. I picked up the bird and headed to the truck. It’s so worthy to put in long day’s work to get the perfect flush. The Wingshooter is the best all around shotgun in CZ-USA’s line up. From quail to ducks it will do it well and do it in style.
At this point I needed to take few days off from bird hunting and get things done on the farm. I’ve read books, articles and heard from friends that once the bird season starts it is like a drug. It’s so much fun you just want to go after the birds. There are couple of reasons for the addiction, in my opinion. You might not pull a trigger all day but you are out walking in nature and the chance for the bird to come out is always there. It only gets better with dogs. The other reason is it’s personal. Every time you miss the bird your desire to get that bird increases tenfold. We the hunters take it personally, the birds don’t.
Now I’ve been at it few times and have good idea where the rest of the birds are. The Hun are much smaller than grouse so the 28 came out. They are smaller but their flight pattern is lower. You never get the time as the birds like grouse or pheasants trying to gain altitude. And there is always the late bird flushing out much closer after you already wasted your two shells. Can be frustrating. Early to mid morning they are in the fields feeding on grass and then move to the sage brush for cover. They come back to the fields for late afternoon, early evening to feed. There is where I got couple of them on the last sweep of the day. I really like the 28 for smaller sized birds like Huns, Chukars or the quail down south. Easy to carry, easy to shoulder and incredibly on when shooter does his job. The Huns are so far the best tasting wild bird I’ve ever had. They taste like chicken but much better. Must be their Central European origin.
Last but not least I would like to thank to our chocolate lab Go-Go for thirteen and a half years of the most wonderful experiences the dog can give. We adopted/took her from our landlord one summer as the woman decided she does not want her anymore because she’s moving. Well she never took care of her anyways. Every night we heard the garbage cans being tipped over and in the morning garbage strewn everywhere. We thought this neighborhood had raccoon problem until we found out it was Go-Go looking for food. She never got properly fed. Adoption was a no brainier. We already had two dogs, what is another four paws and a tail. I saw more wildlife hiking with her than any other time. She had incredible ability to find and somehow flush the deer, elk or moose right towards me. She brought live duck to the patio from nearby pond. Killed many rabbits, groundhogs and rats. Fearless little lab. She only weighted 45 pounds but had heart of a lion. We were extremely fortunate she lived very healthy long life. She would turn sixteen next spring.