Early Season Grouse Hunting

By Aaron Robinson

The 2010 hunting season is just around the corner, and in many states the Sharp-tailed grouse and Partridge season are the first to kick off. This is where our summer dog training and conditioning finally materializes, or so we hope. Dogs at this time are usually accustomed to liberated birds or pigeons and this may be the first time they’ve seen a wild bird. For a young dog early season grouse hunting can provide vital experience that will lay a solid foundation for the future. Birds can be plentiful and if you’re partial to pointing dogs, most of the birds are young of the year and uneducated which provides ample training opportunities. On the flip side early season grouse hunting can be challenging and hunters and dogs need to be prepared. September weather can be extremely variable, but in most cases heat is the major challenge when hunting early season grouse. This is where the summer conditioning is very important for a successful September hunt. Many hunters spent a great deal of time conditioning their dog for the fall season but they neglect or perhaps subconsciously forget to realize that they are going to have to follow Fido around the prairie. If they did a good job preparing their dog and not themselves then they are in for a sore and painful opening hunt! 

If this fall is your first time pursuing sharp-tails here are a few biological facts that my assist you to a successful hunt. First, sharp-tailed grouse are a grassland species, which means that they only persist in areas with remaining grassland habitat. The grassland ecosystem is vanishing and Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana are the few remaining states with enough intact grassland to support healthy sharp-tailed grouse populations. When planning a hunt look to those states for the best opportunity. Second, sharp-tail hens will stay with their young late into September depending on when the brood was hatched. This is an important key to finding the areas to hunt. Hens typically will take their brood to areas with abundant forbs such as alfalfa fields or riparian draws, these areas produce lots of insects which the young rely on to grow.  Additionally look for adjacent areas with shrubs, the birds will congregate in the shade to escape the heat of the day. Hunting these types of areas in early morning can provide some fantastic opportunities. 

When you decide on a state to hunt remember to contact the state wildlife agencies, they can provide information on the local bird populations and regulations. Early planning can be the difference in preparing a decent hunt or a great hunt!