Sharp Tail Grouse

The 1st thing I want to say about sharp tail grouse (sharpies) is to me they are the most unpredictable of all the upland game birds I have hunted. I didn’t even know what a sharpie was until I moved to South Dakota in 2003, even though there is a good population in south eastern Idaho, which is the one area of Idaho I have never hunted. In the last twelve years I have had dogs work many sharpies in South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming. Just when I think I might have them kind of figured out they do something that makes me say I didn’t see that coming. Sometimes young ones will hold so tight you can get within a few feet, and other times I think they start flushing as soon as you leave your driveway to go hunting. I have seen them in tree tops, on big round hay bales, in thick marshy cover, standing out in the wide open prairies, up in the hills, and that was all in one day in South Dakota.  Sometimes there will only be one and sometimes you might flush 100. Sometimes they all leave at once, and other times they will flush one by one, or in small groups over a few minute time frame. Sometimes a dog can point them a few feet away, and sometimes they will flush when the dog gets within 100 yards of them. Sometimes when they flush they will fly for miles completely out of sight into the horizon. Other times they might only fly fifty yards. I have taken a young dog and worked the same sharpie a half dozen times before it flew far enough away I couldn’t go right back after it. Many times they will have a sentinel out looking for danger, but sometimes you can see the sentinel and just walk right up to the entire covey without them doing anything, while other times the sentinel will take off when you barely get within rifle range. Sometimes when you try to mark where they go they will be right there when you get there, and other times they will have run a few hundred yards before you get there. On a hunting trip with my brother the last few days of the 2014 South Dakota season in late December we encountered very wild birds, and very tame birds while hunting heavily hunted public lands. Normally birds this time of year never let you get close to them. After the hunt my brother said “you know the more I hunt these birds the less I know about them, I think I understand a woman better than a sharp tail”.

For a GWP sharpies can be perfect, even for a real young dog. I like to take young dogs out during the early season to work young sharpies. Usually the young sharpies are pretty tame and will hold tight until you flush them a few times. The other thing I like about young sharpies is they usually don’t fly out of sight so you can get a young dog on them a couple times. The dogs always seem to pick them up pretty good so they must put off pretty good scent. I also like them because they are bigger than quail/chukar size birds and the young dogs can see them flying off which keeps them excited. The young birds don’t seem to be the runners like the old smart birds. If I have some young dogs I want to get on birds I will run a couple older dogs in an area first to find the birds then I will mark where some of them have gone and bring in the young dogs.

One time in South Dakota I was hunting with my brother and a friend Ryan from work in some big grasslands. I had Cruiser and Zoie running together right in the prime of their hunting lives and we worked a small canyon. Both dogs locked up in the bottom in some pretty thick stuff and I was up on a ridge a few hundred yards away watching as Ryan went in for the flush. I was expecting to see a pheasant flush or run out the bottom, but when Ryan got a few yards in front of the dogs the sky filled with sharpies. He emptied his gun without hitting anything and after I got on him about missing I told him to go release the dogs from point so they could go find something else for him to shoot at. It was a nice day and these birds were in some real thick cover down in a draw. Most of the time on nice days while we were hunting in South Dakota we would find the sharpies out in the open areas, usually on a south facing slope of any rise close to the top of the rise. It would usually take weather to drive them into the thick stuff. In my years of hunting sharpies in Wyoming it seems to be the exact opposite on most occasions, go figure.

I was out hunting one cold blowing winter day a couple seasons ago in Wyoming and a dog locked up out in the flats. I normally would have thought it was on huns, but with the wind and cold I couldn’t see the huns staying out there, they would have been tucked in somewhere out of the wind. I then thought maybe one of the white jackrabbits because I have found them to be out in the open in real bad weather. When I got about seventy-five yards from the dog I could see sharpies just standing there about thirty yards in front of the dog. They didn’t appear to be at all concerned about anything. Since this was later in the season I thought there was no chance of getting on them before they flushed, but I walked right up to within a few yards and when they flushed the strong wind pushed them back towards me for a quartering shot which I connected on. I don’t know how far these birds flew because the visibility was down to a couple hundred yards.

One other thing about sharpies is you will see them flying around for what appears to be no reason. I always say sometimes antelope take off running because antelope must just like to run. I think sharpies take off flying because they must just like to fly. My brother actually nicknamed sharpies antelope with wings because just like antelope a lot of times they seem to be watching you at a distance and you never know how close they will let you get to them.

If you take your gwp after sharpies be ready for anything, and get a good recipe to make them eatable since they can be hard to choke down.


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