I just returned from my first-ever pronghorn bow hunt. It was a DIY adventure with my two uncles. We encountered piles of the rut-crazed beasts during our 3 1/2-day pursuit, but we didn’t manage to bring any prongies home. (I’ll share more details from the pronghorn hunt later.) However, I did end up filling a freezer bag with two other delicacies from the Montana plains—sharp-tailed grouse. This was also a first for me. Here’s a short video from the flushing fun.
If you’re having trouble viewing the video, click here.
One of my uncles has shot piles of sharptails throughout the years. If you’re pronghorn hunting during grouse season, it’s foolish to not buy a bird license for some opportunistic wing shooting. But this trip was much different. We hit two of his favorite sharptail honey-holes—old farmyards that contain the only trees in sight (and you can see a long ways in Montana). “If we don’t both shoot our limits in these spots, it will be our own fault,” he explained. Needless to say, I was pumped. But after walking through two of these sure-win stretches, we didn’t see a single grouse. We were both perplexed and depressed.
Some local ranchers told us sharptail numbers are up; others said numbers are down. I spoke with the owner of the motel where we stayed, and she also offered mixed wisdom. “We had three bird hunters staying in your room before you showed up. They left 3 days early because they couldn’t find any birds,” she said. “But we had some bird biologists in here on behalf of the oil companies [Note: Oil companies often need to go through stringent environmental evaluations before drilling for crude.]. Those experts spent a week here and said grouse numbers are up.”
Hmmm … so what’s the verdict? After returning from my trip, I explained this to my boss and upland bird hunting guru Gordy Krahn. I told him we found all the birds in or near alfalfa, and the crops of my two birds were filled with the lush green and purple plant. “It’s unusual for sharptails to roost in trees this time of year. They’ll usually roost on the ground, in tall grass, until later in the fall,” he reasoned. “Grouse numbers probably are up, but the birds are likely just more spread out.”
Who knows for sure, but I’m going with Gordy’s hunch. My uncle usually hunts eastern Montana in mid-October—a time when the alfalfa is generally all harvested and bailed for hay. Different time of year, different pattern. It just goes to show that there’s no end to the variables we encounter as hunters … but that’s what makes this game so interesting.