Tracking Grouse

Tracking Grouse | Shooting Sportsman Magazine

On the high Wyoming sagebrush flats, well over 8,000 feet, the early October night was bitterly cold—so cold that even in the sleeping-bag depths I never gained more than a fitful doze. But the morning light was bright and clear, and the day quickly warmed.

Back in August we’d trapped and put telemetry devices on a handful of sage grouse hens, to learn how they used their national forest summer habitat and where they overwintered. By early October the birds were within days of migrating to wintering grounds (60 to 70 miles away down the long western slope onto public BLM lands, we learned). In springtime they would return again to mating leks atop feet of snow that would remain at this elevation until summer.

The dogs and I worked through areas where months earlier we’d found broods; now all the birds we encountered were singles—on a couple I even glimpsed telemetry collars. I snapped a few photos, including this one. By the time we returned to the truck, it was sufficiently warm that the dogs drained the water bowl several times.

A young range rider for the rancher who held the grazing lease on this patch of national forest rode by, his horse kicking up a small dust plume. I offered the cowboy a beer. We sat on the tailgate, yakking about cows, ranching, the local grizzlies and grouse. It had been weeks since he’d seen another human and longer since he’d had a resupply and a beer.

“You want another?” I asked.

“Yes!” he said. — John Stewart Wright

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