When I first started telling my Fiancé about hunting, I told her about Coyote and waterfowl mostly. Quickly I realized that with her passion for hiking and camping, upland might be the right chase. From that I started thinking of places to go hunt. Soon I met one of her aunts who has also got a passion for hunting. She lives in Montana and told us to come do some hunting up there. We jumped right on that opportunity.
With plans made and shotguns and vests in tow, we made the long drive to Big Sky Country, one of my bucket list states to hunt in, and quickly fell in love with that state. I felt like heaven is very close to what Montana looked like. As we drove through, my hunter mind was going crazy thinking, “This is great coyote country” or “This looks like we’ll have a blast upland hunting.” The hills were begging for us to walk it and look for some game. After we arrived, we got set up for bed and were excited for what the next two days would bring.
We had never been hunting in Montana and we were about to go on a public land hunt. These can be pretty hit or miss but we had trust on our guide. Alan is my fiancé’s uncle and he had a lay for the land and had been hunting there for most of his life. He had done some scouting before we got there and had a good feel of where we should go hunt. We purchased our license and were excited that in Montana, you can purchase a Sage Grouse permit over the counter. In Utah, it’s a draw you put in for and that can take some time. We chose to go to Montana for it since we could spend time with family and get a hunt that may take years to draw in Utah.
The first day we went up to an area of sage brush that looked very promising. We had about a 5-mile loop that we were going to walk, and I was excited to knock out a bucket list item with my fiancé along to enjoy the fun. We didn’t have a dog and the hike would be kind of long, but I figure it was worth the effort. We hiked along and spooked a couple of jack rabbits but no sage grouse right at first. As we were out, the weather began to turn, which made us make a move back to the truck a little quicker then expected. On our drive out, we happened to see some sage grouse up on a hill about 60 yards from us. We jumped out of the truck and the chase was on. I was expecting them to flush or hide and disappear forever so as soon as I got in range, I put a shot out and shot a small rooster. It was my first sage grouse, so I was excited to just get a bird! It was my fiancé’s first hunt ever and she managed to get a couple of shots but none of them got her a bird.
We went home just as the rain started to come in. After a little sightseeing, we enjoyed our evening with family and played a little bingo at the local Elks Lodge. The next day we went to a spot where we were going to follow this draw down a few miles and hoping that the sagebrush along with the drainage would create some more shooting opportunities. We each walked on opposite sides of the ravine and it seemed that all the birds were on my fiancé’s side of the ravine. Sadly, she and her uncle were more concerned with bird watching then hunting. I had no shot options as the birds were too far and I didn’t want to shoot way out of my zone. An accident was not worth another Sage Grouse. Luckily, we saw where the birds flushed, and we made our way down the hill towards them. We tried to hurry but they either ran off or hid very well and without a dog to track them, we were out of luck. We finished the hike and after walking through lots of mud and stepping in a few Badger holes, we decided to move to another spot.
As hunts go, and especially this hunt, on our drive to another spot, we saw a solo Grouse up on the hill. This time it was my fiancé’s time to shoot her first game ever. I was excited for her and a little nervous. I handed her my shotgun and some shells and walked along with her to help her move fast enough to get to her bird. Once we got close the grouse held, maybe hoping it was blending in with the sagebrush around it. She raised her shotgun and on her first shot, nailed a nice big rooster. I was so excited I couldn’t believe it. She was still nervous about handling game, so I had to go and grab it. It was a good full body and looked like a great bird. Luckily, she wasn’t too nervous to get a picture and celebrate her hunt.
After 10 miles of hiking in two days, we found ourselves having a non-typical hunt where we were able to get a sage grouse each after all the hiking we did. We had a good time and as a rite of passage, we had my fiancé clean her grouse so she could appreciate what we do when we hunt. Having respect for the animals and their life makes it so hunting is not just a brutal sport but more of an appreciation for the food we can put on the table. This was a memorable hunt and we will never forget it. My fiancé even overcame some of her fear of horses. Montana is now going to be a yearly destination for us.
- Sage grouse hold and hide before flushing.
- Hunting Vests made a good difference.
- A good Camelbak makes it convenient to hike long miles.
- OnX hunts helped us plan and track our hunt since we were on foreign territory.
- Waterproof boots make it more comfortable to hike around in mud.
- Watch out for Badger Holes.
- It’s ok to shoot at your uncles missed birds.
- Always have your gun ready.
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