Looking for blue grouseJohn Thorp parks his pickup at the logging road gate where large signs announce, “No motor vehicles beyond this point.” We will walk from here and try to find some blue grouse.
By: Bernie Kuntz, The Jamestown Sun
John Thorp parks his pickup at the logging road gate where large signs announce, “No motor vehicles beyond this point.” We will walk from here and try to find some blue grouse.
Six weeks earlier, I had double fusion back surgery and am still wearing what I call a “half flak jacket” — a black vest contraption that supports my lower back. Over that, I have my old Orvis shotshell vest. I am carrying one of my Model 12s, this one a 16 gauge manufactured in 1959.
“Go ahead,” John says. “I’ll catch up.”
So I tackle the steep logging road, and immediately it feels as if I am wearing an 80-pound pack. My breath comes in gasps, and I could swear someone has buried an axe head in my lower back. But I push on. I haven’t walked 75 yards when John catches up to me. He sees that I am struggling.
“Did you ever think, Bern, that a slope like this would kick your butt?”
“Never … not a single time, John. Such is life.”
After six surgeries in the last 5-1/2 years, I am not the man I used to be. Years ago John used to scold me for walking too fast when we were hunting together. No need for that these days.
We reach the top of the grade, and the road curves around the side of the mountain and begins a slight descent. Technically, we are in the Bangtail Hills, if you can call them “hills.” My map shows elevations to almost 8,000 feet, and I am guessing we are walking at about 7,000 feet. To the west the Bridger Mountains loom high with peaks up to about 10,000 feet.
We amble along, watching both sides of the road — peering down the incredibly steep slopes below the road, and studying the equally steep land above the road.
This is not John’s first grouse hunt of the season. He has been out several times and more often than not has shot a three-bird limit. Trouble is, I can no longer handle the steep country where he has taken the grouse, so we are trying this logging road where he saw some birds a couple weeks ago.
“Remember that time when you shot the three blue grouse?” John asks. “They flushed one at a time, you fired three shots and dropped each one.”
“Was that the time you were high above me, on the steep slope to the north?”
“That was the time.”
“Yeah, I remember it. In fact, I was using this gun. Remember when I missed that bird that flew downward off the mountain? I shot over it.”
“That’s the bird that climbed out of my bird vest and took off!” John remembers. We laugh at the crazy memory — John knocked the bird down, stuffed it into his vest, but the bird wasn’t dead. It climbed out and flew away. And I missed it.
We find a couple spring seeps — good spots for grouse — but no birds. After about three-quarters of a mile of walking, I announce that I am turning around. “Otherwise you’ll have to drag me out of here with a stout rope,” I say to John.
“I’ll meet you at the pickup later,” he says.
I begin the walk back and a half hour later I hear a single shot. It is getting warm — too warm for bird hunting — and eventually I reach the pickup, get rid of the “flak jacket,” eat lunch and sit on my folding chair, and enjoy a cigar.
It is more than an hour later when John shows up. “I flushed three birds out of thick cover. Had one quick shot but missed.”
The next day John hunts alone in the steep country of the Bridgers and shoots three grouse, calls me from his cell phone and says he is taking the birds home and will bring them to me, dressed and ready for the freezer. A day later, he shoots another limit.
It is always good to go hunting with John. But I miss the days when he gave me hell for walking too fast!
Bernie Kuntz, a Jamestown native, has been an Outdoors Columnist for the Sun since 1974