A bitter cold, dark, and bone jarring two track was our welcome into sage grouse country. With each gate we approached, the effort to open and close was met with a wind that cut a bit deeper, freezing rain that stung just a bit more, and the realization quickly sinking in that we still weren't sure on our coordinates having left cell reception in the dust a number of miles before. After more than a year of research and planning, this was by no means dimming the excitement that comes with this type of adventure...but in hindsight, it was setting the tone that this wasn't going to be a walk in the park public lands sage grouse hunt.
The group of uplanders that agreed to meet at an OnX map dot were all brought together as a result of this crazy Hunt Redi dream and had never actually even hunted together. We were all introduced through social media, trade shows, or through some similar connection and by chance agreed on this crazy expedition. So it was a pretty remarkable feeling when we rolled into bird camp to be greeted with warm smiles and extra hands eager to pitch in and help us get things setup despite the nasty weather. For all the negatives we see in the social media world, humanity is alive and well and out there awaiting to share the next adventure.
The next morning brought that familiar zip of the tent door which exposed the pure vastness of the sage flats. It's a landscape that words can't quite articulate, it must be felt. In one direction the rolling terrain stretches as far as the eye can see and the other is met with an impenetrable basin rim that has you walled in. As my good friend Isaac Neale began working his magic on the coffee front to rally the troops, we witnessed a magnificent sunrise that cast it's vibrant orange across the sage soaked prairie. It's an experience that will humble you...and if it doesn't, check your pulse.
As with any epic hunting adventure, you can plan until your hearts content and mind is jam packed full of research but ultimately, nothing can trade boots on the ground experiences. After ample coffee and some camp grub, our eyes peered across the sage for miles in all directions, the group looked at each other and began to ask each other, well...which way? See above planning vs boots on the ground statement!
Ultimately, as most uplanders tend to do, we decided to head into the wind and give our dogs the best chance of success...a few hundred yards later, BOOM...birds started flushing, dogs started pointing (in that order truth be told), boomsticks started barking, and once the dust settled I was holding my first sage grouse which I had been blessed to shoot over my dogs point...them dreams, they do come true...if you're willing to chase them.
Now, anyone that's spent time chasing sage grouse may be reading this and calling out the unlikely fortunes of such an inexperienced group. For those readers, you'll likely be reassured in knowing that it was truly beginners luck as our bird count the remainder of the first day was limited to one more encounter if memory serves. The next couple of days we were met with wind, dust, countless miles covered, bouncing up and down two tracks, lots of antelope, and few birds.
It's almost as if the sage flats lure you in and then beat you until they deem you worthy...but for those souls that stay the course, good fortune awaits. Until next time, stay #huntredi crew!
(Photo courtesy of Isaac Neale - https://www.isaacneale.com/)