Prairie Chickens on Tribal Groundby Scott Winston
A covey rise of prairie chickens flushing fast, chuckling and flashing their fanned tail feathers is a wild western wing shooting adventure for sure.
Once numbering in the millions, concentrations of prairie chickens are now only found in isolated pockets of our disappearing prairie. This is the last frontier for these birds. We can only hope that these rare and beautiful game birds will be fair game for many seasons to come. There are not many wild places remaining where hunters can bag a limit of prairie chickens several days in a row.
Mac and a double boomer
Photo by: Author
I recently discovered such a place on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in south central South Dakota. It is truly an upland game bird Mecca. I hunt with the outfitters at Prairie Grouse Haven and Native American guide Chance Colome. A licensed Native American guide is required to access all of the “tribal ground” on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. Both prairie chickens and sharptail grouse are very abundant here. For many wing shooters, prairie grouse are considered trophy birds, especially the big mature male chickens or “boomers”. Grouse hunting on the Reservation is virtually untapped as the vast majority of hunting done here is for big deer. This is wild country and these indigenous prairie grouse capture the spirit of the pioneer American west like no other. A hunt for prairie grouse is steeped in the history and mystique of the breath-taking country they inhabit.
With a bold blue cobalt sky over the Rosebud, Mac my field-bred English springer spaniel, an uncommon gun dog choice for prairie grouse, works close and fast; slipping quietly through Little Blue Stem. A stylish gun dog dashing to and fro through native grass on scent is its own reward. The rush of simultaneous wing beats, complete with the adrenaline shot that follows - a bonus. My turn of the century double gun barks, fetching handsome plumage to hand. Long “boom” feathers jet out from the back of the big male’s neck line, begging pause and respect. Just one of these mating feathers is plucked and placed neatly into a bead and leather dressing on my lanyard to honor this wild and rare prairie game bird. I play with images in my head of the boomer’s flamboyant breeding display on the traditional spring lek .
Prairie grouse on the road - a rare image of both Prairie Chickens and Sharptails together.
Photo by: Author
OK I confess, I‘ve caught a bad case of “chicken fever”. Prairie grouse are most commonly hunted with pointing breeds able to cover large tracks of ground. Flushing dog lovers must study grouse behavior and learn their habitat to cut the odds and get into the grousiest spots. I believe that while hunting prairie grouse with a flushing retriever is more challenging, it can be done very successfully in the right habitat, under the right conditions and with a knowledgeable guide. Hunting in native grass is by far my favorite, for ease and beauty yes, but in native grass, I can see every graceful line my gun dog displays. The most fun has been watching my spaniel learn to hunt these indigenous game birds. The Rosebud Indian Reservation is definitely the place to get your gun dog into lots of prairie grouse.