Sharp-tailed grouse

Back Cast

Authors and Contributors
Ron Wilson

An adult dog has 42 teeth.

I know this because the veterinarian who pulled 34 of my dog’s teeth told me.

When I give Merle, my 13-year-old Brittany, a soft treat, the odds of a finger getting pinched between two of them is low.

When he falls asleep on the couch, favorite chair or dog bed, his tongue often slips between his gums and hangs out the side of his mouth like a too-long leather belt.

Merle likes it when I grab him by the ears and rub his jaws with the heels of my hands. Nose to nose, I look into once brown eyes that are slowly clouding, turning the color of a weathered shed antler.

While we joke at home that Merle can hear the refrigerator door open from the next room, basic voice commands – come, go, sit, stay – are lost on his mostly deaf ears.

Getting old sucks, I tell him often while scratching where it itches. If he could hear me, I’m guessing he’d agree.

Still, Merle will hunt this fall because loading the pickup with gear the night before and sneaking out when he’s sleeping or looking the other way is not an option.

“Oh, he’ll never know,” I’ve been told.

But I believe he will.

There’s a piece of state school land that we hit most sharp-tailed grouse openers, and I’m guessing that’s where we’ll start this fall.

It’s wide open pastureland that the birds favor, especially early in the season when we’ve yet to be pushed into hunting in long sleeves.

To say that it’s nondescript looking land wouldn’t be correct, because it features what the birds are looking for – rolling terrain, grass that comes to about the tops of my boots and patches of brush for shade and shelter.

It’s just that I’ll never understand why these native birds favor this piece of property because so much of what surrounds it for a mile or more, depending which way you’re facing, looks mostly the same.

Like a lot of things, we don’t overthink it. This unbroken land is mostly public, open to anyone willing to hike it. It’s just that we’re the lucky ones who found this place that sharp-tailed grouse frequently haunt, no matter the time of year, and have likely been doing so long before we ever showed up.

Like in past years, we’ll leave the vehicle shortly after sunup, negotiate a barbed wire fence, pull up the bottom strand for the dogs, and walk south in the direction of a series of prairie hilltops.

I’d like to say that no matter the year that the birds are always there. Yet, there have been times, but not many, where we’ve kept our end of the deal and made the half-mile hike and were stood up.

If that happens this opener, I’ll get it. That’s hunting. But I’d love to see Merle get his nose into just one more covey, get a whiff of a scent that must be so tantalizing and familiar, but lost on us.