Sage Grouse


Male sages have bright white breasts, a black underside and neck and a tail with pointed feathers. The females don’t have the contrasting breast and belly; they’re more uniformly colored.

These birds are close relatives of the ruffed, spruce and blue grouse and are positively huge birds, the males growing to be close to three feet long and weighing as much as eight pounds. (The females aren’t tiny either, growing to a hearty two feet in length and four pounds in weight.)

sagedgrouse1.jpgFound in the northwest portions of the US, these birds, as implied by their names, use sagebrush as a source of food and cover, primarily eating its buds, shoots and leaves. (They’ve also been known to eat other small grains, berries and insects.)

As with most of the other upland game birds, sages follow the eat-loaf-eat pattern of living — they eat early in the morning, loaf in ditches or near water in the afternoon and then eat again later in the day.

Sages depend almost solely on eyesight to spot predators and are almost always on guard for an attacker. These birds run and hide to escape predation and often flush out of range of hunters.

When flushed, they don’t flush as a whole covey, but rather in smaller groups. And while it may appear that all have left the ground, be sure to look for stragglers that didn’t flush and are still hiding in the brush.

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As with other upland birds, those that do flush tend to remain and don’t fly far away, often no more than a third of a mile, so they can be flushed multiple times if you remain on the trail. They also spook rather easily, a condition that only gets worse as the hunting season wears on.

sagegrouse2.jpgA polygamous breed, sages have a complex mating ritual where hundreds of birds gather in one spot and the males all strut about, fanning their tails and puffing up their chests to impress the females and establish dominance. Once this is over, the hens will nest under sage bushes, creating large ditches to lay their eggs in and tend to their young in.

Sages don’t move much from year to year, so existing hot zones will stay hot for years, and like the chukar and blues, sages live at high elevations and move to lower terrain during the winter.

They prefer wide open terrain covered with sagebrush to roost in, but not if it is too thick or tall (they can’t see predators coming then), and rain pushes them out of the sagebrush and into open spaces.

These birds fly slowly upon flushing since they are so big and heavy, but once they get going they can reach speeds of as much as 40 mph. (This appearance of slow flying often causes hunters to miss shots because they’ll shoot well behind them. Correct this by overestimating the bird’s rate of flying and by aiming farther ahead.)

As with the other upland birds, close working dogs are preferred and most hunters prefer a 12 to 20-gauge shotgun with high-powered shells of size 4-6 shot.


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