It is hard to believe we have made another trip around the sun and have arrived at my favorite time of the year, early fall. The baseball pennant chase is in full swing, football has started, and most important of all, another hunting season is here. To me, the start of the hunting season begins with grouse.
In Idaho, the forest grouse hunt starts Friday, Aug. 30, while in Utah, the season starts on Monday, Sept. 2 (Labor Day), as Sept. 1 is a Sunday. Mornings over the last week have started to cool, so a trip to the woods should be feasible without overheating.
Forest grouse is not the only bird season to start in September. Other openings include dove, chukar, Hungarian partridge and sage grouse. This makes next month a great time to hunt birds, as few big game seasons are open. With the number of articles concerning the decline of sage grouse populations, it is easy to forget Idaho and Wyoming still let you hunt these birds with over-the-counter hunting licences. I think populations of these birds are threatened in areas with development pressures. In many of the remote areas in these states, however, I see as many or more Sage Grouse now as I did a decade ago.
Hunting for these different species of birds can occur anywhere from 4,000 to 9,000 feet in elevation. They occupy habitat that in some cases is gentle enough a hunter can stroll through it without breaking a sweat to other locations that are so steep that if you get hurt they have to evacuate you with a helicopter. This gives a hunter a lot of options. It is easy to consistently go back to places where you have been successful in the past, but each year make sure you add a couple new spots to your rotation. Scouring online and paper maps to find a few new places to hunt is a great way to spend free time during the last week of August.
Unlike last year, there is plenty of water to be found. While the availability of water likely helped populations of birds and big game increase, it will permit them to be widely distributed, so it may take a bit more walking on the part of hunters to find a group of birds. It is clear this season had good growing conditions, as I saw a doe with three fawns this week and have encountered a number of good-sized three- and four-point deer in the last month.
Given the amount of vegetation covering the ground, bird production should be good, as long as hatching of chicks didn’t coincide with one of the periods of rain we had during early summer. My treks into the woods this summer have been hit and miss, but when I have found birds, there generally are lots of young. There will be plenty of morning dove around at least this weekend, as the forecast calls for it to remain sunny and warm for at least the next week. The hard part about hunting doves is finding areas where these birds concentrate. If you are lucky enough to have access to a waterhole with sandy shores or trees along a field, these are certainly places worth trying. Dove season opens Sept. 1 in Idaho and Sept. 2 in Utah. Remember, you need a HIP validation to hunt dove. This is easy to forget — I had until sitting down to write this column.
In Utah and Idaho, big game numbers are increasing and hunter success is high. As Utah sells most of its tags through an application process, the best place to see an increased desire to hunt big game are license sales in Idaho. As of Aug. 27, less than 200 of the of the 12,000 general non-resident deer tags were available and all 10,415 non-resident elk tags have been sold. That means there is a good chance that by the time you read this article, all of Idaho’s non-resident over-the-counter big game tags will have been sold. For comparison, last year, these tags sold out in September and in the previous year they did not sell out at all.
The best thing about September is there are so many reasons to plan or spontaneously get outside with a shotgun in hand. I have been hunting the Bear River Range for over 35 years and still wander into valleys with views that are breathtaking—especially when the leaves start changing color. If nothing else, trips up and down hills get your ready for deer season and provide a few meals for the table. Even better, you can do all this in less than an hour drive from the house. Good luck.