So You Want To Hunt Out West?

Many of us have been fixated on a dream hunt in the Rocky Mountain west to chase upland birds for years.  Stories of abundant public land, a multitude of wild bird species and little competition get our bird hunting juices flowing.  Most of those tales are true. But, whether you choose to hunt on the prairie of Montana, the Snake River Canyon of Idaho or in the desert of Nevada, one must be prepared and have expectations slightly tempered. There aren't simply birds behind every clump of sage brush.

For starters, don't waste your time or your money on fuel unless you and your bird dogs are in shape.  If you can't see your toes or if you get out of breath answering the door bell for trick-or-treaters, you probably could stand to do some cardio. A preserve hunt after work or even an all-day hunt chasing ruffs in the Midwest, isn't the same as an all-day hunt in elevation or in steep terrain.  You may be able to tough it out for three days, but you will enjoy it more if you get down to your fightin' weight. Get on the bike, treadmill or stair-stepper like you are going into battle. 

Get your best friend(s) in shape too.  While dogs are often in better condition than most hunters, their paws often become the weak link. The West is dry, rocky and rough. Often one day in chukar country or even blue grouse mountains, can render a dog useless for the rest of the week-long trip.  Dogs boots will help prevent a torn pad, but preventative dog work is crucial too. Training runs on a gravel road are a good start to getting the dog's paws toughened up. All day hikes can help prepare for all-day hunts. Most hunts in the West are marathons, not sprints. 

Other not-so-minor details to think about:

Tires. Check your tires before you leave home.  Many highway-rated tires aren't meant for the sharp rocks you encounter on even the better well-traveled gravel roads. Wyoming and Montana tire shops do a good business with hunters alone. Check your spare before heading out in the country too. A spare that is flat is useless.  

Boots. Boots are like tires.  But, more important.  Bring one pair for every three days in the field.  If they haven't been worn before, leave them at home.  And leave your Bean boots or your flat-bottom Russell Moccasins at home.  Once you get west of the Mississippi River, boots with aggressive soles and stiffer ankle support are essential.  

Start small.  A Western Road Trip across three or four states to hunt multiple species sounds romantic as heck.  Lewis and Clark-like. But, keep in mind how vast the western states are.  Two days in North Dakota, two days in Montana and two days in Idaho equals nothing but windshield time and a lot of gas station hot dogs.  Pick a couple species in one state, do your homework on places to hunt and get after it.  The following year, you can try other species in a different state.  Often, your first trip anywhere requires a lot of searching for a birdy place to hunt resulting in a few dead-ends.  Seeing new country each day is enjoyable, but if you are driving more than you are walking, the trip won't create the memorable results that we all seek.