Grouse Hunting in The Kootenai

Deep within a majestic expanse of boreal forest, a stone's throw from the Canadian border and 65 miles from the nearest cell tower, lies the town of Yaak, Montana. I use the word "town" in the traditional but liberal sense - really, this is a haphazard collection of trailers, houses, sheds, and farms, which appear somewhat clustered around a single intersection but in reality are just generally strung out all along the river. There are at least two commercial establishments, the Yaak Tavern & Mercantile and the "World Famous" Dirty Shame Saloon -  actually, three - if you count the Yaak Tavern and Yaak Mercantile separately (they are conjoined but distinct).

The road in from the Idaho border winds along the north and west side of the Yaak River, with towering peaks to one side and the broad floor of the river valley on the other. We drove in around sunset, racing the last rays of sunlight as we traversed into the upper valley. The sun slipped first behind booming cumulus clouds before bursting out for a brief low angle finale just above the ridge line to the west. And then it was gone, light pink wisps of the day left the n the darling azure sky just as we turned into the cabin.

This place is teeming with life - a dozen wild turkeys and scores of whitetail deer crowded the mountain road into the valley, and ducks and geese sat quietly in a still oxbow pond as our car screamed by. Jays and squirrels chattered the tidings of our arrival to the cabin, and I am sure I heard the brief pounding flutter of a single grouse exploding out of the pines just a bit further up the hill.

We were staying three nights with Tim Linehan, in one of his self-catering cabins (seriously, stock up on steaks and beer on the way in, the Dirty Shame's kitchen was closed and we ate at the Yaak Tavern three nights in a row). Three days to the hills to chase three species of mountain grouse in this beautiful slice of country: ruffed grouse, spruce grouse, and blue grouse. Dean the Dog was along for the ride, taking the flight in stride and anxious as always to hit the treeline although its been so long since he's tasted bird I'm not sure he entirely knew what to expect.

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