My next sharpie was with friends. I was on the top of a hill, and they flushed right at my feet, stopping my heart for a long moment. I shot twice, but was so flustered I missed with both barrels. I knew Chris was walking the valley below me, so I shouted, "Coming to you!" I heard Chris shoot all three shells, and saw a grouse drop.
We ran over to it, but Finn got there first. She dutifully dropped the bird and I got my first look at a sharptail grouse.
Gorgeous bird. Understated, like a Savile Row suit, yet mesmerizing. Definitely chicken-like, and far heavier than the ruffed grouse we'd shot in Minnesota the previous year.
Chris put the bird in his hunting vest. "Let's get some more," he said.
But it was not to be. After that first flush I never got another chance that day. Sure, I took a few long shots, invoking Theodore Roosevelt's maxim: "So long as there is lead in the air, there is hope." Chris, on the other hand, shot his limit of three birds.
Enough for dinner that night. I'd be serving our crew, plus the owner of the stretch of prairie we'd be sleeping in as well as some of his friends, and Chris suggested I make something memorable. I had a grouse risotto on my mind from the start, and, once I saw how huge the sharpies' hearts were (bigger than a chicken's) I decided to make a sharpie risotto with chopped hearts and livers, plus the tenderloins from the breasts, black olives, red wine, some of my venison landjaeger salami, lemon juice, and native California black sage.
I'd never made a grouse risotto on an open burner, stinking like a linebacker after walking six miles, with a Grain Belt in my hand, in the middle of the prairie. You oughta try it.
The risotto was a hit, and I followed up with a simple sharpie dish that had a secret weapon. I grilled the breasts simply, then hit them with fleur de sel and some Oregon white truffle oil I got from Jack Czarnecki at a conference earlier this year. The funky aroma from the truffle oil complemented the slightly funky nature of the grouse so well I thought everyone's eyes were going to roll back in their head. Jim looked downcast when the last piece disappeared. So did I.
After dinner we settled into a night of serious whiskey drinking, with rain pouring down around us. We didn't care. We'd hunted well, ate well, laughed a lot, and were getting ready to do it all again the next morning. Still, it nagged me that I hadn't shot a grouse yet.
Dawn on the prairie. Our second and last day hunting sharpies. After the long walk the previous day, I was worried I'd be crippled for today—but, miraculously, I wasn't. I felt, well, a little sore, but nothing major. That in itself was a victory. A few stretches, some coffee, and we were ready to rock.
Jim's knee was hurting him, so this hunt would be just Chris and me. We set off with Morty the dog in search of Mr. Sharpie again. It was a weird morning. After nearly four miles of walking, Chris had shot a pair—a nice double, again on the top of a hill—but all I'd had was one wild flush. Nerves were setting in. Could I say I'd really done the Grouse Grand Slam if I did not kill a sharpie? Would I need to return next year to actually shoot one?
Another flush at the top of a hill. Again, I got flustered and shot at the group, not at one bird. A booming voice in my head—it might have been God—said, "Thou Shalt Not Flock Shoot!" Sigh. I also learned something else about sharpies: I'd shot my two shells, but did not reload immediately. I second later, several more sharpies flushed, easily within range—if I'd reloaded. Shit.