Photo Essay: Hunting the Gray Ghost of the Wyoming Sage

Written by: Edgar Castillo

The sage grouse is a quarry worth traveling for, and we must help preserve its habitat.
Photos by Edgar Castillo

Memories still abound from my 2017 trek from Kansas to the Wyoming high desert in search of the sage grouse. I had forgone my annual early-season chase for prairie chickens across the Flint Hills, only to replace the mid-September hunt with another opener: the search for spiny-tailed grouse in the public lands of the Cowboy State.

The landscape of the sage grouse is starkly beautiful.

Hunting North America’s largest grouse across the vast terrain was a feat and an epic adventure for the five of us who had traveled more than seven-hundred miles, and our experience was nothing short of spectacular. Widely considered a treasure and a challenge among wingshooters, the sage grouse, with its riveting plumage, can attain two feet in height and tip the scales at over seven pounds. Plus, the birds can turn into gray ghosts and disappear in the sagebrush prairies and grasslands they inhabit. Our hunt began while driving down a bumpy dirt road miles into BLM land, heading toward a spring, when we spotted a group of sage grouse loafing along the roadway.

The tools of the trade.

After the initial first flush, what transpired was five days of breathtaking views, as we traveled across the gray sea like small ships with tiny orange sails affixed to our backs. We walked miles and miles, sharing the landscape with prancing herds of antelope and wild horses, the aroma of sage wafting across our paths. With each inhale, the warm menthol sensation brought a cooling feeling as it traveled down our nasal cavities. All around us, as far as we could see, we hunted among the main food source of the sage grouse. My thoughts were of the landscape and how vital the preservation of habitat was to the continued existence of the sage grouse. I was grateful for the chance to be hunting such a bird. If it were not for the partnerships between ranchers, hunters, and conservationists, our group would not have been able to experience a once-in-a-lifetime pursuit of an upland bird that may or may not have a future in the dreams of upland bird hunters.

Wild horses weren’t sure what to make of the group of hunters.

Edgar Castillo is a twenty-two plus year veteran law enforcement officer for a large Kansas City metropolitan agency. Edgar also served in the United States Marine Corps for twelve years. Besides his faith and family, his passion lies in the uplands as he self-documents his travels across public lands throughout Kansas and the mid-west hunting open fields, walking treelines, & bustin’ through plum thickets. Follow his adventures on Instagram and Facebook.

Biologists can gain a lot of data from grouse wings deposited by hunters.

The payoff for a lot of boot leather.

The birds are out there somewhere.

You need to put in the miles to find the birds.

The Kansas crew in Wyoming, for an epic hunt.

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