Purchase photos

Oakley man in pursuit of grouse

9/13/2013

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Oakley's Jim Millensifer is on a quest.

Come Sunday, he'll be partway through his effort to make something of a grand slam hunting grouse, a favorite sport of his.

A week ago, he was in the Steamboat Springs, Colo., area hunting sharptail and blue grouse.

Sunday, he'll be hunting lesser prairie chickens -- opening day for much of the state for both the greater and lesser prairie chickens -- in Gove County.

Monday, he'll be heading up to the Tipton area to try his hand at greater prairie chickens.

That's all a culmination of a plan that slowly started being put together during last year's prairie chicken season, when there was the distinct possibility of it being the last opportunity to hunt lesser prairie chickens.

That's because the lesser prairie chicken is currently a candidate for being added to the federal endangered species list, all part of a legal settlement that calls for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to review hundreds of species.

However, the federal wildlife agency shifted its focus, and suggested the possibility of continuing to allow hunting of the bird even if it's declared a threatened species.

That raised the ire of environmental groups but also lifted the hopes of hunters and wildlife agencies in the five states the birds inhabit, which includes Kansas.

Millensifer, an avid hunter, wasn't about to give up on his plan and pushed ahead with a goal of going after grouse -- one of his favorite birds to hunt.

He initially had hoped to complete the grand slam of five species of grouse in a single week, hunting only on land that's accessible to anyone. He's had to modify his timetable, however, but still hopes to bag both lesser and greater prairie chickens in Kansas, sharptail, blue and sage grouse in Colorado and ruffed and sharptail grouse in Wyoming. He's also hoping to go after ptarmigans in Colorado

Last year, Millensifer -- who has been actively involved in the Governor's Ringneck Classic in Oakley -- only hunted lesser prairie chickens, at least as far as grouse are concerned.

This year, incidentally, the governor's hunt will begin Nov. 14, but will be shifting to the Norton and Graham county area.

"Grouse hunting in most cases is a more challenging upland bird hunting than most," he said. "Don't get me wrong, I love hunting pheasant and quail, but there a mystique to hunting grouse."

Plus, Millensifer originally hails from Colorado, and frequently hunted grouse in that time.

"I've been hunting in the northwest Colorado since the early '90s," he said, "over 20 years."

The hunts also are a good time for him to get some experience for some of his three German wirehaired pointers. One of the dogs recently had surgery, so it won't be out in the field much.

It's also crucial the hunts take place on public land.

His Colorado hunt earlier this month happened to work out on a private ranch that was opened for grouse-only hunting.

"We got out and walked maybe 30 minutes we started getting into sharptails," Millensifer said. "We probably saw 40 to 50 sharptails. It was great."

The next day, they went after blue grouse.

"We only saw four blue grouse in 4 to 5 hours of walking," he said.

He'll be taking advantage of the state's Walk-in Hunting Access land for prairie chickens.

"My objective on that is to not hunt or do something that someone else can't do," he said.

* * *

In Kansas, there's a split season for prairie chickens. The early season runs from Sunday through Oct. 15 and includes the east and northwest zones.

The east zone is everything east of U.S. Highway 283. The northwest zone is west of U.S. 283 and north of Kansas Highway 96. Daily bag limit is two.

The regular session runs from Nov. 16 to Jan. 31 and is statewide. East and northwest zones have a daily bag limit of two birds while the southwest zone has a daily bag limit of one bird.

The eastern zone would be home to greater prairie chickens while the northwest zone would be home to both the lesser and greater prairie chickens.

The southwest zone will generally only have lesser prairie chickens.