After a hunt, we celebrate dazzling dog work, good friends, the birds, and the habitat — and that can be best celebrated over a beer. Manipulated artfully, water, barley, yeast and hops reflect each of them, indelibly and forever. Drinking local adds texture to your hunt and offers a literal taste of the area.
Hand-crafted beers are a community in a glass. So pull up a barstool and loosen your bootlaces. Put your wallet on the bar and say hello to your neighbor. Here are some of my favorite hunting places to drink — or drinking places to hunt.
South Dakota mixed bag: Watertown Brewing prides itself on its food as well as its brews. Of the many choices I recommend Codington Cream Ale — crisp and clean. Try Downtown Brown if you like malt or Great Skott — a maibock (lagered) that’s aged six months. Unlike many hipster pubs, their list isn’t IPA-heavy, but if you really need one, I recommend 81 Blackout Black IPA.
Hunting hint: Battle the cattails surrounding ponds and small lakes near Watertown for undisturbed ringnecks.
Nevada chukar country: Reno-Sparks is the closest fresh beer to Northern Nevada‘s basin-and-range hotspots east toward Winnemucca and Elko. A homey, welcoming atmosphere dressed in modern-rustic architecture, both locations of Great Basin Brewing Co.’s offer best-seller Ichthyosaur IPA, Bristlecone Doppelbock and their new, popular Leave No Trace Alpine Lager. They’ve got a vast selection of IPAs and double IPAs for you hopheads.
Hunting hint: Once you ascend a chukar slope and have sidehilled to the point of pain, diligently hunt the flat above.
Upper Midwest ruffies: Rocky Reef Brewing in Woodruff, Wisc. is the closest you’ll get to the “Ruffed Grouse Capital of the World,” Park Falls. There are a half dozen or more fresh taps, with brewer favorites including Up North Lakehouse Saison and Winding Trail American Porter.
Hunting there: Open your chokes. Prepare for an onslaught of ticks — on you and your dog.
Western Kansas bobwhites and ringnecks: Head for the real Wild West and its namesake brewery, Dodge City Brewing. Their exterior design will dazzle you after a day in the field. My fave: Louie’s Cerveza Lager (I’m big on Mexican lagers); popular: 1872 Lager (pre-prohibition style); Uncle Johnny’s cream ale. Owner Larry Cook also prides himself on their brick-oven pizza.
Hunting hint: Try the walk-in areas toward the towns of Jetmore and Osborne. Never race past a plum thicket, even those close to the road.
North Dakota ringnecks: Phat Fish Brewing in Dickinson looks like a farmer’s machine shop, a rural-industrial vibe familiar to bird hunters. Seasonals include Sheep Dog IPA and Hazy Harvest Oktoberfest lager; always on the menu are Black Gold Peanut Butter Stout, and axe throwing! Some beers are served straight from the tanks. My fave: Roosevelt’s Red Lager … Bully!
Hunting tip: Bonus sharptails will often skulk on the grasslands adjacent to corn fields.
Montana mixed bag: The best thing to happen to Lewistown since Block Management, Big Spring Brewing crafts a short list of regular brews including Highwoods American Wheat and Mayfly Rye Pale Ale. A rotating selection keeps locals on their toes: Chokecherry Honey Light Lager and Grapefruit IPA, among others.
Hunting tip: Plan your itinerary to include a number of Block Management Areas within close proximity. Save some drive time as some will pan out, others will be duds.
Nebraska sharptail heaven: Relax with your (hopefully, exhausted) bird dog in the beer garden at Valentine’s Bolo Beer, meet new friends at the communal tables. Try Wild Plum Gose, an ancient German recipe funked up with local wild plums. Their most popular pints are Aquifer Ale, a Pilsner crisped by Nebraska corn, and Americus IPA. I like Waggle Scottish Ale — malty, roasty, perfect for a cold afternoon.
Hunting tip: Grazing is still allowed on much of the best sharptail ground. If the grass is not tall enough to bend in the wind, move along.
Oregon-Idaho chukars: From the east, your jumping-off point to the Snake River-Owyhee country is Nampa, Idaho. Crescent Brewery is a gem mostly known to locals. Try their Coconut Porter for their take on a classic-in-the-making, or their Pumpkin Ale. My first pour is always Stutz Lager, another throwback pre-prohibition recipe. The laid-back atmosphere is a Zen preparatory for the balls-to-the-wall hunt to come. From the Pacific Northwest, Baker City, Oregon is on your final approach and home of Barley Brown’s Beer. There, I saluted the only one of my dogs to earn a Prize 1 NAVHDA score. Their iconic brews are at their freshest in downtown Baker City: Pallet Jack IPA, Bullseye Brown and Handtruck Pale Ale.
Hunting hint: Put one canyon between you and the road. Most hunters won’t work that hard.
Draft, canned, bottled, from a growler or home-brewed, any beer enjoyed with friends and dogs is a good one. But local, fresh brews add dimension to your hunt. I will never forget the first gulp of Deschutes Brewery’s Obsidian Stout in a tiny store at an obscure crossroads in the middle of nowhere. On the next barstool was a cowboy, in the corner a wildlife biologist. Over beers, I bonded with the people — and the place. Cheers!