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Coon Picante

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As any reader of this blog may ascertain, versatility in the field is an attribute that I admire.  Yes, the purity of working a quail off a point defines refinement and poise.  However, witnessing a dog hammer a gritty furbearer plays to primal instincts.  There is something about uncertainty and perhaps a little fear that makes one’s senses buzz harder than any other expirience.

My hunt last weekend covered these bases from soup to nuts.

The day started out as many.  A few bird hunters rising early, linking up and embarking on a reasonable jaunt into the hinterland of Nebraska.  We had access to a friend’s beautiful  family farm that is a combination of crop and CRP.  Regardless of what you hear, our farmers really do care about the land.  The farm we hunted on Saturday could easily be pulled out of the CRP program, but Marv’s father enjoys ecological diversity.  He has invested the time, energy and foregone income into insure that his place has the complexity to support wildlife.  We were the fortunate beneficiaries of this truly conservation-minded attitude.

Our first push resulted in some great dog work, with points and all the excitement that goes along with them.  This time they were all hens.  No complaints here.  It is heartening to know that next year holds promise.

As we worked through the final patches of cover on this side of the farm, the dogs demeanor changed and they became “wolfy”.  There was a clump of very thick grass that border the corn that drew them in like a magnet.  They buzzed into this area and semi-locked up, high headed and intense in a way that feathers can’t elicit.  After a season of hunting, I knew this wasn’t a bird.  Sam pushed into the vegetation and immediately squared his haunches.  Now any bird hunter gets a lump in his throat when he sees this….please don’t let it be a skunk!  Fortunately, it wasn’t.  I’d like to think that after a particular encounter with Mr. Stinker, my lead dog has learned his lesson.

Sam lunged forward, them sprang back revealing a very irate coon.  Pissed off coons have a specific screech that makes the hair on your neck stand up despite the fact that you may be packing enough heat to end things quickly.  I urged both dogs to engage…and it didn’t take much from me to convince Sam and BB to set on this “mini-bear” like he had insulted their mother.   After the initial round of thrashing, the coon rolled on his back, giving him more opportunities to scratch and bite his canine aggressors.   BB, a 10 month pup, thrown off by this tactic, but Sam was only stimulated.

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon with raccoon

Sam and BB engage with the raccoon

The two mortal enemies went at it again.  Worried that my best friend was getting more than he was giving convinced me to step in and give the coon a stomp.  I did just that and Sam took full advantage of the distraction.  Before the coon could square up for another round of biting and scratching, Sam grabbed him by the throat and neck.  The “death shake” commenced.  Sam whipped Mr. Nest Raider around enough to completely incapacited the varmit.  When he was done, the unfortunate furbearer was out of commision for good.  A quick slice of the coon’s throat from my Leatherman ended the encounter permanently.

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon fighting raccoon

Sam takes on the raccoon

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon fighting raccoon

Sam thrashes the raccoon

From that point, we moved on in search of more game.  Our efforts were rewarded soon afterwards in the form of a solid point by BB and Sam that resulted in a nice rooster.   Back to the “purity” of bird hunting.

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon pheasant and raccoon

Charles and Sam with the raccoon and rooster. Photo by Ira Hughey

We moved on and hunted for another 45 minutes before deciding to move back towards the vehicles and lunch.  On our way back we moved a covey of quail which warranted a quick tromp through a brushy waterway looking for singles.  This effort was rewarded with a set of very staunch points by the dogs and a quail in the bag for my friend, Ira.

After a nice lunch of beef soup and a grilled cheese in the nearest town’s only full-service watering hole, we hit a couple of other spots with no results other than strained tendons.

The day ended with the sweet satifaction of watching versatile dogs, in the fullest continental sense of the term, do what they were truly designed to do….point birds and engage fur.

Hunting is what you make of it.

And coon picante is on the menu at the home of the Versatile Hunter.

Use Enough Gun and Watch Where You Aim That Thing

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Robert Ruark knew what he was talking about when wrote the seminal piece on big-game hunting in Africa, Use Enough Gun.  Sure, you can kill tough game with light rounds, but if you want to consistently be successful in difficult situations, you need to use enough gun in order to get the job done.

While late season birdhunting in pheasant country isn’t the same as stalking the plains of Tanzania, it is a demanding business.  Roosters are well educated and aren’t going to wait around to see if quartering dogs and approaching humans are out for stroll, they are going to run and break long.  These birds are up early and rarely relax on the roost 30 minutes after sunrise unless the weather is foul.  And by foul, I mean bone chilling cold with snow piled around them .  I know this, but for some reason I thought I would be clever on my January 16th outing and carry a 20 gauge.  The allure of carrying a gun that is light, some decent shooting during the season on my part and the fact that we were heading into country where we were more likely to see quail than pheasant convinced me that I could get by without my trusty SKB 12 gauge.  That decision might have also been influenced by 2 days of heavy labor digging out a terrace for a new dog kennel .  Sore shoulders can certainly sing a siren song.

Whatever my motivations might have been, the decision was made and I headed out early with 2 griffs and a great birdhunting partner. As we approached the area we were going to push first, a covey of quail scurried across the ditch. I patted myself on the back for having the foresight to save my sore arms the trouble of carrying the 12 gauge.

We started in a CRP field bordering a cut corn field.  Definitely a promising spot for birds.  The dogs went to work, but it was obvious early on that they were on a pheasant.  They moved quickly and pushed hard through a patch of sunflower that had to be 10 feet tall.  No covey on the planet moves like a rooster looking to see what is happening on the other side of the county.  My partner and I kept pace and as we approached the end of the field a big gaudy ditch chicken broke out past the 40 yard mark.  It is amazing how such a big bird can blast out of heavy cover and move when he has a reason.  Needless to say, this crossing shot was not to be had.  By the time I gathered myself for the shot, he was moving at top speed and 50 yards away.  Undergunned for that one.  With that defeat under our belts, Matt and I headed to the next field.

The next field was considerable larger and we worked the edges where the CRP met the corn.  While the dogs covered ground and indicated that birds had been there, nothing was seen.  As we came to the end of the field we made the determination that this place was vacated.  This was public land and there was every reason to believe that we were too late.  Well, you know what they say about assumptions.  With no birds and no birdy dogs, I decided to add to the soil’s moisture profile.  About the time I was ready to commence relief, my partner’s shotgun barked and a lone quail sailed onto the bordering private ground.  Quickly I collected myself and walked over to him.  “Did you see any others?” I asked.

“Nope,” he responded.  We stood there a few minutes scratching our heads.  I call the dogs over but they didn’t really hit on anything.  Now the wind was against us and it was a dry morning, so I’ll give them a pass.  But as I stepped into the brush and resumed my efforts at irrigation, that lone quail’s covey mates boiled up around me just when I was really getting going.  Guess I need to be more careful where I aim that thing.

With the shotgun broken over my shoulder and the fact that I was a bit exposed, my chance at a shot was handicapped to say the least.  Missed again and this time my red face had less to do with my shooting than it did with my particular position for the shot.   We moved on to the next field.   These birds had been traumatized enough.

The following spot we hit was less promising, but there was a brushy creek weaving through corn, so it couldn’t be passed up.  As we shuffled along, I noticed a little finger of cover weaving up an old waterway in the middle of the corn. Matt and I changed course and the dogs closed in on it.  Immediately Sam locked up on the one spot of brush in this patch.  BB came up behind him and locked up as well.  Matt and I closed in quickly.  As if out of a hunting show, we walked in on the point and a nice covey broke.  This time everything worked out and I made a nice shot on a bobwhite.  The covey headed for thick cover and we followed.  We put up a few more, but they were in thick enough stuff that neither of us a shot.

Quail and Wirehaired Pointing Griffons

My lone quail, with Sam and BB

The day progressed and after a late lunch, we hit one last field where we had a score to settle with a particularly wily rooster.  This 80 acre piece was all CRP, with brush along the borders.  We worked the entire piece and had some nice dog work on a hen.   As we approached the last clump of plum brush, the dogs put up another hen.   After Matt and I watched her sail away, we took about 4 more steps….now you know what happened next.  Our wily adversary broke cover at 50 yards flying faster than any bird should naturally move.  Undergunned again.  I might have had a chance with a fast moving 1 ¼ ounce load of 4’s out of an improved modified choke, but my fateful decision at the beginning of this trip sealed my fate.

What did I learn from this trip?  Always trust the advice Robert Ruark when it comes to hunting tough game and don’t take a leak in the spot where a lone quail flushes.

First breeding of year complete!

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To reserve a puppy from one of our spring 2012 litters, please call (402) 682-9802 or e-mail bluestemkennels@cox.net

We are pleased to announce that our first breeding of the year is complete between our 3 year old male, Sam, and our new 5 year old female, Mae.  Sue was anticipated to come into season first, but Mae surprised us.  Mae and Sam bred from January 9-11, therefore pups are expected March 13-15.  Hey game birds, “Beware of the Ides of March!”, new hunting puppies will be here!

Hunting photos of Sam can be found on our “About Us” page (I have yet to load this season’s, but they can be found on the individual blog posts containing the hunting tales on bluestemkennels.com [pre-10/01/2011] and versatilehunter.com [10/01/2011-present]).  His pedigree is a link at the bottom of the “About Us” page.

Mae came into our home on December 3, 2011 from That’s My Point Kennels in Wheatland, ND where she had successfully whelped and nursed 3 previous litters and was known as “Aspen” http://www.tmpkennels.com/ As you can see from the previous owner’s website, she was raised with young children.   At the age of one, she successfully scored a Prize II on her Natural Ability Test from the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA).

Mae's Natural Ability Test Results

Her AKC/NAVHDA pedigrees also spoke of her potential for us.  Her sire, Marquis Georgeous George hails from French import blood and the prestigious Herrenhausen kennel.  Barbara Young of Herrenhausen is an AKC and International Conformation Judge, therefore she knows and breeds good dogs.  The dam, Full of Grace, is out of the famed Fireside blood.  Fireside’s Spontaneous Combustion won 3rd place in the sporting group at Westminster last year and was the first Wirehaired Pointing Griffon ever to place at WKC.

Mae's AKC Pedigree

The hunt testing results and the strong conformation background in the pedigree drew me to “Aspen”.  She was the Butcher family’s companion in the home and field, therefore even though I was nervous about bringing a new member into our pack, I thought that these things put together boded well for “Aspen” being a good match for us and our breeding program.

I made the following YouTube video this morning of all my dogs running in the yard, just as a visual reference: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSb7jdZXPz8

Mae has thrived in our home and in the field.  Not even a week after bringing her home, we had her out on planted hen pheasants for training:

(Click on any of the photos to see a larger version)

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Mae working the field on December 9, 2011

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

One of Mae's points 12/09/2011

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Another point on 12/09/2011

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Charles walks into Mae's point

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Mae retrieves on 12/09/2011

After our first training day with planted birds in a controlled environment, we felt comfortable enough to use Mae to assist in guiding at Pheasant Haven right before Christmas.

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Sam (front) and Mae (back) with the hunters on 12/22/2011

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Sam, myself and Mae guided a hunt on 12/23/2011 also

The afternoon following the December 23rd preserve hunt, we were on the road for the Sandhills where we busted up some cattails with the whole gang, Mae included, on Christmas Eve:

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Mae on the left, with the rest of the pack, Charles, and the Christmas Eve Sandhills pheasant

Wirehaired Pointing Griffons

Charles and all four dogs on the dunes

We spent a couple of hours on Christmas Day chasing grouse with Mae and the rest of the pack, but didn’t find any.  We’ll be back for them in September!

Our last outing was on January 2nd with some chukar and quail from a game farm that we had never used before and wanted to try out.  It is important for newer dogs to get individual training attention when they are usually braced (in pairs) or ran as a pack.

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

One of Mae's points on 01/02/2012

Charles shoots one of the chukars over Mae on 01/02/2012

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Charles walking into one of Mae's points 01/02/2012

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Closeup of Mae's point that Charles was walking into

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Double chukar flush over Mae and Charles 01/02/2012

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Mae had more than one retrieve on 01/02/2012, but this was the only photo that turned out well

Even though we’ve only had Mae a limited time, we are confident in her ability to produce quality puppies for our kennel and contribute to our development of the breed.

I will close with a picture of the Wirehaired Pointing Griffon breed’s founder Edward Korthals.  This was taken in 1891 when he was presented the German Kaiser’s award for breeding.  I use this photograph as guide for the dogs that I will continue working to create.  Mae fits into this perfectly.

Korthals and his prize specimens

To reserve a puppy from one of our spring 2012 litters, please call (402) 682-9802 or e-mail bluestemkennels@cox.net

A New Year’s Training Day

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Sunday afternoon we ventured to Country Lane Game Breeders in Dwight, Nebraska  and picked up some quail and chukar partridge.  It was a longer drive than we usually take to buy training birds, but it took us down some Nebraska highways that we haven’t been down before.

Monday morning we set out with our two oldest children, 10 year-old Cordelia and 7 year-old Conrad, to plant some birds and get some one-on-one work with 10 month-old “BB” and 5 year old (but just finished her first month with us) “Mae”.

(Author’s Note: Please click on any of the photos to see a larger version)

Conrad and Cordelia were troopers on a cold, windy day

Charles takes down a quail in front of BB

BB retrieves the quail

Charles takes the retrieve from BB

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Charles walks into BB pointing a chukar

Charles takes aim

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

BB retrieves the chukar

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Mae on point

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Charles walks in for the flush and shoots the chukar

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Mae on retrieve

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Charles walking into Mae's point from the side

Closeup of the same point by Mae

A surprise double flush (see the second bird getting up behind Charles?)!

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Mae bringing in the retrieve

We started at the field around 10 AM and the kids lasted on the march (without a lunch even) until 1:30 PM.  Charles and Mae stayed out another hour after we returned to the truck and picked up some more birds out of the woods.  Monday night we dined on chukar/quail chili and Tuesday night was chukar/quail pot pie.  Important work for the dogs and delicious meals to boot!

Charles is talking about taking Sue and Sam back to our training field this weekend to clean up the escapees, but other than that we are looking forward to a slow weekend around the house after the holidays and before the last push of wild bird hunting in Nebraska for the season, ending January 31st.

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