It has been a whirlwind around here, breaking down from the Montana trip that we returned from a week and a half ago and amping up for big duck opener for the high plains region of Nebraska this weekend.
Just some general notes, if you are looking for a puppy, I am not going to be breeding again until Spring 2018, when I have two litters planned. Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with questions on that. Also, I’m a couple of weeks behind on answering e-mails so be patient with me please.
I was meaning to post this on another entry, but happened to think about it today since I’d noticed that folks had been hitting up the site quite a bit over the last few days. Did you miss me? Aw, that’s sweet. Thanks. I wanted to show you the stats from 2015, as far as the reach of this blog.
There was an old bookstore in Brownville, Nebraska by the name of the Antiquarium. It was an early 20th century high school gym filled floor to ceiling with books. Thousands and thousands and thousands of books not being read and many of them long forgotten.
I’m currently reading a book by the name of South Dakota Pheasant…and Iowa too! that I picked up at the Al’s Oasis gift shop in Chamberlain, South Dakota (which has a fabulous regional bookstore, we bought five books while we were there). It’s by an Oglala Lakota ex-Marine and hunter by the name of Ed “Eagleman” McGaa. It totally reads like this blog. Maybe I’ve been around a few too many Lakota storytellers. He is still alive and has an active Facebook profile, maybe I should friend him.
Here I am, silly old me, just plugging away on my computer in my house and able to send my brand of nonsense all over the interwebs. So here’s the stats by country for 2015:
When I got my bachelor’s degree in English from Creighton University, I had an inkling that I might want to be a writer. This was really not what I had in mind, but it is really nice not to have to sell out to advertisers and editors and write whatever I want.
But you didn’t come here to read my metacognitions. Okay, story time.
Switching to left hand shooting at 41 was a fail. There is just too much muscle memory involved with shooting. Yeah, my aim is going to suck. But I just can’t rebuild my upper body strength enough to shoot a 12 gauge left handed. I’ve not only carried a shotgun right handed for almost 20 years, but prior to that was a right-handed volleyball hitter, basketball post, and shot put thrower. So that takes me all the way back to being ten years old as a right handed athlete. I will just need to make sure to focus on every shot, making sure that I’m leading the bird and pulling through. And lots of prayers and good luck.
My left shoulder a few days after trying to shoot left handed
Just a few big ones. I really need to go back through my e-mail and Facebook page comments to pull some of the general day-to-day puppy photos out, but there are a couple of big items of note for this post.
Sal and Bluestem Winchester SH, NA I UT II
Chester earned his NAVHDA Utility Prize II in September, which is exciting for us to have our first NAVHDA Utility Prized puppy. Chester is from our “C” Litter 2012 between Sam and Mae. He is also Mr. August for the 2017 Gun Dog Magazine calendar, thanks to the photography of Jerry Improvenzo of Field Dog Imagery. Great work to owner Sal and everyone who has helped to train and make Chester a big star!
Bluestem Winchester SH, NA I UT II: Mr. August 2017
Susan with Bluestem TracHer, NA III
Not my pup, but with her older griff Zephyr, my good friend Susan in North Dakota is the cover girl for their PLOTS public access map for 2016!
It always makes me happy to see a real huntress represented in print, not the camo bikini chics that look like they just came out of a Snap-On Tool calendar. Susan is a great hunter and also struggles with being right-handed with left eye dominance (but doesn’t seem to struggle with it as much as I do!).
She and the griff girls have been having a good sharp-tailed grouse season so far. Here are some shots of them from a few weeks ago. TracHer is Chester’s sister and littermate from the “C” litter 2012 of Sam and Mae.
TracHer, Susan and Zephyr
TracHer with a Sharpie in her mouth
Montana Sage Grouse Hunting
It is so tough to go into an area that you’ve never hunted before for a species that you’ve never hunted before. It takes a lot of homework. There is so much public land between the Block Management program and the Bureau of Land Management in Montana, it takes some serious map skills to triangulate exactly where you want to be.
Charles consulting the maps
Three crates is about as many as you can fit in a motel/hotel room (BB, Fire and Chief)
I had called the BLM Wildlife Biologist and he had given me some tips on where to go. There was some federal land that I had picked out that we never made it to, we stuck with the Block Management and the BLM.
The first day that we went out, the wind was blowing 20 mph constantly, with 35 mph gusts. Charles and I signed into this piece of Block Management ground, got the individual maps for the piece and made a game plan. He was going to take BB and Fire and I had Chief. So Charles and his team were on their way into the field, far enough away that they didn’t notice the game warden pull up to visit with me. I don’t mind imperial entanglements, as long as they send me the cute ones. He was cute, he checked my papers and we visited a bit. But it was time to try and find some birds.
Chief and I walked south along the road that Charles had just taken. There was a fence just to the west, on my right.
Let me tell you about fences in Montana. These are not central plains barbed wire fences that are tight with 4 in. wooden posts every 6-8 ft. They are janky barbed wire fences on steel posts. You can’t climb them except at the wooden corner braces (where it is like a letter H with wooden posts) or you have to open a gate.
Okay, so we’re next to this fence, not 10 minutes after talking to the game warden. My hat is like hanging off of my ponytail and blowing all over my head. Chief goes on point. Pointing at the other side of the fence. Crap. I guess I could have tried to “whoa” him or collar him, but I didn’t even know if he was pointing a fresh bird. The next corner brace is about 30 yards down the fence, so there’s no way that I’m getting across in time. He creeps under the fence and these two gray quail-looking birds get up, within the outer reaches of my shotgun range, but I was too busy trying to figure out what the heck they were to shoot. Some sort of local tweety bird? Chief just has a spaz attack after sitting in a box for two days. By the time the second two got up way out of range, I realized that they were Hungarian Partridge. My first covey of Hungarian Partridge. He blows through two more and I’m screaming my head off.
The huns were on the top of the flat hill to the far left of the picture
I call him back in and we continue our march. Nothing in the prairie hills, so I find a gate and cross over the fence on to some sage covered BLM ground. I try high, I try low, I try the side of the hill, I try the creek bottom. Nothing but a jackrabbit.
Charles texts me a hour and a half or so into it that he’s not seeing anything. So we decide to swing back to the truck. I take Chief to a pond that has some feather piles next to it, like someone had cleaned a couple of grouse or a coyote or two had a meal. But still nothing. In our texting I had told Charles about the huns, so he re-covered that ground and had one get up, but it was out of range.
Once moving in the truck we decided to stop into this little oasis, that consisted of a gas station and a taxidermy shop. Ended up eating lunch with an old time bird hunter out of Mississippi and his son who had moved up to Montana. They had been hunting sharp-tailed grouse and had gotten into some, but had not seen any sage grouse or Hungarian Partridge. We had no desires on sharp-tailed grouse since we have our own place for those in Nebraska. We wanted the sage grouse.
We picked up some more maps at the oasis and had a talk about grouse with one another. The area we were in had a mixture of ag ground and sagebrush fields. Well, if sage grouse are like prairie chickens, they go for the big open expanses of non-ag ground? So we drove around some more and found the biggest, sagiest piece of ground we could find with no ag nearby.
It was a big valley, sort of like we’re used to in the Sandhills, with terrain on each side and a big flat in the middle. We once again decided to split up, Charles going northwest with the girls, and Chief and I would go southeast. At first I skirted along the base of the hills, then walked midway up, then again high up. About a half-mile into my hill adventures, I got up two freaking huge buck mule deer. They were like twin brothers bounding off together, probably 10 points each and 250 pounds. Wow. Luckily I had Chief called in and he didn’t notice them. I worked my way a couple of miles down and could see a gate or a corner brace across the flat, so I could cross the fence to the hills to the north.
There is one thing that I like about the fences in Montana. The BLM land has great gate latches. I will have to take some pictures of the gate latches in the Nebraska Sandhills, which are some sort of combination of wire and sticks usually. These are posh by comparison (but I like the fences here that are strong enough for me to climb wherever I want).
Posh BLM gate latch
Here is a shot as we’re crossing the sagebrush flat. Chief had found a puddle to drink out of.
Looking towards the west, with the first (south) set of hills on the left and the second (north) on the right
So we work the other side of this fence, heading back west towards the truck. I walk in all different types of sagebrush, tall sagebrush, watery sagebrush, green sagebrush, gnarly sagebrush. Nothing, nothing, nothing. A jackrabbit gets up right when we are almost to the truck. Although Chief didn’t notice the jackrabbit at the first spot of the day, he noticed this one because it sat there and looked at us until we were about 10 feet away, then took off. They are such crazy critters. Prairie mammals are so funny because most of them will go a little ways when spooked, then stop and look at you to see if you are worth the water and energy to take full off. I personally think that they are just so bored and lonely on the prairie that they can’t help themselves.
I get back to the truck and wait for Charles. This spot has no cell phone service, so I just wait. Eventually, I see what I first thought was a black plastic bag on the horizon as I looked out of the windshield. But it got closer. Then I could see that it had other smaller plastic bags blowing around it. So I started opening the truck doors so that if it were Charles, he could see that I was at the truck. He talked about having the same kind of experience, where he could see something orange way out in the distance and worried that it was me coming to look for him. But it was like a five gallon bucket or something. The big expanses of nothing really mess with your perceptions. We both made it back to the truck after each walking 10 miles a piece. 20 miles and no birds.
The next day, we get up late and decided to go talk to some folks. The BLM told us to go talk to the Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. So we turned up there. Charles went inside to talk to them to get some intel (after we actually shoot a sage grouse one day, maybe we’ll share that intel). We ran into the same biologists at the gas station on our way out of town and I thanked them for the information, telling them that we had walked 10 miles without seeing anything.
“I did the same thing yesterday, and I’m supposed to know where they are,” he said. He had the Jase Robertson look going on.
“Oh, so it isn’t just us.”
Then Charles and I headed about an hour from where we were based out of, down by this lake. This time we just dropped all three dogs and walked together. Tons of waterfowl on the lake. Still no sage grouse. As we were hiking along, I marked this white spot off in the distance, like that is where I’m going to walk to. I thought it was one of those fly dip bags that they hang up for cattle.
I get to it, and it is a huge buck antelope. Standing 20 yards in front of me. Charles and the dogs are not much farther away from it and the buck takes off. And Chief and BB take off after it. Charles hit the whistle and I blew the horn. Chief came back right away. Charles went to the top of the hill and watched BB chase the thing a half mile before she turned back around. Dumb ass dog. Just had pups and trying to chase down the fastest land mammal in North America.
So we turn back for the truck. The windmill that we stopped at made us long for home.
Dempster of Beatrice Nebraska USA
So we got back into the truck and looked at maps and drove around and looked at maps and drove around and looked at maps and drove around. Then went back to town for supper. Almost 5 miles of walking that day, still no sage grouse.
That night, I finally revealed the town where we were located to our Facebook friends. “I officially have not found the next bird hunter’s paradise, so I might as well tell you where we are.” A guy from the Heartland NAVHDA Chapter was like, “Why didn’t you say so!?!” He gave us directions to a spot to try the next morning before we left for the AWPGA National Specialty over in Helena.
We had high apple pie hopes.
Can you guess what happened that morning?
Driving in for our final attempt to locate the sage grouse house
As close as we got to the sage grouse: their poop
We found the roost where they had bedded down the night before and 4 or 5 piles of poop, but we walked for 7 miles around the place and found nothing. For a total of around 22 miles per person in three days. 32 total miles covered (since we hunted separately for 10 miles the first day). And who knows how many miles for the dogs, through sagebrush and over rocks and cacti. A great warmup for North Dakota.
Our last Montana watering hole
On our way out of town, we had lunch at a burger joint. We met a native Frenchman currently living in North Carolina dressed in hunting garb who was also in search of the sage grouse. He had taken shots at them, but fell. His gun barrel was clogged with mud the second time he tried to shoot at them and it bulged his gun barrel (he had other guns with him for later). Thank God it didn’t clog all the way and blow up on him.
But they are there! Someone saw the sage grouse!
He told us where they were. He said to go there tomorrow and hunt them. But for us there was no tomorrow, as it was time to go.
The only other group of bird hunters that we saw, other than the ones previously mentioned, were from Kentucky. We ran into them getting coffee at McDonalds one morning. Old Brittany guys hunting sharp-tailed grouse. Aside from the son of the Mississippi man, Charles and I were the only bird hunters in the region visiting at the time who were under 60.
There are Hungarian Partridge and mountain grouse around Helena, but it drizzled and rained the whole time we were there. I will have to tell you about Specialty another day, as I’m running out of time.
Next time that we hunt the sage grouse we will spend more days in the field and do more research beforehand. We will be back.
Redemption in Snipe
Over the weekend, Charles and Fire went to our old snipe swamp and brought home four snipe. Only 4 miles walked. It was good to see some birds in the bag.
Fire, Charles and 4 snipe
We have a big few of weeks ahead of us, with two days of duck hunting in the Sandhills, then a week following 5-6 days of pheasant and duck hunting in North Dakota. Nebraska pheasant opener a week after that. Then the dogs and I get to take some time off from the field while Charles gets his deer for the year.
Montana was a nice place to visit, but there’s a reason that we say, “There’s no place like Nebraska.” It’s good to be home. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7RudxjzBMwg
Words from our new Husker football coach, Mike Riley, in his beginning of last year. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dSgmSeiIBLk