Winter Update 2017

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The short story is that I (Charity) have been rehabbing a knee injury, we have two kids in winter activities, I currently have no kitchen and am managing a remodel, and Charles has been busy at work.  So the hunting has been limited lately.  Charles and the dogs did get out for a local rooster on December 4.


Charles and his rooster

But here is what I really need to tell you.  I am not planning on breeding in 2017.  At all.  I have some pressing travel needs that conflict with it.  I am planning on resuming breeding for spring 2018 pups.  In the meantime, we will be focusing training and testing Fire and Chief in the NAVHDA Utility Test with our dog energies.

I am also currently at home with three kids until Monday.  I have not been answering kennel emails because my writing time has all been spent on the AWPGA magazine, The Griffonnier.  You can join today and get the latest issue at https://www.awpga.com/membership?layout=columns

I will start returning emails next week when the kids are back in school.  I am sure that I am backlogged all the way into hunting season, so I apologize for the delay to everyone.  I just have so many irons in the fire and sometimes my triage methods leave the kennel emails in the dust when I am not planning on puppies for a long time.

Everyone have a safe and prosperous New Year.  Time to start planning gardens and dog training drills for when this weather breaks.

Hunter’s Moon: Nebraska and North Dakota

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Hunter’s Moon over North Dakota on October 15

The time has passed so quickly recently and I have neglected the blog so much.  Following our travels, the specialty issue of the Griffonnier was due and we began a full teardown of our kitchen (in addition to normal mom and substitute teacher duties).  But enough with the excuses.

Nebraska Sandhills duck, October 8-9

When covering Montana in my previous, I mentioned that they had some really swanky gate latches and I promised to show you a Nebraska Sandhills stick and wire latch.  Here is a prime example.


Sandhills stick and wire gate latch

Charles had a great opening day of duck in the Nebraska Sandhills, all the way back on October 9th now.  Here was his duck total at noon:


A green-winged teal, two blue-winged teal and a hen mallard

One of the highlights of the morning was on our very first jump, Charles shot one of the teal and Chief got in his first wild duck water retrieve.  This is something that I worked on extensively over the summer and felt quite a bit of pride in the fact that even though I didn’t shoot the duck, I had done the work to get the dog in the water and retrieve the duck.

The low point of the day was when we snuck up behind a flock of about 15 blue-winged teal at a beaver-dammed creek: Charles was on the far side of the creek about 25 feet away from the flock and I was literally about 10-15 feet behind them when they got up from the water.  I could see the detail of their wing feathers.  Both of us blasted directly at them and not a single duck came down.  We have never had anything like that happen before, it seemed to almost defy the laws of physics that every single pellet from four of our shots at that close range missed.  I am not sure what we did to make the goddess of the hunt angry, but she sure showed it there.

I believe Charles may have added a snipe or two to his end-of-day total, but I do not remember exactly now so far out.  I need to start carrying a notebook when I know that when I get home that I’ll be too busy to blog for awhile.


Charles and Chief in the Sandhills


Charles and the dogs at the end of Saturday

I told my 15 year-old daughter Cordelia on Sunday morning that, “Something is going to die today”.  I was desperate to get on the board.  Charles and I worked this network of ponds and swamps, we were probably 100 yards apart at times.  I heard him shoot.  He had all of the dogs with him and I strolled up on a little patch of swamp, where a dumpy little sora rail got up and flew.  I let loose with both barrels and saw it drop.  But it was in the swamp and I had no dogs.  So I start yelling to Charles and the dogs, not realizing that they were on the other side of an impenetrable swamp.  Charles made the gutsy move to try and walk across the swamp, ending up butt deep in goo and cussing the universe.  I was able to get my best sora dog, BB, from him (mid-fit) and sent her out on a blind retrieve for it.  It took her a couple of loops through that patch, but she found it in short order.  I figured that I had walked 40 miles so far in the season for that darned sora.


Charity, BB and the prized sora rail

I don’t actually recall the exact chain of events that unfolded to bring Charles to this total, but it looks like he ended up with 2 teal and another hen mallard on the day.  If memory serves, the two hen mallards are the most mallards that he’s ever taken on the opening weekend trip.


North Dakota: October 15-19

I am just going to do a high-level overview of our North Dakota trip, as it is difficult to do a daily blow-by-blow since I didn’t write anything down.  It is easy for me to recall my highlights of the trip, so I apologize to my hunting buddies, Charles and Lou, for getting a bit of storytime neglect here.  But they do get lots of photos.

The first spot of the first day produced for us all.  I took the first bird of the trip, a Hail Mary shot on a blue-winged teal.  It sailed for a ways in the tough winds, over a hill and into the water of a little pond.  I thought that we would never find it.  Luckily, Charles’s keen eyes spotted it floating behind some tall cattails in the pond.  The wind blew it back into shore and Charles was able to shoot a swatter round to get Chief to do a duck search.  What great NAVHDA Utility Test training.  He did find my duck and brought it in.  So exciting!

We had neglected this one tuft of cattails after working this whole waterfowl production area, so we swept back around with the dogs and checked it out.  We are all standing around chatting as Lou’s dog, Midge (Bluestem’s Big Sky Rendezvous CGC, NA I from Sam and Mae’s “F” Litter 2013) was working it and got up a rooster.  At that point we realized that the pond in the middle was dried up and began working it seriously.  Lou got a rooster shortly thereafter and Charles was soon to follow.

I feel the need to back up here to introduce Lou.  He and Charles hunted deer together as teenagers in the Catskills of New York.  After a stint as a wildland firefighter in Alaska, then as a scientist in New York Dept. of Environmental Quality, he made his way to Montana.  He is currently a hydrologist for the Montana DEQ, along with still fighting fire for their DNR, and co-owner of Vigilante Griffons with his wife, Lindsay http://www.vigilantegriffons.com/.  I never thought that I’d hunt with someone who is an equal shot to Charles, but he is.  He and Charles are also fabulous camp cooks, so I was pretty spoiled with my only camp task being to occasionally sweep the cabin floor.  Almost positive that we’ll see him again in the hunting fields, as we all had a great time.

Either way, we ended our first day with me with the one teal, Charles with a limit of three rooster pheasants and Lou with two.


Lou, Charles and I with the dogs and the first day’s birds

The second day was a really long day, I know that Charles ended up with a limit within the last hour of the day and Lou got two.  Still nothing but hens were getting up in front of me.

Tuesday the 18th presented us the opportunity to hunt with my co-breeder Aaron, and our co-bred pup Chewie (Bluestem’s Chewbacca, aged 5 months).  For a little pup, it sure kept up for a long morning hunt!  They boys all took birds out of the morning field and we got a cool pic with lots of griffons.

4 griffon owners, 7 griffons, one hunt in North Dakota. Lou Volpe of Vigilante Griffons with 5 year old Midge (Bluestem Big Sky Rendevous CGC, NA I), and 11 year old Murf. Aaron Klusmire, my co-breeder, with 5 month old Chewie (Bluestem Chewbacca) rolling on the ground. Me with 6 year old Velma (De Jac’s Zip A Dee Doo Dah, NA I) and 1.5 year old Chief (Bluestem Otoe Chief, NA II). My husband Charles Upchurch with 5 1/2 year old BB (Bourg-Royal CB Bluestem JH, NA I UT III) and 2 year old Fire (Bluestem Prairie Fire, NA I).img_0631

The total on Tuesday was Charles with two, Lou with one and I was still skunked.


Tuesday morning’s North Dakota rainbow

Wednesday morning was cold and I bundled up tight.  We went to the spot that we call the “honey hole”.  I had a rooster fly close over my left shoulder, but I was too stoved up to get a good shot.  I ended up blocking one side of the cattails while Lou, Charles and the dogs worked towards me.  I marked where two roosters landed, then waiting for the guys to get with me.  Lou and his pack worked the east side of this clump of cattails and bushes, while Charles and I worked the west.  I turned to Charles and said, “They’re right here”.  No sooner did I turn back around, but a rooster got up about 5 yards in front of me.  I let it get up and moving, focused on leading the head of the bird, and dropped it with one shot to the head.  It was super exciting and Fire got right in on the retrieve, but had a hard time pulling it out of the tangle of dead branches.

I came out of that spot with one and Lou had two.  I was tired, so I sat next to a pond for the last spot of the trip.  Both Lou and Charles limited out in a short while and we headed back to camp to prepare to head for home.


Me and my rooster of the trip


Lou and his last day’s limit


Charles and his final day’s limit

We came home to Halloween and deer season, where Charles yet again took a nice muley buck a couple of weekends ago.  We are deep in the throes of this kitchen remodel and don’t really have any firm plans upcoming to get out.  I’m sure we’ll chase some Nebraska roosters and quail here someday soon, but you’ll just have to check back to see.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!  So much to be thankful for in this land of bounty, especially to the First Nations peoples who welcomed the Europeans so kindly in the beginning, much to the misfortune of their future.  God Bless America.

Playing Catch-Up: Pupdates, Montana and Birds (or lack thereof)

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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 bluestemkennels@gmail.com 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.


Sagebrush flat

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

Up Next

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

Opening Weekend 2016

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Puppy shoppers: All puppies have gone home for 2016.  I am taking 2017 off from breeding (for real this time) to do some traveling with my family and advanced training with our dogs.  We are planning two litters for Spring 2018, so keep checking back for updates.

Quail available: Tom Mixan at Platte Valley Game Farm west of Plattsmouth has a couple hundred training-ready quail available.  So if you are in the Omaha/Lincoln metro and looking for birds, give him a call at (402) 238-9813.

Before I get into opening weekend, I’d like to get you caught up with what has been going on here over the past month since the puppies went home.  Charles works a lot.  Like 10-12 hours a day.  So that leaves me to work with the dogs when I’m not teaching.  I’m only putting in a couple of days a week at this point, either at my son’s middle school or my daughter’s high school.  It is fun, I can be an overgrown teenager at times, so it suits me.  But I digress.  Dogs.

Since the puppies have gone home, we’ve been doing some conditioning and working on retrieves.  I should have been working on “whoa” and steadiness, but I’ll complain about that later.  The nice thing about being an amateur trainer and why we’ll always maintain that status (meaning no selling started dogs or training other’s dogs) is that the state provides dog training areas.  Most state wildlife management areas have certain dates that you can’t run dogs on them due to birds nesting, but you can run all year around at the dog training area.  Thank you Nebraska Game and Parks.


Our beautiful dog training area


Official sign

I’ve also been throwing dummies and dead birds for the dogs.  And have aggravated my old torn rotator cuff in my right shoulder and the poorly healed fractured transverse process on that side of my neck.  So the Winger Zinger is on my list of stuff to buy.  But since I had a camera die-off this year (not only the DSLR on vaca, but I went to fire up the Go Pro and it is dead too from being abused), my stuff budget is gone.  (I will probably just hold off on the new Go Pro this year and stick with still photography since I also picked up a new Garmin eTrex the other day for our trip to Montana).

Okay, back to throwing stuff.  There are two different places that I’ve been throwing stuff.  The first one is in the cattails next to the public walking trail of a local suburban flood control lake.  I wasn’t there 30 minutes and those uptight housewives called the cops and humane society on me, worried about my other two dogs in the truck.  I wish I had a picture of the look on the cop’s face when he realized that I’m a girl.  I was standing in the swamp about 5 yards off of the trail, covered head to toe in mud when he approached me.  “Upchurch?”

“Yeah, what’s up?”  I’ve got Chief by the collar with my right hand and a dead duck in my left hand.

He laughs a cute young cop laugh.  “People are calling about your dogs.  They don’t get hunting dogs.”  It was about 10 AM and only 75 degrees or so out.

“They are fine, they are just crying because it isn’t their turn yet.”

“Well people called so I had to come and check.”

That was pretty much the end of that conversation.  I made my way back to the truck to swap dogs (the truck was only 20 yards away, up an over a hill) right when the humane society rolled up.  He said that he had just been called off by the police and was on his way back to the shelter.  Crazy city people, jeez.  I just wanted some cattails for crying out loud.



We also have access to a friend’s private pond near the Platte River.  The only problem is that there is no vegetation like cattails along the bank, it is pretty much straight up open water.  So that is why I had to go looking for cattails.



Also, since Chief is younger and hasn’t been out on the town as much as the other dogs, we’ve been walking in downtown Omaha.  Just to meet all kinds of people to avoid shyness.


Big dog in the big city

So that takes us up to opening weekend in the Sandhills.

Opening Weekend 2016: Nebraska Sandhills (as always)

We decided to split up at our opening day spot to hunt for grouse.  I took the south dunefield with BB and Fire and Charles took the north with Chief.  About a half hour in I got up my first grouse out of range.  Within 15-30 minutes, I’d gotten up a three or four more singles but it was windy as heck and they were able to dip behind the dunes before I could hit them.

An hour or so in, I decided to cross the flat to the north and take the dogs to the windmill at the base of the dunefield Charles was hunting.  So the dogs got their water and we headed northwest, as I figured that Charles was probably east of me.  There is this west-facing slope next to the road where I’ve always gotten up birds, so I was ready.  Both of the dogs go on point.  It was textbook.  The bird gets up to my left.  It should have been an easy shot.  But…miss…miss…argh.  I start walking to the east, thinking about meeting up with Charles.  I am on one dune, BB is on another dune about 40 yards away from me.  She goes on point.  The bird was really close to her and doesn’t hold to the pressure.  I shoot at it, two more of its buddies get up, just straight up in the air about 50 yards.  I take a hail Mary shot and still nothing.  At that point I hear Charles shooting, so I head his direction.

He was just popping off at a dove by the windmill.  He and Chief had seen nothing that morning.  I figured that I had seen nine.  So we decide to go back towards the ones that I had just gotten up in the north dunefield.  Charles finally saw one, but his shots didn’t connect.

By that time it was midday and it was hot.  Charles wanted to see if he could find some swamp birds and doves.  I sulked in the truck over my bad shooting (and I was tired, six miles of hiking over sand dunes is a long way.  Sand dune miles are the longest miles ever, I swear.)  He finally got on the board with two sora rails at a pond.  He said that BB did a great job on retrieve.  Early teal was also open, but we didn’t see any.  We also hit up some windmills for doves where he was able to get three.


Charles and his opening day bag

For just having pups on her a month ago, I was shocked at BB’s speed and stamina.  She moves too fast for me, so she is on team Charles now.  I’ll either hunt with Fire or Chief.

Day Two


Fire and Chief in the dog box


Chief closeup


Fire closeup


BB closeup

We went back to the same spot on day two, since I’d left so many birds in the field.  We decided to hunt together that day and hit up that south dunefield, but as I had suspected, I had pushed everything out of it the day before.  So we crossed a fence to the east and worked a dunefield that ran perpendicular (north-south) to the ones we had worked the day before.  It wasn’t 30 minutes that I had a big group get right up in front of me.  It had to have been six to eight.  Again with the missing the shots.  The dogs were with Charles about 25 yards away to my right and they just broke like hell.  Chased the birds for two dunes.  The birds were then probably 300 yards or so to the north.  So we push.  They get up again.  We miss again.  At that point the dogs needed water and we were so pissed that it was time for a break.  We walked back to the fence where there was a watering hole and were so pissed that we didn’t even stand together or talk to each other at there.

We went back to the south to start our approach again.  About half way through, we decide to split up.  I held on to Chief and sat down for about 15 minutes.  I continue to push north and I can see Charles and the two dogs south of me working west.  Three get up in front of me, but again with the crappy shooting.  Then Chief disappears.  I figured that he had given up on me and decided to go and run with Charles and the other dogs.  So I’m be-bopping along, take my phone out and realize that the top of this dune had service.  Of course I had to take a picture and post it to Facebook since I had service.


My view from the top of the 4G dune

I’m messing with my phone and I hear Chief’s panting.  So I start yelling for him.  I take out my horn…oh, I haven’t shown you my horn.  Charles bought it at the Renaissance festival sort of as a joke piece of gear almost, but I love it.


Cattle horn hunting horn

The dogs love it too, the sound carries for a mile probably.  I start blowing the horn and the sound must have been echoing off the far dune, because I see him running away from me instead of towards me.  Crap.  So I shoot my shotgun off.  And I’m blowing the horn and I’m yelling.  And since I’m on the 4G dune, I text Charles that Chief is lost.  So I yell and blow the horn some more.  And sure enough here he comes running towards me.

So it is time to get the hell out of there.  Charles is texting to ask if I’m okay and I’m texting back and two more grouse get up.  Damn.  I have probably broken down crying three or four times over this hunting trip during the course of this week.  That is why it has taken me so long to write about it.  I have never missed so many grouse in my life.  There have been times that I’ve walked 25 yards away from the truck and have killed something.  I’ve taken the first grouse of the year more than once.  So over the course of a lifetime, I can’t feel like a sharptailed grouse failure.  But last weekend was an epic fail for me and I’m just now getting over the heartbreak.

I watered Chief at the fenceline hole for probably a good 30 minutes.  I could see the truck a half-mile straight west down the flat.  The choice was whether to try to hunt the north dunefield where Charles was or just give up and walk the flat back to the truck.  Feeling super defeated, I went for the truck.

I was so happy that Charles, Fire and BB came back with two birds.  At least the whole party didn’t get skunked.  As for me, I keep consoling myself that nobody got lost and nobody died, so that is sometimes a win  in and of itself.

Total mileage on the weekend, Charles came in at 22 miles and I came in at 12 miles.


BB, Charles, Fire and the two grouse for the trip

It was midday, it was too hot to hunt and it was time to take the kids and the dogs to the lake.


Chief, BB and Fire at the lake

There is a whole other story of adventure about our trip to the lake, but it is outside of the scope of this blog post.  Instead I will talk some more about shooting.

When we went to Las Vegas last fall for Charles’s work, since gambling is like the only vice that we don’t have, we went and shot machine guns instead at Machine Guns Vegas.  The shooting instructor immediately picked up on the fact that I’m left eye dominant.


Getting it done at MGV

Since my bad weekend in the Sandhills, I’ve been doing some reading and have come to the conclusion that I just need to re-learn how to shoot as a leftie.  That process has already started, as I’ve been carrying and swinging an unloaded shotgun around the house left handed.  We will go out over the weekend and start doing live fire.  I don’t have much time to adjust, as we leave for the AWPGA National Specialty in Montana a week from today, where we hope to get into some birds.

I had better wrap it up for now and get on with the day.  I will leave you with a parting shot of Charles and I all dressed up in Las Vegas at the Aria.  Happy hunting to everyone out there and may the odds be ever in your favor.


Early Exposure for the Gun Dog Puppy

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Reprinted from the Summer 2016 Puppy Issue of the Griffonnier, the magazine of the American Wirehaired Pointing Griffon Association.  To join the AWPGA is only $35 a year, for four awesome magazines per year (I’m the co-editor, so I make it worth your money).  Join now at https://awpga.com/membership

Book Recommendations for further study: Gun Dog by Richard Wolters. The Training and Care of the Versatile Hunting Dog by Sigbot “Bodo” Winterhelt and Dr. Ed Bailey (free with the NAVHDA premium membership http://navhdastore.org/membershippackages.aspx).  How to Help Gun Dogs Train Themselves by Joan Bailey.  Training the Versatile Hunting Dog by Chuck Johnson. SmartWork Retriever Training by Evan Graham.

DVDs: Perfect Start/Perfect Finish Jon Hann of Precision Kennels.  Huntsmith Rick and Ronnie Smith.

Early Exposure for the Gun Dog Puppy

By Charity Upchurch (with Charles Upchurch)

Early Exposure Physical - Charity Upchurch

Raising a good gun dog puppy starts before you even bring it home.  I start exposing my litters to things that will help them in their future training as hunting companions.  Owners then continue that hunting exposure process once the pups go home at eight weeks old.  Equally important and also done with the new owners at the same time, but outside the scope of this article, is basic puppy training such as obedience, housebreaking, crate, and leash.  The following information is not organized by priority or in sequence, all of the pieces of the exposure are equally important and occur concurrently.

Bird Exposure

You can expose the pups in a litter to birds any time after four weeks, when they are walking fairly steady.  I prefer to wait until six weeks when they have lots of energy and a small degree of focus.  There are a few ways that you can do this.  You can place the bird in a small cage and just sit it in the middle of the puppies for them to go and check out. But I usually put the bird in a bird harness with a clothesline tied to it.  You can buy various sizes of bird harnesses through hunting dog supply companies, I own a quail and a pigeon harness.  I then just put the bird out in front of the pup.  They may or may not point it (you can’t train a puppy to point, it is genetic/inherited, and if they don’t point the bird at this early stage it doesn’t necessarily mean it will never point a bird).  I like to sort of lift the bird up and down in front of their face, so the pup can see it flap its wings.  Don’t let the pup chew up or try to take the bird from you.  They can sniff it or maybe pat it with its paw, but there’s no good reason to let them tear the bird up (especially with the price of birds these days).

Early Exposure Bird - Charity Upchurch

Physical Conditioning

The pups usually start ranging out of the kennel timidly and with encouragement at about four weeks.  They really start roaming at about five weeks and I like to have them able to follow me on a walk around the perimeter of my three-quarter acre fenced area by eight weeks.  Start walking your new pup off-leash in short amounts as soon as possible.  If it is a clean area that is rarely frequented by other dogs, it can be right away.  If you only have areas with heavy dog traffic, you should either drive a little farther, or wait until the pup has finished its vaccination schedule.  We have access to both private land and clean state ground about 20 minutes out of town, so this is where we work.  Really gauge the pup on this one.  Walk when it is cool and work in 15 minute increments.  Start with walking the pup for 15 minutes, allowing it to explore.  Walk at a leisurely pace at first.  Increase your time and pace as the pup improves.  We are usually up to an hour of field running by six months, since the pup will be expected to at least tag along on a 3-4 hour half-day morning hunt September 1st, for the opening of sharptailed grouse and prairie chicken in the Nebraska Sandhills.

Noise Conditioning

The first and easiest thing to do is to bang a can or pot to call them to eat.  Loudly.  This makes loud banging noises a good thing.  I start this at three weeks old and continue until the dog is working with a starter pistol.  Once the puppies are running in the yard at five weeks old, we use a kid’s toy cap gun to snap off caps while the puppies are playing.  Make sure that the puppies are busy and distracted before starting this.  Do not to acknowledge the puppies if they notice the noise.  Act like nothing is happening.  Once the puppy is in their new home, this should be continued until the pup has worked with a starter pistol.

We continue the progression into the field with a starter pistol and planted quail.  With our hunting season starting September 1st the progression is pretty quick for a spring pup.  They have to be shotgun ready by six months old.  At around four months old they should be ready for this step, as long as they are accustomed to the noises at home, not showing any fear at them.  You plant your quail with the pup in the truck (spreading the birds out, of course).  Try to use a place with tall enough vegetation that the pup won’t see the bird when it lands.  Walk your pup into the bird, make sure that he knows that it is there, hopefully pointing it.  Then you flush the bird in front of the pup and fire the starter pistol.  At least for us, we are not worried about steadiness at this juncture.  We let the pup chase but not catch.  Other trainers may have other thoughts on this.

[How to lightly plant a bird for recapture: Tuck the quail’s head under its wing.  Pull back on the quail’s legs until they are straight behind their tail.  Wait until they relax and quit fighting it, they’ll go into a brief catatonic state.  Tuck the bird into some vegetation with their legs still out behind them.]

Once the pup has shown confidence with the starter pistol (usually 2-3 sessions) and is excited about chasing birds, we use the same scenario but this time replace the starter pistol with a sub-gauge shotgun, such as a 410, 28 or 20 gauge.  If you are a terrible shot, you may want to have a dead bird on hand from a previous training session (you should keep some uncleaned dead birds in your freezer).  The same thing, let the pup point the bird, you flush it, then shoot it.  Hopefully you don’t miss.  If you miss, take the dead bird out of your pocket and throw it.  Show the pup the dead bird and encourage him to pick it up and carry it around.  Lots of praise and excitement.  Do this in two to three sessions before taking your pup to the wild bird field or preserve.


With a litter, I will generally encourage them to get out and roam at about four weeks when they are ready to leave the kennel to explore with encouragement and by five weeks they are blowing out of the kennel door.  To get them to come back, I use a combination of whistling, hollering their collective name, “Puppies!”, banging on something loudly or clapping.  They generally come back, but there’s always one or two that I have to chase down.

Once I have my eight week-old puppy on its own and housebreaking, I use its name and the whistle to call it back in from going potty.  If it tries to rebel and not come back, I go out in the yard and pick up the puppy, whistle in its face, say its name, and kind of give him some gentle pokes, as to say, “Hey, that means you!”  The important part of this is to NOT chase the puppy down unless it is in imminent danger and it is an emergency.  Also, you shouldn’t pick it up for a correction every single time, to mix things up you can just stand close by and sort of fake ignore the puppy and eventually it will come back to you.  When it does come back to you, give it lots of praise and love.

At the four to six month stage, they need to be working on consistently coming back when called in the field.  But you have to strike a balance here.  Only call the dog when you really want the dog, like at the end of a training session, if it is chasing something, etc.  If you hack on the dog and are constantly calling and whistling to it, you will kill his desire to range and have a “bootlicker”.

If you are not getting a consistent recall in that four to six month stage, take a 30 foot check cord and go out into a field that doesn’t have a bunch of brush.  Let the dog run and drag the check cord.  Whistle and call the dog by name.  If the dog does not respond, run up and grab the check cord and reel him in like a fish.  The dog will get the check cord all tangled up in stuff and find it annoying, but will learn that he won’t get to run loose unless he responds to the recall.

Soft Retrieve

We know that it is a crime in some circles, but we have never force fetch trained any of our dogs.  But they all fetch.  Once again, I start early at five weeks.  I place dead quail on the ground for them to sniff and pick up.  I throw around cheap little rope bones for them to pick up.  I put the quail or rope bone in their mouth and praise them for holding on to it.

At 8 weeks I take them into the front yard so that they are not distracted by the other dogs.  I start throwing the rope bone and the dead quail for them to pick up and bring to me.  When I throw, I use the commands, “fetch” and “find the bird”.  Once they pick it up, I say either “bring it to me” or “fetch”.  If someone is planning to force fetch later on, my understanding is that they need to avoid the “f” word (fetch), so “find the bird” and “bring it to me” would be good replacement commands.  Of course, lots of pets and praise and excitement when they do bring it to you.  As they get bigger, the dummies get bigger.  First I start off with the Tom Dokken dove dummy.  It is the perfect size for the 4-6 month old puppy.  By the time that they are one year-old, they can pick up the Canadian Goose dummy.  At the same time, as they get bigger, we throw cylindrical training bumpers, dead ducks, chukar, and pheasant.

Very important: never snatch something out of a dog’s mouth.  Always use a command, whether it’s “give” or “release”.  If they don’t drop an object in your hand, you can either stick your hand in their mouth, pry it open, then remove the object, or you can give their belly a little pinch (right where it meets the leg, like the flank on a horse), say your command, and they should give up the object.  Whichever works for you and your dog.  Also, your family members have to be trained how to do this as well.  The kids need to know not to play tug-of-war with the dog.  Ever.  No taking stuff out of the dog’s mouth without the proper sequence of events.

Early Exposure Retrieve - Charity Upchurch


Go swimming with your dog.  Many six week-old puppies will go into the water on their own.  It helps that I have kids to encourage them to get in.  If any of the pups are reluctant, we carry them in gently and just let them go, swimming along-side of them and praising them.  Just swim with the dog for the first few weeks or so.  Once the dog is confident in the water and is doing well with the retrieving work at home, go ahead and throw the dove dummy in the water for them.  I like to take an object that I’ve been working with on land and throw it into the water for the first few sessions.  Don’t throw it very far at first.  And make sure to wear clothes that you can get wet in, because chances are that they won’t retrieve it every time at first.  Transition into throwing dead ducks and training bumpers as the pup gets larger and more confident.

Early Exposure Swim - Charity Upchurch

Early Exposure Water retrieve - Charity Upchurch


            It takes some time and effort, but getting that gun dog puppy ready to go into the field is fun.  The first year you and your older dogs will be doing most of the hunting and your new buddy will just be tagging along.  Since we aren’t training for AKC Master Hunter or NAVHDA Utility Prize I at this point, we just let the dog have fun in the field the first year and make lots of mistakes.  Some people do it differently and train the dog by the rules from the get-go.  Maybe we’ll modify our techniques in the future to get better test results, but we sure have a ton of fun hunting with our wild beasts just using these basic techniques to get them ready to go.

“L” Litter Homegoings

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Future breeding and litters

I was supposed to be taking this year off, but it was the time to have one last litter with Ben and Velma, then things surprised me with Chief and BB.  I will be taking 2017 off from breeding, but have 2 litters planned for 2018.  Chief will be bred to both Fire and BB in 2018.  We will be keeping a female pup from Chief x Fire and will also be bringing in an outside stud pup in 2018 to ensure continued genetic diversity in our bloodlines.

“L” Litter Homegoings

So many happy families here!  At this point, the pups are all settled into their new homes an it sounds as if they are doing great!

Melanie and Shane will have Lynda right outside of Lincoln, Nebraska near Branched Oak Field Trial Grounds, so they’ll have lots of opportunities to run and play (and hunt!).


Mel and Lynda

Jayce and Austin take Laertes home to Central Iowa.  Austin farms and says he is starting to see pheasants again, which is a great sign since things have been so down there.  Iowa used to battle South Dakota for #1 pheasant harvest, but big corn (unfortunately for hunters) changed that.  Austin also has friends in the Dakotas to take his buddy on adventures.


Jayce, Austin and Laertes

Leia went home to Colorado with LeAnn, Jim, and Calt the Pudelpointer.  With Calt only being 5 months old, they have some training work ahead of them.  Good luck to Calt and Jim on their upcoming NAVHDA Natural Ability test with the Rocky Mountain Chapter.  Colorado looks like the place to hunt some dusky grouse, that will be on our list of trips over the next few years (like, maybe next fall).


Larry went to the far southeast corner of Missouri to do “lots of hunting” with Mark.  Mark is a Missouri Conservation Officer and also the father of a son with autism.  Their family had to be certain of solid temperament both in breed and bloodlines for that reason, as the dog has to assist and be a companion to their son’s service dog.  Plus Mark loves to hunt, so the griff was the perfect fit.  Thanks to Robin Parks of Cottonwood Griffons in Texas for introducing us.


Larry and Mark

Lucina went right across town to Papillion, Nebraska with Brent and is family.  Brent recently moved from South Dakota and so he has connections up there.  Plus he has been picking out brains about good spots down here in Nebraska (you know, you can only help a brother out so much though).


Lillian went home to Northern Minnesota with Lindsey, Todd, and family.  They also have a cabin in Canada, so this pup will have lots of “Northern Exposure”.  Their daughter in the photo (I missed her name) is studying Classics (Greek/Latin) at my undergraduate alma mater here in Omaha, Creighton University.  I promised her that she will find a job and won’t starve with a liberal arts degree (mine is in English Literature).


Clinton flew in to take Luke as a carry on back to Colorado.  He had lots of little kids waiting for him upon his arrival.  Clinton is new to hunting, but his wife Karen grew up hunting in Wyoming where her folks still have a place.  Luke will have four acres on the east side of Ft. Collins to roam.


Clinton and Luke

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Luke with his kids in Colorado

Mike and Jeanne took Laius back to Missouri, just a couple of hours south of Kansas City.  Jeanne is a vet tech, so there will be lots of good care there and plenty of love from those kids.  Missouri is world famous for its duck hunting, so I’m sure that there will be plenty of that in the future too.


The family for Laius

Sue Update

One last thing before I take my oldest son to get his braces off.  I recently found out that old Sue is still alive.  Sue is the great-grandmother of these puppies and is 12 years old.  She lives near White River, South Dakota with Savannah, Trey and their new cattle dog.

Sue, pup, Savannah and Trey

I will be sure to post the article reprint of “Early Exposure for the Gun Dog Puppy” from the Summer issue of the Griffonnier later on today, but I’m just out of time for now.

“K” Litter all home and “L” Litter on their way out…

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Please note:  If you have e-mailed about future litters and have not yet gotten a response, I apologize.  I will be returning those e-mails after all of these pups have gone home, with the last of them leaving on the 30th.  So give me until the first week of August to get back to you.  I apologize for the delay, it is just a juggle with the kids home on summer break and all of these puppies and dogs to take care of.  Triage.

“K” Litter Homegoings

Here are some more photos of the “K” Litter homegoings.  So excited that they all found wonderful families!

Klaus went home with Brian and family to the Black Hills of Rapid City, South Dakota.  Their family likes to hunt the plains near Pierre.


Kato went home with Sue and her husband to Michigan.  They also have  a 5 year old rescue griff, who isn’t a hunter, so he’ll get all of the good jobs of chasing ruffed grouse and woodcock.


Kaden went home with Colin and his wife to be an army brat dog, currently residing in Colorado.  They are looking forward to checking out the bird hunting in eastern CO.


Konrad went to Holdrege, Nebraska with Bridgette and Marty.  They have lots of good upland and waterfowl hunting out that way, so I’ll be excited to see how they do!


Kennedy went to Kansas with Phil and Corinne.  Good quail hunting where they are at.


Karl went home to Central Iowa with Mert.  Pheasants have been hit pretty hard over there with the loss of habitat, but Mert is a member of Doc’s Hunt Club (where we held our field day for AWPGA National Specialty 2015).


Aaron and I will co-own Keri (now “Chewie”, short for Chewbacca.  All of our kids love Star Wars and the griff is known for looking like Chewbacca.  This pic was taken at Aaron’s place.)


And the last to go home was “Karma” who hopped a plane to San Diego to be with Shaun, while they wait for dad to get home from deployment.


“L” Litter Update at 7.5 Weeks

I have given up on trying to get any good action shots of the pups since the passing of my beloved Canon DSLR on our vacation. It is easier to just post a video.  So here it is: https://youtu.be/Ga_D5QCtsog

We go to the vet this afternoon for first shots and microchips.  They’ve had their final de-worming from me, I have all of the registration paperwork, and now it is just a matter of me putting the packets together once I get the shot records and the microchip information from the vet.  And of course, keeping them fed and cooled in the heat wave we have coming up over the next few days.  They begin going home on Saturday the 23rd and will all be home by the time the sun sets on Saturday the 30th.  One last big push, here we go!

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