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