You know that it’s that special time of year when you’re driving through the dark at 8:30 PM and the farmers are still in the field harvesting grain.  Another late night run from the Eastern Nebraska metro to the Sandhills for three die-hard duck jumpers.  Charles and I were joined by one of our usual hunting buddies, SSGT Ryan Tompkins, who returned from Army deployment in Afghanistan earlier this year and is also an Iraqi Freedom veteran.  Since duck didn’t open until Saturday, we enjoyed sleeping in on Friday and getting out into the dunes close to midday.  The grouse don’t care what time we show up.

Almost as soon as we started hiking, we bumped a pair of sharpies at about 200 yards.  We figured that if we chased them long enough, we would wear them down and get close, but this pair really led us on.  One and half hours and three flushes later, they totally gave us the slip.  “I am not spending my whole day chasing two grouse,” I told the guys.

They agreed.  What we originally set out in front of us as a nice, easy day took a tone of seriousness as we marched deep.  The wind out of the south was fierce, so we set our faces towards it and placed our bets on them sitting either on the north side of the dunes or down in little bowls.  As we climbed higher, a pair jumped up in front of Ryan and he brought one down.  Typical to the long process of grouse hunting, our first bird of the day was two hours into the trip.  We continued southeast into some high chop, expecting to see something but didn’t.  As we came to the eastern end of the dunefield, Charles suggested that we come down from the heights and swing back west low on the flat to the north of the dunes, as this was prairie chicken country too.

As we strolled back westward on the flat my mind was not on birds.  It was hot, windy and at this point we’d been on the march for three hours.  Two chickens jumped in front of me and I was admiring them drift over the little hill, as the guys are yelling, “Shoot!!!  Shoot!!!”  I took Hail Mary shot just as the bird was cresting the hill and it went down hard in a poof of feathers.  I called my six-month old griffon puppy over to me for a retrieve attempt and she gave the downed bird a solid point.  I gave her the fetch command and she started to scoop the bird into her mouth, but in her hestitation, three year old Sam came in and snagged the retrieve.

I was very satisfied with my big male prairie chicken and knew that if I decided to stay with the guys that it would be anything but an easy day, as Ryan and I each had a bird in the bag and Charles had nothing.  My slow walk back to the truck was marked by the sound of the guys’ gunfire.  The easy route was through a valley filled with ponds, so as I was dodging some wet spots on the side of a dune, I pushed up a group of about 20 sharpies.  I cracked off a couple lackadasical shots, but didn’t connect and didn’t care that I hadn’t.  Wanting to be sure that the guys had more birds, I went back in their direction to give a report of this new flock.

When I met up with them, probably an hour after I broke away and headed towards the truck, Charles had his limit of three and Ryan had gotten one more.  Charles got to see one of his favorite sights, which is when both of our two adult dogs have birds in their mouths.  They were all satisfied and ready to call it a day.  We figured that between all of our flushes, we had seen 40-50 birds that day, which is more than we had seen any day all grouse season.

Charity with her prairie chicken, Charles with a limit of three sharptails and Ryan with two

The opening day of duck season came early, as it should.  We chowed on a large McDonald’s breakfast and hit the road.  Our first jump came on a set of potholes, chock full of snipe.  Charles called us off of the snipe, for fear of scaring any ducks that may be resting in the puddles.  Only fifteen minutes out of the truck, we spotted a duck-like flutter in the water.  In a flush of little ducks, all three of us each got a blue-winged teal.  Such pretty little ducks, teal are definitely one of my most targeted.  Unfortunately, the snipe had scattered as we made our way back to the truck, but a random dove found its way into my sights and I decided to take it.

The second pond we jumped has been a “problem pond” for several years.  Either we jump it with nothing sitting in it, or we roll up on it in the truck only to have ducks everywhere.  As it is a pond that we know well, we went tactical on it, with BB and I sneaking up on the west side and the guys with Sam on the east.  Crouched on the banks in the grass, we signaled to one another that we were ready to jump.  So in we went.  The first flush was a big group of teal.  Ryan and Charles each took one of those.  As they searched for their downed ducks I made my way down the bank, missing an easy shot at a beautiful drake woodduck, which made me mad for the rest of the day.  Took down two coot, then headed back to the other end of the pond to see how the retrieves were going.  They were still short a duck, so they asked that I head back to the truck for the more methodical dog, Sue.  Slow working Sue took no time at all to find the missing duck while Sam tracked down my two coot in the water.

On we went to the creek that we were going to walk.  The entry point is a large pond, so we snuck into that.  Ducks everywhere!  I took two, Charles took two and Ryan took one.  We had to stop, collect Sam and Sue’s hard fought retrieves and identify what we had in order to be sure that we weren’t violating any waterfowl regulations.  All five were ringnecked ducks, the first that we had ever taken.

We worked our way down the creek and I busted another flock of teal.  I was sure that I had wounded one, but it wasn’t retrieved until a couple of more flushes of it, an hour or so later on our way back down the creek.  It’s amazing to watch a dog aggressively seek out a bird that was downed so long ago, without dogs we never would find a bird like that.

Ryan took a couple of more cracks at coot, but a herd of cattle had worked their way down the creek in advance of us, so where we thought there would be dozens of ducks there was nothing.  We worked the area for another hour or two with no results.  It was our usual Saturday steakhouse night, so we were ready to head back to town, clean up and go out for some beef.

Ryan's 2 blue-winged teal, 1 ringnecked duck and a coot, Charles took 2 blue-winged teal, 2 ringnecked ducks and a coot, Charity's 2 blue-winged teal, 2 ringnecked ducks, 2 coot and a dove

We headed out early again Sunday morning for some new territory.  The ducks had obviously been shot at previously, because in addition to terrain challenges (lack of cover) we had no chance at ducks for four or five ponds.  There were five coot taken that day, which Sam worked very hard to retrieve.  We even went so far as to try to belly crawl for 30 yards through cow pies and cacti, but still busted a flock of mallards way out of range.  It was a full day and a full weekend, so we were ready to head back to camp for some grouse fajitas.

Although our last day felt like a bust, looking at the weekend as a whole there was no reason to complain, as a successful versatile hunting trip had been achieved.

On our last day, each of the guys took 2 coot with 1 for the gal

Easy Grouse Fajitas:

6 grouse breasts, sliced thinly against the grain of the meat

4 packets of fajita spice mix

1 can of beer

A sliced red bell pepper and a sliced green bell pepper


In a bowl, mix sliced grouse breast strips, 1 can of beer and the 4 fajita spice packets.  Marinate for two hours.  Place a small amount of oil in the skillet, evenly spread a handful of the grouse breast strips and cook to medium rare.  Do not overload skillet, cook strips in 3-4 batches.  Set meat aside to cool while you sautee the peppers and warm tortillas.  Serves 6-8

Coot Vindaloo:

The cleaning of the meat is the most important part of this recipe.  The skinned and de-boned coot breasts should be free from visible fat and “silver skin” (transluscent whitish thin layer of fat that covers many game meats, such as venison) and should also be washed in cold water to get rid of excess blood.

Vindaloo is a very spicy Indian dish and should not be attempted by those with weak palettes.  Also keep in mind that it is a two day process, so start a day before you want to eat it.

Day One:

Breasts of 4-6 coot

1 pod of garlic

3 inch piece of ginger root

3 teaspoons prepared mustard

2 tablespoons cumin

2 teaspoons coriander

De-bone, de-fat and wash the breasts of 4-6 coot, cube into 1/4 inch pieces, set aside to bleed out a bit while you prepare the spices

Shred ginger root with a fine grater.  Crush and finely chop garlic pod.  Mix in a small bowl with the rest of the spices, adding vinegar to create a fine paste.  Drain the excess blood off of the coot cubes and rinse one final time.  Mix coot in the spice paste, then place in a glass jar and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Day Two:

10 dry red chilis

1 medium white or yellow onion

1 tablespoon of butter

1/2 teaspoon of tumeric

Jasmine or Basmati rice

Naan bread (optional)

Roast the chilis in a skillet.  Once roasted, place chilis in a mortar with a small amount of vinegar and grind to a fine paste with the pestle; set aside.  Start the jasmine or basmati rice per the directions on the bag.  Finely chop onion.  Place butter in a skillet over medium heat and brown the onion until transluscent.  Add tumeric to the onions and cook briefly.  Add your jarred coot meat and the chili paste.  Cook covered on very low heat until the meat is done, typically 5-10 minutes.  Once the rice is cooked, plate a serving of rice with a serving of the meat mixture on top.  Eat with a side of Indian Naan bread if you choose.  Serves 4