I apologize for falling behind on e-mails yet again.  When we haven’t been traveling together for hunting, Charles has been on the road for work, then I had to get the most recent issue for the AWPGA magazine out the door, so dog writing fell by the wayside.  I am going to focus on getting caught up by the 1st of December (our next magazine deadline), so look to hear from me soon.

We are planning two litters for Spring 2018 with Chief as stud, with BB and Fire.  It looks like BB is going to come in to season first within the next month or two.  Fire will be somewhere in there too.  I am not yet taking deposits but am establishing a contact list for when breeding occurs.  If you would like to be on my contact list for Spring 2018, please e-mail bluestemkennels@gmail.com.

Sandhills Duck Opener

There was a lot of water in the Sandhills of Nebraska this year, which lets the ducks really spread out across the prairie.  And it was archery antelope and deer, which brings increased traffic in the area, spooking them off.

We started the opener in our usual spot, bouncing across the prairie from pothole to pothole.  Parking the truck a dune or two over from the pond, then sneaking in on it.  The morning was already getting on by the time we made it out there, so the pothole sneak was fruitless.  The beaver-dammed creek has always been a sure thing so that is where we headed.

About a half-an-hour into it, I spotted a small flock of teal up ahead at a wide spot in the creek.  We had Chief, Fire and Ruth on the ground.  Charles grabbed Chief’s collar and crouched down, Fire was on “heel” and Ruth was just tagging along not sure what was up.  Right as we go to do the jump, an 80s Suburban comes bouncing over the road that Charles was walking on, on the opposite side of the creek from me, right in his line of fire.

Charles and I both groaned and stood up, but the ducks didn’t move.  I could see where if I just ran down this hill and angled myself next to the flock of ducks, that I’d have a shot in front of the Suburban that would be clear (they had stopped when they saw what was happening).  So I sprinted down the little knob and ran right up next to those silly teal, who finally flushed and I was able to take one down.  Pretty sure that Fire got that retrieve, but honestly it was tough directing traffic there with a truck passing through.

There were three teal in that group and it just so happened that on our way back down the creek Charles was able to harvest them with Fire and Chief on retrieve.  The dogs and Charles also walked one of his favorite spots for snipe.  Snipe in the Sandhills like it where it is flat and wet.  Tiny ponds with fen-like surroundings.  I can’t hit snipe to save my life, so I spared my hearing in that scenario.

Probably the highlight of the day was that we harvested our first male prairie chicken since I took one in 2011.

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Charity’s male prairie chicken 2011

Prairie chickens like to hang out on the fringe of the valley and the dunes, where it is flat or slightly sloping (whereas the sharptailed grouse like high and choppy dunes, like I’ve talked about before).

Charles had a nice mixed bag of ducks, snipe and a male prairie chicken that day and I had my lone teal, my first duck of the season.

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Prairie Chicken 2017

Charles’s male prairie chicken

On Sunday we went out again, but this time to a huge pond complex.  There are probably 20 little tiny ponds interconnected with swamp in this 80 acre area.  I was dropped in with Chief on the north end and Charles drove the truck to the south end.

Chief and I bumped a couple of mallards way out of range in the middle of a bigger pond.  I have yet to shoot a mallard, they are so smart to try and jump hunt.  They must have good vision and better wits than the teal.  We worked our way around, careful to avoid any spots of quick mud (I’ve walked out of a field sock-footed after getting my boots stuck in quick mud, it is not a joke).  A hunter actually almost died in quick mud in Nebraska within the last couple of years but just by chance a game warden was there to save him.

Chief and I are sort of out on a peninsula of dry land in the middle of this swamp and I see a rustle on the far side water in the shade about 60 yards away.  I think that it might be a couple of ducks.  We work our way over as close as we could get, since it was still another 30 or so yards across the pond.  A group of about 30 teal get up, big flush all at once.  A rattle off a salvo, nothing.  I crouch down as they circle me, reload, shoot again.  Nothing.  So we sit a little longer, I’m holding Chief’s collar because these teal are still wanting to come back through in tiny groups.  Finally on a group of three I drop one.  On the other side of the pond.

Chief is still young and we are not heavy duck hunters.  This is a blind retrieve.  I’m giving him the “find the bird” command and I’m praying that I can find enough sort of dry ground to work my way closer to the downed duck.  I carefully pick my way to the general vicinity where I think that the duck is and I’m able to safely get within 15 feet of it.  I put in a light “swatter” round and shoot the water next to the duck.  Chief goes in, retrieves it and brings it right to me.  That is a good feeling.  I know it isn’t a NAVHDA UT I duck search, but dammit, I got my duck, right?

I was happy with my one teal and Charles texted me that he’d worked the rest of the area over with no luck, so we decided to move on.  There is a similar network of ponds that we have named after the local conservation officer, since he always seems to visit us there.  It is a single point of entry, so Charles and I end up hunting fairly close to each other here.  The problem for me is that then he has all of the dog power and it isn’t even worth it for me to shoot anything, because it will take forever to get a retrieve.

Charles really cleaned up at “Frank Miller’s Spot”.  It appears to be three hen mallards, but it could be two hen mallards and a teal.  I can’t quite tell from the photo and don’t recall.

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It was a fun two days of hunting the Sandhills, I never get tired of its beauty and bounty.  There has been so much water that as you can see, the hills still had green in them.

The following week in North Dakota was quite different.

North Dakota 2017

The forecasts were grim, but we wanted to see North Dakota for ourselves.  The funniest thing is that if I have to give up hunting in North Dakota to keep up with my boys in school, it won’t be the hunting that I miss the most.  I really enjoy observing life in rural North Dakota.  It is similar to Nebraska, but I guess I find it more fascinating since I’m not a part of it.  I enjoy watching the comings and goings of the townspeople, seeing the same shopkeepers over and over again, checking out the non-local hunters, and just seeing the general condition of that ecosystem.

It was super serendipitous to meet fellow Griffon breeder John Posthuma of Stonyridge Griffons in Wisconsin at the gas station up there.  He started asking Charles and I about our dogs, then he said to me, “Hey, I recognize you from Facebook.”

We are slated to get a male pup from this spring.  Everything was already in motion and there we were, at the same gas station in North Dakota at the same time.  It was cool that we got to chat in person and each of us took the time to show off our dogs to the other.

Posthuma

After we settled in for the evening, we hit up our usual first evening spot with no success.  The first thing that happened on our first morning was that the dogs fuzzed a raccoon.  In about 4 feet of water.  It climbed on Ruth’s back and could have drowned her.  It was a complete mess and very frustrating, that is all that I’m going to say about that.  Everyone got out of it with scratches, including the raccoon.

That was foreshadowing of the next two days.  Everything had been hayed or grazed or planted and was just brown and dry as a bone.  Not a stitch of habitat to be found.  We bumped a rooster or two out of range those first two days, but not hardly anything at all.  Finally on the third day we moved into a different area, where our friend and co-breeder Aaron normally hunts.  And of course the first great solid point (from Chief) with an in-range flush is my shot.  But by that point I was so skeptical about finding birds that I wasn’t even taking his point seriously, I thought it was a mouse.  Well it was a nice big rooster and I missed.

Finally late that afternoon we found a spot that was full of them and Charles and the dogs were able to take out a limit.  But it was a struggle.  I kept missing and called it a day.  The following day pretty much went the same, going from spot to spot and trying to suss a few roosters out of the cattails here and there.  I think that I finally now have just gotten the last of the grass awn bits and pokey things out of the skin of my legs.  It was warm out and I wore light pants.  Big mistake.  My legs were just red and full of teenie tiny thorns for a week after.

But we didn’t go home totally skunked, the weather was lovely and it is always nice to get away in the great outdoors.

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A North Dakota pheasant limit for Charles, Chief and Fire

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A couple of roosters and a sharptailed grouse rounded out the trip

Nebraska Pheasant

Charles took Conrad out for the youth pheasant weekend and although Conrad was not able to connect on a shot, Fire was able to find two cripples.  We suspect that they were probably birds that had been disabled during shipment before being planted by the Nebraska Game and Parks.  But Conrad got to ring their necks instead of a coyote eating them, so I suppose that at least a kid got to learn about the trials of life out of it.

Conrad and Charles hunting

Conrad pheasants

They will head back out the weekend after Thanksgiving to try to bring home some more roosters.  I will probably wait until a weekday in December and then take one of the dogs out by myself just for the fun of it.

We’ve also been distracted by deer season.  Charles made his annual trek to the Sandhills for rifle season, but he passed on all of the deer that he saw since he considers it a trophy hunt.  He got our meat deer the following weekend down here along the Platte River with Conrad in tow.  An little one-antler will taste just fine.

Conrad deer

 

Ruth

Ruth (Chief x Fire) is up around nine months old now and is really turning out to be a nice dog.  Lots of prey drive, a good point, lots of stamina and endurance, and great family companion.  I look forward to her hunt testing this spring.  Right now she is getting her adult coat, so I try to brush her out every couple of weeks to avoid shedding.

Ruth Rug

Ruth Smile

Happy Thanksgiving

I have so much to be thankful for in life, but right now lots of time to hunt is not something that I have.  I would like to get out for pheasants and quail at least one or two more times this year, but we just have to see.  Right now my youngest has wrestling and my oldest has varsity show and concert choirs.  And my middle needs to get his act together in school (luckily he doesn’t read this, and he is working on school, but it takes some time to manage).

I will keep watching the dogs and see how Chief’s interest in the girls goes and keep you all posted.  Until then, keep on hunting and give thanks for everything that this great land of ours has to offer.