A New Year’s Training Day


Sunday afternoon we ventured to Country Lane Game Breeders in Dwight, Nebraska  and picked up some quail and chukar partridge.  It was a longer drive than we usually take to buy training birds, but it took us down some Nebraska highways that we haven’t been down before.

Monday morning we set out with our two oldest children, 10 year-old Cordelia and 7 year-old Conrad, to plant some birds and get some one-on-one work with 10 month-old “BB” and 5 year old (but just finished her first month with us) “Mae”.

(Author’s Note: Please click on any of the photos to see a larger version)

Conrad and Cordelia were troopers on a cold, windy day

Charles takes down a quail in front of BB

BB retrieves the quail

Charles takes the retrieve from BB

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Charles walks into BB pointing a chukar

Charles takes aim

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

BB retrieves the chukar

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Mae on point

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Charles walks in for the flush and shoots the chukar

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Mae on retrieve

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Charles walking into Mae's point from the side

Closeup of the same point by Mae

A surprise double flush (see the second bird getting up behind Charles?)!

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Mae bringing in the retrieve

We started at the field around 10 AM and the kids lasted on the march (without a lunch even) until 1:30 PM.  Charles and Mae stayed out another hour after we returned to the truck and picked up some more birds out of the woods.  Monday night we dined on chukar/quail chili and Tuesday night was chukar/quail pot pie.  Important work for the dogs and delicious meals to boot!

Charles is talking about taking Sue and Sam back to our training field this weekend to clean up the escapees, but other than that we are looking forward to a slow weekend around the house after the holidays and before the last push of wild bird hunting in Nebraska for the season, ending January 31st.

Late Season Update

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Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

BB in the snow

Now nine months old, BB has been getting plenty of wild bird exposure this season with the pack, but last week it was time to finish her solo training.  When hunting in the pack setting, it is difficult for her to get a chance to retrieve with the older, more experienced dogs present.  We planted a couple of hen pheasants for her to practice on at the local dog training wildlife management area.

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Charles walks into BB’s first point of the day

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

BB looking good on retrieve

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

A stylish point from BB

hen pheasant

On the flush

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

BB looking intense on retrieve

BB has done a fabulous job maturing into a hunting animal quickly.  The most important part of successfully raising a hunting Wirehaired Pointing Griffon puppy is giving them the exposure they need to tap into their natural instincts.  BB has had plenty of practice at home with basic obedience and yard work on fetching dokkens, but the majority of her hunt training has been simple exposure to situations with plenty of bird action.

Soon we will be introducing her to working as a guide dog in the hunting preserve setting, which will be an exciting addition to her experience in the field.

Sue and Sam

Our flagship working dogs have been very busy at the preserve guiding hunts.  Charles has been doing all of the guide work up with me assisting, but the volume of weekday hunts has reached a point to where I will now be taking care of the weekday guiding duties.

November 24, 2011

November 25, 2011

December 1, 2011

Morning, December 10, 2011

Afternoon, December 10, 2011

December 11, 2011


Mae (AKC/NAVHDA Little Lady Aspen) is a five year old female Wirehaired Pointing Griffon who now lives in our home and kennel.  She has definitely become a member of the pack and family!  I will provide more information on Mae’s background and training in a future post.  Welcome to Bluestem Kennels, Mae!

Mae on the move

Upcoming Events

Charles is invited to hunt some private land in Southeastern Nebraska this Saturday and currently the plan is for Sam and BB to work the fields that day.  The week before Christmas, Charity and the dogs are on call at the preserve to guide a few hunts and Christmas weekend will be a Sandhills wild bird all-pack hunt.  That takes us into the last month of wild bird hunting in Nebraska, with our season closing goals being to fill at least one (each hunter gets 3 annually) of our Eastern Nebraska Prairie Chicken tags and to bag some quail.  We’ll be guiding during preserve season until March 31st, so the game isn’t up for us just yet.

We anticipate Sue coming into her breeding season sometime in February, so a few weeks into her pregnancy she’ll be taken out of the hunting circuit and it will be time for BB to step in.  Plenty to look forward to in the coming months!

Happy Holidays and Happy Hunting from Bluestem Kennels!

A Day for BB

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Saturday brought us BB’s first solo wild bird adventure in the field, on a snipe hunt with Charles.  It is good for the six month old pup to run with the older dogs to learn the ways of the game, but it is essential that she also be allowed to hunt independently.

As there has been a warm spell up in the northern area of the flyway, the migrating snipe were not yet noticed, just the resident population that we last hunted at our snipe swamp in Southeastern Nebraska.  Charles and BB put up several snipe, but he passed on many shots since the birds start out flying so low to the ground, it is often a risk to the dog.  He also didn’t want to shoot birds on the edge of range, as he wanted an easy “hunt dead” for BB, so that she would not get discouraged.

BB has mastered the art of the search, knows bird scent, gets birdy and points.  Right now we are still working on the retrieve with real birds, as she will mark the bird and pick it up, but not yet bring to hand reliably.  She will retrieve a dummy or dokken to hand without fail in the yard, heck, she’ll even retrieve our 2 1/2 year old’s stuffed animals when he throws them with the fetch command.  It is all just part of the process that we’d like for her to work through naturally within the next few months of hunting, knowing that with her griffon instincts she will put the pieces of the yard training and the field work together in due time.

BB's first wild bird after a long day in the snipe swamp

Reflections on Snipe Hunting


Sam, Charles, Sue and BB with 4 snipe, a teal and 2 doves

The habitat of the snipe is nothing that I had ever expected.  As we wandered our way down the path through the cattails, I kept my eyes sharp, looking for the zig-zag flight of the long-billed swamp bird.  Yet my vigilance was wasted in those areas of dense swamp cover and we eventually wandered into a 20 acre flat, recently grazed by cattle.

“This is where it gets interesting,” Charles warned.  We split up to cover opposite sides of a small creek that ended in a cattail marsh.  I mistakenly headed once again into dense cover, thinking that the sneaky birds would tuck themselves into the reeds.  I was sinking quickly into the mud and got my rubber boots stuck, just in time for an incoming snipe, who landed in the distant short grass.  I was able to extract myself from the mud and we walked towards where we saw the bird land.  He jumped up way out of range, but it became obvious that we were dealing with a resident population, as they did not want to leave their 20 acres.

We worked over the creek half of the plot, spotting a few more snipe getting up out of range.  Our favorite technique for birds that won’t hold tight is to tire them out, flush, then follow, flush, then follow, until they are too tired to be overly flighty.  There was no luck to be had in that half of the small territory, so we headed towards the area where the flushed birds landed.

In a spot that we had covered, next to the tiny creek in tightly grazed grass an unexpected snipe popped up with its classic, “screeee, thwicka, thwicka, thwicka”.  Aside from its larger size, the call of a fleeing snipe is the one sure way to tell it apart from a killdeer.  The chosen path of the snipe is frightening for the hunter, as it begins by flying very close to the ground, at the same height of the dogs and sometimes right among them.

The bird flew clear of the dogs and Charles made the shot, with Sue on retrieve.  Right after that, a dove flew by me in range and I watched it go, choosing to focus on trying to get my first snipe.  Another shot was fired from my husband’s gun and he took down the dove, with Sue doing another great job on tracking the small bird to deliver to her master.

Our walk continued towards a small pond, where all heck broke loose.  Charles quickly bagged another snipe in the flat next to the pond and while he was busy with Sam’s retrieve, the crazy swamp creatures were zig-zagging all around above my head.  I missed several shots on snipe, while a couple of teal busted out of the pond.  Charles was lucky to be close enough to the pond to take one of the teal, which landed in the water still alive.  The injured teal made its way towards the cattails on the edge of the bank in an attempt to hide from the encroaching dogs, but Sam was able to snatch it out of the water.

Close-up of a snipe, with a blue-winged teal in the background

The pond was completely shaken down, so we decided to head back to the creek area we had already covered.  I was in a hurry to cross the watery thread and thought I spotted a muddy area that was dry and vegetated enough to handle my crossing.  Epic fail!  I was immediately sucked thigh deep into the mud, both legs.  Charles was still trying to give me hand signals as to which direction we were going and began to walk off into the distance, so I had to shout him down to come and hold my gun so that I could attempt to remove myself from the gluey muck.  I wiggled and squiggled, but my cheap rubber calf boots were not budging.  My only choice was to leave the boots in the mud and concede defeat to the snipe swamp, pouting my way sock-footed towards the truck.

Defeated by the swamp

Not wanting to wander too far in my socks or ruin Charles’s hunt, I stood on the edge of the 20 acres as he walked back and forth with the dogs, taking two more snipe and one more dove off in the distance.

My adventure ended in the style of a proverbial snipe hunt, as defined in Wikipedia, “…also known as a fool’s errand, a type of practical joke that involves experienced people making fun of credulous newcomers by giving them an impossible or imaginary task.”  Yet I am intrigued by this interesting hunt and unusual habitat.  I will be purchasing some hip boots before I try this again, but am sure to be back and better prepared.

If you are interested in reading more tales of snipe hunting from around the globe, check out Worth Mathewson’s rare book Reflections on Snipe.

BB’s First Hunt: Our Six Month Old Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

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Saturday morning, Charles and I took BB out to the local dog training wildlife management area to plant some juvenile pheasant, in order to break her to the gun and get her used to quartering in the field.

In place of my usual still camera, I opted for shooting some video this day.  The first video I put together is Charles explaining the equipment that we use for planting birds for dog training purposes and the actual technique of planting the birds:


The second video is Charles and BB actually hunting down the birds.  Over two sessions, there were six birds planted, but only four of them are documented on video.  One of them was a lame flier and didn’t get up high enough for Charles to shoot it.  Another of them must have ran off, as we never located it.  The midday sun was beginning to make things a little uncomfortable, so we opted for heading home instead of pushing BB too hard.

What I enjoyed about watching this process was that in the beginning BB stuck close to Charles and exhibited a lot of puppy play behavior, but by the end of the adventure, she was more concerned about getting out and searching for birds.  She also displayed her natural pointing instinct.   It was also important to keep it fun, so that birds and guns mean dog party.  If someone were to make it a frightening disciplinary training session, it would do more harm than good.

We will need to continue to work on the retrieve piece.  She “marked” the birds, meaning that she went to the bird and sort of sat down with it in front of her, so she’s able to scent/sight track the downed bird, but she wasn’t quite ready to pick them up just yet.  BB will fetch dummies and toys in the yard all day long, so I don’t think it will take too much to get through that next step, but that will be the next thing we will focus on.

Here’s the video of BB’s first hunt, enjoy!


Celebrating Freedom!

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This summer is slipping away so quickly!  We had a great time up in the Sandhills over the Fourth of July weekend.  The first two days of the weekend were spent out at Merritt Reservoir swimming and canoeing with the dogs.  (I apologize if some of these photos appear faint, I think my little point and shoot had a dirty lens)

Sam and Sue take a swim

Sam and BB in the water, with Sue on the beach

Charles takes Sam out for some canoe practice

BB is growing, weighing in at 27 lbs at 4 months old

BB takes a swim

Sue follows behind the canoe containing Charles and the kids

My mom talked us into walking in the Fourth of July parade, which was quite the adventure.  The dogs and the older kids did well, but I didn’t pack the stroller and Caleb wasn’t very cooperative.  It was good lead walking and socialization practice for the dogs.

Lining up for the parade

Charles walking the big dogs in Valentine's Fourth of July Parade

I have a busy couple of weeks ahead of me, but I’ll be back with a couple of videos.  I want to have a video of BB doing “fetch” and “sit”, then a second video of me grooming Sam.  I get several hits a day for a grooming post that I wrote about a year ago and I’ve learned some new tricks that I want to share.

Stay cool in these hot days of summer!

Dog days of summer

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I have managed to work daily with “BB” on sit, stay, release (I use “okay” as the release command).  She does great on stay and release, but doesn’t have the “sit” pose down just yet.  So, after the command “sit” I push down on her rear and lift her chin just slightly, to put her in the position that I want.  I then give the “stay” command (you could also use “whoa”) with the stop hand signal.  Right now, I’m backing away facing the dog, so that I can catch her if she moves, but eventually I should be able to walk away with my back turned to her and she shouldn’t move.  Here’s a shot of her enjoying the “doggy pool” on a hot day this week:

BB cools off at 13 weeks

Summer is here and with it comes so many distractions!  All three kids are home, Charles just had a week-long break and the heat and humidity have gone off the charts here!   Another glitch in our training is that the private land that we normally use for water and light field work is underwater from the Missouri River flooding.  It is supposed to crest around June 15th, after a major release of water from Gavin’s Point Dam and they are projecting a record crest.  Our prayers go out to all who are being affected.

Stranded RV on River Road, Plattsmouth, Nebraska

I received a puppy update from Kyle in Nevada, via an e-mail from his father, Stan (who’s as sharp as a tack in his 80’s).  Stan reported that “Shady Lady” is up to 24 pounds and did some great tracking and retrieving practice up in Montana with Kyle.  Stan says it best, here’s the quote from the e-mail, “The other day in Montana she found and retrieved the hidden pheasant wing from 100 feet downwind!  Dropped it at Kyle’s feet!  Sign us ………. “Happy”.  I always appreciate the great updates and photos from my puppy owners; thanks Stan and Kyle!

Shady Lady from our "B" litter at 3 1/2 months

Spring in the Sandhills and other adventures

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We had a surprise visit last night from Kyle and his three month old pup from our recent “B” litter, named Duke.  It was a shock to see how large he is, most likely pushing the 30 pound mark.  I wasn’t able to get a measure on his shoulder, but he is tall enough that BB can run between his legs.  As Duke lives within 15 miles of our house, so we will be seeing the most of him out of any of the pups from our litters.  It will be exciting to watch him develop!

BB, Sue, Duke and Sam having a Griffon party

Duke points BB

BB and Duke had a great time playing together

Memorial Day weekend was spent up in my hometown of Valentine, Nebraska.  The dogs went for a run out on some public land outside of town and enjoyed the exercise in a change of scenery.  Working the dogs in different terrains in the off-season makes for confidence in varied environments during hunting season.

Sam and Sue on a run through the Sandhills

BB and Cordelia also take in a jog

BB swamping in a wet area near a windmill

Our next stop was Merritt Reservoir, a popular local fishing and swimming hole.  The dogs and the kids had a great time playing in the water and sniffing around.

BB points the kids playing in the lake

Sam takes a dip

Sue wades deep in the chilly water

Sam surprises us with a treasure: a brand new minnow bucket full of live minnows

In BB news, we took her to the vet for her 12 week shots and she weighs 17 lbs., a 7 lb. gain from when she arrived.  We’re getting close to being finished up with housebreaking and I’m going to start a daily obedience training regimen.  She has “come” down, but I’m going to work daily on sit, stay, whoa, and heel.  We’ve started cap gun conditioning while she’s playing in the kennel with Sue and will continue to work on “fetch” with the pheasant wing.

BB at 12 weeks

BB picks up the duck dummy while Duke looks on

Bluestem Kennels is now an officially registered kennel with the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association http://www.navhda.org/.  We look forward to training and testing BB with the local Heartland Chapter http://www.heartlandnavhda.com/.

Spring training!

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Happy First Birthday, Bluestem “A” Litter, on April 30th!!  Here’s Winston’s 1st birthday picture, he lives on an acreage outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Thank you to Kelvin and Nancy for the picture!

Winston from our "A" litter at 1 year old

I also received some pictures from one of my new owners of a “B” litter puppy.  “Roxy” (formerly known as Bess) lives out in Utah with Randy and Pam.  They are very happy with her progress and surprised at how fast she is learning.  Once again, many thanks to them for the photo contribution:

Roxy of our recent "B" litter checks out the wing

Roxy on retrieve to Randy

Roxy points the wing

Roxy on water retrieve

While we’re talking water, Monday and Tuesday of last week were 95+ degree days here, so I took the opportunity Monday afternoon to take the big dogs out for some swimming practice and see if we could get our new puppy “BB” in the water.  Water practice is not only fun, it is vital for the dog’s desire to water retrieve waterfowl during hunting season.

Sue and Sam take a dip

BB takes her first swim

BB heading back to shore

The water was still pretty cold even though the air was warm, so our time in the water was limited.  Swimming is an instinctual behavior for dogs, therefore you can’t introduce them to water too soon after picking up a puppy from a breeder (weather permitting).

As a follow-up to the wing work that we’ve been doing in the house, BB got into her first live chukar on Saturday.  I used the same technique on BB that I just used on the litter of puppies.  I put the chukar on a bird harness attached to a leash, I then used my puppy training pen (a 5 ft. x 10 ft. area that I created with metal fence posts and snow fence) to get the puppy to focus on the bird.  I first hold the bird in my hand and put it into the puppy’s face, then slowly give more and more leash, until the bird can move about pretty freely (run and flap) within the confines of the pen and my leash.  Naturally, at first the puppy is apprehensive about this strange new creature, but the scent from the training wing made it somewhat familiar.  By the end of the 10 minute session, BB was chasing and pouncing on the bird with vigor!  This is a good first step to get a new puppy excited about birds.

BB a little apprehensive at first

It didn't take long for BB to get aggressive with the chukar

Spring training isn’t only something for the dogs, it is important for humans too!  When it comes to upland hunting, we have to do our part to ensure success also.  Dog training and handling are very important, but the hunter’s shooting skill and physical fitness are also key.  We’ve been spending a few weekends a month at the local skeet range tuning up our skills with the shotgun, in preparation for hunting season (which is only 3 1/2 months away).  If you can’t hit the bird, then the dog doesn’t have anything to retrieve!

Charles walking back to station 1 to start a new round

Charles smashes the high bird on station 7

Those are the happenings over the past week at Bluestem Kennels!  We will have a booth at the Bark for the Cure Cancer Walk on Saturday, May 21st from 9 AM -12 noon at the Lied Activity Center, 2700 Arboretum Dr. in Bellevue, Nebraska.  If you would like more information about the walk or would like to register for the walk please see their website at https://sites.google.com/site/rflthunderingherd/bark-for-a-cure-cancer-walk  We will be there to talk Wirehaired Pointing Griffons, versatile hunting dog training and just for some good canine fellowship!  Hope to see you there!

Late Season Pheasant Hunt


It isn’t very often that we get to enjoy a pheasant hunt in well-established native tallgrass prairie in Southeastern Nebraska.  We’re not the only ones.  In the 1960’s 140,000 hunters bagged about 1.4 million pheasants annually in Nebraska.  These days, the annual count is around 50,000 hunters and 200,000 birds (Hendee, Omaha World-Herald, 01/23/11).  Speaking to other Nebraska hunters this year from across the state, pheasant numbers this year have been up from recent years past, but obviously nowhere near the level of the mid-20th century.

Our hunt last Saturday was in some amazing habitat on private ground east of Lincoln.  It was a cold, windless winter morning, ideal for keeping the roosters held tight in the thick grass.  The air was moist and slightly foggy, perfect scenting conditions for the dogs.

The SE Nebraska combination of windbreaks, crop fields and a smattering of prairie.

Nate, the landowner, begins working the fields

Sam and Charles make their way through the big bluestem

We headed east, away from the farmstead, pushing through some thick cover towards a small cattle feedlot.  As we neared the break between the prairie ground and the feedlot, Nate saw a flock of hens flush to the north.  I saw one rooster fly into a windbreak at least 40 yards out, then Charles and I both saw another rooster spook way out of range.  I’ll admit that we were all probably a little too chatty about what we had already seen and not focused on keeping quiet for any other roosters nearby.

The guys thought they had seen a rooster land to the south in a bit of a marshy area, so we pivoted as we came to the feedlot and began to work our way through some tough swamp weeds.

Busting through some weeds

Walking down a waterway

Sam running on the left, Sue visibly pregnant on the right

As we worked our way back west out of the swampy area and into the grassland, the dogs both started acting birdy: retracing their paths with their noses to the ground, Sam sneaking lower to the ground, Sue holding her head high, circling and searching.  Finally, Sam’s beeper collar starts to make the loud, sharp beep, telling us that he’s on point.  Charles walks right in for a close flush and takes the rooster.

Stay focused! The rooster takes the impact, but unfortunately my auto-focus thought I was taking a picture of that piece of grass

Sam presents the gift

The rooster!

We continued to push southward into the corner of the property, then made our way west, working a treeline on our way.

Checking back in: that’s pregnant Sue on the left with the frosty face

Following the take of the rooster, we worked the field for another hour or so, with no further sightings of pheasant.

Arriving back to the farm

The pose: Nate with Sue, Charles, Sam and the rooster


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