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Our 2021 NAVHDA Utility Tests

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We are planning a litter between Obi and Ruth for Spring 2022. I will post a breeding announcement with all of their pedigrees, health clearances, genetic and hunt test results once I get the official results of the Utility Test. My goal is to have it done by my birthday November 9th. If you have contacted us about this litter, watch for an email in your inbox about the interview and deposit process at the beginning of November. I will take 10 reservations/deposits and we usually have 8-13 puppies. God willing. Our email is bluestemkennels@gmail.com if you are interested.

Our goal was to pass these NAVHDA Utility Tests and we did just that. Obi and Ruth ran on Saturday, October 23rd at the Carolinas Chapter fall test. It was pretty cool to have four of the six dogs doing Utility Tests be Griffs. Karen Krautz ran her two: Comet and Chigger, punching her ticket to Invitational 2022 with a UT I for Chigger. We were really close with Obi, but he was playing with the birds on his retrieves in the field and danced around during remaining-by-blind when he was supposed to be holding still. Ruth is a phenomenal wild bird hunting dog, but wasn’t obedience trained from day one like Obi, so she’s a mediocre test dog. She did all of the skills, but sort of begrudgingly and half-hearted since she doesn’t like testing. Obi seems to just love it and really had a good time. It’s amazing to see the difference that the early training makes, the old field trialer “just let them be a puppy for a year” just doesn’t cut it with Griffons when you need to put serious pressure on them when they are older.

I am going to post the photos divided by dog so that it doesn’t get confusing. The test went in the following order, with all of the dogs dogs running going through that segment before moving on to the next: 30 minutes of bird field, 10 minutes of duck search, heeling down the bank, steady-by-blind/remaining-by-blind, duck retrieve, duck drag. I am going to just sort of explain the test and how the dog did on that part of the test as I go, in a very unorganized and unplanned way. I also have the score cards here and I’ll just blurt out the scores as they apply.

Before I get too far, I want to thank Charles for training and testing the dogs for this during our move. Even though it sometimes felt like he was avoiding unpacking boxes to go and train dogs, it is an important part of having them and it needed to be done. Chapter gunners were just phenomenal on our two runs. I even caught a photo of a bird getting totally smoked (I’ll need to circle the bird so you can see it). Thank you Jerri Stanley for judging for her seventh weekend in a row. Thank you to Senior Judge Ric Kildow for telling me to be quiet about 100 times because my voice is so loud. And thank you to judge Leon Hairie for coming back to the Carolinas after also judging Caleb’s junior handling on Natural Ability, it was fun having a familiar face.

Bluestem Peaches En Regalia Ruth”

I kept telling Charles to prepare for Ruth to be mediocre. She is not a test dog, but she loves to go ham on the wild bird hunt. In the field, her first point she was super-steady, but from there she broke on the shot several times. She is a great bird finder and retriever, so those weren’t the problems. Her field scores were: Search – 4, Pointing – 4, Steadiness Total – 2, Retrieve of shot bird – 3, Nose – 4, Stamina – 4.

Ruth on point with Charles
Ruth on point with gunnar
Ruth on retrieve
Ruth bringing the bird back to Charles
Charles taking the retrieve from Ruth
Ruth working the field
Ruth in the water tub cooling off
The chukar were acting wild that day!

I am really digging the diversity of the Sandhills Game Lands over by Marston, North Carolina. Not only did it have the cool sandy-soiled pine barren field for birds (that is burned frequently to keep the oak saplings from taking over), but they have an amazing set of beaver ponds for duck work. The duck search pond access was definitely “no cars allowed” and you had to have a full size 4×4 pickup to cross the creek to get there.

4×4 Creek Crossing
Nasty mess of swamp for the duck search pond

Ruth’s duck search was pretty crummy, but enough to get the job done. She didn’t get out too far and there was too much running on the bank. But she didn’t run and hide under the truck or sit under Charles’s feet. She did some stuff in the pond for 10 minutes. The score: Search for Duck – 2.

Ruth on the duck search

She did really good on the heeling down the bank to steady-by-blind. The score: Walking at Heel – 4. As you can see, we switched to a second, more open pond in order to do the steady-by-blind and duck retrieve.

Ruth walking at heel

This photo is not in focus on the dog, because the grass throws the camera off, but this is a good illustration of how things went on steady-by-blind. This is the part where the dog is supposed to be sitting in the blind. Obviously, she is not, she is looking at Charles shooting a shotgun off in the distance. I think that this is one of the tougher skills for us to work on, because we are don’t do waterfowl hunting with blinds, we are just training to pass this part of the test. Also, there are multiple gunners: the handler is shooting and so is a chapter gunner. I haven’t quite memorized the shot sequence, but the judge will point at who is supposed to be shooting after the dog is placed in the blind. It goes back and forth between the chapter gunner and the handler. At the very end the handler comes down to the blind and repositions the dog just outside of the blind, shoots again, then a duck is thrown from the other side of the pond. Ruth’s scores: Remaining by blind – 3, Steadiness by Blind – 1, Retrieve of duck – 3.

Ruth by the blind (sort of) with Judge Jerri Stanley looking on
Ruth swimming for the duck
Ruth retrieving the duck

The last skill is the retrieve-by-drag. Basically a dead duck is dragged through the grass and the dog has to locate it and retrieve it to the handler. It is pretty easy, except that it is at the end of a very long day with lots of obedience, pressure and work. There was one dog who did Prize I perfect work all day, then ran off and started quartering the woods upon release instead of doing the duck drag. They are dogs, they do stupid stuff like that. But it is part of the test, to see if they come apart mentally. Ruth’s score: retrieve-by-drag – 3.

Ruth bringing her retrieve-by-drag duck back to the truck

Ruth’s final score in the NAVHDA Carolinas Chapter fall test Utility Test was Prize III, 159 Points. Some of the overall scores that weren’t included in my writing thus far were: Cooperation – 3, Obedience – 2, Desire to Work – 3. Ruth is now Bluestem Peaches En Regalia NA I, UPT II, UT III.

Wyo Plainsman Kenobi “Obi”

Aside from their pedigrees, the main difference between Ruth and Obi is the way that they were raised. Ruth was brought up that first year with minimal obedience work and just allowed to be sort of a wild bird hunting fool. Obi has been raised with obedience work and the foundations laid for this testing process the entire time. We are extremely happy with the way Obi has turned out, as we had attempted to develop two other outside studs that did not work out for us due to health issues. They cost us years in time and thousands of dollars. Yet it is all part of trying to re-establish a breed that was on the verge of extinction forty years ago and has a limited gene pool. Many folks ask where Obi came from, assuming that it was from a known breeder in our clubs. But luckily I know pedigrees really well and that gives me opportunities to utilize lesser known or infrequent breeders who don’t participate in the clubs. We feel lucky to have gotten a great dog out of Laramie, Wyoming who is a great-grandson of our Mae and also a close relation to our Sam. We look forward to seeing his progengy in the upcoming months.

Obi did outstanding in the field portion of the test with the exception of his retrieves, he was playing around with the birds a little on his way back. He was rock-solid steady to wing, shot and fall, until he was tapped on the head and released to retrieve the bird. His field scores were: Search – 4, Pointing – 4, Steadiness Total – 4, Nose – 4, Stamina – 4, Retrieve of Shot Bird – 2. The cover was super thick, so I didn’t get pictures of every point or retrieve, I am just posting the photos that I have in the order that they were taken.

Obi on point
Obi pointing on the left with Charles searching for the bird on the right
Obi bringing in a retrieve
Charles walking in on another point from Obi
Obi on point with a gunner searching for the bird
Obi pointing and Charles trying to kick up a bird
Another photogenic retrieve for Obi
Obi handing the bird to Charles
A nice side profile of Obi on point
Obi having fun running the field
Chukar hiding out

Obi on retrieve to Charles
Charles walking in to yet another Obi point
Charles trying to kick up a bird for Obi while the chapter gunner and judge Ric Kildow look on
Charles phantom gunning while the chapter gunner smacks a chukar in the butt (if you zoom in you can really see the detail)
Obi bringing back yet another chukar
Tub time for Obi after a good run

That was my first time out in the field with Obi, so I had no idea on how well trained he was. I was pretty blown away with his performance when we moved the duck search pond. They let a flightless duck go on one end of the pond, then fire a shot at the other end of the pond and away they go. He went to the far side and searched the bank, then swam around the whole far side of the pond…he worked hard the entire 10 minutes. He knocked that one out too, here is his score: Search for Duck – 4.

Obi looked for the duck for 10 minutes

Walking at heel to steady-by-blind looked good too: Walking at Heel – 4.

Obi walking at heel to the blind

At this point, I really couldn’t look I was so nervous. I knew that we were so close to a Prize I and this was the make or break moment since we struggle with training for the blind since we don’t really use it in real life. I have to look at the score card to see where the flub is, so he stayed in the blind for the shots, but when he was relocated next to the blind for the final shot and duck throw, he broke to retrieve the duck before he was released by command to do so. Scores: Steadiness by blind – 4, Remaining by blind – 3, Retrieve of duck – 4.

Obi super at-the-ready for the duck retrieve
Obi bringing back the duck

Last but not least again, we did the duck retrieve by drag. Score: Duck retrieve by drag – 4.

Obi bringing back his drag duck

Other overall scores for Obi: Desire to Work – 4, Cooperation – 4, Obedience – 4, for a total of 199 points and a Prize II. I think there is a way to get 199 points and a Prize I, but I think that the weighting of the “retrieve of shot bird” points knocked him down to a Prize II. So Obi is now Wyo Plainsman Kenobi NA I, UPT III, UT II.

I know that post has gone on a bit with lots of photos and scores and explanation of Utility Test skills, but this is the first time that we’ve tested at this level and I actually fully understood what was happening and was able to capture all of the pieces in photos. Maybe this will help someone else work up the courage to train for the NAVHDA Utility Test. It is a great bonding experience with your dog, if nothing else.

Sally’s NAVHDA Natural Ability Test

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We are planning a litter for spring 2022, but I’ve decided to hold off until we’re done with Ruth and Obi’s Utility Tests before we take on any more dog tasks (interviews, deposits, etc.). I’m shooting for the first week of November to have all of the health clearances, pedigrees, test results, etc. loaded on to the website and get a formal breeding announcement made. Then we can start talking about puppy placement.

The goal of testing Obi and Ruth are not Prize Ones, with the move and Charles’s new job there hasn’t been gobs of training time to get to that point. We will be happy to pass.

Caleb was the first junior handler for the Foothills Chapter of NAVHDA, they are a new chapter based north of Charlotte that was started in 2020. There are two other chapters in the Carolinas: the Carolinas chapter and the Tarheel chapter. Folks at the Foothills chapter were very friendly and nice to visit with. We were very thankful for judges Ed Harrington, Tim Clark and Leon Hardy for taking time out of their lives the weekend after NAVHDA Invitational in Iowa to come and judge this test.

Caleb walking Sally down to the field

These photos are all taken from very far away because I wanted Caleb to handle Sally and not have her distracted by me. This was a little over a week ago, Sunday, September 26. We were at Quail Haven Hunting Preserve in Harmony, North Carolina. She was the eighth dog to run the test and so the field was pretty stinky. We all love to make excuses as to why our dogs didn’t do what they were supposed to in tests, so here’s mine. Sally had fours on everything except “Search” was a three (I think she was hesitant with the stinky bird field) and “Desire to Work” (she’s never been wild bird hunting before, so this is all still new) was also a three. She probably had some of the most bird finds on the day though, but as one of my favorite judge quotes goes, “This isn’t an Easter egg hunt”.

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon
Caleb kicking up a bird in front of Sally
Sally pointing a bird. It isn’t stylish but got the job done.
Caleb and Sally wrapping up their field work
Good flying quail are tough to come by, but Quail Haven has them.
NAVHDA Natural Ability Wirehaired Pointing Griffon
Sally and Caleb after the field

The tracking portion of the test was next, Caleb did not want me over with the handlers and judges, so I stayed behind at the clubhouse. She did great on the track, went right to the bird and pointed it. Caleb walked over and picked up the bird (now it lives in our bird collection).

Caleb and the other handlers way over yonder at the track

The final portion of the test was the water and the evaluation of attributes. She did great on the water, Caleb threw a couple of bumpers and she came back with both of them. All of the dogs tested both days retrieved their bumpers, the judges really appreciated that and brought it up at the reading of the scores. Some dogs won’t go for the bumper and they have to use a dead bird at the water (which is a hassle).

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon Water
Sally retrieving the bumper
Evaluation of attributes

Everything came back clear from the evaluation of attributes and coat was judged Medium Dense/Medium Harsh.

Caleb, age 12, Sally, age 7 months with judges Ed Harrington, Tim Clark and Leon Hardy

Caleb and Sally ended up with a Natural Ability Prize II with 103 points. Pretty darned good for a first time 12 year old handler and a 7 month old dog who hasn’t been wild bird hunting yet. Thanks to Charles for taking the time to help Caleb learn how to handle a dog in a hunt test and to all of the volunteers for putting on a great test.

Next up on our dog adventures, Obi and Ruth will give the Utility Test a shot. Obi got a Prize III on the Utility Preparatory Test and Ruth got a Prize II, so it will be interesting to see how those scores line up with the new ones.

Good luck to everyone out there chasing the sharptailed grouse around, it was so strange not going out to the Nebraska Sandhills for the opener. Charles is headed out that way after Thanksgiving and I am terribly jealous. It is beautiful here in South Carolina and the people are nice, but the east coast is crowded. I know that I will be super happy to be here come February though.

Congratulations to the new NAVHDA Versatile Champions in the breed, I know of at least two. I’ll wait for the magazine to say for sure. And everyone up in Pennsylvania for AWPGA National Specialty, have fun! I really wanted to go, but my oldest son is a senior this year and it is the end of the first quarter, so I have to tutor him to get through midterms.

I’ll catch back up with you all after the Utility Test is done. I’m pretty sure we’re down in South Carolina with the Carolinas chapter, so it will be fun meeting another new NAVHDA bunch.

NAVHDA UPT Passes and Move News

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Thank you to the Central States NAVHDA Chapter and the judges present who made Obi and Ruth’s UPT tests possible. Obi passed on Saturday with a Utility Preparatory Test Prize III and Ruth passed on Sunday with a UPT Prize II. I wish that I could have been there to photograph the event, but our upcoming move kept me at home. Thank you to Pam Robinson of Robingun Small Munsterlanders for the photographs. Obi’s mistakes were in the field and Ruth’s were in the duck search. But we passed! It will be a few months before we hit the testing grounds again, so it is good to have this under our belts.

Obi with Charles and our youngest son, Caleb, on Saturday
Charles and Ruth all wet on Sunday

In other news, we somehow managed to avoid the bidding wars and drama that are going into home purchases in the Charlotte/Rock Hill region and went straight into contract on a nice house and almost three acres with a little barn between Clover and Lake Wylie, South Carolina. It is 20 minutes to the Charlotte airport, so an easy shot should we need to get home: there is a direct flight between Charlotte and Omaha, which is important since our daughter will still be here finishing up at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the next couple of years and my mom and brother are still in Valentine.

This is my first half-way-across-the-country move since I was four years-old when we came back to Nebraska from the San Fernando Valley in California (where my mom grew up) back in 1978. I still vividly remember the trip in the green Gran Torino station wagon towing the red VW Beetle full of stuff.

Charles has been here since he started at UNL in 1991, when he rode the Greyhound Bus from New York to Omaha.

But I know the folks down in the Clover area are good people and we look forward to experiencing their own version of rural culture. And there are lots of good Griff friends and family on both sides nearby and that makes it easier.

I gave away all of my snow shovels today. That was an awesome feeling.

We’ll be pretty bogged down in the move with not much news until we’re settled in South Carolina, probably mid-July. So hang tight fans.

And a big shout out to Susan Davy and TracHer from our “C” Litter with Sam and Mae who has almost all of her AKC Master Hunter legs up in North Dakota at 9 years old. Griffs never give up!

So keep training and spoiling your dogs. My dogs just got themselves a tiny farm, which we are all excited about.

Q Litter Homegoings!

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Feel free to email bluestemkennels@gmail.com if you wish to enquire about our 2022 litter plans.  I am hoping to get through the 2022 interest emails by the old tax filing deadline of April 15th.

Over the last couple of weekends the Q Litter has gone to their new homes.  They are really a handful at 8 weeks old and I am so glad that they are with their new owners getting into a routine and having plenty of individual attention.  We still have Sally here (her litter name was Quarry) and she is very sweet but obviously does normal puppy annoying behavior, like chewing stuff that she is not supposed to and having potty accidents.  I am not going to try and sugar-coat housebreaking a Griff.  They are really one of the toughest breeds to get through in my experience.  Where I can have an English breed fully broken by 12-16 weeks, I’m honest with myself in knowing that I’m still going to be struggling at that point and not to expect to be accident-free until 20 weeks with a Griff.

The only thing that I can think of to account for the longer period of time is that they have so much to learn as a versatile breed that it just takes them longer to get everything down.  And they are just a slower maturing breed anyway; Obi is 17 months-old and still has some very puppy behavior.

Let’s do photos first, then I’ll talk about what we’re working on with Sally.  I’m just going in the order of pickup for simplicity’s sake.

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Joe and family, with Qbert going to Iowa

We are excited to have Joe and Qbert (he will be called something else, but I always forget to write down their new call names and so I’ll just refer to their litter names, sorry) just across the river in Iowa and hope we get to train with them soon.

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Ricardo and Quartz are off to Colorado

Ricardo has an older Griff who will be showing Quartz the way on pheasants in Colorado.  They have a population of white ptarmigan out there that I hope that we get to chase someday, so maybe we’ll meet again.

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Cliff’s family and Queen on their way to Oklahoma

Cliff also has Belle from our “C” Litter between Sam and Mae, so this is their second Bluestem puppy.  They had just come up from taking their granddaughters to show their pigs.  Belle and the pup are still figuring out their relationship but it is going well so far.

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Greg and his wife with Quince going to North Dakota

Greg also has Epsilon from our J Litter between Sam and BB, so yet another two Bluestem puppy family.  He will be getting spoiled since both Greg and his wife work independently and someone always has the dogs with them.  And of course North Dakota is one of our favorite places to visit during hunting season, hopefully the bird population up there bounces back in the next few years.

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Jim and his family with Qiana

Jim and his family lives out on an acreage in central Nebraska.  This is their first Griff, so they are in for an adventure.  But Jim has had hunting dogs his whole life and his dad was a trainer of Labarador Retrievers so they’re ready for action.

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Aaron and his wife heading back to Ohio with Quest

Aaron has a Bluestem pup that goes by Pepper from our D Litter between our original breeding pair Sue and Sam.  He says that Quest and Pepper are getting along splendidly and she is really fitting in with the family.  Aaron also wins the “traveled farthest” award for coming almost 800 miles one way to pick up his puppy.

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Quentin going to Michigan with Paul and Deb

Second in the “traveled farthest” award is Paul and Deb, flying out from Michigan to rent a car and drive back home with Quentin.  They also own a pup by the name of Fielding from our O Litter between Fire and Chief with their daughter Galen and her fiancee.  Galen works in IT for a major Detroit auto manufacturer and her fiancee is a police officer, so all four of them take turns raising the dogs with schedules all over the place.

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Travis and family with Quetzal going to Kansas

Travis and I have been in contact about getting his family a puppy for a long time, but being active duty in the Army with consistent deployment and his wife home with three kids, there was no way she was going to let him get a puppy until he retired!  So happy military retirement, Travis and thank you for your service!  Bird numbers in Kansas have been good lately, so I’m sure you’ll get a chance to chase some of them around.

I suppose I should set up a tripod and take a family picture of us with Sally, but it has not happened yet, so here are just a few candids from around the house.

Charity Upchurch Wirehaired Pointing Griffon Puppies

Sally and I taking a selfie

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Sally on top of her big sister Ruth, who is almost exactly four years older

On Good Friday, Charles took Caleb and mama Fire out for some preserve hunting.  Caleb shot a rooster and a few of the chukar, with Charles harvesting the rest.  The most important to me was that Caleb and Fire had a good time.

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Caleb trying to pose with Fire

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Caleb showing off his rooster and his smile

As fas as what we are working on with Sally, I focus on the housebreaking and crate training.  If someone isn’t watching her to catch accidents, she is in a crate near the rest of us so that she can still interact and hear what we are doing.  Charles is working on whoa and heel using treats in the morning.

When we started out working with dogs twenty years ago, we didn’t do much other than housebreaking the first year and letting them on to wild birds.  This was sort of the old field trialer dog training mentality.  But as we’ve matured as dog owners, we’ve found that the sooner we work with them the better.  Not overtraining or hacking on the pup, but just fun basic command learning and general obedience.

Especially with Griffons, if they are not exposed to a little pressure to behave right away, because they are so sensitive it is extremely difficult to impossible to break bad habits since their feelings get hurt so easily.  It’s better to get them used to being trained early so that when you get to the more advanced steps they are not as difficult to handle.

Speaking of advanced steps, Charles is taking Obi and Ruth down to Lincoln for AKC Senior Hunter runs this weekend, so we’ll see how those go.  I had forgotten about the tests and am scheduled to lifeguard, so I am a little bummed that I won’t get to do some field photography.  We’ve also got them signed up to do the Utility Preparatory Test for NAVHDA in May, so I need to make sure to keep my calendar open that weekend to get some good photos.

Good luck to everyone with their Bluestem puppies, we are all in this challenging and joyous situation together so don’t hesitate to shoot me an email with questions.  And of course don’t be afraid to turn to your local NAVHDA chapter members for help and advice.

2021 Puppies on the way

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We have a litter due to be whelped the first week of February between Bluestem’s Prairie Fire, NA I and Bluestem Otoe Chief, NA II.  I currently have ten reservations with deposit and a backup contact list in the event that anyone decides not to take a pup this year.  Should you wish to be included on this contact list, please email bluestemkennels@gmail.com.  Our pups are placed in hunting homes only and need to be picked up at our residence at eight weeks of age, air cargo is no longer available.

I took Fire down to Hillcrest Animal Clinic in rural Lincoln, Nebraska a couple of weeks ago to have an ultrasound to confirm pregnancy.  They saw 12-15 embryos in there!  Whether they all turn into viable puppies is a mystery, it is not unusual to have a couple of stillborns or one or two that are born alive who fail to thrive in the first week or so.  But it was fun to find out two weeks earlier than usual that she was indeed pregnant and it is something that I plan on continuing in the future.

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Fire getting her ultrasound

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View of the pups

There is no mistaking now that Fire is pregnant!

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Fire eating at six weeks along

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Fire flopped out with a full belly

Late Season Hunting

Charles has been staying busy in the field while I’m trying to finish healing a torn up right foot from a year ago.  My goal for 2021 is to swim 100 miles (I’m on mile 5), so I’m hoping that by grouse season in September I’ll be ready to rock and roll again.  I don’t walk with a limp and really only start to have pain when I get up in the 10,000 step range, but that is a normal day in the bird field.  My oldest son is at the end of his high school career and the beginning of his life in the work force, so I stay plenty busy keeping him and his younger brother (who starts middle school in the fall) on track.  I figure that as long as I stay in shape that I have the rest of my life to bird hunt, but only have a few more years with kids in the house.

The neighbor Sam and Charles headed over to close out Iowa’s hunting season with some success.  Compared to southeastern Nebraska, which hasn’t had a decent pheasant population since the nineties, it is a paradise!  I’m going to have to think about getting an Iowa license in the future.  We think that it is just the difference in terrain and agricultural practices.  Southeast Nebraska is flat enough that you can farm it fenceline to fenceline with no scrubby borders like pheasants need.  Iowa has more hills and draws, so you either have terraces that have the lip on the end that you can’t hit with a tractor, or just naturally occuring draws and creeks with the thick cover.

Obi Elsa Iowa

Obi our Griff and the neighbor’s DD Elsa with an Iowa quarry

Last Friday, Charles and friends braved the blizzard in Eastern Nebraska to head out to the southcentral part of the state to see if there were any birds left from the last time.  There were plenty of cars in the ditch and going off into the ditch between Omaha and York, but things were clear sailing by the time that they got past there.

It was a long Saturday hunt walking nine miles for the people and far more for the dogs, but with plenty of success.  Obi is getting lots of good practice running down and retrieving poorly hit birds that are still alive.  No offense against the shooters, it is just that the pheasant is a tough bird and can take some pellets.  The dogs really have to work some thick tumbleweed cover and it is very dry out that way (a town almost burned down from a prairie fire last week and had to be evacuated at 4:30 AM).  I am really proud of their hard work on these wild birds in wild country.

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Obi, Ruth and the southcentral Nebraska birds

This old bird caught Charles’s eye and I thought that it looked like Gonzo from The Muppet Show.

The neighbor is trying to get his DD certified in fur, so we’ve been trying to live trap a raccoon, but ended up with an oppossum instead.  He was happy to play dead while Obi fetched him (the oppossum was not injured and lived to see another day).

Obi Possum

Obi and his oppossum

So I’m now on puppy watch and we’ll see if Charles takes these last couple of weekends of Nebraska bird season off (ha) or not.

It is easiest for me to keep my Facebook page up-to-date, so keep an eye on that for when the puppies start to arrive!  I’m expecting them sometime between January 30th and February 5th, but the Good Lord and Mother Nature will let me know when it is time.  Keep us in your good thoughts for a safe delivery.

Hunting Season Opener 2020

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Like everything in 2020, our opening weekend was a little different than normal.  Many of our “go-to” spots are still flooded out, but luckily the bounty of the Sandhills still provided.

Opening day we split into two parties, with Fire and I taking one dune ridge and Charles, our buddy Ryan, Ruth and Obi went on the ridge to the south of me.  It’s funny the difference that one valley makes.  Fire and I hiked for five miles and saw absolutely nothing, while Charles and Ryan saw about 14 sharpies and Charles limited out by noon.  Which was good because the high temperature got up to 105 that day, a record for a September day in Nebraska.  Obi was having a great first outing as he got all of the retrieves that day.

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Charles and Obi headed back to the truck

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Obi and Ruth with Charles and a limit of sharptailed grouse opening day

Day two we decided to all three hunt the same ridge with all three dogs.  Charles and Ryan stayed up high and I worked the mid-level hills closer to the valley.  We had planned on crossing the valley once we got to the fence, but they had seen a group of birds get up that I did not, so I met up with them at the top of the ridge and we headed back the way we came.  I saw a group of about ten of them get up and go around a dune, so I hoped that we’d be into birds soon.

It wasn’t too much longer until Fire went on a super-stylish point down in a little bowl.  It was one of those where their body is posed in one direction and their head is cocked to the right as if to say “The birds are right here!”.  With scenting conditions so difficult in the Sandhills, I’ve only had this happen one other time in twenty years of hunting.  So I ran down in front of Fire and sure enough, a group of five got up right in my face.  Due to the direction of the wind, with them taking off right into it, they shot straight up into the air and I shot right underneath of them.  One peeled off and flew back towards Ryan and he took it down.

Ryan is a traveling geology technician, so he hadn’t been out with us hunting in five our six years while he’s been on the road.  It was great to have him on the bird board again.  We continued our push and I sort of meandered toward the lower hills like I normally do.  Up at the top of the ridge the guys got up another small group and Ryan took another bird out of it.  Fire was hanging around with me, so we hiked up to where the guys were to try to help them find the bird since they seemed to be struggling to locate it.  It took us a good five minutes, but Fire put her nose to the ground and went about 40 yards to the south and came back with the runner.

I’ve been battling plantar fasciitis in my right foot for about nine months, since we chased roosters in January outside of South Sioux City.  Where I used to be able to do 8 miles of dune stomping in a day, I’m down to about 5.  The guys used to be up in the 10-11 mile per day range and now they’re at a little over 8.  We’re all between the ages of 45 and 50 now.  Ryan made the dreaded statement that, “Someday we’re not going to be able to do this anymore!”.  I’m hoping that isn’t for another 25 years or so, but I guess we just don’t know.  The oldest grouse hunters that I’ve seen have been in their mid to late 70s, but that was 10+ years ago.  We’re the old hunters of our part of the world now.

With that being said, I bailed out of the last three mile push of the day all three days.  So when the guys went out on day two and Ryan brought back his third bird for the limit, it was a great feeling just to be there.  I don’t have a good idea of how many sharptailed grouse and prairie chickens I’ve taken out of those hills, but I’ve done it.  And it hope to do it again, but it just wasn’t this trip.

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Ryan and Fire with a limit of sharpies

Day three was at least a bit cooler.  At least the outside temperatures.  Let me just say that if you buy the Kindred Creamery Ghost Pepper Colby Jack Cheese, which is the hottest pepper cheese that I’ve ever eaten in my life, wait to eat it until you get home.  Don’t eat it during the hunt or you will regret it.

We went to the spot that we call “Lone Tree”, but the pasture with the lone tree and the grouse flock that we normally hunt had cows in it.  If there’s one thing that we’ve learned over the years is that the grouse don’t hang out with the cows.  So we tried a new dunefield.  And sure enough right when we got into it, a group of about ten got up at about 150 yards and sailed away.  We walked for another hour looking for them, but never saw them again.  The guys hit one more spot and Charles took a single with Ruth on retrieve.  It was the end of the trip and everyone was done posing for photos.

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Charles with some worn out dogs and a single.

Someone made a post on one of the Facebook bird hunting forums that three guys and three dogs had been in the Sandhills for three days and hadn’t seen a thing, so I feel lucky that we didn’t get skunked.  I hope that we get out chukar hunting in Nevada someday because I’d like to see how it compares to the difficulty of hunting sharpies in the Sandhills.  If it wasn’t for my bum foot, which is only impacting me at long distances, I’m really in the best shape cardivascularly that I’ve been in 10 years now that I work as a lifeguard part-time and swim a mile once or twice a week, then walk once or twice a week too.  The orthopedist said that it will take time to resolve, so I just need to be patient and keep training.

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“I’m getting skunked in the Sandhills”

Introduction to Iowa

There is a big swath of public swamp right on the other side of the Missouri River from where we live, so Charles decided to pick up an Iowa license and took Ruth over there a couple of days ago after work.  They managed to stir up a blue-winged teal and a dove.

Hunting Wirehaired Pointing Griffon Teal

Ruth in the back of the truck with an Iowa teal in her mouth

Hunt Test Pupdates

Congratulations to Brent Haefner and Bluestem Madeline the Huntress, NA III can now add a UT III to the end of her name.  They passed the very difficult NAVHDA Utility Test at the Minnesota Chapter Test recently with 174 points.  Brent said that the hardest part of the training was for the duck search, where the dog has to stay out in the pond for ten minutes swimming and searching for a duck.  Maddy is from our 2017 “M” Litter between Chief and Fire.

Brent and Maddy Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Bluestem Madeline the Huntress, NA III UT III and Brent

At the IllIowa Chapter test, Derek Gilsdorf and Bluestem Captain Augustus Mccraer “Gus” got it done in the NAVHDA Natural Ability Test, earning a Prize I 110 points.  Here’s Gus with his recent haul of teal down in Kansas.  He was from our surprise 2019 “P” litter between Zoro and Ruth.

Bluestem Gus Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Gus got the ducks

I love to hear news of our past puppies, but it is tough to stay in touch with 150 people (that’s why I have a blog).  Feel free to share your pup with us at bluestemkennels@gmail.com and I’ll be sure to share it with everyone here.

The Griffon that started it all…

Good old Sue is still out on the prairies of South Dakota doing her retirement thing at almost 17 years old.  She is the great-grandmother of our current female Ruth and the first Wirehaired Pointing Griffon that we ever owned.  It makes me happy to see her spending time with the family; her current mama Debbie is from Texas originally and moved to South Dakota to be a nurse on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation.

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Stan and old Sue

Up next

The hunt tests all have waiting lists these days, so it doesn’t look like we’ll be running Ruth here in a couple of weeks in AKC Senior Hunter like we had planned.  Charles will be back in the Sandhills for duck season in a few weeks and is headed up to North Dakota with our pal Aaron too.  I’m going to stay home with the kids and wait for Nebraska pheasant season to open on Halloween.

Obi went to the vet today to get his PennHIP x-rays.  He weighs 54 lbs and Dr. Arndt of Harvey Oaks Animal Hospital said that his hips look “terrific”.  That is such great news, so it seems like the stars are finally aligning for us to have a quality outside stud after seven years of trying.

We’ll check back in after Charles returns from North Dakota and see if he gets any interesting photographs.  And hopefully some birds and great outdoor experiences too.  Best wishes to everyone out there chasing their bird dogs around the wilds.

 

Obi’s Natural Ability Test

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I am planning a repeat breeding between Bluestem’s Prairie Fire, NA I and Bluestem Otoe Chief, NA II in the winter for spring 2021 puppies.  My reservation list is robust, but if you would like to be on the backup list in case there are more puppies than I have reservations, feel free to email bluestemkennels@gmail.com.

We really could not have asked for a better day at the Heartland Chapter NAVHDA Test on August 8th.  The predicted heat held off until we were finished and not only did we have the best results we could ask for, we had a surprise visitor.  Mack is a four month old puppy from “Chief” Bluestem Otoe Chief, NA II who had some litters with Coppershot Griffons in Iowa this year.  He really looks like a baby Chief!  Here he is on the left pictured with Obi on the right.

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Chief’s puppy Mack, left, and Obi on the right

A person really doesn’t know how well they scored until they get to the reading of the scores at the end of the day.  We started in the field and were about half way through the ten dogs, so there was lots of scent to throw things off.  We got in enough times pointing the birds to make the grade though.

The bird and dog photos are tough to catch, but I did manage to get one.  You can see the chukar flying off in the top right corner of the photo and Obi on point down in the bottom left.

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Obi stays steady as the chukar flies away

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Charles walks in on another intense point from Obi

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Obi on point

I was a bird planter during the field portion.

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The second portion of the test was the track.  It was difficult for me to see what was happening from my vantage point, but Obi must have tracked the bird successfully since he came back to Charles with a rooster in his mouth.

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Charles struggles to control Obi’s excitement as he jumps for joy over his rooster

We finished the day with the water retrieve.  Obi did fantastic on his two bumper swims.

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Obi bringing back the bumper

Last but not least was the evaluation of the attributes.  Everything looked great and he even has perfect teeth.

Senior Judge Chuck Casanova evaluates Obi’s teeth while Judges Bridget Nelson and David Hahn look on.

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Chuck Casanova looks at Obi’s teeth

We couldn’t be more proud.  Next up is Obi’s hip scan and getting some more age and wild bird hunting under his belt.

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Other than working towards the NAVHDA Natural Ability Test, we went out to the Sandhills for a coronacation around the 4th of July.  I got a couple of good shots of the dogs from that.

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Looks like Ruth is going to start making some attempts at AKC Senior Hunter at the end of September.  But of course right now we are looking forward to the beginning of hunting season Labor Day weekend.  We’ll get to chase sharptailed grouse, prairie chicken, dove, snipe and teal out in the Sandhills.

Let’s hope that this weather cools down and that we all have great success in the field in our tests and hunting.  Good luck to everyone out there working their dogs!

Fall’s Abundance

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We are planning a litter of pups for Spring 2020 between Bluestem Otoe Chief, NA II “Chief” and Bluestem’s Prairie Fire, NA I “Fire”.  The reservation list is currently full, but feel free to email bluestemkennels@gmail.com if you would like to be placed on the contact list for in the event there are additional puppies.

Ruth (Bluestem Peaches En Regalia, NA I) won’t be bred until 2021, but we received her OFA Hip scan and it came back “Good”.

Ruth OFA

Currently the plan for 2021 would repeat my surprise breeding from last year, using Stonyridge Zoro as the stud.  His sire, Stonyridge Otis “Cooper”, is now VC Stonyridge Otis, NA II UT I.  For those of you who don’t speak hunt test alphabet, the “VC” stands for NAVHDA Versatile Champion, meaning that he passed the 2019 NAVHDA Invitational Test, the highest level test in the club.  In order to qualify for that, he recieved a Prize I on his Utility Test, the highest level in the adult hunting test.  The NA II means that he got a Prize II on his Natural Ability test, which needs to be completed by the age of sixteen months.  NAVHDA offers three open tests: the Natural Ability test, the Utility Preparatory Test and the Utility Test.  Each test has three levels of scoring with I being the highest and III being a pass.  The best way to learn about these tests is by attending a NAVHDA Handler’s Clinic near you.

General Dog Health Information Update

A few things that come up in conversation with my fellow dog breeders online that I feel like I should pass along.  This was a bad year for outdoor fungi and algae with dogs.  Blastomycosis (dirt fungi) and blue-green algae ravaged the country and had a big impact on hunting dogs training this year, with many deaths occurring.  Especially with first year pups, keep an eye on vomiting and lethargy and make sure to take it seriously and go to the vet.  The dog can be saved if steps are taken immediately.

Grain-free diets.  Just don’t.  Or if you do, it’s at your own risk.  The FDA has started the research to back up the numerous cases of dialated cardiomyopathy that veterinarians are seeing in otherwise healthy young dogs.

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Three Dog Day: Fire, Ruth (on top) and Zoro

Dead Bird Photos? Yes or No.

Scott Linden of the TV Show Wingshooting USA posed the question on his social media recently of whether or not dead bird photos are necessary or appropriate.  For people who operate hunting dog kennels they are mandatory.  We have to put birds in front of our breeding stock and our clients need to see that it is happening.  Right now, I am just not able to get away to get into the field to take live action hunting photos.  The time that I do get into the field, I want to spend hunting right now.  Once the boys are older, I will have more time for field photography, but for right now we have to settle for the dead bird photos.  So dead bird photos?  YES.

Snipe and Rail Hunt

Charles took Zoro just down southwest of where we live to a spot where we can reliably get into rail and snipe.  The birds are not much larger than your average tweety bird, so it is good pointing practice for the dog to get used to stopping on very little scent.  It is also a good way to work on preventing “hard mouth”, since the bird is very small and the dog has to hold it gently to bring it to hand.

We normally get into sora rail, which have the yellow triangular beak, but this year was the first time that we’ve taken any Virginia Rail.  They have the more reddish hooked beaks.

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Zoro and his snipe, with long beaks on left, and rails on right

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From left: three sora rail, four Virginia Rail, and six snipe

No Dogs Allowed: Sandhills Antelope 2019

Charles spent four days this week hunting antelope out in the Nebraska Sandhills.  He passed on some small bucks and settled on a doe.  We already have antelope horns on the wall, so the trophy pressure was not there.  He got to see lots of wildlife and some dumb grouse hunters (hint: sharptailed grouse and prairie chickens are not in the trees).

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The smaller antelope bucks that he passed on.

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The gun perspective, he likes to belly crawl in close

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His classic gun and big game photo

Sandhills Ducks and Grouse

Yesterday he finally got out with the dogs and chased some birds around.  It sounds like Ruth had an adventure with one of those ducks going down still alive and swimming under a muskrat mound to get away.  But she was able to dive down to grab it.  I wish that I had been there to see it, I always love to watch the dog work a duck retrieve like that. (Somebody didn’t wash the antelope blood out of the truck bed, sorry about that.  Gross.)

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Ruth with two mallard hens and two snipe

Fire and Charles did get into some more grouse and prairie chickens but with Fire being a little out of practice, there were a few slow points with wild flushes and birds flushing on the edge of range.  But a prairie chicken in the bag is better than nothing.

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It sounds like that he is out again this morning, so there may be additional photos to tack on to this post as the day progresses.  He drives back home tomorrow and then we wait for pheasant season to open up here.

My favorite pheasant spot is along the river and is probably going to be flooded out this year, so I’m most likely going to be working my way south and west of here looking for quail and pheasant while the kids are in school.

Happy hunting for those of you out in the fields this fall.  We are truly blessed to have well-managed public lands available to us all around the country.  I hope to see more of them in the future once the boys are grown, but for now I’ll just get out when and where I can and watch everyone else get the rest of it done on social media.

 

P Litter at Four Weeks Old

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These puppies are definitely up and moving these days and the time has come to make some modifications to their housing.  At our old house, now would be the time where I would move them into the outdoor kennel with insulated dog house, but we’ve decided against having any outdoor runs or kennels here.  I think that what I’ll end up doing is taking the railings out of the box and building steps in and out of the door, so that they can have run of the whole kennel.  Then a couple of times a day, I can just herd them out the back door to play outside since the kennel door and the back door are right next to each other.

Since it is still cool out, I’ve been bringing them in the house to play and sometimes we just sit in the box with them too.

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Caleb always enjoys his puppy time

We are in the final throes of getting the old house ready for the next owner, today should be the last day that I have to go over there and work.  We close a week from Friday.  It will be nice to have more time for the puppies and getting ready for Zoro’s NAVHDA Natural Ability test.

I will make sure to get individual photos for next week, the puppies will be big enough for Caleb to pose them for me.  And it will be time to start talking to the new owners about who we think should go where so we can have it all decided in time for them to go home.  They turn 8 weeks on Monday, April 29th, which is the first day that they can leave my house according to the USDA.  It will be between then and Sunday the 5th that they go to their new homes.  For those new owners who are planning on picking up on Saturday, May 4th: can we do it early (like between 7-9 AM) so that I can go watch Zoro run his NAVHDA Natural Ability test?  I will also put that in an email here soon.

Right now the pups are chowing down the soft canned food twice a day.  A whole can each feeding.  So that tells me that they are ready to start having kibble mixed in, so that I can transition to kibble-only in a week or so.

I am so thankful that my friend Drenda down by Lincoln had some live quail to part with for dog training.  We’ll use those to get Zoro ready for his test and let the pups see one.  I also have a good amount of dead birds stored in the freezer that they can practice carrying around towards the end.

Here’s a photo of our cute little suburban training quail holding pen.  It is a chicken hutch with a dog kennel around it.  I am just excited that it is on the ground where I can get to it, our old holding pen was on the top of our garage where Charles would have to climb a ladder to get birds out (I don’t do ladders generally):

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Of course, last but not least, this week’s YouTube video: https://youtu.be/T9klEWj6yqg

Now it is time for me to go and feed those pups, then I have to head over to the old house and take a sledgehammer to our old bird holding pen.  It was completely over-engineered by Charles; even though it is like twelve years-old, it was not coming apart with a crowbar and regular hammer last night.  Then we dropped it off of the garage roof hoping that it would come busting apart…nope.  So I need to go and put the hurt on it.

Have a good week and talk at you again soon.

 

Duck Opener and Fire’s NAVHDA Natural Ability Test

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Duck Opener

Nebraska High Plains duck opener on October 4th found us in our usual haunts up in the Sandhills.  We didn’t get out into the field until around 9 AM both days; that is the nice thing about jump hunting as opposed to sitting over decoys.  Sitting over decoys requires three things that I don’t like to do: 1) haul excessive amounts of gear 2) get up early 3) hold still.  So even though Charles had brought up all of the decoys and blinds and such to do it, we just didn’t.

We work a network of small ponds, swamps, and beaver dammed creeks trying to keep the dogs on heel as best we can.  It is about a 50% success rate on a jump as far as getting shots off.  Sometimes a dog will spook a flock, other times we come across a pond that we didn’t know was there at full standing profile and scare them off, or take a shot at a single in one pond that sets off a giant flock in the next pond.

We’ve taken up enough of a pattern that the game warden was able to track us down on Sunday just because he wanted to chat and see what we’d gotten into.  Charles took 3 teal and a hen wood duck on Saturday and I took 3 teal.  Sunday was a 6 hour day in the field and I took nothing, Charles got 2 snipe and a mallard hen.  I got a couple of videos, the first of Fire retrieving Charles’s mallard hen, her first wild duck retrieve: .  The second is my first anything of the year, I think that I’ve shot at 15 snipe this year with no luck: 

The photo from Saturday is a bit goofy, I just threw the camera up on the tripod, hit the timer and took the shot.  I obviously did not review the pic for my odd facial expression while talking to the crazy dogs.  Oh well, there it is.

Opening day, Saturday, October 4th.

Opening day, Saturday, October 4th.

BB and Charles with Sunday's quarry.

BB and Charles with Sunday’s quarry.

Fire’s NAVHDA Natural Ability Test

Before I get into the test itself, I want to tell you about my new friend, Bob.  He is 75 years-old and ran his 52nd NAVHDA test on Sunday.  He is a retired truck driver from Pennsylvania who was en route to my beloved Sandhills and has been traveling out there for many years.  Before he takes his buddies hunting in the Sandhills, they are required to read the famous Nebraska author Mari Sandoz’s novel Old Jules.  I am certified as a middle and high school English teacher in Nebraska and have not read Old Jules.  Bob laid quite a bit of grief and shame on me, so I will be going on to Amazon to pick up a copy later today since it is not available on iBooks.

My new friend Bob from Pennsylvania

My new friend Bob from Pennsylvania

Bob travels in style

Bob travels in style

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His cool license plate

My favorite picture of the day was of Blaine Erkenbrack looking on as his daughter, Alexa, tossed the bumper for “Khloe”, a 14 month-old German Shorthaired Pointer. Khloe and the gang earned a Prize I, Score 112 in Natural Ability.

Blaine, Alexa, and Khloe.

Blaine, Alexa, and Khloe.

Eight month-old Bluestem’s Prairie Fire “Fire” now has a NA I at the end of her name, with a maximum score of 112 points.  Thanks to Senior Judge Mike Garriott of Falls City, Nebraska, Gabby Awbray of San Diego, California, and Darin Tolzin from Atlantic, Iowa for coming out to judge.  It was a little chillier than what we’ve been used to lately, but there was no rain, and the breeze was pleasant, not a howling gale.

Fire found a number of quail in the field and pointed them all, but proceeded to rip almost every single one (catching the bird before it flushes, also known as a “trap”).  There were a few that were able to get up and fly.

BB working the thick tallgrass cover

Fire working the thick tallgrass cover

Fire slamming into point.  Two quail successfully flushed from this one.

Fire slamming into point. Two quail successfully flushed from this one.

Charles holds Fire's collar while a quail flushes.

Charles holds Fire’s collar while a quail flushes.

After 2 Natural Ability dogs ran the field, they did their track, so 2 field runs, 2 tracks, alternating.  There were 8 Natural Ability dogs running for the day.  The track was a mowed strip leading into a dense, food plot-sized growth of native tallgrass prairie.  Conrad and Charles have been working with Fire quite a bit on the tracking skill and it paid off.

Fire successfully working the track.

Fire successfully working the track.

Fire inherited her sire’s absolute love of water retrieving and had two great bumper retrieves.

Fire getting excited when seeing the bumpers

Fire getting excited when seeing the bumpers

Fire bringing one back in

Fire bringing one back in

L to R apprentice from NJ, Gabby Awbray, Mike Garriott, Darin Tolzin, and apprentice John Green at the reading of the scores.

L to R: apprentice from NJ (sorry, I didn’t note the name), Gabby Awbray, Mike Garriott, Darin Tolzin, and apprentice John Green at the reading of the scores.

We were very pleased with Fire’s performance and enjoyed the day.  Good luck to John and Cle, Fire’s brother, on his Natural Ability test in Tennessee this weekend.

Velma in North Dakota

Velma’s owner, Aaron, was up on the federal ground in North Dakota the weekend before the PLOTS land opens and got into some pheasants and sharptailed grouse.  Velma is right next to Aaron giving him a kiss, we will be keeping a pup out of her breeding to Ben this spring for our next stud dog.

Aaron, his lab, and Velma WPG in North Dakota on Saturday.

Aaron, his lab, and Velma WPG in North Dakota on Saturday.

Pupdate

Tyson up in Bangor, Maine sent over a nice report on the start of his hunting season, his pup, Moose, is from our 2014 “H” Litter between Sam and Mae:

It has been a crazy busy summer here in Maine with some vacation and lots of training with Moose.  We feel so blessed to have such an incredible dog.  He is fitting in great and does awesome with the kids.  I have attached some pics for you.  Moose spent most of the summer sleeping in the boat, as you can see.  

The most exciting thing to report is that bird season officially opened in Maine on October 1st.  And Moose got his first day in the field this Saturday.  He got the chance to hunt with her good friend Spice who is an 8 year old female GSP that is an amazing Maine gun dog.  She definitely showed him the ropes.  They have spent some time training together this summer.  Some good pics of Moose with some very rare Maine Pheasant.  He also pointed the first grouse of the day at our first stop.  Thanks again for an amazing dog!

Best,Tyson

Moose is looking handsome at 7 months old.

Moose is looking handsome at 7 months old.

Moose spending some time on the Atlantic.

Moose spending some time on the Atlantic.

Moose and the elusive Maine roosters

Moose and the elusive Maine roosters

Thanks, as always, to my owners for the updates!

Well, that is about all of the excitement I can handle for one day.  Charles and the dogs head to North Dakota on Saturday, so it will be interesting to see what they come across.  I’m sure we’ll all be jealous.  Stay warm, until then.

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