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.


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.


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


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).


The smaller antelope bucks that he passed on.


The gun perspective, he likes to belly crawl in close


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.)


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.


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.


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):


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


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.


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!


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.

Back to School

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Today, for the first time in 13 years, I don’t have a child in daycare, preschool, or at home with me.  The youngest is off to kindergarten and as much as I’ve looked forward to this day for so bloody long, it still hurts a little.  But I’ll be back to substitute teaching English at the high school the day after tomorrow, so that will be exciting.  And there’s always the dogs.

It has rained every day since we’ve been back from vacation, so they haven’t gotten a good long run in for awhile.  It shows; they are a bit rammy on their walks out back.  Yesterday, Sam finally met the new intact male pitbull that moved recently in a few properties over.  I was very nervous, but the pit is probably several years younger and 3-4 inches shorter than Sam, so nobody was questioning who was dominate (thank God).

Fall is Coming

In case you hadn’t noticed, fall will be here soon.  The dog cult of Branched Oak Field Trial Grounds will be re-assembling in 10 days for the German Shorthaired Pointer Club of Nebraska’s Fall Field Trial.  We’ll go ahead and run Fire in the Amateur Walking Puppy and Amateur Walking Derby stakes.  The following weekend, we’ll do the same thing at the same place with the German Shorthaired Pointer Club of Lincoln.  Those trials fall on each end of my work week trip to Maine, August 25-29 for AWPGA National Specialty, so it will be a very doggy week.

Speaking of the people who hang around Branched Oak, I’d like to give a shout out to Kahne Packer, and his folks Dana and Chad.  Kahne is bud of my kids at dog events and was featured in the Best in Show photograph for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission Nebraskaland Magazine Photo Contest for 2014.

Kahne Packer and his German Shorthaired Pointer anxiously wait to set food afield at a youth mentor pheasant hunt at Cub Creek Hunting in Beatrice.  Photo by Kaleb White

Kahne Packer and his German Shorthaired Pointer anxiously wait to set foot afield at a youth mentor pheasant hunt at Cub Creek Hunting in Beatrice. Photo by Kaleb White

Sharptailed Grouse and Statewide Early Teal

We will skip opening day of sharptailed grouse on September 1 and instead head out there on Friday the 5th to chase them, with statewide Nebraska early teal opening on Saturday the 6th.  If you go out for early teal on the 6th, make sure you take the time to properly identify what you are shooting.  This season is under evaluation by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and if we harvest too many non-teal ducks, we will lose the season.  TEAL ONLY.  Please download the NGPC Waterfowl Guide to your phone or tablet prior to going out into the field for further guidance: http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/hunting/guides/waterfowl/waterfowl.asp

 The battle of the over/unders: the SKB Model 505 vs. the Browning Citori Lightning

We have a way of winning big ticket items at Pheasants Forever banquets.  Charles and Conrad both have Nebraska Lifetime Hunting and Fishing licenses.  I won the 12 ga. Browning Citori Lightning O/U four or five years ago.  I used to shoot a 20 ga. SKB 505, but I don’t get a chance to shoot skeet that often, so I needed the extra reach of a 12 ga. to put more birds in the bag.  Plus, it took me several years of hunting to work up the upper body strength to carry a shotgun all day and not end up with a black shoulder from bad form.  Charles would have taken the Citori, but it is just too long for him.

An array of Browning Citoris, from pafoa.org

An array of Browning Citoris, from pafoa.org

I have fought with that damn shotgun since the day I won it.  It has driven me to tears.  Both the Browning and the SKB have the safety on the top of the grip of the stock, just behind the receiver.  With the SKB it is a simple thumb push forward to take the safety off.  On the Browning Citori Lightning the safety and the O/U switch are one in the same, where you push the same switch side to side to choose barrels, then forward to take off the safety.  If the O/U switch is not properly engaged, the safety will not turn off.  And it is just enough to send me into a complete hissy fit and makes me lose my focus on the shot.  So good riddance, Browning Citori Lightning O/U 12 ga., into the safe to be a loaner gun.  Or maybe one of the boys will have more patience for it than I.

Unfortunately, SKB shotguns are not currently in production.  About three years ago, the family who owned the SKB factory in Japan decided that they no longer wanted to carry on operating it once the family patriarch passed on.  So, SKB USA, which is headquartered right here in Omaha, Nebraska, is building a new plant in Turkey to continue to manufacture these functional tools.  Sure, it is cool to look at a Kreighoff, but what happens when I fall into the swamp (again)?  But luckily around Christmas time, we found a 505 12 ga. in mint condition here at Guns Unlimited (aka SKB USA headquarters), so I am super excited to get her out in the field and shoot some stuff.  Oops, I mean harvest the sacred game.

SKB Model 505 12 ga. field grade

SKB Model 505 12 ga. field grade.  Photo from skb.com

 Vacation selfies

Looking back on my vaca post, I realize that I edited myself out of the photos.  Here I am, “Hi!!”

Great Sand Dunes National Park kicked my arse.  Photo by Charles.

Great Sand Dunes National Park kicked my arse. Photo by Charles.

Charles and I at the Grand Canyon.  Photo by our 10 year-old son, Conrad.

Charles and I at the Grand Canyon. Photo by our 10 year-old son, Conrad.


We received Ben’s OFA certification back and it was Good.  He is a 3 1/2 year old male out of Sam and Sue that we’ll be breeding on to our co-owned female, Velma.  I can check that off of the list.

Ben's OFA certificate

Ben’s OFA certificate

Ernie up in North Dakota has been working with his 5 month-old pup, Duncan, and the Central Dakota NAVHDA chapter towards the Natural Ability test.  Duncan is from our 2014 “H” litter of Sam and Mae.  He said, “Duncan is doing great, he has more natural ability than any other dog I have ever seen at this age.  He is picking up on the obedience training very quickly.  The guys at NAVHDA are sure he could do his NA test now, but I will wait until spring.  Hope you have a great hunting season.”

He also sent along a video of their training:

As it says in the credits, thank you to Ernie for the great video, and to the Central Dakota NAVHDA chapter for the training opportunities!

Duncan on a fishing trip, waiting for hunting season.

Duncan on a fishing trip, waiting for hunting season.

Also working with the Central Dakota NAVHDA chapter is TracHer, with Susan and Tom.  TracHer is from our 2012 “C” litter of Sam and Mae.  They sent along a GoPro headmount video of working with her on steadiness.  I appreciate them sharing a video of a work in progress, as training steadiness is challenging.  If you are sensitive to motion, you might want to start the video at 1:15 or so.  I also film with a GoPro and know that getting anything of quality is lucky, so thank you again Susan and Tom for putting in the effort to share this.  

Matt up in South Dakota has been out with Josie, Duncan’s sister.  He called me up and said that she’s gaining her independence in her puppy adolescence, but they are getting her reined back in by having her drag a check cord.  She had a bit of random nervous barking early on, but they resolved it quickly with a no-bark collar.  Matt guides upland and waterfowl near Vermillion when he isn’t doing his day job, and I learned something interesting from him about hunting waterfowl along the Missouri River.  They do not use any type of collar on the dog up there, for fear of having dogs snag on the numerous logs and branches in the water.  We have yet to try and take on the Mighty Mo here, it is a big deep channel, but that is a smart tip.

Josie sitting

Josie sitting

Josie in the field

Josie in the field

Josie with a bumper in the yard

Josie with a bumper in the yard

TracHer’s brother, Chester, out in New York was caught on camera by his trainer, Steve Anker.  Charles hangs out on the versatiledogs.com forum and showed me this.  I loved it so much that I had to snag it.  Chester is working on his NAVHDA Utility Test with the Hudson Valley NAVHDA Chapter, and is pictured with his owner, Sal.

Sal and Chester up to serious training business.  Photo by Steve Anker.

Sal and Chester up to serious training business. Photo by Steve Anker.

Okay, not a pupdate, but still a silly griffon photo from my pack.  My brother Ron had Mae out on Main Street in Valentine, Nebraska while the bar folk were about.  I didn’t ask the details, but he titled this one “Mae Meets the Party Girls”.

Mae giving love to the party girls

Mae giving love to the party girls

Time for me to get on with the day.  Party on, Mae.