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Pheasant 2014: North Dakota and Nebraska

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North Dakota Wrap-Up

As mentioned in the last post, Charles and the dogs were in North Dakota last week from Sunday until Thursday.  Sunday they got a hun, and Monday a duck and two pheasants were in the bag (both of those photographs are in last week’s blog post).  Tuesday they bagged 4 ducks, but they were mixed in with everything else on the stringer in the photograph and it was getting dark, so I opted to spare you another body count photo.  Wednesday, they got a snipe and a rooster.

Snipe and Rooster from Wednesday, October 22nd

Snipe and Rooster from Wednesday, October 22nd

One of Charles’s friends tipped him off to a good spot to hit on his way out of North Dakota, where he got a limit in an hour and a half on Thursday.

North Dakota Rooster Limit

North Dakota Rooster Limit

I apologize for the body count photos, especially to one of my regular readers who scolded me recently about having too many of them on my blog.  We’ll get some more artful action photos with dogs in them and such next year, I opted to stay home since I got in plenty of travel earlier in the year.

Nebraska Opening Weekend

We decided not to wade into the fray of opening morning, but I was bound and determined to get out on Sunday.  Charles decided that he wanted to come along too even though he had a cold and had just spent the whole week hunting.  We went out midday and by the time we were headed back to the truck later in the afternoon it was 86 degrees out.  Way too hot.  He got 2 roosters within the first 5 minutes of our arrival to the field.  I got a shot off on one a bit later, but missed.

The second rooster that Charles shot yesterday still had enough juice to fly 80 yards or so into some thick sunflowers, making Sam and Fire work hard to find the carcass.  Fire was the one who found it and brought it right to Charles.  He wanted to make sure that he got the bird from her in a timely fashion, so I didn’t have a chance to take a picture since I was carrying my shotgun.  Darn.

I took Wednesday morning of this week off from work so that I can get out on my own.  Not that it will necessarily change my shooting luck with rooster pheasants, but I’m going to give it a try.

Yet another dorky hunting selfie from Charles and Charity

Yet another dorky hunting selfie from Charles and Charity

It appears that the top pheasant in the photograph below was released by Nebraska Game and Parks this year, if you notice the nostrils are enlarged from the blinders that were on the bird during its time in the pen.  The bottom bird is either a survivor from last year or a wild hatch.

Notice the size of the pheasant nostrils

Notice the size of the pheasant nostrils

Pupdates

Bob from Minnesota sent me an e-mail and photo of “Ed” from our 2013 “E” Litter from Sam and Sue.

Just wanted to give you a quick update on Ed.  We finally made it out pheasant hunting in MN this past weekend.  I managed to get Ed and my oldest daughter, Faith, out for a bit.  In a year in which MN DNR says the numbers of birds are down, Ed managed to find and point 7 birds in a quick morning walk.  We have done no live bird work since last year and he was flat out amazing!  He is definitely ready for our annual trip to North Dakota next week.  I will get you some pictures upon our return from that trip.  Definitely looking forward to it.

Ed and Faith in MN

Ed and Faith in MN

Curt out in Central Nebraska shot this video a couple of weeks ago of our Fire’s sister “Gracie” doing her first water retrieve at 8 months of age: 

Congratulations to Lindsay and Bluestem’s Big Sky Rendezvous CGC NA I “Midge” in Montana for qualifying for the AKC Owner Handler Series.  Midge and Lindsay were #8 (tie) in conformation show points in the series (click photo to enlarge results).

AKC Owner Handler Series Rankings

AKC Owner Handler Series Rankings

I hope that everyone who celebrates Halloween has a happy and safe one.  I do not dress up my dogs, so don’t even think that you’ll be seeing that next week.  Not gonna happen.  But thanks to all of my owners for the updates and I’ll be sure to keep you posted as to what is going on here.  Happy Haunting and Hunting!

 

North Dakota Hunting and Hunt Test Pupdates

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AWPGA Health and Genetics Database

Fellow Wirehaired Pointing Griffon breeders and owners: please participate in the AWPGA Health and Genetics Database.  You do not have to be an AWPGA member to participate.  We are looking to collect as much pedigree and health information as possible, so that we can go forward with a clearer picture of where the breed is currently and make appropriate breeding decisions. http://www.awpgadb.com/

2014 Hunting Issue of the Griffonnier

I am now co-editor of the Griffonnier with Amy Caswell-O’Clair from New Hampshire.  The first issue that I’ll be working on is appropriately the Hunting Issue 2014.  If you are an AWPGA member and have hunting training tips, hunting tales and photographs, or game bird recipes, please e-mail them to griffonniereditor@cox.net by November 30th.  If you aren’t an AWPGA member, please consider joining us: http://awpga.com/beamember.html.  We will be having our annual gathering in Fall 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa and would love to have you all join us.

Pups Hunting in North Dakota

I’m getting good reports out of North Dakota from both my puppy owners and Charles.  Here’s Susan’s North Dakota hunting party, with our pup TracHer from our 2012 “C” Litter from Sam and Mae.  Susan and TracHer are on the far left of the photo.

Susan and TracHer with friends and family.

Susan and TracHer with friends and family.

Susan said that the numbers were great and that they all would have had their limits if their shots had connected.  I know that feeling!

Ernie is having fun in North Dakota with 7 month old Duncan, from our 2014 “H” Litter from Sam and Mae.

Duncan and Ernie with a pheasant limit

Duncan and Ernie with a pheasant limit

Ernie has also picked up a GoPro camera and got some video of points and retrieves from Duncan.  GoPro seems to have improved the distance perception in the newer models, it seems more true to real sight.  I couldn’t be more pleased with this footage, what great work for a 7 month old pup.  

Hunt Test News

Congratulations to Sal and Chester (TracHer’s littermate) on two AKC Senior Hunter passes at the Long Island (New York) Viszla Club the weekend before last!

Sal and Chester with SH ribbons

Sal and Chester with SH ribbons

Also, congratulations to John and his pup, Cle, who is our Fire’s brother, on his NAVHDA Natural Ability Prize III at 8 months with the MidSouth NAVHDA Chapter in Pelham, Tennessee over the weekend.

More North Dakota

The dogs and Charles rolled into North Dakota mid-day Sunday, giving them some time to hunt in the afternoon and evening.  He took his first ever Hungarian Partridge then.  (Sorry for the low quality phone photos)

Charles's first Hungarian Partridge

Charles’s first Hungarian Partridge

I received another truck and bird photo mid-afternoon today, a drake redhead and two nice roosters.  The story on the duck is that he was working a slough surrounded by a cornfield when a group of ducks got up from the pond.  Charles tucked down, with this one flying in range.  The duck landed in standing corn and little Fire retrieved it.  He took the two roosters an hour or so later within 5 minutes of each other, but saw nothing else the rest of the day.  Still a nice bag.

Drake Canvasback and two roosters

Drake redhead and two roosters

Good luck to everyone else in the field out there!

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.

Sharptailed Grouse Hunting Opener and Other News

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Reservations and Breeding Plans

At this point, I have taken 10 reservations with deposits for my Spring 2014 litters and continue to get interest daily.  Even though I am planning three litters (from Mae, BB and Velma), I won’t even start breeding for another three months or so (which puts whelping 5+ months away and homegoing 7+ months away).  I just want everyone to know that I am a bit hesitant about taking additional reservations right now.  If everything goes as planned, I could have 12-20 puppies in 2014, but I just don’t know right now.  Feel free to call (402) 682-9802 or e-mail bluestemkennels@cox.net if you have any questions.

Sharptailed Grouse and Dove Opening Day: September 1, 2013

Charles had a great opening day of grouse in the Nebraska Sandhills on Sunday, September 1st.  We set out into the northern dunefield of our usual opening day spot.  Our “usual opening day spot” consists of two east-west running dunefields with about a mile wide valley in the middle.  I let Charles, Sam and BB head deep into the dunes, while I waited behind at the truck with Mae.  Once they were out of sight, I set off eastward into the rising sun.  I was probably 100-300 yards south of Charles and clearly heard one shot about 15 minutes into our walk.  I had a single bird get up to my left about 5 minutes later, but I missed the shot, which was the only one I had on a grouse all weekend.  Not long after I heard another single shot.  Charles and I met up at the eastern fenceline of the section about 45 minutes after we had started and talked about what we had seen.  He had seen a few large flocks of grouse and had 2 in the bag, so we headed up into the northeastern corner of the section to make sure that we had covered everything, then turned back around to go west towards the truck.  Once again, Charles was to the north of me in the higher dunes and I was working the southern edge.  Sure enough, not 5 minutes after we parted ways, I heard another single shot.  I went over to him and he had his limit of 3.

Wirehaired Pointing Griffons Hunt Sharptailed Grouse

Sam, Charles and BB with their limit of sharptailed grouse on opening day 2013

We worked for another hour walking westward where he had seen the larger groups, but we didn’t see a single grouse.  We then set up our decoys at a windmill and sat for doves for an hour and a half or so, each taking one, but it was too hot to sit the whole day, so we headed back to town to spend time with the family.

Sandhills Dove Hunting 2013

Charles and Charity with the obligatory one dove each to start the season

The following day we set out into another spot that has been an annual producer for us.  I walked for 3 hours and Charles walked for 4 and neither one of us saw a single sharptail, which is very odd.  Some folks say it was last year’s drought not leaving enough cover for nesting, others say they were killed in the massive summer hailstorm that hit the area, but all I know is that they have been in this spot for 15 years and they weren’t there on Labor Day.  We called it a hunt midday on Monday and headed out to the lake with friends and family.

Charles has spent the last two weekends working with BB on the duck search and retrieve for her second shot at the NAVHDA Utility Test in October.  This coming weekend we will be heading down to Missouri to try our hand at the last weekend of their early teal duck season.  Sam is usually our main duck dog, so he will have to hang back back at the truck while BB finally gets her chance to be the waterfowl star.

Pupdates

Got a message and photos from Bob in Minnesota about his pup Ed, from Sue and Sam’s 2013 “E” litter.  Sounds like he is doing great and has some fun adventures in store for this season:

Ed is a big boy and tipping the scales just shy of 60 pounds on his 6 month bday.  He is loving our weekend camping trips to the lake and is a hard charger in his water work.  In fact he gets close to the lake and will rip the leash out of your hands to go in while carrying his bumper.  Last weekend he pointed 2 grouse sitting in the woods near the lake on one of our walks.  Ed is looking real nice on his points but still is breaking so I have some more work to do.  He is retrieving to hand and I am hoping that continues when hunting season begins here in MN.  I have taken a break the past week on training as we have been having triple digit temps up here and it is just too hot.  Ed will be heading out in mid September for official gun introduction and bird and gun association.  Out pheasant season starts on October 12 here in MN and then we are headed out to North Dakota on November 6 for our first North Dakota adventure of the fall.  Thinking trip number 2 will be in December but that will depend on the weather and how he does this fall on our other outings.

Ed6mos

Ed at 6 months chillin’ on the deck

Ed hanging out in the house

Ed hanging out in the house

Ed and his toy pheasant

Ed and his toy pheasant

16 month old Chester from Sam and Mae’s “C” Litter of 2012 lives out in New York and has been practicing hard for the upcoming season with his owner Sal and trainer Hoss.  He’s pictured here at a Hudson Valley NAVHDA Chapter training day.

Chester on point

Chester on point

Another shot of Chester on point

Another shot of Chester on point

Chester retrieving

Chester retrieving

And handsome three year old Whiskey out in Nevada from Sue and Sam’s “A” litter of 2010 has been caught by owner Deborah being very silly these days.

Whiskey thinks that crocs make great chew toys

Whiskey thinks that crocs make great chew toys

Whiskey peeking out from his blanket

Whiskey peeking out from his blanket

As always, thank you to the puppy owners for taking such fabulous photos and sharing them with us!!

I just talked to my eyes on the sky down in Missouri and he said that with this warm weather there aren’t many teal flying, but this coming weekend is the last one of the season, so it is the only shot we’re going to get on this particular season.  Since we’ll have our Missouri license anyway, I see us heading down there for some other waterfowl seasons this year too since it is only an hour and a half away.  So wish us luck and we’ll keep you posted!!

Nebraska and North Dakota Pheasants

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One doesn’t hunt in order to kill, on the contrary, one kills to have hunted.

-Jose Ortega y Gasset

There is a nauseating thread in upland bird hunting writing these days that the hunt really isn’t about the size of the game bag at the end of the day, but is really some sort of quasi-religious experience where we are communing with nature and bonding with our fellow hunters and our dogs, waiting for some sort of epiphany to occur out in the field.  I first saw it start to crop up in the blogosphere, but it has since bled over into magazine and newspaper articles.

It sounds to me like an excuse used by people who aren’t hunting smart and hard or by state game officials when they aren’t properly managing habitat.  The drought this year has led to almost all of the CRP land in southeastern Nebraska to be hayed or grazed, leaving hunters with very few options to chase roosters nearby.  The general agricultural climate of eastern Nebraska as a whole, with grain prices as high as they are, has become an annual limiting factor regardless of the weather conditions for the year.  We can’t ask farmers not to farm, that’s their job, but the Nebraska Game and Parks needs to consider expanding their current pheasant stocking program to all wildlife management areas in the Lincoln-Omaha area.

You didn’t know that NGPC was stocking pheasants?  They claim it is for the youth hunting weekend, but we suspect that it is a pilot stocking program looking to salvage what is left of upland bird hunting culture in the urban part of our state.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: NGPC has no problem managing several fish hatcheries and openly stocking fish.  Heck, I get updates on Facebook when they stock trout and exactly where they do it.  Stock more pheasants in southeastern Nebraska.  How did they get here in the first place, did they fly from China?!? (That’s a rhetorical question of course.  The current rooster-bearing states were stocked many times in order to establish a sustainable population.)

Here’s a shot of a rooster that we planted in April on a friend’s land along the Platte River in Cass County, where we have never seen pheasants at all before, Charles and Sam harvested him last weekend.

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, Sam, and the first Nebraska rooster from Saturday

I know that NGPC and Pheasants Forever think that the sole focus needs to be on habitat, but if there aren’t any birds to manage habitat for, then what is the point?!?  We were so excited for our friend, Matt, who took our oldest female griffon Sue out last Friday to some of the WMA’s that had been stocked.  He got his first limit of roosters ever and was completely ecstatic.  Tell him that the size of the game bag doesn’t matter.

Which is why Charles, like many other “dog men”, take the dogs north for wild bird training for a week each year.  All of the kumbayaing over hunting spirituality in the world doesn’t replace sheer grit and determination to give your dogs the most wild bird contact possible each year.  Charles has chosen North Dakota as his annual destination.  One of my fellow griffoniers brought his two dogs out to Montana from the east coast and didn’t realize the huge learning curve that it takes to get a dog educated to the behavior of particular upland game birds, the wily rooster pheasant especially.  They took one rooster over a few days, then he boxed his dogs and brought out the guide’s dogs.  Over the guides dogs they took several roosters and some Hungarian partridge too.  Appreciation of the dew on the grass and the wind on your face doesn’t give the dogs that education.  Getting up before the sun comes up on day 4 of a pheasant hunt, stinking because you haven’t taken a shower the whole time, stiff and sore from the physical exertion and because you’ve been sleeping in the back of your SUV is not fun or religious.  But it is necessary.  Just like killing.

Sam and BB with the birds hanging at the end of day 2 in North Dakota.

I’ve been known to cry over getting skunked on a day.  I’ve felt guilty as hell when my dogs have worked their asses off tracking a rooster, then pin it down with perfect double points, only to have me wreck it on the shot.  The dogs hate it too, you can tell they get upset with me.

 Although ancient hunters recognized the religious and spiritual nature of the hunt, they did so in order to increase the size of their harvest.  In the fall and winter, we all still look up at the constellation Orion at night and hope he blesses our efforts.  But to succeed is to kill.  There is no way around that with hunting.

Charles and the dogs’ bird total from 3 days in North Dakota: 2 ducks, 3 sharptail grouse and 8 roosters. They took a few more before they packed up and left the following day.

Nebraska Sandhills Opener 2012

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The Nebraska Sandhills

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Charles, Charity and the dogs started opening day at the usual opening day spot, which is a half-mile wide, flat valley with a set of high dunes to the north, running east to west, and a set of shorter dunes to the south, also running east to west.  Charles was assigned the higher northern dune set and Charity the southern set.  This is the first year that they split up in 13 years of hunting together and will probably continue to hunt this way.  Charity’s pace is about half that of Charles’s, so the ability to determine their own speeds was the first reason.  The second reason is that running four dogs puts too much pressure on these skittish birds at once.  So, Charity took the older females, Mae and Sue, and Charles worked four year old male, Sam, and eighteen month old female, BB.

There are various ways to pattern a dunefield when hunting grouse, but Charity selected a straight up an ambling criss-cross pattern for opening day, starting on the southern, low dunes walking west to east, then turning back, walking a bit higher going east to west, then back again in the high chop going west to east.  It was in the high chop an hour after starting out that she flushed her first single sharptail just barely out of range, firing shots that didn’t connect.  A few steps later, a group of four got up at seventy five yards, flying off of the highest dune in the southern set, disappearing out of view to who knows where.  Despite being a bit ragged from each having a litter of pups this summer, Sue and Mae sprang into action once bird activity began.  They covered the highest dune to check for stragglers with no success and the descent down the eastern slope began at a frantic pace.  So frantic that both dogs and hunter marched right past the sharptail that cackled up behind Charity, so that she had to take the 200 degree shotgun swing for the double-barrel attempt.  She saw it wobble and descend, sending the dogs after a retrieve.  Sue happily retrieved the first grouse of the season for team Versatile Hunter and it was captured on her new head-mounted video camera.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBoTg3pINGk

Meanwhile, Charles was working the taller northern dunefield, also starting from the west and working his way east in a meandering zig-zag pattern, making sure that either he or the dogs were covering any possible grouse territory in the complex.  As he ascended into the target area, a random group of doves flushed off of a high dune and he couldn’t help himself but to harvest one.  Not long after he heard the reports of Charity’s missed shot and her success following shortly thereafter, he descended from a dune peak and looked down onto a small flat amongst the choppy hills.  Three grouse busted at seventy-five yards, as if they sensed something, but not necessarily imminent danger as they merely popped up and over the next slope.  As soon as he entered the marked zone of potential landing, one got up and he shot it at close range straight on, with BB nearby for a quick retrieve.

After Charity and the older females watched the cattle hustle off of the pond on the eastern end of the dunefield and head for the windmill a couple of miles to the northwest, they stopped for a water break before continuing their criss-cross pattern, back to the west on some of the lower dunes, then finally crossing back eastward on the flat right next to the dunes.  Charity has taken prairie chickens out of there in years past, but there was nothing to be seen this year.  Once she finishing fully covering her assigned area, she and the dogs crossed the valley to meet up with Charles to get the update of his one grouse and one dove in the bag, but he had more ground to cover and an idea where birds were in the high chop.  Charity followed the low dunes towards the west and stopped again at a windmill for a break, noting the lack of doves at the spot.

Charles headed northwest from the windmill into an extension of the same northern dunefield that he had been working all morning.  He marched his way to the extreme northwest corner and worked his way back and not soon after he reached the endpoint and began hiking back, the dogs got birdy and three grouse flushed within fifty yards, which is in range for Charles even with a twenty gauge.  He took one out of that group and while BB was on retrieve, another flushed even closer.  His shot merely clipped the wing and the bird began to run.  Luckily, catching running wounded birds is one of Sam’s specialties, so while BB was delivering the first bird, Sam put the lockdown on the attempted escapee to round out Charles’s limit for the day.

The sun was arcing higher into the azure sky and getting uncomfortably warm to continue trekking.  It was time to return to the truck, which Charity couldn’t see from the windmill but knew it was to the south.  She wandered a bit off track, farther east into the valley than she needed to go, but eventually caught sight of the vehicle and made it back just in time to meet up there with Charles.

At first they had it in their mind to sit for doves, but after scoping their two best spots and seeing nothing, they opted to sit out doves this trip and wait until their return to the Missouri River Valley, where they are plentiful this year.

Charles shows off his opening day limit back in town, with BB and Sam, Wirehaired Pointing Griffons

Charity is back in town with her first sharptail grouse of the year, assisted by Sue and Mae, Wirehaired Pointing Griffons

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Day two started early again this year, at the “big hill”, the one over by the “hard road”.  As there aren’t many landmarks to speak of in the sea of grass, they are forced to come up with their own for navigational purposes.  The valley between the two dunefields was much narrower than the previous day’s, only a few hundred yards, but it was a similar approach with Charles covering the northern side of the valley and Charity the southern.  Charity decided to use a figure eight pattern on this area, starting at the south and working eastward towards the middle of the dunes, using the highest peak as the centerpoint of the figure eight, then covering the north side of the dunes.  It took her an hour to cover the first curve of the figure eight, stopping at a windmill for a brief break, taking a couple of sips of water.  She then continued south, then turning westward to continue her figure eight pattern, back to the high dune as the centerpoint, then covering the north side, completing her figure eight.  In two hours of hiking, she didn’t even see a flush in the distance.

Charles took his normal approach into his assigned area and not long after starting to work it, he watched BB run over a dune out of sight and she didn’t check back in quickly like she normally would, so he headed in that direction.  Three or four grouse came sky charging away from where BB was last seen, straight towards Charles, with BB in hot pursuit.  In order to work on steadiness, Charles elected not to reward bad behavior and chose not to shoot.  He marked their likely landing zone back to the west and pursued.  Not five minutes later, the dogs started acting birdy and were tracking hard, but once again charged the flushing birds, so he opted out of shooting once again.  He did finally get a point out of BB, which is an anomaly in the dry Sandhills, as scenting conditions are basically nonexistent.  Charles “whoaed” Sam into honoring BB’s point, then began to kick around the hill trying to flush the birds.  But the wind was playing tricks and blowing the scent of a flock from the top of one dune a hundred yards away over to the top of the dune where the dogs were pointing, so the birds saw the motion and activity of Charles trying to find them and flushed way out of range.  As he stood at the top of the ridge, he heard the chortling of a large group of grouse over in a dune range that they had never hunted before.

Charity and Charles met up and headed back to the truck for a bit of a break.  Charles reported that he heard distant cackling coming from a north/south running set of dunes that they had never worked before, a half-mile across the valley, off to the west.  They decided to each take one end of the field, Charity to the south and Charles to the north, zig-zagging to meet in the middle.  Charity made it up and into the dunefield and her dogs found a group of three in a pocket of knee-high sumac.  She fired off a downhill shot, but the birds were just out of range.  As she headed off to take chase, she all of a sudden lost all energy, felt dizzy and her heart was racing.  All she could think was, “There is no way that Charles could find me, let alone drag me out of here and I’m not sure the truck could get up here.  I’ve got to get back down to the valley so that at least if I passed out he would be able to see me”.

Charles ascended the northern end of the new hunting grounds, just making the climb when seven or eight birds broke unexpectedly soon.  Most of them headed deep into the high chop, but others oddly enough headed for some trees on the edge of the dunes.  He made his way toward the trees, not usual sharptail grouse habitat, and sent the dogs in to run them out.  Sure enough the grouse came running scared out from the trees, then flushed as they came to the prairie edge at about fifty yards out.  A pellet found its way to a bird on the shot, but it wasn’t down for the count and sailed into the distance.  The bird knew it was in trouble and flushed again at fifty yards, but was hit hard this time and Sam had no problem bringing it in.

They marched higher into the chop, bumping a mule deer buck and a jackrabbit, but BB and Sam knew better than to chase those.  Not long after, three grouse got up, then a fourth was a bit slower on the jump that Charles put his bead on and harvested, with Sam once again delivered to hand.

Charity stumbled a few steps at a time back towards the east, sitting down frequently and feeling lucky when she heard Charles shooting just to the west of her, then him finally seeing her stumbling away from the hunt.  Her pride wouldn’t allow her to tell him that she was having trouble and was hoping that she would be able to shake off the spell and resume hunting.  But after a good 20 minutes of cramping and stumbling and feeling like Gumby, she accepted defeat and just wanted to get back to the truck.  Of course, that was when birds got up within her range, but even though she took shots, there was no way that she was focused enough to hit anything.

The birds that she missed raced right past Charles, well within range, but he too was feeling the effects of dehydration and was unable to focus on the task at hand.  With two in the bag and the day getting warmer, it was time to go.

They were both coming out of the dunefield at the same time, he with two in the bag and she just happy to have made it out without a medical incident.

Monday, September 3, 2012

As normal for day three, the alarm rang forty-five minutes later than the first two days.  Everyone dragged to the truck, sore and tired.  But luckily the fresh spot is full of birds and everyone loosened up with the excitement of immediate action.  This is a very wide dunefield and they elect to both travel east to west, with Charles to the south and Charity to the north.  Charity takes her first and only bird of the day within 10 minutes of leaving the truck.  The bird got up front and center, but she failed to disengage the safety at the first shot attempt, but then recovered in time to get a shot off as it veered over to her left.  She wasn’t sure if it connected, but swore she saw the bird waver as it topped the dune, so they headed back in the direction of the truck.  Mae found the bird and licked the blood and feathers, hesitating a bit on the retrieve.  She was called off of the bird and Sue was sent in.  The strong natural retrieve is Sue’s greatest gift.

Simultaneously, Charles enters his area, pushing another nice mule deer buck out of his resting place and hits the jackpot not long after, putting up a flock of 12 grouse, which was the only large group of the whole trip.  The birds head east, the opposite direction of our intended march, but birds don’t follow our puny human plans, now do they?  As he comes into the marked area where he thought they landed, the dogs loop to the west of the dune and he elects to go east, hoping to pin the wily critters down.  Out of nowhere, Sam starts barking, which is never a response to birds.  While Sam is barking his head off (which Charity could hear in the distance and was hoping everything was okay), a lone grouse flushes behind Charles that he quickly swings behind and kills, marking the bird down and leaving it lay to figure out the source of Sam’s anxiety.  Just as he turns back from the bird to look at Sam and his yucca problem, BB emerges from behind the plant with a face full of porcupine quills.  Charles pinned BB down and pulled out quills from her face and paw, while Sam continued his barking but learning the porky lesson long ago, Charles was confident Sam wouldn’t tangle with it.  Once he released BB from her operation, she immediately went and found the bird for the retrieve while Charles called Sam off of the barking spasm.

Charity continued west through the dunes, having a few groups of 3-4 get up both in and out of range within a span of a half hour, but the shots didn’t come together.  She spent another hour heading west towards a couple of windmills and a lone tree, but saw nothing.

The team of Charles, Sam and BB eased along the southern ridgeline that Charity had covered to the north and pushed birds into.  One got up that he missed, but a second bird jumped that he put a pellet into.  It soared a hundred yards away, but it was obviously hit because one leg was hanging limp despite its efforts to escape.  They worked over to where it was down and BB found and pointed it, but the bird hadn’t given up the fight.  It flushed again and with a close range going away shot, Charles had no problem bagging it.  They worked their way further into the area that Charity had busted up and a grouse charged them out of nowhere, flying up over a dune straight at them.  Needless to say, Charles’s limit was taken care of in that salvo.

Despite the remote location, they were within cell phone range and Charles texted that he had his limit and was coming to get her.  She made her way to the windmill by the lone tree and he drove the truck to pick her up, just in time to head back to town to fix the kids some lunch.

Charles shows the neighborhood boys, along with son, Conrad, on left, how to breast out a sharptail grouse

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

                As Charity’s family babysitting time had expired, plus there was make-up homework to help the kids with and laundry to do, Charles headed out to “Prairie Chicken Paradise” on his own.  He was making his way out to the paradise, in an area that used to surprise us when birds got up, but we’ve been surprised enough years to now know that a flock resides in these very low, almost nonexistent dunes on the way to our usual hunting grounds a mile and a half away from the road.  It was there that he took his only bird of the day, with unknown numbers jumping right into the sun, he instinctively fired at the sound of the wingbeats since he couldn’t see and was able to put one on the ground between him and Sam.

They made their way back to the deep dunefield that has consistently produced for us throughout the years, but not a flush was to be had.  BB began tracking hard, so since there seemed to be nothing else going on, Charles and Sam followed along.  BB was tracking a coyote, who jumped up and ran, but Charles was in no mood for fur and called the dogs off to head for home.  It was time to enjoy the company of our family and good friends in the Nebraska Sandhills.

Despite the long summer drought and unseasonably hot conditions, Charles, Charity and the dogs were able to have success on their traditional sharptail grouse and prairie chicken opener by relying on proven approaches to covering ground and relocating known coveys that they’ve hunted for over a decade.

Preparing the trip’s harvest for the freezer, minus 2 grouse that were already consumed.