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Reflections on Snipe Hunting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defeated by the swamp

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

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

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

Spring in the Sandhills and other adventures

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

BB, Sue, Duke and Sam having a Griffon party

Duke points BB

BB and Duke had a great time playing together

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

Sam and Sue on a run through the Sandhills

BB and Cordelia also take in a jog

BB swamping in a wet area near a windmill

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

BB points the kids playing in the lake

Sam takes a dip

Sue wades deep in the chilly water

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

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

BB at 12 weeks

BB picks up the duck dummy while Duke looks on

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

The Highlights of Pheasant Fest 2011

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January 28-30 was a weekend full of upland excitement at the 2011 Pheasant Fest, the national convention of Pheasants Forever.  Here are some of the highlights from our weekend spent there:

  • As seen in the last post “Bluestem Kennels in the Omaha World-Herald”, Cordelia, Sam and I had a great time at the photo shoot.  Cordelia and Sam were on the front page of the Friday, January 28th paper and also featured in an online video and slideshow.
  • We were the only Wirehaired Pointing Griffon entry in the Friday afternoon Bird Dog Parade.  Visiting with local Nebraska Game and Parks personality, Greg Wagner, was a fun part of the day.  He mentioned the possibility of having us on his KFAB radio show to talk dogs at some point in the future.
  • While Charles was out in the foyer working out some day job office issues over the phone during the Friday evening banquet, I got to pick the brain of Chad Love, a photojournalist for Field and Stream magazine.  He works primarily with upland hunting and bird dog assignments, so it was fun to hear how he went from his political science degree to getting published in outdoor magazines.  It was definitely an inspiration for where I want to take my blogging.  Here’s his most recent post on the Field and Stream website: http://www.fieldandstream.com/blogs/hunting/2011/02/jealousy-between-dogs-can-be-powerful-training-tool
  • Saturday afternoon turned out to be quite interesting for me, as I ended up helping to lead a seminar that I attended.  The 1 PM “Picking your puppy and the First Six Months” seminar was quite full and by 1:15 PM, there was still no presenter.  A fellow breeder/trainer and I got up in front of the audience and freestyled the seminar, sharing the wealth of what we know on the subject.

Charity Upchurch of Bluestem Kennels, right, discusses selecting and training a puppy

Thank you to Pheasants Forever photographer Jim Cooper for the use of the photo.

  • My children spent Saturday afternoon at Rudy’s Youth Village of Pheasant Fest, where we met some inspirational teenagers, the Illinois Pioneer Chapter #069 “Young Guns”.  They raised $6000 for a virtual shooting gallery had it trailered all the way to Omaha for the young people to enjoy.  My son, Conrad, couldn’t get enough of it!

Conrad practices his shooting skills

  • Charles and I had a great time at the Saturday evening banquet visiting with the members of the Auglaize County, Ohio Pheasants Forever chapter and one of their state wildlife biologists.  It was interesting to learn that the pheasant population in Ohio has been decimated to the point where the state game and fish department has a pheasant stocking program.   I didn’t realize until attending Pheasant Fest that promoting stocking pheasants in Nebraska is seen as nearly rebellious to the habitat cause.  The latest Focus on Pheasant report was sent to me by Nebraska Game and Parks following my post “Focus on Pheasant needs to readjust their sights”.  Once I get a chance to read their report, I’ll be revisiting this topic will a full post in the near future.
  • Sunday we met renowned wildlife artist Carl J. Melichar, who was a Federal Duck Stamp finalist and has taken on bird dogs as the focus of his painting.  He does not yet have a Wirehaired Pointing Griffon in his catalog, so we’ll be getting him some photographs in the near future and possibly commission a Wirehaired Pointing Griffon original painting.  Here are some examples of his work:  http://www.artbarbarians.com/gallery2/main.asp?artist=48
  • We closed out our visit to Pheasant Fest on Sunday by attending Pheasants Forever Field Coordinator Pete Berthelsen’s talk on creating quail habitat on his 160 acres near Elba, Nebraska.  It was amazing to see how quickly habitat adjustments can restore bird populations.  In a matter of a few years, he went from one covey of quail to fifteen coveys!

The weekend was a complete success and really fired us up to increase our involvement in Pheasants Forever, habitat restoration and sharing our love of not only the Wirehaired Pointing Griffon breed, but raising, training and hunting versatile dogs.

Bluestem Kennels in the Omaha World-Herald

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On Friday, January 28th, my nine-year-old daughter Cordelia and my three-year-old male, Sam were featured on the front page of both the morning and evening editions of the Omaha World-Herald.  The paper edition will be scanned and uploaded when I get a chance.  The following link is a video that the Omaha World-Herald put together about their featured photos:

http://omaha.com/article/20110127/NEWS01/110129697#a-parade-of-bird-dogs-for-omaha

Here is also a slideshow that they put together of their photos, we are slides 3, 4 and 5:

http://odc.omaha.com/index.php?u_page=5002&p=2310

If for some reason you can’t view the slide show, here are the stills from it.  Sorry that I can’t make them bigger (they are much larger in the slideshow).

We will be continuing our adventures at Pheasant Fest all weekend!

Late Season Pheasant Hunt

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

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

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

Nate, the landowner, begins working the fields

Sam and Charles make their way through the big bluestem

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

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

Busting through some weeds

Walking down a waterway

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

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

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

Sam presents the gift

The rooster!

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

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

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

Arriving back to the farm

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

 

Puppy Update: Whiskey and Geese

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Whiskey from litter 2010 and Geese

Pete and Deborah sent over a great photo and e-mail on Saturday that I just had to share:

Pete just emailed me Whiskey’s newest experience!!
They are hunting on the UC Ranch which is about 3 hours east of Reno…Pete said that Whiskey didn’t actually RETREIVE these geese…Whiskey couldn’t pick up the birds because they were as big as he is…he had to drag them to Pete!
Besides being an awsome hunting dog, Whiskey continues to entertain us daily with his endless energy and golden heart…he doesn’t tollerate being ignored and when it’s play time….it’s play time!!  He is the smartest, sweetest, most loveable dog we have ever had!!
Hope all is well with you…we will continue to send pictures!!
Take care!!
Deborah

Guiding at Pheasant Haven January 9th

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The snow began to fall on Sunday morning, but it wasn’t enough to deter the hunters of Pheasant Haven Hunting Acres in Elk City, Nebraska (www.pheasanthavenlodge.com).  Charles and the dogs guided their third hunt on the preserve, with myself on hand as co-handler of the dogs, guide assistant and photographer.

We began the day running both Sam and Sue, which led to some very fast shooting and more retrieves than we could keep up with at times.  There were points where we had to stop to let the dogs catch up on picking up the shot pheasants on the ground.

Charles takes a retrieve from Sue while looking out for Sam working a bird

Sam on retrieve

Sue happily checks back in

We stopped around 11 for a lunch of pheasant breast and mushroom stew, then went back out with Sam for a second sweep of the property.

Walking the fields at Pheasant Haven

Sam brings in a rooster

Sam on point

Hunter walks in on Sam’s point

Sam gives Charles another perfect retrieve

The hunters, 24 pheasant, Sam and Charles

Your reporter in the field, posing with the birds

In 2011 litter news, Sam and Sue completed breeding at Christmas and she is showing obvious signs of pregnancy.  We anticipate whelping towards the end of February.  The puppy application is ready and has been sent out to the 30+ individuals expressing interest, with more calling and e-mailing every day.  I am excited to raise these pups and get them into some excellent hunting homes!

 

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