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.


Charles and Obi headed back to the truck


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.


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.


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.


“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.


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.


Our First NAVHDA Utility Test

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On Saturday, August 17th was our first North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA) Utility Test in Sioux Falls, South Dakota with the Midwest Tri-State NAVHDA Chapter.  In the running were Sweetgrass Plainsman Samson “Sam” age 5 and Bourg-Royals CB Bluestem “BB” age 2 with my husband Charles handling both dogs.  The Midwest Tri-State NAVHDA Chapter is one of the best in the country and folks come from all over to participate in their events.

They come from far and wide...

They came from far and wide…

The Natural Ability dogs were first in the field on the day, with Sam as the first Utility Dog who ran.  His very first point was not on one of the planted chukars, but was a wild rooster pheasant!  The gunner said that he was twitching to fire, but it isn’t that time of year just yet!  Sam did fairly well on his first three finds, but it just started to get out of control.  The field was packed with birds and he was finding them every 45 seconds in some places.  He just came apart.  Sam has been hunting wild birds his whole life but has only received steadiness training in the past year, so he just couldn’t handle the overwhelming number of birds.  His pointing and retrieving never fail, but his habit of breaking on the shot came out in full force.  He probably had 10 total finds, but only held on maybe 3 or 4 of them.  Afterwards, Apprentice Judge Leo Boman told us that we need to go ahead and make a correction with the dog in the field, not letting him mess up over and over without trying to right it.  This is different than AKC, where the dog is supposed to work without correction and commands or face an order from the judge to “pick up your dog” (meaning you failed).  So that was a great tip for future handling.


Charles walking in on one of Sam’s points

Although it shows Charles carrying a shotgun, it is not loaded and only the two chapter gunners do all of the shooting for the test.

A bird in the air, Sam breaking on the shot

A bird in the air, Sam breaking on the flush

Sam on retrieve

Sam on retrieve

Charles was pretty disgusted as he walked out of the field with Sam, but I knew that was where the dog would make mistakes and his time to shine would come later on in the day.  We had to shake it off quickly because we were running 2 out of the 3 utility dogs that day, so it was a short break until it was BB’s turn.

BB has become an outstanding field dog and proved in this test that she is ready to move on to Master Hunter runs in AKC (American Kennel Club) Hunt Tests.  She had 4 or 5 finds and every single one was textbook steadiness.  There was even a point where Charles chose to run after a bird to try to flush it and BB just stood there stone still.

BB stands steady with a bird in the air (see it up between the trees?)

BB stands steady with a bird in the air (see it up between the trees?)

BB retrieves to hand

BB retrieves to hand

Another bird in the air with BB standing steady

Another bird in the air with BB standing steady

BB on retrieve

BB on retrieve

Moment of Impact: BB stands by as a bird gets hit in front of the smaller cottonwood

Moment of Impact: BB stands by as a bird gets hit in front of the smaller cottonwood

We walked out of the bird field with BB feeling as if we’d taken our first steps toward a Utility Prize I.  We were very hopeful.  It was time for a delicious lunch of chili and cornbread.  You can’t beat the food at NAVHDA tests!

The next order of business was the duck search for the utility dogs.  Sam was up first and we had no worries about his performance.  Swam the full 10 minutes and searched the pond thoroughly.  He did not find the duck, but that isn’t the point of the exercise.

Sam going hard on the duck search

Sam going hard on the duck search

BB’s weak spot is the water.  With Sam always dominating the retrieves while we are duck hunting, she just hasn’t had a chance to get fired up about it.  She did an okay search, then came and sat down by Charles at around the 7 minute mark.

BB out on the duck search

BB out on the duck search

Afterwards we talked to Dan Griffith, who is a full time trainer of German Wirehaired Pointers and a very experienced Utility Tester.  We were wondering if Charles should have re-cast her out into the pond.  Dan told us that if you re-cast without judge’s instructions, it is automatically a one point deduction.  If the judge wants you to re-cast, they will tell you.  Do not re-cast on your own.  Another great handling tip for the future.

The Natural Ability dogs did their duck retrieve first (which BB had no problem with at her test, NA Prize I with a perfect score of 112).  The setup for the Utility dogs was that they walk on leash on heel through a set of posts to the blind.  The dog is released from the leash and “whoaed” behind the blind.  Shots are fired and the dog has to stay steady behind the blind.  The dog is then moved just outside of the blind so that he can mark where the throw of the duck lands.  More shots are fired and the duck is thrown.

Sam marks the throw.  You can see the heeling posts in the foreground.

Sam marks the throw. You can see the heeling posts in the foreground.

We were in no way prepared for the 50 yard duck retrieve that they set up for the Utility Dogs.  The throw was way outside of shotgun range and it is only because of Sam’s absolute love of swimming and water that he was able to pull it off.  We had not trained for that distance at all.

Sam brings in the duck

Sam brings in the duck

At that point, we knew that it would take a miracle for BB to get that duck.  She did great in the blind and I saw her mark the throw, but she got distracted by the decoys next to the shore and would only go about 20 yards out to search (within shotgun range).  We tried to cast her farther, but to no avail.  BB did not get the duck and received No Prize as a result.

The final event was the track.  Flight feathers are pulled from a pheasant or duck and left in a pile at the start.  The pheasant or duck is either allowed to run and hide on its own, or if a carcass is used, it is dragged to a particular spot.  Sam never follows a track from point A to point B.  He knows that the bird is there, he just wants to go to points C. D, and E, then pee on them, then find the bird.  So he did the track…sort of:)

Sam comes back from his track with the duck

Sam comes back from his track with the duck

BB does an amazing job of tracking and always goes from point A to point B flawlessly.  But as she didn’t get the duck, it was all for naught.  So we ended the day with Sam earning a Utility Test Prize III.  It was our first test and I was just happy to bring home a prize, especially on Sam who has just been a wild bird hunting dog for so long.  BB was perfect in everything but the water.  We will hunt her alone on wild ducks down in Missouri for early teal season in a few weeks and then Nebraska High Plains duck season a few weeks after that.

It was a great time in Sioux Falls and we learned so much from folks.  It was great seeing Cliff Koele of Coppershot Griffons, home of several NAVHDA Versatile Champions, who recently announced his retirement from testing and breeding.  He will now focus on fishing and mentoring other breeders/trainers.  We had so much fun with all of our fellow handlers, the volunteers and the judges.  We learned and laughed.  It’s just dogs after all.

Congratulations to our fellow griffoniers who also participated in the weekend from Aux Lake Kennel!  From left to right: Keith Feldhaus and Deke UT I, Scott Moore and Josie as observers, Rick Jones and Jessie NA II and the godfather himself: Larry Woodward and Holly UT I.  Thank you Kim Jones for allowing me to use your photo.  We had a chance to spend time with the Joneses since Jessie ran on Saturday, but only saw everyone else briefly as we were ships passing in the night.  Their UT dogs ran on Sunday.

Aux Lake Crew

Aux Lake Crew

Wow and a big thank you to the Midwest Tri-State NAVHDA Chapter for a great test.  We will be back.

I have so much more to write about, but am just out of time for today.  I will be sure to post again later this week before hunting season starts on Saturday!!  I have some pupdates that I need to clear out of my queue before I get way behind!  Talk at you later this week.