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First breeding of year complete!

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To reserve a puppy from one of our spring 2012 litters, please call (402) 682-9802 or e-mail bluestemkennels@cox.net

We are pleased to announce that our first breeding of the year is complete between our 3 year old male, Sam, and our new 5 year old female, Mae.  Sue was anticipated to come into season first, but Mae surprised us.  Mae and Sam bred from January 9-11, therefore pups are expected March 13-15.  Hey game birds, “Beware of the Ides of March!”, new hunting puppies will be here!

Hunting photos of Sam can be found on our “About Us” page (I have yet to load this season’s, but they can be found on the individual blog posts containing the hunting tales on bluestemkennels.com [pre-10/01/2011] and versatilehunter.com [10/01/2011-present]).  His pedigree is a link at the bottom of the “About Us” page.

Mae came into our home on December 3, 2011 from That’s My Point Kennels in Wheatland, ND where she had successfully whelped and nursed 3 previous litters and was known as “Aspen” http://www.tmpkennels.com/ As you can see from the previous owner’s website, she was raised with young children.   At the age of one, she successfully scored a Prize II on her Natural Ability Test from the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA).

Mae's Natural Ability Test Results

Her AKC/NAVHDA pedigrees also spoke of her potential for us.  Her sire, Marquis Georgeous George hails from French import blood and the prestigious Herrenhausen kennel.  Barbara Young of Herrenhausen is an AKC and International Conformation Judge, therefore she knows and breeds good dogs.  The dam, Full of Grace, is out of the famed Fireside blood.  Fireside’s Spontaneous Combustion won 3rd place in the sporting group at Westminster last year and was the first Wirehaired Pointing Griffon ever to place at WKC.

Mae's AKC Pedigree

The hunt testing results and the strong conformation background in the pedigree drew me to “Aspen”.  She was the Butcher family’s companion in the home and field, therefore even though I was nervous about bringing a new member into our pack, I thought that these things put together boded well for “Aspen” being a good match for us and our breeding program.

I made the following YouTube video this morning of all my dogs running in the yard, just as a visual reference: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSb7jdZXPz8

Mae has thrived in our home and in the field.  Not even a week after bringing her home, we had her out on planted hen pheasants for training:

(Click on any of the photos to see a larger version)

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Mae working the field on December 9, 2011

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

One of Mae's points 12/09/2011

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Another point on 12/09/2011

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Charles walks into Mae's point

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Mae retrieves on 12/09/2011

After our first training day with planted birds in a controlled environment, we felt comfortable enough to use Mae to assist in guiding at Pheasant Haven right before Christmas.

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Sam (front) and Mae (back) with the hunters on 12/22/2011

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Sam, myself and Mae guided a hunt on 12/23/2011 also

The afternoon following the December 23rd preserve hunt, we were on the road for the Sandhills where we busted up some cattails with the whole gang, Mae included, on Christmas Eve:

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Mae on the left, with the rest of the pack, Charles, and the Christmas Eve Sandhills pheasant

Wirehaired Pointing Griffons

Charles and all four dogs on the dunes

We spent a couple of hours on Christmas Day chasing grouse with Mae and the rest of the pack, but didn’t find any.  We’ll be back for them in September!

Our last outing was on January 2nd with some chukar and quail from a game farm that we had never used before and wanted to try out.  It is important for newer dogs to get individual training attention when they are usually braced (in pairs) or ran as a pack.

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

One of Mae's points on 01/02/2012

Charles shoots one of the chukars over Mae on 01/02/2012

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Charles walking into one of Mae's points 01/02/2012

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Closeup of Mae's point that Charles was walking into

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Double chukar flush over Mae and Charles 01/02/2012

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Mae had more than one retrieve on 01/02/2012, but this was the only photo that turned out well

Even though we’ve only had Mae a limited time, we are confident in her ability to produce quality puppies for our kennel and contribute to our development of the breed.

I will close with a picture of the Wirehaired Pointing Griffon breed’s founder Edward Korthals.  This was taken in 1891 when he was presented the German Kaiser’s award for breeding.  I use this photograph as guide for the dogs that I will continue working to create.  Mae fits into this perfectly.

Korthals and his prize specimens

To reserve a puppy from one of our spring 2012 litters, please call (402) 682-9802 or e-mail bluestemkennels@cox.net

Hard Hunting: Sandhills Pheasant

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Late season hunting is always hard, or at least harder than those magic days in October.  The birds are educated and the dogs have to work through thinner, drier cover.  You walk the same coverts, but the results are not the same.

My partner for this hunt was Charity.  She’s my wife and one of the most dedicated “field agents” out there.  One has fewer friends when the days get shorter and the walks get longer.  You need these people if serious bird hunting is your game.

My wife Charity and our dogs Sam and Mae after guiding a hunt on Friday the 22nd

We set out on Christmas Eve with the Yule-tide hope of Sandhills pheasants.  These are a different flock of bird.  They are miles away of any cornfield.  In fact, they have never seen a plowed acre.  Nor have they ever dined on any plot of land disturbed by man.  Food plots are foreign to them.  These birds eke out a living on the edges of wetlands and fill their crops on the particulate matter of swamps, bugs and wild-sunflower seeds.  While these birds are not robust by pheasant standards, they are wild.  Very wild.  They survive in a niche no sharp-tail would tolerate and no prairie chicken would accept.  If one were to transverse the wilds of Eurasia their cousins would be waiting, but only briefly.

Our first push circumnavigated a popular duck hunting marsh in north-central Nebraska.  I’ve sat in a duck blind here, only to have a rooster stalk me and cackle “good-morning”.

Working the frozen marsh

However, today they were sparse to the point of nonexistent.  With Sam and Mae we covered every likely haunt with no results.  Aside from some good dog work and a flush from a hen that was impressive in her strength and speed out of cattails that were thick as any mess you’ve ever seen or waded through, we got nothing but a good workout from this endeavor.

We moved on to another spot after crossing a frozen lake that, while populated by ice fishermen, was eerie.  Moaning, popping ice is not fun to cross.   But after walking 3 miles through semi-marsh, you take the most direct path to the truck if the opportunity presents itself.

Crossing the ice

Our next push was easy at first and very obvious.  A strip of willows through a frozen marsh, with hawks cruising the area, can only mean birds.  We dropped all four dogs.   They pushed to the west and as we approached the edge of the frozen lake this slough fed, birds began to break.   At first it was two hens, but then a rooster broke cover.  He cleared us, but his friend wasn’t so lucky.  Rooster #1 sailed a quarter mile away.   His partner was stopped cold by a load of steel 4’s.  After the retrieve, Charity and I swung the line by 180 degrees and followed the first legal bird of the day.  This time the wind was at our backs, so the dogs had to shift their game.  The ranged out and worked back to us through the thigh high sedges and cattails.  We pushed a half mile, but this bird was not to be shot.  He broke and sailed onto a private piece of ground.

A hard-fought Sandhills pheasant

Christmas afternoon we returned to the same spot, but decided to hit the dunes for grouse.

Searching the dunes for grouse

Over two hours we covered four miles, saw deer and a coyote, but no birds presented themselves.  It was a beautiful afternoon.  Clear skies and 50 degrees days in late December can’t be ignored.

Hard hunting is what it is.

Nebraska Duck Opener: A Versatile Hunting Weekend

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You know that it’s that special time of year when you’re driving through the dark at 8:30 PM and the farmers are still in the field harvesting grain.  Another late night run from the Eastern Nebraska metro to the Sandhills for three die-hard duck jumpers.  Charles and I were joined by one of our usual hunting buddies, SSGT Ryan Tompkins, who returned from Army deployment in Afghanistan earlier this year and is also an Iraqi Freedom veteran.  Since duck didn’t open until Saturday, we enjoyed sleeping in on Friday and getting out into the dunes close to midday.  The grouse don’t care what time we show up.

Almost as soon as we started hiking, we bumped a pair of sharpies at about 200 yards.  We figured that if we chased them long enough, we would wear them down and get close, but this pair really led us on.  One and half hours and three flushes later, they totally gave us the slip.  “I am not spending my whole day chasing two grouse,” I told the guys.

They agreed.  What we originally set out in front of us as a nice, easy day took a tone of seriousness as we marched deep.  The wind out of the south was fierce, so we set our faces towards it and placed our bets on them sitting either on the north side of the dunes or down in little bowls.  As we climbed higher, a pair jumped up in front of Ryan and he brought one down.  Typical to the long process of grouse hunting, our first bird of the day was two hours into the trip.  We continued southeast into some high chop, expecting to see something but didn’t.  As we came to the eastern end of the dunefield, Charles suggested that we come down from the heights and swing back west low on the flat to the north of the dunes, as this was prairie chicken country too.

As we strolled back westward on the flat my mind was not on birds.  It was hot, windy and at this point we’d been on the march for three hours.  Two chickens jumped in front of me and I was admiring them drift over the little hill, as the guys are yelling, “Shoot!!!  Shoot!!!”  I took Hail Mary shot just as the bird was cresting the hill and it went down hard in a poof of feathers.  I called my six-month old griffon puppy over to me for a retrieve attempt and she gave the downed bird a solid point.  I gave her the fetch command and she started to scoop the bird into her mouth, but in her hestitation, three year old Sam came in and snagged the retrieve.

I was very satisfied with my big male prairie chicken and knew that if I decided to stay with the guys that it would be anything but an easy day, as Ryan and I each had a bird in the bag and Charles had nothing.  My slow walk back to the truck was marked by the sound of the guys’ gunfire.  The easy route was through a valley filled with ponds, so as I was dodging some wet spots on the side of a dune, I pushed up a group of about 20 sharpies.  I cracked off a couple lackadasical shots, but didn’t connect and didn’t care that I hadn’t.  Wanting to be sure that the guys had more birds, I went back in their direction to give a report of this new flock.

When I met up with them, probably an hour after I broke away and headed towards the truck, Charles had his limit of three and Ryan had gotten one more.  Charles got to see one of his favorite sights, which is when both of our two adult dogs have birds in their mouths.  They were all satisfied and ready to call it a day.  We figured that between all of our flushes, we had seen 40-50 birds that day, which is more than we had seen any day all grouse season.

Charity with her prairie chicken, Charles with a limit of three sharptails and Ryan with two

The opening day of duck season came early, as it should.  We chowed on a large McDonald’s breakfast and hit the road.  Our first jump came on a set of potholes, chock full of snipe.  Charles called us off of the snipe, for fear of scaring any ducks that may be resting in the puddles.  Only fifteen minutes out of the truck, we spotted a duck-like flutter in the water.  In a flush of little ducks, all three of us each got a blue-winged teal.  Such pretty little ducks, teal are definitely one of my most targeted.  Unfortunately, the snipe had scattered as we made our way back to the truck, but a random dove found its way into my sights and I decided to take it.

The second pond we jumped has been a “problem pond” for several years.  Either we jump it with nothing sitting in it, or we roll up on it in the truck only to have ducks everywhere.  As it is a pond that we know well, we went tactical on it, with BB and I sneaking up on the west side and the guys with Sam on the east.  Crouched on the banks in the grass, we signaled to one another that we were ready to jump.  So in we went.  The first flush was a big group of teal.  Ryan and Charles each took one of those.  As they searched for their downed ducks I made my way down the bank, missing an easy shot at a beautiful drake woodduck, which made me mad for the rest of the day.  Took down two coot, then headed back to the other end of the pond to see how the retrieves were going.  They were still short a duck, so they asked that I head back to the truck for the more methodical dog, Sue.  Slow working Sue took no time at all to find the missing duck while Sam tracked down my two coot in the water.

On we went to the creek that we were going to walk.  The entry point is a large pond, so we snuck into that.  Ducks everywhere!  I took two, Charles took two and Ryan took one.  We had to stop, collect Sam and Sue’s hard fought retrieves and identify what we had in order to be sure that we weren’t violating any waterfowl regulations.  All five were ringnecked ducks, the first that we had ever taken.

We worked our way down the creek and I busted another flock of teal.  I was sure that I had wounded one, but it wasn’t retrieved until a couple of more flushes of it, an hour or so later on our way back down the creek.  It’s amazing to watch a dog aggressively seek out a bird that was downed so long ago, without dogs we never would find a bird like that.

Ryan took a couple of more cracks at coot, but a herd of cattle had worked their way down the creek in advance of us, so where we thought there would be dozens of ducks there was nothing.  We worked the area for another hour or two with no results.  It was our usual Saturday steakhouse night, so we were ready to head back to town, clean up and go out for some beef.

Ryan's 2 blue-winged teal, 1 ringnecked duck and a coot, Charles took 2 blue-winged teal, 2 ringnecked ducks and a coot, Charity's 2 blue-winged teal, 2 ringnecked ducks, 2 coot and a dove

We headed out early again Sunday morning for some new territory.  The ducks had obviously been shot at previously, because in addition to terrain challenges (lack of cover) we had no chance at ducks for four or five ponds.  There were five coot taken that day, which Sam worked very hard to retrieve.  We even went so far as to try to belly crawl for 30 yards through cow pies and cacti, but still busted a flock of mallards way out of range.  It was a full day and a full weekend, so we were ready to head back to camp for some grouse fajitas.

Although our last day felt like a bust, looking at the weekend as a whole there was no reason to complain, as a successful versatile hunting trip had been achieved.

On our last day, each of the guys took 2 coot with 1 for the gal

Easy Grouse Fajitas:

6 grouse breasts, sliced thinly against the grain of the meat

4 packets of fajita spice mix

1 can of beer

A sliced red bell pepper and a sliced green bell pepper

Tortillas

In a bowl, mix sliced grouse breast strips, 1 can of beer and the 4 fajita spice packets.  Marinate for two hours.  Place a small amount of oil in the skillet, evenly spread a handful of the grouse breast strips and cook to medium rare.  Do not overload skillet, cook strips in 3-4 batches.  Set meat aside to cool while you sautee the peppers and warm tortillas.  Serves 6-8

Coot Vindaloo:

The cleaning of the meat is the most important part of this recipe.  The skinned and de-boned coot breasts should be free from visible fat and “silver skin” (transluscent whitish thin layer of fat that covers many game meats, such as venison) and should also be washed in cold water to get rid of excess blood.

Vindaloo is a very spicy Indian dish and should not be attempted by those with weak palettes.  Also keep in mind that it is a two day process, so start a day before you want to eat it.

Day One:

Breasts of 4-6 coot

1 pod of garlic

3 inch piece of ginger root

3 teaspoons prepared mustard

2 tablespoons cumin

2 teaspoons coriander

De-bone, de-fat and wash the breasts of 4-6 coot, cube into 1/4 inch pieces, set aside to bleed out a bit while you prepare the spices

Shred ginger root with a fine grater.  Crush and finely chop garlic pod.  Mix in a small bowl with the rest of the spices, adding vinegar to create a fine paste.  Drain the excess blood off of the coot cubes and rinse one final time.  Mix coot in the spice paste, then place in a glass jar and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Day Two:

10 dry red chilis

1 medium white or yellow onion

1 tablespoon of butter

1/2 teaspoon of tumeric

Jasmine or Basmati rice

Naan bread (optional)

Roast the chilis in a skillet.  Once roasted, place chilis in a mortar with a small amount of vinegar and grind to a fine paste with the pestle; set aside.  Start the jasmine or basmati rice per the directions on the bag.  Finely chop onion.  Place butter in a skillet over medium heat and brown the onion until transluscent.  Add tumeric to the onions and cook briefly.  Add your jarred coot meat and the chili paste.  Cook covered on very low heat until the meat is done, typically 5-10 minutes.  Once the rice is cooked, plate a serving of rice with a serving of the meat mixture on top.  Eat with a side of Indian Naan bread if you choose.  Serves 4

Labor Day 2011: The new grouse opener in Nebraska

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If and when the chickens and grouse are forced to make a last stand, Lord forbid, the Sandhills of Nebraska will hold their monument.

–          James B. Kellogg, American Field magazine, December 5, 1959

It was us versus the 19,000 square miles of the Nebraska Sandhills, with their wily prairie chickens and sharptail grouse Labor Day weekend.  Charles and I arrived at base camp midday Friday, made some quick sandwiches from our cooler provisions, made sure the dogs were fed and watered after their long ride, then headed out into the dunes in search of birds.

It was probably around 80 degrees when we finally unloaded and geared up for the field.  Then the march began.  It never fails that around an hour and a half into the up and down, hot, heavy breathing, heart pumping afternoon that we get our first sight of them.  It was two lone sharpies in front of me and on my worst shot, the “going away over the hill”.  Of course, I missed.  We continued for what seemed like a long time, but it probably wasn’t.  The dogs were starting to feel the heat of the day, so we had turned our walk towards the truck, still looking for birds.  There was a shadowy figure in the distance standing on top of a dune.  It didn’t move for a long time, but finally started to come our way.  It was a fellow hunter, of the older generation.

“I flushed a group of about fifteen right up there and they must have landed just north of where you just walked through, I was surprised when you didn’t come through them,” he reported.

Thus began a big loop, starting straight towards the east, then circling north.  As we completed the loop, heading south right in front of this old hunter, a lone sharpie jumped up and we both shot our two shells, with Charles making the hit.  We were busy admiring Sam’s retrieve and failed to reload…only to have six to eight more birds flush up around us, with their cackling “caw-caw-caw-caw-caw” heckling us.  Charles was able to load some shells in time to get one more, but I stood there dumbfounded.  I’m sure the old man was laughing to himself, but he never shared that with us.  Sam had his mouth full of bird already, so Sue was finally able to get in on a retrieve.  Once the two birds were in the bag, he asked if we could take our dogs through an area that he thought he had put a bird down earlier.  There was not a bird to be found, but I was out of water and headed back to the truck.  Charles and the old timer continued to walk the field for another hour or so before calling it a day around 6 PM.

Sue, BB, Sam and Charles with their two Friday sharptails

It was storming at base camp around daybreak Saturday morning, so we lingered longer than we usually would.  Our old friend and fellow hunter, Ryan Tompkins, joined us that morning for a cool, but windy walk.  We worked a valley, starting on the southern dunefield side of it.  The north wind was very strong, so we pushed our way farther south into the dunes, expecting the birds to be sitting out of the wind.  As we reached the far east end of the valley, we turned into the north wind to cross the valley’s flat, when a sharptail jumped up in front of me, trying to fly away into the wind.  The wind launched the airborne bird straight above my head and I took a shot, seeing the feathers fly.  The bird went down and as soon as Sam got on top of it for the retrieve, it popped up again, catching the wind and floated to the south, over the hill.  I mismarked the bird and headed to the next hill over, but lucky Charles and Sam headed to the right spot.  Charles flagged me down from my fruitless search with my bird in his hand.

We continued our push across the flat of the valley, up into the northern dunefield, working our way into a break where Charles had taken birds a number of times before.  There are often times 100-200 yards between hunters and the dogs typically stay with Charles, so it isn’t unheard of for a hunter to bump into a flock that we have to chase down.  As we worked our way back west into the northern dunefield, Ryan flushed up a group of six grouse.  I was pretty confident that they had just popped over to the southern side of the hill, so we headed in that direction.  Sure enough, we got into the flock again and Ryan nailed a bird.  We called in the dogs to retrieve and were very proud when our six month old BB found and marked the bird.  She’s still a little wary of having big birds in her mouth, so it wasn’t a retrieve, but finding the bird in the vastness of the Sandhills, before her field-hardened compatriots Sam and Sue, is an accomplishment in and of itself.

We again had pushed the flock westward and again we marched them down.  It was only 200 yards away when we found them again and Charles took his bird, with Sam on retrieve.  Our search continued westward: up, down and around the high chop of the dunes, seeing nothing additional, and we pushed through the yuccas to the truck for a midday break.  After our long, well-deserved lunch, we pushed for an hour and a half through the sand bluestem, poison ivy and wild rose bushes with no luck.  By 3 PM, we voted for a switch to dove hunting.

Charles sets up dove decoys on a windmill

Our favorite windmill was occupied by other hunters, but we moved on to another choice spot, which later seemed to be the better choice, considering that it had shade and our first choice did not.  We keep the dogs boxed up during the shooting of the doves and only bring them out for retrieving assistance.

BB's first retrieve on a dove, just small enough for her little mouth

...to the hand!

Charles took the day on doves with a total of ten, combining sitting around the windmill with the decoys and pushing the weedy outer rim of the blowout for flushes.  Ryan and I split the remaining four doves on the fourteen dove total, with me spending the majority of my time sitting over decoys and Ryan splitting his time between flushes and sitting.  7 PM rolled around quickly and the local steakhouse was calling our names, so we packed it in for the night.

Saturday's bird total from Ryan Tompkins, Charity and Charles Upchurch, Sue, BB and Sam

After a long day on Saturday, we rolled out of bed a little late once again and headed into some territory that we haven’t normally worked.  The dunes were very steep and rugged on our westward push, giving us a serious challenge even in a cool and still morning.  When we stopped to take water an hour and a half into the hunt, I told the guys that the grouse were going to show up soon for sure, because I was getting angry.  Lo and behold, not fifteen minutes later, Ryan bumps a flock of eight up and over the hill towards the north.  We both thought for sure they had cut towards the west when they went over that hill.  The complex that they had landed in had two sets of north-south running dunes, with a valley in between, so, we chose to push the valley and the western set of hills, spending a good hour or so finding nothing, first working our way north, then back south.  The eastern dunefield was the only place left for them to be hiding and we swept it from the south going again back north.  Dipping down into a low spot not much longer after our northward hike began, I pushed the flock over the hill, taking a shot at my dreaded “up and over the hill”.  I thought I had a decent enough aim on one particular bird that I should have put a few pellets in it, but it didn’t go down.  I saw Ryan hit one hard and sent the dogs after it, with Sam taking the retrieve once again.  The three of us regrouped and continued north to where we thought the rest of the flock had headed.

Out of nowhere, Ryan shouts at me, “Hey, here’s another one flapping!”

I whistled for dogs for a minute or two with no response, as Charles had marched west looking for some other stragglers of the flock.  Sure enough, I had peppered the bird and we were just lucky enough that Ryan came up on it while it was still flapping.  He bagged it and we continued on, unable to see Charles and the dogs working the singletons to the west.  When we all met back up fifteen or so minutes later, he sure enough had his bird.

It was midday Sunday and once again we each had one bird in the bag.  Both the dogs and people needed water and a rest, so a windmill was calling our name, but we just didn’t know which one.  We picked one at random, with a stock tank full of wayward toads and box turtles.  I think Charles and Ryan spent twenty minutes pulling drowning toads and turtles out of the tank.

Toads in need of rescue hitch a ride on the box turtle's back in a stock tank

But daylight was burning and we wanted to get back to town in time to cook dinner, so we once again geared up for the field, expecting another long march, which would probably end fruitless with the limited time that we had given ourselves.

Sam puts on his "A" game

Yet this spot surprised us, with a family group busting up only a half-hour into the hunt.  They were slow to rise, with Ryan taking a double and myself shooting one bird in the first flush of five or six.  As Charles was busy taking retrieves from Sue and Sam, the remaining eight birds flushed as we all screamed profanity with unloaded guns and the distraction of retrieves.  With so many birds in the field and being satisfied with two birds down (and being relatively close to the truck), I decided to switch my gun for the camera.

Ryan Tompkins hunts the open spaces of the Sandhills

Sue, Sam, BB and Charles covering terrain

We continued to move towards the direction where we saw the first group flush, thinking that we would find them broken up, only to have Ryan get into another tight group of thirteen.  Ryan hit one to finish out his limit and everyone could tell that Charles was out of guiding mode, ready to turn on the juice.

Sam retrieving Ryan's last bird, with Sue backing him up

Charles taking Sam's retrieve to hand

Charles kicks it into gear in the high country

I followed along taking pictures for another half-hour, but struggled to maintain the ramped up pace after a long few days.  I headed back to the truck while Ryan walked with Charles and the dogs as he finished out his limit, which only took forty-five minutes with as many birds as we had encountered within a relatively close area.

Hunters, dogs and Sunday's birds

Driving home, we discussed all of the different recipes we would be trying with our bird meats upon our return home, ranging from pastas to curries.  The final nightly ritual of dinner and bird cleaning stretched later than it should have, with long drives ahead of us in the morning.

The Sunday sharptail grouse lineup in the dark, prior to cleaning

The older hunter that we spent time with on Friday was the only other grouse hunter we saw the whole weekend, which is part of the reason that the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has extended the season earlier to Labor Day weekend, from its prior September 15th-ish start date.  There just aren’t that many people willing to put in the hard-trodding hours that it takes to get grouse.  It isn’t easy anymore, not like when there were market hunters at the turn of the last century shooting 500+ birds a day to sell back east.  Grouse in the Sandhills is the hardest, hottest hunting that we do all year, but despite the sweat and sunburns, we come back every year for the challenge and camaraderie.

Thank you to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for giving us more time to have our fun!

If you want to know more about the history of grouse hunting in Nebraska, check out the following links:

A cool slideshow of old-time Sandhills grouse hunts: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ngpc/sets/72157627193902108/show/

The full “History of Grouse Hunting” article from Nebraskaland by Jon Farrar (which I credit with my opening quote and some of the facts in the conclusion):

http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/nebland/articles/hunting/GrouseHunting/index.asp

Celebrating Freedom!

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This summer is slipping away so quickly!  We had a great time up in the Sandhills over the Fourth of July weekend.  The first two days of the weekend were spent out at Merritt Reservoir swimming and canoeing with the dogs.  (I apologize if some of these photos appear faint, I think my little point and shoot had a dirty lens)

Sam and Sue take a swim

Sam and BB in the water, with Sue on the beach

Charles takes Sam out for some canoe practice

BB is growing, weighing in at 27 lbs at 4 months old

BB takes a swim

Sue follows behind the canoe containing Charles and the kids

My mom talked us into walking in the Fourth of July parade, which was quite the adventure.  The dogs and the older kids did well, but I didn’t pack the stroller and Caleb wasn’t very cooperative.  It was good lead walking and socialization practice for the dogs.

Lining up for the parade

Charles walking the big dogs in Valentine's Fourth of July Parade

I have a busy couple of weeks ahead of me, but I’ll be back with a couple of videos.  I want to have a video of BB doing “fetch” and “sit”, then a second video of me grooming Sam.  I get several hits a day for a grooming post that I wrote about a year ago and I’ve learned some new tricks that I want to share.

Stay cool in these hot days of summer!

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/.

Waiting for Puppies and Pheasant Cordon Bleu

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Happy Valentine’s Day from Bluestem Kennels!!  It is an extra special observance for me as a native of the North-Central Nebraska town of  Valentine, which was recently named a “Best Adventure Town” by National Geographic Adventure magazine!  Check it out: http://adventure.nationalgeographic.com/weekend-getaways/nebraska/valentine-travel Over the years, we have had some adventurous upland and waterfowl trips to the Nebraska Sandhills ourselves.

Spring is in the air here in the woodlands of Eastern Nebraska!  Robins galore, squirrels scurrying about and a pleasant morning sunshine for some photography this morning.  We are still anxiously waiting the arrival of the puppies, but I anticipate that by this time next week, I’ll have some puppy photos to share.  Of course, I will post those up as soon as they are born, so it could be any day now!  For now, here’s some shots of Sue and Sam during morning exercise.

Sue on the sniff

Sue doesn't let her big belly stop her from inspecting a deadfall

Sam looking regal in the sunlight

Sam on the sniff

Closeup of Sue's belly

Sam running to check back in

If you have any pheasant breasts hanging around in your freezer, you really should try making this Pheasant Cordon Bleu recipe for your Valentine!  It is an adaptation of a Tyler Florence chicken recipe, but it didn’t take very long and the family was very pleased with the results (as Charles cooked in restaurants in his younger days, I have a tough crowd).

  • 6 pheasant breasts, skinless and boneless
  • Salt, black pepper and either crushed thyme, basil or oregano
  • 6 thin slices deli ham
  • 12 thin slices of good cheese (typically Swiss, I used extra sharp white cheddar
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 cup bread crumbs (I used Italian style bread crumbs)
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lay the pheasant breast between 2 pieces of plastic wrap. Using the flat side of a meat mallet, gently pound the chicken to 1/4-inch thickness. Take care not to pound too hard because the meat may tear or create holes. Lay 1 slice of cheese on each breast, followed by 1 slice of ham, and 1 more of cheese; leaving a 1/2-inch margin on all sides to help seal the roll. Tuck in the sides of the breast and roll up tight like a jellyroll. Squeeze the log gently to seal.

Season the flour with salt and pepper; spread out on waxed paper or in a flat dish. Mix the bread crumbs with thyme (or oregano or basil), salt, pepper, and oil. The oil will help the crust brown. Beat together the eggs and water, the mixture should be fluid. Lightly dust the pheasant roll with flour, then dip in the egg mixture. Gently coat in the bread crumbs. Carefully transfer the roulades to a baking pan and bake for 20-25 minutes until browned and cooked through. Cut into pinwheels before serving.

Pheasant Cordon Bleu

Enjoy!!

Sandhills Duck Opener 2010

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It was a very rainy Saturday morning in the Sandhills, with plenty of hunter activity due to antelope and duck season being open simultaneously.  We started out heading into a normally productive grouse dunefield, but our efforts were thwarted by a large scattered herd of cattle.  Essentially, we spent our first hour and a half of the day pushing cows around some high dunes.  I have been doing lots of urban hiking these days, working on the 7th floor of a high rise, so I was feeling pretty good about keeping up with the crew.

We stopped at a couple of ponds on our way to a creek that we wanted to jump shoot, but didn’t see anything except truck tracks on the road.  With my new level of fitness, I was relegated to pushing the far sides of the ponds.

The rain continued to come down, so that by midday, most of our gear was pretty well soaked through.  We walked this creek for a mile or so, when the dogs went on point.  When we walked in to flush a bird, nothing came up.  It was a skunk and I spotted it first.  I raised my gun and asked Charles if I should shoot it, but he took the liberty.  Of course, we shoot the skunk and 40 yards over, a group of four ducks gets up and flies away.  So we continue our march down the creek and see nothing for a couple of miles but a green heron.  The next single duck to get up was way out of range.

The creek petered out, so we turned back around to head for the truck for a break.  We got a few good points from the dogs on some porcupines.  We’re checking in with our Native American friends to see if there is a viable market for porcupine quills, but the porcupines are safe for now.  The dogs have had some valuable past lessons in the pain of porcupines, so they only pointed them and didn’t mess with them this time.

Luckily, I had brought a change of pants, because I learned from our last rainy adventure in the Sandhills, wet brush-buster pants weigh a ton.  Right as we get back to the truck, I spotted a pair of birds flying over my head and I really couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  I should have just taken the shots, but I had to turn and ask Charles first, “Is that a snipe and a dove?!?”  Sure enough, it was a snipe and a dove, flying together right over my head.  I shot at them and missed.  It felt like a beginning of a joke, “There was a snipe and a dove flying together one day…”

I changed my pants, fed the dogs a funky old fried chicken thigh from the truck and we started back on what was starting to feel like a death march to me.  We trudged a couple of more miles down the creek and saw nothing.  Now, I have some pretty hardcore hunting boots, the kangaroo skin Cabela’s kind, but even they were no match for rain, swamp and a few unwieldy creek crossings (also known as just walking through the creek).

Since we knew the creek was empty, we headed up into the dunes to try to find some grouse.  We had one get up for us, way out of range.  I was starting to feel pretty dizzy at this point and had fallen behind Charles and the dogs considerably.  The winding creek in the valley, the wind in the grass, rosehips on the stem…it was all just becoming a pseudo-psychedelic blur of nature being high on my own endorphines.   I was on my own (Charles knew that I was aware of the location of the truck) and began hearing voices.

I caught up to Charles and the dogs talking to two men on an ATV.  The ATV guys reported that three other guys on individual ATV’s had been through the valley earlier trying to hunt for antelope.  Hence the lack of game.

Back to the truck we marched.  Finally the rain had stopped, after six hours of hard hunting in the rain.  After a few miles of driving along the trail, we split off to try a pond that we knew existed over in some trees a quarter mile or so away.  What we didn’t know was that in between the road and the known pond was another, smaller pond that we drove up on and blew a flock of about 7 ducks out.  There were some curse words flying on that one.

I made one last attempt to jump shoot the pond, but by that time, my feet were raw, I was soaked, my muscles were sore and my hands were going numb when I was holding the gun.  I was done.  I went back to the truck and let Sam and Charles try for that pond.  Still nothing.

Down went the gun and I grabbed my camera.  These shots were taken while I was standing on the road barefoot about 50-75 yards away.

 

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Charles and Sam sneak in for a jump

 

 

Ducks

Too many eyes...the flock of ducks gets up out of range

 

 

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Sam and Charles heading back in

 

 

ATV hunters

Charles has a second visit with the ATV chaps

 

I really want to insert a diatribe here about how guys on ATV’s ruin the good time of the foothunter, but I will save that for another day when it isn’t hunting season.  There are more hunting tales to tell.

Saturday we were skunked.  Literally.  All we shot was that damn skunk.  What really impressed me was that the spirit of the dogs never wore down.  The picture of Sam and Charles returning up above was after 8 hours of rainy hiking with the dogs quartering.  Sam still wears a doggy smile on his face and is full of spirit.  These hunting Wirehaired Pointing Griffons are truly amazing athletes.

We didn’t drive six hours to go home with nothing, so Sunday morning I sent Charles and Sam out on their own.  Sam and Charles stalked a creek through very thick cover, with Sam working the oxbows while Charles walked the straightaways.  The stream was backed up with beaver dams in spots.  The first group of six wood ducks got up and Charles shot a young drake.  Sam didn’t see the duck drop, so Charles gave him the “fetch” command so that he knew to search.  He retreived the duck from the far side of the creek and swam back to Charles to deliver to hand.

They continued to work down the creek, avoiding the herd of deer.  A drake and a hen got up out of range at the end of a narrow clearing.  The stalk continued, working the bank and creek bottom close together.  Another group of five wood ducks flushed from the creek and Charles picked the mature drake out of the flock to harvest.  Once again, the duck landed on the far side of the creek where Sam had to search hard to retrieve.  Sam did require some direction on the retrieve, but he worked hard to find the bird and once again delivered it to the hand.

Due to the dense vegetation and the lay of the land, they yet again came upon another flock of wood ducks by surprise.  Charles shot a hen and again it landed on the far side of the creek, in heavy brush.  The “fetch” command was repeated and Sam really got it at this point.  He didn’t require any location direction, retrieved the duck, and crossed a beaver dam to the hand.

I was very happy to see them return to the house with a full game bag after the comedy of errors we had on Saturday!

 

Wirehaired Pointing Griffons

Sam, Charles and three wood ducks

 

This weekend I will be recovering from yet another hard hunting trip of getting skunked, while Charles and Sam head out for Eastern Nebraska prairie chicken.

Sandhills Grouse Opener 2010

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Charles and I were back in the Nebraska Sandhills for sharptailed grouse and prairie chicken opener on Saturday, September 18th.  We arrived to our first special spot about 10:30 AM to a windy, chilly and misty morning.   Due to the wind, the grouse were absent in the valleys and were only present in the high choppy dunes.  Our first flush was only three grouse who popped up out of range, which told us the area had probably been worked over.  Sure enough, we spotted the tracks of our most hated nemesis, the ATV, shortly thereafter.  Yet we were undeterred and continued to work this high dunefield.

Charles and the dogs made it up and over the top of the ridge before I had a chance to witness the first grouse of the season being taken.  According to Charles, both dogs locked on point, he flushed and shot the bird.  Sam quickly retrieved.

Wirehaired Pointing Griffons

Charles, Sam and the first grouse of the year

We continued working this dunefield for another couple of hours, but were only getting one or two birds up at 50-100 yard ranges before the dogs could even get a lock on them.  Blasted ATV’s.  So we moved deeper into our zone where the truck tracks ended and we knew we had the place to ourselves.

The second dunefield we worked on was much more productive.  We busted up a coyote.  Charles has been reading up on the European version of the versatile hunting dog, where they hunt foxes with these dogs, so he wanted to see what would happen if he sicked Sam on the coyote.  Luckily, we were at the peak of a high dune so we could watch Sam chase the thing for about a mile into the valley.  Charles headed down into the valley with Sue to make sure Sam didn’t get himself lost.  As I was hollering and waving my blaze orange hat to get Sam off of the coyote, I heard the music of “blllrrr, bbblllrr, bbbllrr” as a flock of 10-15 grouse flushed about 30 yards behind me.

Once we were all back together, we headed towards where I thought I saw the flock land.  I was walking alone and had a great shot at a 15 yard flush of a singleton, but my lack of practice came shining through and I totally missed it.  We worked our way back towards the truck and came into another flock of 10-15 birds at 20 yards.  Charles shot a double and once again I croaked.  Each dog had a bird in their mouth…I probably should have had my camera instead of my gun!

Wirehaired Pointing Griffons

Charles rounds out his limit of grouse for the day with Sam and Sue on retrieve

We were headed back to town by 3 PM, just in time for Charles to cook up some sweet and sour grouse over rice for supper!

I definitely have my grouse hunting homework cut out for me before next year: get into shape and get to the trap and skeet range!

 

Patriots’ Day Teal

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Wirehaired Pointing Griffon and Blue-Winged Teal

Sam, Charles and a pair of blue-winged teal

On this past Saturday, September 11, Sam and Charles went down to the private pond that we frequent in Cass County, Nebraska and bagged a couple of blue-winged teal.  I was occupied entertaining family who were visiting from out-of-town, but Charles was able to slip out for a few hours, only after he put a pot of really awesome turkey chili on the stove.

He really had the Canadian geese who normally hang out at the pond in mind, so the teal were a pleasant surprise.  As the story was told to me, Charles put Sam on heel and sneaked up on the teal at the pond.  Charles missed on his first shot attempt, but he and Sam dropped down in the grass, so the teal circled and landed back on the other side of the pond.  It took them about 20 minutes to sneak their way around the pond and the final approach was made with Charles crawling and Sam next to him (still on heel).  By a strange bit of luck, Charles shot the double of blue-winged teal with one shot and both of the ducks only took pellets to the head (yum…no bits of steel surprise while we’re eating them).

Sam swam out into the pond and tried to retrieve both ducks at once, but figured out that he could only get one at a time.  True to the Wirehaired Pointing Griffon’s versatile talents, they were two successful water retrieves with no additional coaxing of the dog required, he just did it.

Speaking of the amazing talents and abilities of dogs, PBS Nature is currently running a two-part special about the evolution of dogs.  Last night’s episode was about the transition from wolf to proto-dog and the symbiotic relationship between dogs and primitive societies.  Next week, they are going to be talking breed specialization and the world of dog fancy, so I’m excited for that.  There’s additional information on the PBS Nature website if you are interested: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/dogs-that-changed-the-world/introduction/1273/

Only four days until sharptail grouse and prairie chicken opener back in the Sandhills…

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