Home

Full on pheasant season

Leave a comment

I will be 40 on Sunday.  Not sure how to feel about that.  Hopefully I get at least 40 more years and I get to hunt for most of them.  We plan on going out to dinner Saturday night and probably chase some birds either Saturday or Sunday.  The other day we’ll spend with the kids and my mom.  I’ve told everyone no gifts since I’m spoiled enough as it is.

Brian over at Ultimate Upland wrote a post this week about slowing down as a hunter as we age http://www.ultimateuplandnews.com/upland-with-friends/.  Charles and I have been discussing the same thing this year.  I can remember being in our 20s and how we would hunt all day, then party for most of the night back home in Valentine for several consecutive days.  Over the years, the beers have become fewer and evening hours have grown shorter progressively.  I’ve actually given up drinking altogether as of two months ago (I’m making it official here on the blog since I’m going to stick with it this time).  I hope that is enough oversharing for everyone this week.

AWPGA

Mr T meme

Mr. T says so http://awpga.com/index.php.  Since you get to read my blog free from advertising, with the exception of the junk WordPress puts at the bottom, I am going to start plugging AWPGA membership.  Especially those of you who own griffs and do NAVHDA testing.  Now that I’m working on the Griffonnier and Charles and I are starting to help with the field committee, I see that probably less than 10% of those prizing are AWPGA members.  We are going to change that.  Plus, we are looking to get more AWPGA sponsored field events across the country.  I am very excited to be helping out the elders who have been doing this for a long time and using my blog as a way to help get the word out.

AWPGA Database: I have not yet added my litters to the database, but will have done so by the next time I post to the blog.  That will allow any of my puppy owners to add health and title information.  Griff owners can add information at http://awpgadb.com.  This is not only for AWPGA members, but any griff owners.

Pheasant Season Update

I was out of commission last weekend with a cold, but Charles and his friend, Matt, made it out into the field with Fire and BB.  Charles got a rooster and the world’s smallest quail and Matt got two roosters.

Charles with Fire, Matt with BB

Charles with Fire, Matt with BB

Pupdates

Sounds like last weekend was beautiful up in North Dakota and there were plenty of birds to be had.  Ernie, Duncan and a large party of fellow hunters and dogs found a mess of roosters!  Duncan is from our 2014 “H” Litter between Sam and Mae and is 7 1/2 months old.

Duncan and a big pile of ND roosters

Duncan and a big pile of ND roosters

Of course, TracHer, Susan, and Tom are out chasing roosters again.  They were joined by Jim Borg, participant in the 2014 NAVHDA Invitational and owner of VC Agate Hill’s Akeeta (who had to sit out of the hunt due to injury).

Susan said, “The weather has been unbelievably gorgeous for this time of year and we are so glad we can take advantage of it. TracHer really is coming into her own…she’s showing great drive, points, retrieves—I couldn’t ask for more from her, and it took until this season for her to come into her own.  We hunted with Jim Borg today with his 12 year old Griff Max.”

TracHer on point.  She is from our 2012 "C" litter between Sam and Mae.

TracHer on point. She is from our 2012 “C” litter between Sam and Mae.

Jim with TracHer and Max on point

Jim with TracHer and Max on point

Close up of TracHer and Max on point.

Close up of TracHer and Max on point.

TracHer, Tom holding Max the GWP pup, Susan, Max the griff, Jim, and Zepher.

TracHer, Tom holding Max the GWP pup, Susan, Max the griff, Jim, and Zepher.

An aside for those of you who are not familiar with the NAVHDA hunt testing system.  The Invitational is held every year for those dogs who earn a Prize I in the Utility Test.  From the NAVHDA website:

Field work consists of a search, pointing, steadiness, backing and retrieving with the dogs being run in braces.  Water work consists of a blind retrieve, double-marked retrieve and honoring a retrieve.  Cooperation, obedience, desire and nose are judged throughout the entire test.  Dogs successfully completing the Invitational Test with a passing score will receive the title of “Versatile Champion,” further recognized by placing VC before their names.

Susan does such a great job keeping me in photos!  I hope to make it up to a Central Dakota Chapter NAVHDA Test one of these years so that I get to meet all of these great griff hunters who are members up there.

Danny down in Texas has Fern from our 2013 “F” litter from Sam and Mae.  He said:

We work on upland, waterfowl, fur and tracking. This morning I shot a doe and she tracked it about 100 yards. I was so proud of her, even though it appeared to be super easy for her. We start duck season next weekend, so with a deer in the freezer we can concentrate on what she/I love the most.

We moved this summer to a house on ~6 acres. It’s fully fenced and she is a hunting machine. She spends so much time hunting at full throttle that I was remiss in her training for a couple of months.  We have stepped up our effort and she is getting back to her old obedient self.

Fern's blood track

Fern’s blood track

That is so cool, we have never used our griffs for blood tracking big game, but it is one of their historical purposes and it is great to see one of our owners out there doing it!

Rob lives just across town here in Omaha and has Maggie, who is from our 2012 “E” litter between Sam and Sue.  He said:

Maggie is doing fantastic. She hunted last year at 9 months and our hunting friends were shocked she was that young, because of how well she did. Since then we have been training all the time, in the hope that she will be better at hunting than I am at training!! And it’s going well. This is us working on retrieving, and hopefully I will get some great photos, or maybe video, after we spend next week in Winner, SD chasing those roosters.

Maggie and a rooster

Maggie and a rooster

Wow, owners, thanks for all of the great updates!  The day is getting away from me and I need to fix supper.  I have some big projects due for grad school coming up, so I don’t know if I’ll be back in one week or two.  But God willing, I’ll be back.  Talk at you then.

Duck Opener and Fire’s NAVHDA Natural Ability Test

Leave a comment

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

027

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.

Nebraska and North Dakota Pheasants

1 Comment

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.

A big mixed bag: October in the Sandhills

Leave a comment

A cold north wind welcomed us to hunting sharptail grouse on the Thursday before duck opener, easily blowing 30, if not 40 mph and the air temperature never peaked the 40 degree mark on the day.  It was a pretty brutal start considering that when we left Eastern Nebraska the evening before, it was 70 degrees.  I hadn’t even packed my kids jackets, let alone my winter upland gear, so I had to tough it out in my hunting shirt/t-shirt combo.  Luckily a person warms up quickly stomping around the dunes and running after birds.

I’ll admit that I was whining and not wanting to get out of the truck at first.  I whined my way out of the usual first spot and asked if we could scout for ducks instead.  As we were creeping around a pond looking to see if any ducks had arrived, we noticed some sharptails running down the road.  We thought we had ourselves an easy pick, so we backed up around a dune and unloaded our gear.  Of course we wouldn’t need the dogs, the birds were just 15 feet away, right?

I think we chased them for a good 30 minutes and got up 3 or 4 times before they were flushing close enough to get a shot, even though they were flying into the monstrous wind.  Ryan and I got off a few Hail Mary cracks on the edge of range before Charles put the first one in the bag.  I captured his retrieve in the first half of this video (the second half is from me on Saturday, but we’ll get to that part later).  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4XgYQOzM8c

As we had been walking for a good hour and had left everything unlocked, I made a bee-line back to the truck while the guys chased the rest of that group, with Charles taking one more.  Once we got back, secured our things and brought out some dogs, we took a brief hike into some nearby dunes with Charles taking his third bird in no time.  Ryan and I had no hard feelings that we didn’t take any on the day and were ready to head back to town to get out of the wind and cold.

Sue, Mae and BB are excited that dad shot some grouse.

Friday’s weather was less windy and warmer, we decided that we wanted to split up, so we headed to a spot that I had navigated on my own before and it had cell phone coverage so that I could communicate with the guys.  We set out to make it a “short grouse hunt”, as we had an early Saturday planned for ducks.  About 45 minutes in I busted up two way out of range, chased one down and bumped it up out of range once and within range again, but blew the shot.  The bird went way north, over a fence and near a giant dune covered with sumac that I had been curious about.  So breaking the rule of staying in the fence, I crossed it to chase the bird.  I bumped it a couple of more times way out of range.  I was coming up on the 2 hour mark in the field and thought I had better turn around and head back towards the truck.  When I got in view of the spot where I thought the truck should be, I couldn’t see it, but knew I was on the western fenceline with the gate where it was parked, so I followed the fenceline south, knowing that the guys were probably in that direction anyway based on the gunshots I had heard earlier.  Just as I started to panic that I was lost and in despair because I had gone three hours and not shot a bird, I spotted my other dogs off in the distance, so I headed in their direction.  I heard the sound of the guys’ voices and a grouse soared about 15 yards in front of me in a perfectly steady left to right flight, just like station 2 at the skeet range.  I missed the first shot, but nailed it hard on the second one and Sue delivered my quarry.

When I met up with the guys, they had also just harvested their birds, Charles had 2 and Ryan had 2.  So much for the short grouse hunt, three hours later.

Ryan, Charles, Charity, some sharptails and Wirehaired Pointing Griffons

Ryan, Charles, Charity, some sharptails and Wirehaired Pointing Griffons

We set out early Saturday morning, as we wanted to attempt to sit over decoys for a bit.  For me, sitting over decoys is a like a bad day at church, boring and painful.  We got our decoys set up on a pond that we thought would be good and hid in the cottonwoods.  There were a couple that swam over and a couple that flew over, but nothing in range that was on the wing.  We gave it an hour and a half, then packed it in to go jump hunt.

The first spot we hit was a network of small potholes that we had looked at a number of times, but had never taken the time to get out and work.  I worked one side with the guys on the other, with Sam on heel to do any retrieving.  They got into a nice big flock of teal, Ryan got one green-winged and Charles two blue-winged.  I took a shot as some flew by on a return trip, but they were out of range.  Charles came into a small group of grouse up on the hill next to the ponds and harvested one of those.  It was a productive new spot!

We loaded up and headed into familiar territory, but while we were on our way there, passing through the area that we had hunted grouse on Thursday, there was a dead sharptail in the sandy rut of the road.  Charles got out and picked it up and it had been shot.  I had put a pellet in one of those birds in my Hail Mary shooting on Thursday and it just so happened to decide to die in the road that we drove down two days later.  What are the odds?

We began working along a creek that we’ve spent a lot of time hunting in the past with lots of success.  I got into some teal, but missed.  Charles got into some mallards and was able to get hens on two separate jumps.  I shot a grouse, while we were trying to sneak up on a flock of teal and captured it on video (the second half).  The video doesn’t show the 25 teal that bust out of the pond, but that’s what happened when I said “sorry”, plus you can tell that Charles was mad.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4XgYQOzM8c

After I scared up that flock of teal, we had one more opportunity at a flock in  a pond surrounded by small willows, but Sam decided to be naughty and break away from heel, scaring them away.  So no ducks on duck opener for me.  Then Charles started in on the snipe, here’s the video of the first one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7r_TYujq8TA

At that point, we had been out in the field for 8 hours and I was ready to sit in the truck.  The boys set out to work another branch of the creek for a couple of more hours.  Charles harvested 3 more snipe and a rail.  Saturday was an epic day for Charles, giving him a new personal record one-day bag to beat: 3 blue-winged teal, 2 hen mallards, 1 grouse, 4 snipe and a Virginia rail.  All of the birds on the day were retrieved by Sam, with the exception of the grouse that I got myself.

Despite the drought, the grouse population has held up in good numbers and they are reporting a record-setting year for ducks further north.  I doubt we will make it back out to the Sandhills before the migration is over, but I’m hoping we can get out to the Rainwater Basin of Nebraska for some more duck action.

Charity, Charles, Ryan and Sam (the Wirehaired Pointing Griffon) with Saturday’s birds

Next weekend, Charles, Sam and BB will head to North Dakota for the first pheasants of the year and some more ducks.  They will be in ND from Saturday through Wednesday and I plan on training Charles on running my equipment, so hopefully we can get some good pictures and video (but it is very possible that we’ll just get phone and pocket camera pics).  Also next weekend duck and goose opens in the eastern part of the state, so I might have to strike out on my own on Saturday to try for a Canadian goose.

Hope everyone else out there is having a great season!

Tales of the Rooster: North Dakota 2011

5 Comments

Saturday, October 15th

We arrived at our cabin in North Dakota around 2 PM on Saturday and artist Carl Melichar of Countryside Art Gallery in Mayer, Minnesota was there to greet us.  Carl has taken an interest in painting all of the hunting dog breeds possible and he has yet to paint a Wirehaired Pointing Griffon.  After settling into camp, we all loaded up into the truck to head for the field.  We started off in a light drizzle into a swampy creek area that was full of hens, but not a rooster to be found, so we switched into a hilly area.

Charles and the dogs working a hill

About half way through the set of hills, our male Sam gave us the body language that there was a pheasant nearby, on a run up and over the hill.  As we crested the hill, we closed in on a clump of bushes.  With three dogs and three people, the rooster had no choice but to fly.  Charles put a few pellets in it and the rooster flew back to the other side the hill.  We once again closed in on him, he flew and I hit him hard at about 10 yards.  Although I’ve been hunting grouse and ducks for over a decade, this was my first rooster.

Charity and her first rooster

Sunday, October 16th

A good roost field was scouted with brome grass cover, bordered by sunflowers and corn.  Out we went right at sunrise, along with Carl and his video camera.  I stuck to the edge of the field along the farmer access path, while Charles waded through the prime roosting area.  The dogs were very birdy and gave Charles some great points that he was able to get close enough before the rooster felt the pressure to fly.  He had a couple in the bag within 15 minutes, with retrieves courtesy of Sam (he’s a bit of a hog, but the other dogs got some in later in the trip).  We moved up out of the flat and on to the top of a set of hills, where we got into some hens and another rooster getting into Charles’s sights.  I was busy reaching for my camera when another couple roosters got up that I missed.  We continued working the set of hills for another hour, seeing plenty of hens, but it was time to get Carl back on the road to Minnesota.  We were within 50 yards of the truck when our six-month old BB locked up on point.  I was too busy watching the big dogs and walked right by without noticing.  Charles walked into her solid point and he screamed, “Rooster!!”.  I once again biffed the shot, but it was awesome to see that six-month old BB was totally in the game and not afraid to point a bird on her own.

Charles helping Carl get some shots of Sam

Charles and his Sunday pheasant limit

We got Carl back to the cabin and on the road home to Minnesota, then set out on a few hours of scouting.  There was a recently harvested cornfield, with a small pasture to the side and a few tiny ponds in the middle of it, so Charles thought these would be great places to get me on to a few more roosters.  As we were walking towards the ponds, we bumped one out of the edge of the pasture that was a little out of my range.  The first two ponds held nothing except a fast snipe which there was no chance for a shot at.  We skirted what we thought was just a swampy area, but boy were we surprised when the whole bird game changed.  It was actually a large pond complex filled with hundreds of gadwall ducks that we inadvertently jumped (or bumped!).  We called the dogs in to sit by us with the hope that some of the ducks would circle back around.  Sure enough, we got our chances and Charles bagged two, with me double-barreling one.  Sam and Sue worked up the retrieves while the remaining ducks in flight landed farther down the pond complex which was inaccessible on foot from where we were.  We considered loading up in the truck and heading to where we could get access, but Sue was acting like she wasn’t feeling well (we’d caught her with a dead snake in her mouth earlier, so it was hard to tell what she’d eaten), so decided to call it a day.

Charity's Sunday afternoon gadwall duck

Charles's gadwall duck double for Sunday afternoon

Monday, October 17th

The roosters had their alarms set early Monday morning following the non-resident opener and were already leaving the roost when we hit the road.

"Run for your lives!"

With the road roosters as a sign, we should have called off our AM roost jump, but went for it anyway.  We worked the flat and hills for a good hour and a half, seeing nothing.  It was a great field that should have held something in the morning, but we had seen a truck there in the evening and those hunters must have busted it up as the birds were trying to roost, so the birds went elsewhere.

Charles settled on a large set of windbreaks with cut wheat in between the trees and surrounded by cornfields for our afternoon of hunting the loafing grounds.  He decided to run Sam solo, as the treeline was a thick, tight area and too much dog power could work against us.  It was a slow process, one of us on the west side of the treeline and the other on the east, with the dog working the east side, as the breeze was out of the west.  I didn’t have a good shot at the first rooster that flushed on my side, as he went up and over the trees.  We switched sides for the second treeline and I saw a rooster flush out of the cut wheat and back into our treeline.  Sam first pointed the bird in the trees, then I squeezed into the brush to make a racket and push him out to Charles.  Crunching. Wingbeats.  Thwack!  45 minutes into our march, Charles had the first rooster of the day.  We worked another couple of treelines, seeing nothing.  I was in my heavy winter gear, as the morning had started cold, but it was noon now and the temperature had gone up probably 30 degrees.  “This gear feels like it weighs about 500 pounds,” I told Charles.

“Just one more treeline to go,” he said.

But when we reached the north end of this treeline, he noticed a little creek and some bushy clumps that looked promising.  The dog pointed into the first bush clump and up went the roosters.  I hit one but not hard enough, so he hit the ground and took off on a run toward the cornfield 75 yards away.  Luckily, Sam isn’t afraid to grab a live one, and he chased him down and retrieved him live for me.  Sam then set out for the one that Charles hit.  The weight of the gear on my shoulders had become too much, they were pretty stoved up and I couldn’t reach around my back to stuff the rooster in my game bag.  “This gear is killing me!” I screamed.

Charles was not happy with my volume, as he knew there were other roosters nearby sitting tight and there were plenty that flushed and relocated.  So we stopped, much to his chagrin, reduced my gear load and continued.  We didn’t take 10 steps when another rooster jumped out of the same set of bushes that Charles nailed, rounding out his limit.

We walked down the hill away from the bushes into an oxbowed creek.  I decided to cut across the oxbow instead of following Sam like I should have, letting a rooster bust for the cornfield out of range.  We headed up into another bush clump, where I walked into a perfect point from Sam.

This is where I have to pause the story and rant about my gun.  I really shouldn’t, it is a beautiful Browning Citori Lightning over/under 12-gauge that we won at this year’s Pheasants Forever Heartland Chapter #491 banquet (the stock is too long for Charles, so it’s mine now and he shoots the SKB).  The one feature that I am struggling to adjust to is that the O/U switch is a left/right push to the same button as the safety.  Well, if I bump the O/U switch and it isn’t fully locked into one position or the other, the safety won’t release.

So, I pull on this rooster that is in easy range and I fumble because my safety won’t release.  I completely lost my cool and believe I ruined my pheasant mojo for the rest of the trip because of it.  We worked the last treeline, but I was so out of the game that I missed another 2 or 3 roosters.  I didn’t even feel like taking pictures (a sign of when I’m really not with it) until after we went to town for lunch and I cooled down at camp.

Sam and Charles back at camp with his Monday rooster limit

Charity and Sam with her last rooster of the trip

We had considered hanging around the cabin the rest of the afternoon, but after all of my frustration, I didn’t want to allow myself to get into a funk.  We decided to return to the duck pond that we had discovered the previous day, this time from the opposite side.  At first we tried to be sneaky about it and creep as close as we could to the pond, but the land next to the pond was complete swamp and not conducive to standing around or sneaking.  We opted for the bum rush to see if we could get some to circle back around.  Once again, hundreds of ducks busted up and I blammoed until my vest was empty, but didn’t hit anything.  Charles managed to hit a female canvasback duck, a first for us.

Charles and his canvasback duck with Sam, Sue and BB

Closeup of the female canvasback duck

Tuesday, October 18th

Tuesday morning we skipped the roost jump, opting for sleeping in.  I then made the mistake of taking a prescription strength, horsepill sized ibuprofen with my coffee in hopes of relieving the stiffness in my neck, shoulders and back.  Charles had picked a little pond in the middle of a harvested cornfield, thinking that it held loafing promise.  We had driven in on a minimum maintenance road a quarter of a mile from the main road, took about 10 steps out of the truck, when Sam and BB locked up on a small clump of swamp grass on the border between the cut corn and the pond.  Charles walked in on it, flushed a rooster and took it down within 2 minutes of leaving the vehicle.  For some reason the shock of the discharge of his firearm sent me into a spell, which I knew right away was an overdose of ibuprofen.  My heart and head pounded, I was almost too dizzy to walk and my stomach was a knot.  I tried hard to stick with it, seeing that BB and Sam again were locked up on the cattails next to the pond.  Two flushes, two shots, splash, splash.  I was so out of it, I thought that he had shot a duck and a rooster, but it was a double on roosters.  I wished that I had my camcorder in my hands instead of my gun.  Sam rounded up the water retrieves, he did pretty fast work on these, as he’s finally realizing that it is easier to slow down and use his nose in the water, instead of quickly swimming and running the banks.  “Time for lunch,” I said, not wanting to clue Charles into the fact that I was hating life at the moment.

“No, there are more birds here,” he pushes on.  So, I stumble 20 yards down the pond into some swamp grass.  I see the birds running, I see the dogs pointing, a rooster flushes right in my face and there was just no way I could focus.  Finally, I tell Charles what is going on, so he takes my gun and we walk (I stumble) the 50 yards back to the truck.  I got enough food and fluids in me to counteract the effects, then just curled up in the truck the rest of the day while Charles jumped ducks with no luck.

Charles's personal record limit in 10 minutes on Tuesday

Wednesday, October 19th

I was back in business Wednesday morning and we were sure to be at it up and early for a roost jump.  It was a large brome field with low, rolling terrain, surrounded by standing corn and cut wheat.  Charles took his first bird within 15 minutes of getting out, which was a good sign for what the field held.  A lone sharptail jumped in front of me within range, but I hesitated in identifying it in time to get a good shot off.  The dogs locked up on point that Charles and I squeezed in on.  The rooster flushed about 10 yards away, where it could have been either person’s shot.  The rooster charged me, flew right at my face and I missed.  He flew between us and I swung at him on the other side of us and I missed again.  As the rooster was making his exit from range, Charles pulled up on him and got it (Damn!).  We continued toward the corn and saw a flock of sharptails fly into the other end of the field, probably 200 yards away.  It was nice to see, but not what we were after, since we chase those frequently in Nebraska.

We turned back towards the truck and walked until we were almost there when all three dogs lock up on point.  Charles wrapped up his limit that day in about 45 minutes.

Sam, Sue and BB with Charles and his Wednesday limit

As planned, we headed to town for lunch to meet fellow griffoniers (that’s what Wirehaired Pointing Griffon people are called) Tom and Susan.  They opted to leave their griffs, Mr. Favor and Zephyr, at home to let our three dogs work.  We returned to the hills where I took my first rooster of the trip, and walked to where we spooked birds the first time.  All three dogs were closing in on a tall grass and weed patch in the dip of the hills.  I walked into the middle of three solid points, kicking the ground as I went.  I saw what I thought was a scrubby bunch of short grass that they were all locking down on and I nearly kicked it.  “Porcupine!!  No, Sam, no BB, no Sue, get off of it!!”  The big dogs have played porky’s game before, so they didn’t bother with it much more.  Six-month old BB lingered over it momentarily, looking inquisitive, but seemed to know not to dive in (especially since mom was having a cow).

Just over the hill was the magic bush, where Charles peppered the rooster in the butt on day 1.  I made the mistake of wading in, when I should have scooted around the brush.  The rooster flushed, but I was too mired down in twigs to get a good shot off.  So we marched toward where we saw him land, on the last high hill before the truck.  I was walking about 10 yards down the slope from the crest, when I saw Sam lock on a perfect point.  I knew it was that rooster again.  He alighted towards the standing corn across the road below and seemed to just float away.  I’m shooting too low, not leading them with the gun, birdwatching instead of putting my head on the gun and shooting.  Another disappointment for the dogs, they seemed to look at me like, how could you miss that?

We had given that area a pretty good shakedown and it was time to put Susan and Tom on to some birds, so we went to a creek bottom down a steep minimum maintenance road.  Tom had two birds and Susan had one within a matter of 20 minutes.  The most exciting part was that BB found and started to retrieve Tom’s second rooster, but Sue thought she’d be a bully and finish bringing it in.

Sue brings in the rooster. Photo by Susan Davy

Susan and Tom with Sam, Sue and BB

Charity, Charles and the dogs. Photo by Susan Davy

Charles had reached his pheasant possession limit that day, so in order to have one last hunt in the morning and be in good standing, we had to cook some pheasant that night.

Possession Limit Pheasant Camp Chili

3 pheasants, deskinned, deboned and cut into 1 inch cubes

2 packets of white chili seasoning

1 bottle of water

1 can of northern white beans

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Heat cast iron skillet over camping stove or fire.  Pour vegetable oil into skillet and add pheasant.  Cook the pheasant over low heat for 5 minutes, stirring frequently until browned.  Add seasoning and water.  Simmer over low heat for another 5 minutes, add beans.  Allow to simmer on low, stirring frequently until the beans are hot.  Serve with corn chips.

Wednesday evening bird total prior to plucking and packaging

Thursday, October 20th

For the last morning out before the road home, we opted to return to the field where we had hunted with Carl on Sunday morning.  As we pulled in to park the truck, we could see 15 roosters and hens scurry across the farmer access path into the freshly harvested sunflowers.  I opted to walk 10 yards into the harvested sunflowers while Charles walked the farmer access path, with a fence surrounded by thick grass between us.  Once we let the dogs out, young BB went berserk because of the number of birds.  While Sam and Sue held pretty close and pointed up a rooster for Charles in the grass, BB burst ahead and busted up 5-10 roosters and and twice as many hens way out of range.  On her way back to Charles, she popped one up my way, but I’d long since lost my pheasant mojo.  We cut up into the grassy flat and low hills where Charles had harvested birds on our first excursion into the field.  True to form, he took another one and I missed another gimme shot.  It was getting close to the time we wanted to pack up, so we headed back to the farmer path.  Over at the homeplace on the far side of the sunflower field, the hired men were firing up the tractors to finish up the harvest and we had high hopes that we’d at least see one more rooster for Charles.  “Where are the dogs?” he asked me.

“Right there,” I pointed into the grass along the fence, on the other side next to the harvested sunflowers, “and they’re all on point.”

Charles hopped the short fence, walked into their points and got his limit for the day, just in time to go home.  I didn’t even take a picture, I was ready to pack up and go home on several levels.

Adventure isn’t always fun or easy, frequently it challenges you to improve your skills.  I will be spending plenty of time at the gym and the skeet range between now and next season.  I will not be defeated by the rooster.

“Yeah, they’ve come to snuff the rooster.  You know he ain’t gonna die.” -Alice in Chains

North Dakota Pheasants 101

Leave a comment

Legendary.  North Dakota’s state slogan holds true in so many different histories, pheasant hunting being one of them.  A seasoned sharptail grouse and duck hunter from the Nebraska Sandhills, I bagged my first pheasant in North Dakota on Saturday the 15th.

My husband Charles is an experienced pheasant hunter, starting in the mid-1990’s heyday of Southeastern Nebraska.  Unfortunately, those days of easy limits are just a memory for us due to years of habitat loss and poor weather.  He took his first pheasant hunting trip to North Dakota six years ago and has been back for one week a year every year since.

Hunting pheasants unguided in North Dakota takes a few key skills:

1) Dogs.  More than once I walked over the top of a pheasant last week and a person alone will typically make them run away.  If you want guaranteed flushes, several good hunting dogs will give you the sign of the birds’ presence and help to put the pressure on them to fly.

Charles, a pheasant limit and our Wirehaired Pointing Griffons

2) Knowledge of behavior and habitat.  Take to brome fields between cropland at first light to “jump the roost” and act as their alarm clock if you are fast enough.  Take a one or two hour break after your roost jump to allow the birds to feed in the cropland.  Locate “loafing grounds”, small areas of dense cover completely surrounded by cropland, such as cattail marshes, creeks or treelines.  Stick to loafing grounds until late afternoon, then switch to duck hunting if you can to allow the pheasants to repopulate their roost fields before dark.

3) Scouting.  You can’t hunt the same fields day after day in good conscience.  North Dakota supplies plenty of hunting opportunities between Waterfowl Production Areas, PLOTS ground (Private Lands Open to Sportsmen), Wildlife Management Areas and unposted ground.  In North Dakota, hunters can legally access private land as long as it is not posted “no hunting/trespassing”.  Accessing private land is a privilege and  hunters need to use their best manners to keep these opportunities available to all of us. (Please read the specific regulations for each of these areas prior to hunting them, written information available at most gas stations.)

This is not the “redcoat march” as a friend of mine calls the South Dakota style of pheasant hunting.  North Dakota is a game of skill best taken on by those wanting a good challenge, yet desire the high chance of finding enough birds for everyone to get their limit.

Good shooting is up to you!

Trip total, mostly courtesy of Charles.