Use Enough Gun and Watch Where You Aim That Thing


Robert Ruark knew what he was talking about when wrote the seminal piece on big-game hunting in Africa, Use Enough Gun.  Sure, you can kill tough game with light rounds, but if you want to consistently be successful in difficult situations, you need to use enough gun in order to get the job done.

While late season birdhunting in pheasant country isn’t the same as stalking the plains of Tanzania, it is a demanding business.  Roosters are well educated and aren’t going to wait around to see if quartering dogs and approaching humans are out for stroll, they are going to run and break long.  These birds are up early and rarely relax on the roost 30 minutes after sunrise unless the weather is foul.  And by foul, I mean bone chilling cold with snow piled around them .  I know this, but for some reason I thought I would be clever on my January 16th outing and carry a 20 gauge.  The allure of carrying a gun that is light, some decent shooting during the season on my part and the fact that we were heading into country where we were more likely to see quail than pheasant convinced me that I could get by without my trusty SKB 12 gauge.  That decision might have also been influenced by 2 days of heavy labor digging out a terrace for a new dog kennel .  Sore shoulders can certainly sing a siren song.

Whatever my motivations might have been, the decision was made and I headed out early with 2 griffs and a great birdhunting partner. As we approached the area we were going to push first, a covey of quail scurried across the ditch. I patted myself on the back for having the foresight to save my sore arms the trouble of carrying the 12 gauge.

We started in a CRP field bordering a cut corn field.  Definitely a promising spot for birds.  The dogs went to work, but it was obvious early on that they were on a pheasant.  They moved quickly and pushed hard through a patch of sunflower that had to be 10 feet tall.  No covey on the planet moves like a rooster looking to see what is happening on the other side of the county.  My partner and I kept pace and as we approached the end of the field a big gaudy ditch chicken broke out past the 40 yard mark.  It is amazing how such a big bird can blast out of heavy cover and move when he has a reason.  Needless to say, this crossing shot was not to be had.  By the time I gathered myself for the shot, he was moving at top speed and 50 yards away.  Undergunned for that one.  With that defeat under our belts, Matt and I headed to the next field.

The next field was considerable larger and we worked the edges where the CRP met the corn.  While the dogs covered ground and indicated that birds had been there, nothing was seen.  As we came to the end of the field we made the determination that this place was vacated.  This was public land and there was every reason to believe that we were too late.  Well, you know what they say about assumptions.  With no birds and no birdy dogs, I decided to add to the soil’s moisture profile.  About the time I was ready to commence relief, my partner’s shotgun barked and a lone quail sailed onto the bordering private ground.  Quickly I collected myself and walked over to him.  “Did you see any others?” I asked.

“Nope,” he responded.  We stood there a few minutes scratching our heads.  I call the dogs over but they didn’t really hit on anything.  Now the wind was against us and it was a dry morning, so I’ll give them a pass.  But as I stepped into the brush and resumed my efforts at irrigation, that lone quail’s covey mates boiled up around me just when I was really getting going.  Guess I need to be more careful where I aim that thing.

With the shotgun broken over my shoulder and the fact that I was a bit exposed, my chance at a shot was handicapped to say the least.  Missed again and this time my red face had less to do with my shooting than it did with my particular position for the shot.   We moved on to the next field.   These birds had been traumatized enough.

The following spot we hit was less promising, but there was a brushy creek weaving through corn, so it couldn’t be passed up.  As we shuffled along, I noticed a little finger of cover weaving up an old waterway in the middle of the corn. Matt and I changed course and the dogs closed in on it.  Immediately Sam locked up on the one spot of brush in this patch.  BB came up behind him and locked up as well.  Matt and I closed in quickly.  As if out of a hunting show, we walked in on the point and a nice covey broke.  This time everything worked out and I made a nice shot on a bobwhite.  The covey headed for thick cover and we followed.  We put up a few more, but they were in thick enough stuff that neither of us a shot.

Quail and Wirehaired Pointing Griffons

My lone quail, with Sam and BB

The day progressed and after a late lunch, we hit one last field where we had a score to settle with a particularly wily rooster.  This 80 acre piece was all CRP, with brush along the borders.  We worked the entire piece and had some nice dog work on a hen.   As we approached the last clump of plum brush, the dogs put up another hen.   After Matt and I watched her sail away, we took about 4 more steps….now you know what happened next.  Our wily adversary broke cover at 50 yards flying faster than any bird should naturally move.  Undergunned again.  I might have had a chance with a fast moving 1 ¼ ounce load of 4’s out of an improved modified choke, but my fateful decision at the beginning of this trip sealed my fate.

What did I learn from this trip?  Always trust the advice Robert Ruark when it comes to hunting tough game and don’t take a leak in the spot where a lone quail flushes.

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.

Unexpected Fun

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Southeastern Nebraska Pheasants

BB, Sam and I had a great morning!

Sometimes your best times in the field are completely unplanned.  Last Saturday was a striking example of that semi-accurate truism.

The events that led up to one of my most pleasant Nebraska bird hunting surprises were set in motion earlier in the week when a fellow abuser of boot-leather (aka a Southeastern Nebraska pheasant hunter) approached me about joining him on a piece a private ground he had access to.  Never being one to pass up access, but being of a careful nature when it comes to such unexpected good fortune, I asked a few questions.  Specifically, how many other hunters would be joining us and are there any quail in the area?  When he replied “None” and “We always see a covey or two”, I committed.

We met at my place well before sunrise the following Saturday, loaded up the dogs and made our way south into what is considered the worst pheasant country in NE.  While this is considered the worst for large colorful roosters, it is decent quail country, if you can find coveys that have not been over-shot.

As the sun rose and legal shooting time came and went, we came upon a piece of CRP-MAP ground that looked as prime as any Dakota field.  Despite having all the appearances of prime potential, fields such as this have disappointed in the past, but we decided to work this particular one anyway.

We exited the vehicle in a hushed manner.  Any rooster in these parts knows that slamming car doors, big talking and sound of dogs means trouble.  Within 5 minutes I saw Sam get birdy and start working his way to the waterway in-front of us.  Liking the look of things, we picked up the pace and moved towards the dog who was already locking up.  As we approached, a rooster flushed in my direction, crossing my line of fire at less than 30 yards.  What?!  That never happens in these parts.  One expects to walk at least 3 hours and have flushes at a minimum of 60 yards this time of year.  My partner’s discharging gun snapped me back into focus and I quickly ended this bird’s plan of escape with a round of 6’s.

The next bird was rousted in a very similar fashion as we approached the next waterway.   This time Sam worked the bird, which made the mistake of heading my way.  BB was also birdy and ended this bird’s escape plans.  Again I was surprised to see a rooster emerge from the giant ragweed and fly in my direction.  He too was dropped within 30 yards and BB moved in to make the retrieve.  Seeing this made me very happy.  Relative to her size, lugging an adult rooster was an accomplishment.

We moved on and put up a few hens off points, which is fun and good practice for the dogs.  As we made our way along the perimeter of the field, Sam became quite interested in yet another waterway and the rest of us happily followed his lead.  We were all frankly giddy with 2 birds in the bag in 30 minutes.  My partner Matt and I straddled the waterway and followed it downhill.  As we got to a point where it flattened out, both dogs became intense and went to work on a thick clump of sunflower.  Jackpot, another rooster made the mistake flying into my line of fire, albeit behind me.  My partner and I both hesitated a moment as we turned for the shot, as any shot that requires spinning around requires attention paid to one’s companions.  The rooster was now directly in-front of me and the bead of my SKB.  Seconds later he was in Sam’s mouth, making his way over to my game bag.

Matt and I stood there very surprised that we had taken 3 roosters out of a public field, in Southeastern Nebraska after 40 minutes in the field.  The dogs made it happen, but the Hunting Gods obviously smiled on us.

We went on to bust a decent covey of quail, which broke a 2 year dry spell for me.  What a morning!

Nebraska Quail
The lone quail of the day

Later that day we moved on to the private ground and saw precious little.  The long breaking rooster toyed with us, but that was it.  I guess those unexpected successes in the field truly are the best.

Late Season Update

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Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

BB in the snow

Now nine months old, BB has been getting plenty of wild bird exposure this season with the pack, but last week it was time to finish her solo training.  When hunting in the pack setting, it is difficult for her to get a chance to retrieve with the older, more experienced dogs present.  We planted a couple of hen pheasants for her to practice on at the local dog training wildlife management area.

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Charles walks into BB’s first point of the day

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

BB looking good on retrieve

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

A stylish point from BB

hen pheasant

On the flush

Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

BB looking intense on retrieve

BB has done a fabulous job maturing into a hunting animal quickly.  The most important part of successfully raising a hunting Wirehaired Pointing Griffon puppy is giving them the exposure they need to tap into their natural instincts.  BB has had plenty of practice at home with basic obedience and yard work on fetching dokkens, but the majority of her hunt training has been simple exposure to situations with plenty of bird action.

Soon we will be introducing her to working as a guide dog in the hunting preserve setting, which will be an exciting addition to her experience in the field.

Sue and Sam

Our flagship working dogs have been very busy at the preserve guiding hunts.  Charles has been doing all of the guide work up with me assisting, but the volume of weekday hunts has reached a point to where I will now be taking care of the weekday guiding duties.

November 24, 2011

November 25, 2011

December 1, 2011

Morning, December 10, 2011

Afternoon, December 10, 2011

December 11, 2011


Mae (AKC/NAVHDA Little Lady Aspen) is a five year old female Wirehaired Pointing Griffon who now lives in our home and kennel.  She has definitely become a member of the pack and family!  I will provide more information on Mae’s background and training in a future post.  Welcome to Bluestem Kennels, Mae!

Mae on the move

Upcoming Events

Charles is invited to hunt some private land in Southeastern Nebraska this Saturday and currently the plan is for Sam and BB to work the fields that day.  The week before Christmas, Charity and the dogs are on call at the preserve to guide a few hunts and Christmas weekend will be a Sandhills wild bird all-pack hunt.  That takes us into the last month of wild bird hunting in Nebraska, with our season closing goals being to fill at least one (each hunter gets 3 annually) of our Eastern Nebraska Prairie Chicken tags and to bag some quail.  We’ll be guiding during preserve season until March 31st, so the game isn’t up for us just yet.

We anticipate Sue coming into her breeding season sometime in February, so a few weeks into her pregnancy she’ll be taken out of the hunting circuit and it will be time for BB to step in.  Plenty to look forward to in the coming months!

Happy Holidays and Happy Hunting from Bluestem Kennels!

Nebraska Pheasant Opening Weekend 2011

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Opening Day, Saturday, October 29th

We were a little surprised to see a fellow pheasant hunter with a truck bed full of dog boxes joining us at the Bellevue Quik Trip to collect the morning coffee, as the forecast was foreboding for opening day.  Hunting tradition in Nebraska doesn’t yield to any man’s dissent and even in the Omaha suburbs folks were up early to head out into the yonder fields.

Prior to our southbound journey, we first had to pick up our old friend, Marvin Brinkman.  The annual opening hunt is always hosted by Marvin and his parents, Wilmer and Maude, on the family farm near Sterling, Nebraska.  Due to the high price of corn and soybeans this year, the Brinkmans hold some of the last CRP in Johnson County.  The Conservation Reserve Program provides the farmers a pittance in exchange for maintaining prairie in comparison to the going rate for corn and soybeans.  Luckily, the elder Brinkmans are past tractor-driving age and are also conservation-minded people.  In years past, large parties of pheasant hunters have traversed their fields with high hopes of bagging limits, and several were successful back in the 1990’s, but this year we simply hold the hope of seeing birds.

On our southbound journey in the dark, we entertained ourselves with tales from Charles and Marvin’s deer harvesting era, when they would obtain every tag they could and bag numerous deer a year.  Our garage was a game cleaning station and the chest freezer frequently overflowed with venison.  Yet I digress and should save the stories of yesteryear for summertime when there is no hunting to report.

Brian Koch of Ultimate Upland http://www.ultimateupland.com/ met us in Syracuse to experience and photograph the hunt.  Brian has been on the road since September, camping and hunting in North Dakota, Montana, South Dakota and now Nebraska.

We arrived to our first field prior to shooting hours, so we visited in the truck for awhile, then geared up with the hopes of pheasant or quail.  The 40 or so acres of native prairie were surrounded by standing corn to the north, east and west, with a small waterway on the south bordered by trees and shrubs.  Our path began on the southwest corner of the property, pushing east.  The guys took to the field, while I weaved in and out of the thicket next to the waterway.  About 15 minutes into our push, I heard slight and distant wingbeats, with the flush of three small bobwhite quail catching my eye from the field.  Marvin and Charles elected not to shoot, hoping to allow the covey to grow in the future.  Our hike continued and my 7-year old female griffon, Sue, joined me in the brush, acting birdy.  Charles was hitting the whistle since he couldn’t see us, but Sue locked on a solid point, nose to the ground, not moving an inch, as if to say, “it’s right there, mom!!”  Sure enough, I kicked my foot right in front of her nose and a single tiny quail alighted and weaved its agile flight back into the branches, evading my shots.

It doesn’t take very long for three primed up hunting dogs and four people to cover the field and cross the road to hit the 15 acres on the other side.  Even though no further bird activity was detected, it was a beautiful morning now that the sun was fully awake and I couldn’t help but singing the state song in my head as I watched the golden leaves drift to the ground in the breeze and the seedheads of the big bluestem sparkle like delicate Swarovski crystal ornaments in the morning light (my favorite version of the Nebraska state song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g6ADhHMLgZk)

Charity, Charles and Marvin strategize the next move. Photo courtesy of Ultimate Upland

Next stop was the “sure thing”, 80-100 acres of prime habitat, dissected by a waterway and surrounded by standing corn.  We pushed the first three quarters of the field, seeing nothing and becoming nervous that even the “sure thing” was going to be a bust.  We ambled back towards the truck, southbound down a mowed swath bordered by trees to the west and some rocky, forb-covered dirt mounds to the east, walking together and chatting excessively as if we had given up.  The dogs never quit hunting and they all locked up on a thick spot, which the hunters ran to surround.  A rooster flushed with both Charles and I taking shots.

BB looks on as Charles and Charity take shots. Photo courtesy of Ultimate Upland

Convinced that I had shot the bird, Sam brought me the retrieve and the debate ensued as to who shot the bird.  Following the official review, I was granted the bird.

Charity and Charles take time for the official review. Photo courtesy of Ultimate Upland

The hunt took a serious tone now that the game was on, especially where Charles felt that his bird was stolen from him.  We followed the curvature of the treeline towards the gravel road, when Sue got birdy in the thick and a rooster spooked by surprised.  Brian had noticed that we might be getting into a shot, so he turned on the BlastCam and captured the moment of Charles taking down our second rooster of the day: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=2458542390300

Sam brings in the retrieve as Marvin looks on. Photo courtesy of Ultimate Upland

After this bird was collected, we swept the corner of the field and decided to post Marvin up on the edge of the road at the end of the waterway, a spot where the guys had always put up birds.  Charles, the dogs and I pushed the waterway into the thick of trees and weeds right by the road, but nothing popped out.  It was getting up on lunch time, so we drove towards Sterling and quickly hit a waterway on some land that the Brinkmans rent out for farming, but nothing was to be found.

Scott’s Place, the watering hole of Sterling, was filled with the town’s usual suspects to view the Husker football game against Michigan State.  Everyone was abuzz with Big Red on the board, greeting Marvin as one of their own and wanting to know how our hunt was going, “We’re on the board, too!” I exclaimed.  We settled in for some iced tea and the special of the day, ending up taking a three hour lunch talking dream bird hunts, pheasant management practices in Nebraska and enjoying the raucousness of the football game.

Our final destination of the day was the “home place”, 120 acres of CRP in the middle of cornfields, with a fish pond in the middle.  We had almost completed an hour long push of the property when the dogs got really birdy on our return trip to the truck.  We had a rooster running, straight towards the corn, where despite our juking and jiving, he got away.  The dogs put up a hen in the corn and we assumed that it was the bird we had been chasing.  No longer than 15 feet from the truck, guns broken open, the dogs bust the rooster out of the standing corn to our chagrin, with nobody prepared to shoot.

It was time to pay our hosts, Wilmer and Maude, a visit and present them with a gift of authentic German ring bologna that we purchased for them in North Dakota.  One must always go bearing gifts when given the special opportunity to hunt private land with permission.

Nobody came into this trip expecting a limit.  The excitement of the hunt was seeing that there are still wild birds in southeastern Nebraska.

Landowner Marvin Brinkman, Charity, Charles and Brian Koch of Ultimate Upland

Sunday, October 30th

We awoke Sunday morning, grabbed the morning Omaha World-Herald from the yard, and drank our coffee with no intention of a hunt entering our minds.  That was until we turned to the Sports section and read David Hendee’s account of opening weekend.  He had traveled out to Broken Bow’s Pressey Wildlife Management Area, which was stocked with pheasants by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for the previous weekend’s youth hunt.  The article took the tone that NGPC and Pheasants Forever were disappointed with the hunter turnout at the stocked WMA’s.

Game on.  Charles quickly got his hunting clothes on, while I dressed our 7-year old son to follow Charles on a hunt at Twin Oaks Wildlife Management Area southeast of Tecumsah, which was also stocked for the youth hunt.  My little guy would never have made it through a full day, wild bird pheasant hunt in Nebraska.  The stocking of the wildlife management areas allowed Charles to go out and bag a couple of birds in a couple of hours; he hit the field at noon and was coming home by 2 PM.  “There were more birds to be had,” he said, “and the dogs would have found them, but I wanted to keep it fun for Conrad.  Making it not fun would have defeated the purpose.”

Conrad is fired up about pheasant hunting!

Attention Nebraska pheasant hunters: there are still scratch birds to be had from the stockings for the youth hunt weekend.  Please patronize Twin Oaks WMA southeast of Tecumsah, Branched Oak WMA northwest of Lincoln, Pressey WMA southwest of Broken Bow, Sherman WMA northeast of Loup City and Oak Valley WMA southwest of Norfolk on your hunts this weekend.  Thank the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and Pheasants Forever upon your success in order to continue this opportunity for hunters in our state!

Tales of the Rooster: North Dakota 2011


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

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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.

BB’s First Hunt: Our Six Month Old Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

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Saturday morning, Charles and I took BB out to the local dog training wildlife management area to plant some juvenile pheasant, in order to break her to the gun and get her used to quartering in the field.

In place of my usual still camera, I opted for shooting some video this day.  The first video I put together is Charles explaining the equipment that we use for planting birds for dog training purposes and the actual technique of planting the birds:


The second video is Charles and BB actually hunting down the birds.  Over two sessions, there were six birds planted, but only four of them are documented on video.  One of them was a lame flier and didn’t get up high enough for Charles to shoot it.  Another of them must have ran off, as we never located it.  The midday sun was beginning to make things a little uncomfortable, so we opted for heading home instead of pushing BB too hard.

What I enjoyed about watching this process was that in the beginning BB stuck close to Charles and exhibited a lot of puppy play behavior, but by the end of the adventure, she was more concerned about getting out and searching for birds.  She also displayed her natural pointing instinct.   It was also important to keep it fun, so that birds and guns mean dog party.  If someone were to make it a frightening disciplinary training session, it would do more harm than good.

We will need to continue to work on the retrieve piece.  She “marked” the birds, meaning that she went to the bird and sort of sat down with it in front of her, so she’s able to scent/sight track the downed bird, but she wasn’t quite ready to pick them up just yet.  BB will fetch dummies and toys in the yard all day long, so I don’t think it will take too much to get through that next step, but that will be the next thing we will focus on.

Here’s the video of BB’s first hunt, enjoy!


Planning for the upcoming season

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Youth Hunt 2000, with Charles and I in the back on the right

Heartland Chapter #491 Pheasants Forever meets tonight, Thursday, August 18th at 7 PM at El Bee’s on Hwy 50, near the Sapp Brothers Coffee Pot/Water Tower.  Youth Hunt Planning Meeting, new members welcome!

Sue has been in heat the past week and it has been a real pain keeping Sam away from her.  We do not want fall puppies because it conflicts with hunting season.  I hadn’t been letting them exercise together, until Sam wore me down with his endless whining about not getting to hang out with his lady.  So a few days ago I started letting them run together again, but just practicing manual birth control, which consists of lots of yelling and running after him to prevent him from mounting.

I have also been busy doing battle with the burr plants on my property because I’m tired of brushing out BB every night to bring her in.  I think that I about have them defeated and should finish the clean up this weekend.  I am normally anti-herbicide, but these plants have me ticked off.  I don’t think that I can convince Charles to spray though.  Hopefully the good old weed and seed will do the trick.

We have our first guiding gig of the year lined up for September 19th out at Pheasant Haven and are looking forward to it.  If you would like for us to guide for you at any of the Omaha/Lincoln area preserves, feel free to give us a call at (402) 682-9802 or shoot us an e-mail at bluestemkennels@cox.net.  Charles does the majority of the dog handling in the field and I assist with gear.  It’s very enjoyable to share our love of dogs and hunting with other people.

At this point we are planning on staying in Nebraska to hunt through mid-October, then head up to North Dakota for a week.  Which reminds me, I need to order my hunting license and get my Eastern Nebraska Prairie Chicken tags.  Also on my hunting related agenda for the day is I need to order some training birds for this weekend so that we can work with BB on planted birds and the gun before we hit the real deal.

Charles and I have decided that we are not going to do AKC or NAVHDA hunt tests at this point.  I know it looks cool to have a title behind your dogs name, but we just don’t have the time for it in addition to hunting and guiding.  Not taking away from the folks who do hunt tests, it is good for them, but it just isn’t our deal right now.

Two more weeks to go…I think this is probably one of the most exciting times of year to be in Nebraska.  The football people are excited, the hunting people are excited…we’re just all excited to be a part of “The Good Life”!

Guiding at Pheasant Haven: February 20, 2011

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A cool, moist day for a hunt.

Everyone wondered if we were in for rain or snow as we set out Sunday afternoon in search of pheasants and chukars.  For the first time, the owner had completely turned over the reins for this hunt and it was just Charles, Sam and I on the property with the hunters.  It was three generations of a family from a rural southeastern Nebraska town by the name of Geneva: a grandfather and great-uncle, the son and the sons-in-law, and most importantly, the grandson.

The flushes all came in singles throughout the property.  We hunted for a couple of hours, took a water break back to the cabin, then set out again for more birds for another hour and a half.  It was getting up towards supper time when we finally parted ways.  The weather cooperated and so did the dog.  The best part of the day was to see the anxiousness and timidness of the young lad melt away, turning into joy and excitement for the sport.  This was confirmed by his dad, as we all left and shook hands, he stated that his son told him, “Dad, this pheasant hunting is fun!”

A chukar partridge flushes between two hunters.

"Nothing like a good clean kill."

Charles and the youngest hunter.

A hunter walks into Sam's point.

Another chukar goes down.

Sam retrieves a chukar.

A rooster pheasant in flight.

A rooster pheasant upon impact.

The youngest hunter requests to carry a pheasant.

A happy young hunter, what it's all about!

Three generations of hunters: grandfather, grandson, son.

The hunters and their quarry along with Charles and Sam.

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