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Before I die I will shoot a snipe and other tales from the prairie…

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My poor neglected readers, I can tell that you miss me.  Yet hunting season is upon us and who needs any other muse?  I typically write forwards chronological, but today I’m feeling reverse chronological.  That way my title makes sense.

Snipe, Sora and Early Teal

Charles and Charity ready for some fun

Charity and Charles ready for some fun

Yesterday we hit the local swamp in search of snipe, sora rails, and early teal.  It is a pretty popular swamp, as there were a couple of sets of duck hunters in there before we were.  Since we were late to the party, we went to the other end of the parcel.  We spent an hour or two there and each of us missed a sora rail.  At that point we figured that the duck hunters had moved on, but first Charles wanted to go to town for a hot dog.

So when you roll into small town Nebraska with a crazy dog box in the back of your truck with dog heads hanging out of it, a travel carrier on top with stickers from all over the country, and both of you are dressed in camo: you are crazy old man bait.  The old man had some great tales: how he had just intentionally ran over a whole flock of turkeys (because of the myth that they kill pheasants and grouse.  He even showed us the carcasses in the back of his truck), his pheasant hunting escapades in South Dakota, how much he wants to retire to Oklahoma (really? why?), he showed us pictures of his purple ’67 Dodge Charger, then proceeded to do a massive burnout with his pickup (when you squeal your tires on purpose) on his way out of the gas station.  I love Nebraska.

We went back to the main parking lot of the secret swamp and had the place to ourselves.  But the duck hunters had left their mark.  Shame on them.

Party foul

Party foul

Once we got up into the swamp, Charles got a sora after I missed a few.  Then with his keen eyes, he spotted a couple of teal on some open water about 20 yards ahead of us.  I love how teal just let us jump them, we never get away with it with mallards.  Charles grabbed Fire by the collar and I grabbed BB (here is where good heeling training would come in handy, but we’re pretty rusty), and we crept up to the pond.  When the two teal jumped, Charles hit the one in the lead with his first shot, I hit the one behind with my second.  Both were really solid hits, his to the head and mine to the body, so we didn’t have any flapping in the water (which I hate).  Fire was right out on the water retrieve, which BB proceeded to steal (bad dog).  Fire went back out for the second duck too.  Chief had no clue really, we just had him out there for exposure.

From there we made our way out to the snipe field.  It is sort of a wet field that cattle graze so that the grass is all short.  It is really muddy in places and where is isn’t muddy it is pocked with deep cow hoofprints.  This place kicks my butt, I have yet to shoot a single thing there and I’ve been hunting it for years.  It has even claimed a pair of my rubber boots: I sank in and couldn’t get out, so I had to walk by to the truck in my socks.  During dry years, we stumble across the embedded boots every now and then.

We worked the eastern end of the field to no avail, we figure the flights aren’t in yet.  We work the central part of it, and again nothing.  Right as we start to slack off and let the dogs work ahead…BB locks on point and Chief and Fire proceed to bust a flock of about 10.  Out of range, no chance of a shot.  Yet the way that snipe work there are always stragglers.  Charles knocks a couple down.  I proceed to whine about how many snipe he’s shot and how I’ve yet to hit one, so he lets me walk ahead.  I proceed to blast away at another 5 with no success, while he bags a couple more.  As we’re walking back, BB again locks on a solid point.  I go in for the flush and yet again miss the snipe.  But wow, to have a dog who knows how to point snipe, that is pretty awesome.

Charles with four snipe, a sora, and a teal

Charles with four snipe, a sora, and a teal

Charity and Fire with a Teal

Charity and Fire with a Teal

AWPGA National Specialty 2015

I just had to drive a couple of hours over to Des Moines, Iowa for the National Specialty this year.  It kicked off on Thursday morning with a fun hunt at Doc’s Hunt Club in Adel, Iowa.  I accidentally left my camera at the hotel that day.  But we had a good turnout and folks took turns taking their dogs out with birds.  I sent all of my dogs to the Sandhills with Charles, so I didn’t have any.  We did a lot of visiting and had a burger and hot dog lunch in the clubhouse.  There was a tracking seminar held in the afternoon, but I have worked AKC Tracking tests with our local kennel club before, so I skipped and sat in the hot tub, then took a nap:)  In the evening, we had our annual meeting and welcome reception.

Friday was the big show.  It was great to see so many owner handled dogs.  Remember Gino Troy from the NAVHDA test in May?  Well his bitch took Best of Breed.  Yay, Gino and Brie (and his breeder Kristi Rogney of Whiskeytown Sporting Dogs).

Best of Breed Ring

Best of Breed Ring

L to R: Kristi, handler, Brie and Gino

L to R: Kristi, handler, Brie and Gino

We were free for the rest of the afternoon and evening, so I found a new home at the Court Avenue Brewing Company in the Historic East Village of Downtown Des Moines.  The people there were so friendly and the atmosphere so nice (like a mini Old Market Omaha Upstream Brewery), that I thought that I’d give them a free plug.  If you need some beer and grub in Des Moines, this is the spot.  It was packed on Saturday for the Iowa vs. Illinois St. football game, but I had the place to myself on Friday after the specialty show.

Court Ave Brewery Des Moines

Court Ave Brewery Des Moines

AWPGA steins

AWPGA steins

We had a great time at the banquet Saturday night following the supported entry show, where I won a set of four of cool beer steins in the newly launched pre-banquet games (pictured here with 24 oz. each of Nebraska Brewing Company India Pale Ale).  I had the winning bid on the silent auction of two books to add to my collection of dog books in French that I can’t read.

French Griffon Books

French Griffon Books

So, that puts learning French on my to-do list over the next few years.

The food was excellent and so was the company.  There are some things in life that I just love above all others.  Food is one of them.  From left going clockwise: roll, seven layer dessert bar, pork chop, potatoes, creamed corn, green beans with bacon, spring green salad, and a fried boneless chicken breast in the middle.

I took some of everything.

I took some of everything.

Jay Hoth of Switchgrass Sporting Dogs was solo, with Lisa back in Oklahoma looking after the kids.  He had some company at the banquet: Sheryl Dierenfield, Shona Welle, and Kina Palmer on his right all from Colorado, then myself and Julie Baker, both from Nebraska on his left.

Jay Hoth's big date

Jay Hoth’s big date

I wish that I had won this sign in the games, but I didn’t.  Some of my other problems:

Addiction

Addiction

I was able to put my amateur auctioneering skills to use at the live auction.  When I was a child growing up in Valentine, Nebraska, there just wasn’t a whole lot to do sometimes.  So my dad would take me to the sale barn to watch cattle being auctioned off.  Between that and all of my time spent as “auction model” in my younger days for Pheasants Forever, I was able to pull it off.

Charity auctioning off a cool welcome sign

Charity auctioning off a cool welcome sign

I was under the impression that supported entry on Sunday was later than it was, so keeping with tradition, I overslept the morning after the banquet and missed it (last year in Maine, I overslept and missed my flight).

It was a small turnout, only 37 dogs entered in the specialty show, but we managed to have a heck of a good time regardless.  Great job, Ruth Vogel and the 2015 specialty committee.  Next year, we will be turning it up in Helena, Montana Sept. 19-26.  Hunting seasons will also be open, so we’ll be there!

Sandhills Sharptailed Grouse Opener

Charles and the dogs had a great opening weekend in the Nebraska Sandhills chasing sharptailed grouse.  They limited out within two hours of their start time each day.  Only 8 shells shot and 6 birds in the bag!  I kept saying to myself in Des Moines, “I can’t believe I’m missing opening weekend to watch a dog show”.  But I’m pretty committed to my dog club friends and glad that I didn’t miss them being in the neighborhood.

Opening day limit. From back to front: Fire, BB, and Chief

Opening day limit. From back to front: Fire, BB, and Chief

Day 2 limit, back to front: Sam, Fire, and Chief

Day 2 limit, back to front: Sam, Fire, and Chief

Parting thoughts

I have probably missed around 100 snipe in my hunting career, so I’m going to be in pursuit.  Probably starting tomorrow.  I’m taking at least a semester away from teaching and am just going to hunt and dog train full-time.  I had thought about going solo and doing Wyoming sage grouse in a week, but I really need to get into shape (and save our money) for duck opener in the Sandhills the first week of October, and North Dakota mixed bag mid-October.  Here’s sort of my goals/timetable:

  1. I’m going to handle Chief for the first time in NAVHDA Natural Ability in the Spring.
  2. Charles will NAVHDA UPT Fire in either the spring or fall of next year.
  3. We’re going to train BB back up, giving her a year off from whelping, so that I can handle her in NAVHDA UT in the fall of 2016.  Depending on where Fire is at, she may also UT at the same test with Charles.
  4. In the next 2-3 years, I want to do Nevada chukar.  I am not in shape enough for that terrain.  Also, I have Montana staring me in the face next year, I’d like to chase some mountain grouse (blue, spruce, ruffed, ptarmigan) and the sage grouse while we’re there.  Time to get to work.

I was super excited to see Brian Koch make contact with the Himalayan Snowcock in the Ruby Mountains of Nevada within the last couple of weeks.  He doesn’t have this pic up on his Ultimate Upland website yet, but here’s the photo from his Facebook page:

Brian's Himalayan Snowcock encounter. Photo by Brian Koch ultimateupland.com

Brian’s Himalayan Snowcock encounter. Photo by Brian Koch ultimateupland.com

That is one for the bucket list!  Keep chasing birds

Duck Opener and Fire’s NAVHDA Natural Ability Test

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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.

Duck Hunting the Atlas Blizzard, BB’s NAVHDA UT and more news…

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I think that I am finally caught up on my kennel e-mails and phone calls, but if you’ve tried to get in touch with me and somehow fell through the cracks, please reach out to me again at bluestemkennels@cox.net or (402) 682-9802.  Charles has been on the road during the week for his corporate job 3 weeks in a row now, then we’ve been traveling on the weekends for hunting, testing and training.  I’m currently taking care of the 3 dogs and 3 kids, working as a substitute teacher in middle school and high school English, writing for Lion Country Supply and finishing my master’s degree in secondary education.  So sometimes the wheels just come off the bus and not everything gets done as it should.  I did manage to get my introductory blog post on to the Lion Country Supply site: http://blog.lcsupply.com/2013/09/postcards-from-the-great-plains-first-post/  It is different than writing for here, where I just sort of talk to you like I would if you were sitting here at my kitchen table with me.

But what did get done as it should was our duck hunt in the Nebraska Sandhills on opening day.  It was extremely cold and windy, as we caught the southeastern corner of what is being called the Atlas Blizzard that devestated the cattle industry in southwestern South Dakota (I’ve been following on another blog: Just a Ranch Wife http://www.justaranchwife.com/).  It definitely pushed the ducks south and right to us that day.  We both got our limits by midday and it’s a good thing because I had cotton pants on that just got completely soaked by the flying snow and I was locking up with some pre-hypothermia symptoms.  Our favorite method is jump hunting, so we were taking the action to the ducks.  I managed to catch a duck double that I shot on GoPro video and I posted it on our YouTube channel:

And the final shot on the day.  Let me tell you a bit about these end of the day shots.  I have my camera on a tripod and use the 10 second timer to take these.  I don’t look into the mirror before we take them.  I line everyone else up, hit the timer, then run into the picture.  I will never look like one of those cool, sexy huntresses in one of these pictures.  Like this one, I look like I have a damn chef’s hat on.

Charity and Charles with BB on 2013 opener of duck season

Charity and Charles with BB on 2013 opener of duck season

The following day was completely blue sky and right when we get ready to hunt, I realize that my license must have fallen out of my pocket the day before.  No hunting license, duck stamp or HIP number anywhere.  So I just carried the camera instead (after a good cry, of course).

Charles and BB started Sunday with a wood dock drake

Charles and BB started Sunday with a wood dock drake

Charles and BB leave the wooded pond

Charles and BB leave the wooded pond

The head of a wood duck drake is one of the most beautiful gifts of nature

The head of a wood duck drake is one of the most beautiful gifts of nature

Charles and BB back in the open looking for snipe

Charles and BB back in the open looking for snipe

I call this one "Anticipation".  This is Sam having to let BB go as lead duck dog for the first time.

I call this one “Anticipation”. This is Sam having to let BB go as lead duck dog for the first time.

Charles and BB creep into a wet spot

Charles and BB creep into a wet spot

Snipe way up in the air

Snipe way up in the air

Charles and BB also got a snipe on Sunday

Charles and BB also got a snipe on Sunday

A week later, BB received her NAVHDA Utility Prize III at the Heartland Chapter Fall Test in Thurman, Iowa.  Although I had planned on attending and helping out with the test, my kids all caught colds and we just really needed to stay home and recouperate.  We had considered pulling out of the test the weekend prior just because of having too much going on, but we had already paid our fee, so off Charles went.  BB had a “no-pass” in Sioux Falls in August due to not doing the duck retrieve, so we have been focused on water work in both our training and hunting.  She did what needed to get done with the duck search, steady by blind, and duck retrieve.  She aced the track, as always.  She was the last dog to run in the field and she was false pointing piles of feathers and breaking on the flush, which she hasn’t done in awhile.  But we’ve been so focused on getting over the water hump that she hasn’t been on upland birds since hunting sharp-tailed grouse at the beginning of September.  But we’ll take it!  So BB is now officially Bourg-Royal’s CB Bluestem JH, NA I, UT III.

Our co-owned female, Velma (De Jac’s Zip A Dee Doo Dah NA I) who is the same age as BB, is now dual registered with the AKC and NAVHDA, which was the final step in preparing to hopefully breed her within the next few months, in addition to the females who live with us.  I paid her a visit a month or so ago in order to take pictures that the AKC needed for registration.

Velma at 2.5 years

Velma at 2.5 years

I had originally capped my reservations at 10 but there were more folks really wanting to get on the list, so it looks like I’m at 13 now after 3 verbal commitments yesterday and in the process of finalizing with deposit.  As we are trying for 3 litters, I have high hopes that we will have enough puppies!

Speaking of puppies, we have our fingers crossed that Sam’s stud successor will be born around Halloween!  He is coming from the same kennel that we acquired BB, Bourg-Royal Kennel in St. Lambert-de-Lauzon, Quebec, Canada.  Should he be born and it isn’t a litter of all girls, he will be parented by two French imports: sire GCH Fortis des Sonnailles du Haut Davy FD NA I and dam Crystal D’O des Roches de Vouise.

Fortis on point.  Photo by Amy Caswell

Fortis on point. Photo by Amy Caswell

Crystal on point and posed.  Photos by Claudette Blackburn

Crystal on point and posed. Photos by Claudette Blackburn

We are so very excited and hope that all goes well for human mom, Renee, mama Crystal and the babies!

Last but not least it is time for some pupdates.  We got word from Kyle in Illinois within the last couple of weeks that Gomer got his NAVHDA Natural Ability Prize I with a perfect score of 112 points.  I don’t have the name of the chapter, but will keep my eyes out for it in Versatile Hunting Dog magazine.  He is from 2012 “D” Litter from Sam and Sue.

TracHer from 2012 “C” Litter from Sam and Mae took a limit of sharp-tailed grouse with owner, Susan, a week ago.  TracHer and Susan live up in North Dakota.  Susan said, “It is so rare that I hunt alone with just one dog, and very nice to go my own pace.  TracHer did great.  Ranged a bit, but would come back in.  It is also rare that I get my limit!!   TracHer found and retrieved to hand all 3 birds. “

Susan and TracHer with a limit of sharp-tailed grouse.

Susan and TracHer with a limit of sharp-tailed grouse.

TracHer’s sister (but not littermate), Midge, is from Sam and Mae’s 2013 “F” Litter and is really looking nice!  I hear that she’s had some pheasants shot over her in Montana within the last couple of days.

Midge at 7 months old

Midge at 7 months old

Hearing lots of good reports from other owners as the season kicks off and I can’t wait to see the hunting pics!!  Kyle from across town here said that he got Gomer’s brother Duke out on ducks, “I had the chance to get Duke out duck hunting a couple times this weekend. He did awesome. I didn’t get any pictures, but we got into the teal and wood ducks. ”  Duke is also taking after his mama Sue, Kyle said, “I saw a while ago that you posted a picture of Sue with socks and toys in her mouth. That must be where Duke gets it from. We can’t keep socks in one place at our house, he finds every dirty pair and carries them around. Haha.”  That really made me smile!

Oh this blog post has taken me way too long to write.  Thank you owners for keeping me up-to-date with the pups!!  What’s next for us? Saturday, Charles, BB and Sam leave for the big North Dakota trip.  Charles will be focused mainly on guiding his old friend Ozzie from New York.  A week from Friday, I leave for AWPGA National Specialty.  If we can just make it through October, we’ll try to have a less insane November.  But hunting season is only so long.  And you only get so many hunting seasons in your life.  So stay tuned for more craziness.

Missouri Early Teal

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After work on Friday, Charles and I headed down to our friend Bill’s spot in Northwest Missouri to try our first shot at early teal.  Although the reports were not good and the weather hadn’t really cooled down enough to move the big flocks, we figured it was worth a shot even as a scouting run for snow goose later in the season.  All of the land surrounding Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge is privately held, so you either have to know someone who owns land, connect with a guide who leases land or belong to a duck club in order to hunt this area near Mound City, MO.  We pulled into town around 7:30 and met up with Bill, who gave us some background information about the area.  The most interesting thing for me was learning about the duck club culture, which is very similar to how a golf country club operates: a large (like $50k) startup membership fee, then a couple grand a year for dues.  Many famous coaches and athletes are a part of the clubs that show up mostly for the bigger duck season and snow goose.  Early teal is a slower season for the area, as there are just not that many folks coming in for a one-species hunt.

The cabin we rented was about 7 miles southwest of Mound City and only a couple of hundred yards from the 10 acre marsh and pond that we would be hunting.  As we pulled into the driveway on Friday night, an opossum crossed in front of our vehicle.  We knew it wouldn’t be long for the dogs to find it, but hoped that it would move on quickly so we wouldn’t have to deal with a dead critter.  So much for that, because it wasn’t 15 minutes later that Sam showed up with it dead in his mouth.  One less nest raider prowling in the night and good fur hunting practice for them.

BB on left and Sam with the opossum

BB on left and Sam with the opossum

Saturday morning, Bill, his son Cole, his friend Frank and Frank’s 14 year-old son Luke came out to the cabin and we all trudged out through the dense fog to the pond prior to shooting hours.  Although we were 20 minutes before shooting hours started, we might have had a better chance had we gotten there earlier, as a flock circled our head a couple of times as we walked in.  Bill went out into the decoys to turn on the mojos about 10 minutes prior to shooting time and a flock of 15 landed right behind him, then swam in front of him, getting spooked up when he returned to shore.  Luke and Frank sat to the left of me at the top of the pit blind and Charles sat to the right, with Sam and BB on a lead.  Bill and Cole sat behind us without guns.  A pair of the teal came back and landed on Luke’s side, so right when shooting hours opened, his dad had him flush the ducks off of the water and took his shots.  One of ducks clearly landed in front of us in the pond, the other appeared to fly off.

Fog in the bog

Fog in the bog

A flock of about 15 came in not long after and Bill called on us to shoot as they were about 4 feet from landing on the water.  This was my first time on a pit blind hunt over decoys, so I was glad that he told us when to shoot because I didn’t know whether to let them land, then flush them up or shoot them on the way down.  I squarely hit one of the ducks and fired a second shot into the flock.  Luke and Frank also took shots, but Charles really didn’t have any clear shots at that point, so he abstained from firing.  BB and Sam brought back the 2 ducks that we could see clearly in the water in front of us.  We continued to sit, but as the sun rose and the distant shooting at the clubs to the north held steady for awhile, but then began to fade around 9 AM.  We let the dogs loose to see if they could find anymore ducks and BB pointed one dead in the millet, then retrieved it.  So that brought Frank and Luke’s total to 3 and I had 1.  About 9:30 AM Luke and Frank decided to head back to Kansas City, while Charles and I were ready to try our hand at hunting the sora rails that we saw flitting around the swamp.

Luke, Frank, Charles and I with our teal

Luke, Frank, Charles and I with our teal

Charles and I weren’t quite sure how to approach the swamp and the sora rails at first.  We walked around the edge of the swamp on the levee hoping that BB would wade out into the swamp looking for them.  But she had never hunted sora before.  We did get lucky and Charles shot one of the edge of the swamp, but BB really wasn’t quite sure what she was looking for, so I waded out into the swamp to guide her.  At that point, we just decided to wade around the mid-calf deep water between the millet strips and see what would happen.  About 2 hours later, BB had become the sora master, both pointing and retrieving the tiny birds, about the size of a skinny robin.  BB also found an additional teal that had been taken in the flock salvo in the morning, so since I was the only one who had shot at the teal out of the two of us, it went on my tag.  Charles bagged 6 sora rails and I shot my first ever that afternoon.  I think the first bird of a particular kind is always super exciting, so I had my first teal from the early season and my first sora in the same morning.  We really had a blast on the sora hunt, as we had never waded through a swamp to hunt before.

Charles out walking the swamp for sora rails

Charles out walking the swamp for sora rails

Close-up of the sora rail harvest

Close-up of the sora rail harvest

Charles, BB and I with the harvest

Charles, BB and I with the harvest

Bill was really disappointed that we didn’t have the teal numbers to take limits both days.  I think that is sort of the standard in that part of the world when it comes to waterfowl.  He told the story of the record 1100 snow goose harvest by one hunting party in the conservation season (when there are no limits).  That seems a bit wanton to us.  We’ve been hunting long enough in various places to know that you don’t always know what you’re going to get, if anything.  That’s why it is called hunting and not just killing.  So we sat again Saturday night and saw one flock fly high over our heads, and again on Sunday morning, when we saw nothing.  There wasn’t even much shooting coming out of the duck clubs Sunday morning, as the night had been warm and the morning was sunny.  The ducks were sitting over on the refuge and had no reason to move.

We are excited to have made a connection down in Northwest Missouri and we look forward to returning for big ducks and snow geese!

Pupdate

TracHer had a great time at summer hunting dog camp in Wisconsin!  She is around a year and a half old and is from Sam and Mae’s “C” litter 2012,  TracHer is back home in North Dakota now and getting ready for hunting season!

TracHer working out in front of her trainer

TracHer working out in front of her trainer

TracHer holding steady after the flush

TracHer holding steady after the flush

Bringing back the big retrieve.

Bringing back the big retrieve.

Doing great on her water work too!

Doing great on her water work too!

Thank you Susan for sharing the terrific photos!!

We have opening of Nebraska High Plains ducks the weekend after next, then a couple of weeks later Charles will be guiding some old friends from New York on ducks and pheasants up in North Dakota.  BB’s breeders, Renee Fortier and Gilbert Tremblay, are coming all the way from Quebec to Lincoln for German Wirehaired Pointer nationals next week, so I will head down and visit them on Thursday.  Somewhere in between high plains duck and the North Dakota trip is BB’s second shot at the UT test.  At the end of October, the same day Charles returns from North Dakota, I leave for AWPGA nationals in Colorado.  So we’ve got lots of dog excitement coming up and I’ll sure to keep you posted.  Best of luck in the field to all of my fellow hunters out there!!

Sharptailed Grouse Hunting Opener and Other News

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Reservations and Breeding Plans

At this point, I have taken 10 reservations with deposits for my Spring 2014 litters and continue to get interest daily.  Even though I am planning three litters (from Mae, BB and Velma), I won’t even start breeding for another three months or so (which puts whelping 5+ months away and homegoing 7+ months away).  I just want everyone to know that I am a bit hesitant about taking additional reservations right now.  If everything goes as planned, I could have 12-20 puppies in 2014, but I just don’t know right now.  Feel free to call (402) 682-9802 or e-mail bluestemkennels@cox.net if you have any questions.

Sharptailed Grouse and Dove Opening Day: September 1, 2013

Charles had a great opening day of grouse in the Nebraska Sandhills on Sunday, September 1st.  We set out into the northern dunefield of our usual opening day spot.  Our “usual opening day spot” consists of two east-west running dunefields with about a mile wide valley in the middle.  I let Charles, Sam and BB head deep into the dunes, while I waited behind at the truck with Mae.  Once they were out of sight, I set off eastward into the rising sun.  I was probably 100-300 yards south of Charles and clearly heard one shot about 15 minutes into our walk.  I had a single bird get up to my left about 5 minutes later, but I missed the shot, which was the only one I had on a grouse all weekend.  Not long after I heard another single shot.  Charles and I met up at the eastern fenceline of the section about 45 minutes after we had started and talked about what we had seen.  He had seen a few large flocks of grouse and had 2 in the bag, so we headed up into the northeastern corner of the section to make sure that we had covered everything, then turned back around to go west towards the truck.  Once again, Charles was to the north of me in the higher dunes and I was working the southern edge.  Sure enough, not 5 minutes after we parted ways, I heard another single shot.  I went over to him and he had his limit of 3.

Wirehaired Pointing Griffons Hunt Sharptailed Grouse

Sam, Charles and BB with their limit of sharptailed grouse on opening day 2013

We worked for another hour walking westward where he had seen the larger groups, but we didn’t see a single grouse.  We then set up our decoys at a windmill and sat for doves for an hour and a half or so, each taking one, but it was too hot to sit the whole day, so we headed back to town to spend time with the family.

Sandhills Dove Hunting 2013

Charles and Charity with the obligatory one dove each to start the season

The following day we set out into another spot that has been an annual producer for us.  I walked for 3 hours and Charles walked for 4 and neither one of us saw a single sharptail, which is very odd.  Some folks say it was last year’s drought not leaving enough cover for nesting, others say they were killed in the massive summer hailstorm that hit the area, but all I know is that they have been in this spot for 15 years and they weren’t there on Labor Day.  We called it a hunt midday on Monday and headed out to the lake with friends and family.

Charles has spent the last two weekends working with BB on the duck search and retrieve for her second shot at the NAVHDA Utility Test in October.  This coming weekend we will be heading down to Missouri to try our hand at the last weekend of their early teal duck season.  Sam is usually our main duck dog, so he will have to hang back back at the truck while BB finally gets her chance to be the waterfowl star.

Pupdates

Got a message and photos from Bob in Minnesota about his pup Ed, from Sue and Sam’s 2013 “E” litter.  Sounds like he is doing great and has some fun adventures in store for this season:

Ed is a big boy and tipping the scales just shy of 60 pounds on his 6 month bday.  He is loving our weekend camping trips to the lake and is a hard charger in his water work.  In fact he gets close to the lake and will rip the leash out of your hands to go in while carrying his bumper.  Last weekend he pointed 2 grouse sitting in the woods near the lake on one of our walks.  Ed is looking real nice on his points but still is breaking so I have some more work to do.  He is retrieving to hand and I am hoping that continues when hunting season begins here in MN.  I have taken a break the past week on training as we have been having triple digit temps up here and it is just too hot.  Ed will be heading out in mid September for official gun introduction and bird and gun association.  Out pheasant season starts on October 12 here in MN and then we are headed out to North Dakota on November 6 for our first North Dakota adventure of the fall.  Thinking trip number 2 will be in December but that will depend on the weather and how he does this fall on our other outings.

Ed6mos

Ed at 6 months chillin’ on the deck

Ed hanging out in the house

Ed hanging out in the house

Ed and his toy pheasant

Ed and his toy pheasant

16 month old Chester from Sam and Mae’s “C” Litter of 2012 lives out in New York and has been practicing hard for the upcoming season with his owner Sal and trainer Hoss.  He’s pictured here at a Hudson Valley NAVHDA Chapter training day.

Chester on point

Chester on point

Another shot of Chester on point

Another shot of Chester on point

Chester retrieving

Chester retrieving

And handsome three year old Whiskey out in Nevada from Sue and Sam’s “A” litter of 2010 has been caught by owner Deborah being very silly these days.

Whiskey thinks that crocs make great chew toys

Whiskey thinks that crocs make great chew toys

Whiskey peeking out from his blanket

Whiskey peeking out from his blanket

As always, thank you to the puppy owners for taking such fabulous photos and sharing them with us!!

I just talked to my eyes on the sky down in Missouri and he said that with this warm weather there aren’t many teal flying, but this coming weekend is the last one of the season, so it is the only shot we’re going to get on this particular season.  Since we’ll have our Missouri license anyway, I see us heading down there for some other waterfowl seasons this year too since it is only an hour and a half away.  So wish us luck and we’ll keep you posted!!

Reflections on Snipe Hunting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defeated by the swamp

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

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

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

Patriots’ Day Teal

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Wirehaired Pointing Griffon and Blue-Winged Teal

Sam, Charles and a pair of blue-winged teal

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

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

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

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

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

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