The Nebraska Sandhills
Saturday, September 1, 2012
Charles, Charity and the dogs started opening day at the usual opening day spot, which is a half-mile wide, flat valley with a set of high dunes to the north, running east to west, and a set of shorter dunes to the south, also running east to west. Charles was assigned the higher northern dune set and Charity the southern set. This is the first year that they split up in 13 years of hunting together and will probably continue to hunt this way. Charity’s pace is about half that of Charles’s, so the ability to determine their own speeds was the first reason. The second reason is that running four dogs puts too much pressure on these skittish birds at once. So, Charity took the older females, Mae and Sue, and Charles worked four year old male, Sam, and eighteen month old female, BB.
There are various ways to pattern a dunefield when hunting grouse, but Charity selected a straight up an ambling criss-cross pattern for opening day, starting on the southern, low dunes walking west to east, then turning back, walking a bit higher going east to west, then back again in the high chop going west to east. It was in the high chop an hour after starting out that she flushed her first single sharptail just barely out of range, firing shots that didn’t connect. A few steps later, a group of four got up at seventy five yards, flying off of the highest dune in the southern set, disappearing out of view to who knows where. Despite being a bit ragged from each having a litter of pups this summer, Sue and Mae sprang into action once bird activity began. They covered the highest dune to check for stragglers with no success and the descent down the eastern slope began at a frantic pace. So frantic that both dogs and hunter marched right past the sharptail that cackled up behind Charity, so that she had to take the 200 degree shotgun swing for the double-barrel attempt. She saw it wobble and descend, sending the dogs after a retrieve. Sue happily retrieved the first grouse of the season for team Versatile Hunter and it was captured on her new head-mounted video camera. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBoTg3pINGk
Meanwhile, Charles was working the taller northern dunefield, also starting from the west and working his way east in a meandering zig-zag pattern, making sure that either he or the dogs were covering any possible grouse territory in the complex. As he ascended into the target area, a random group of doves flushed off of a high dune and he couldn’t help himself but to harvest one. Not long after he heard the reports of Charity’s missed shot and her success following shortly thereafter, he descended from a dune peak and looked down onto a small flat amongst the choppy hills. Three grouse busted at seventy-five yards, as if they sensed something, but not necessarily imminent danger as they merely popped up and over the next slope. As soon as he entered the marked zone of potential landing, one got up and he shot it at close range straight on, with BB nearby for a quick retrieve.
After Charity and the older females watched the cattle hustle off of the pond on the eastern end of the dunefield and head for the windmill a couple of miles to the northwest, they stopped for a water break before continuing their criss-cross pattern, back to the west on some of the lower dunes, then finally crossing back eastward on the flat right next to the dunes. Charity has taken prairie chickens out of there in years past, but there was nothing to be seen this year. Once she finishing fully covering her assigned area, she and the dogs crossed the valley to meet up with Charles to get the update of his one grouse and one dove in the bag, but he had more ground to cover and an idea where birds were in the high chop. Charity followed the low dunes towards the west and stopped again at a windmill for a break, noting the lack of doves at the spot.
Charles headed northwest from the windmill into an extension of the same northern dunefield that he had been working all morning. He marched his way to the extreme northwest corner and worked his way back and not soon after he reached the endpoint and began hiking back, the dogs got birdy and three grouse flushed within fifty yards, which is in range for Charles even with a twenty gauge. He took one out of that group and while BB was on retrieve, another flushed even closer. His shot merely clipped the wing and the bird began to run. Luckily, catching running wounded birds is one of Sam’s specialties, so while BB was delivering the first bird, Sam put the lockdown on the attempted escapee to round out Charles’s limit for the day.
The sun was arcing higher into the azure sky and getting uncomfortably warm to continue trekking. It was time to return to the truck, which Charity couldn’t see from the windmill but knew it was to the south. She wandered a bit off track, farther east into the valley than she needed to go, but eventually caught sight of the vehicle and made it back just in time to meet up there with Charles.
At first they had it in their mind to sit for doves, but after scoping their two best spots and seeing nothing, they opted to sit out doves this trip and wait until their return to the Missouri River Valley, where they are plentiful this year.
Charles shows off his opening day limit back in town, with BB and Sam, Wirehaired Pointing Griffons
Charity is back in town with her first sharptail grouse of the year, assisted by Sue and Mae, Wirehaired Pointing Griffons