Wild Apple Kennel and Guide Service

Wild Apple Kennel and Guide Service
The 2007 Grand National Grouse Champion, Winner 2008 Northern New England Woodcock Championship, Winner 2010 Lake States Grouse Championship, Runner-up 2011 Northeast Grouse and Woodcock Championship, Winner 2011 International Amateur Woodcock Championship, Winner 2012 Southern New England Woodcock Championship

Wild Apple Kennel Training Blog

This blog will try to present a running account of the training and field trialing season for the pointers of Wild Apple Kennel. NOW ACCEPTING BOOKINGS FOR THE 2015 GROUSE AND WOODCOCK SEASON WITH WILD APPLE KENNEL GUIDE SERVICE! PHONE NUMBERS 603-449-3419 OR CELL 603-381-8763.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Riverbend Moment Part Two


When they had all remounted, Smith picked up without missing a beat.  “I had hoped that like your son, he would study business.  But his mother taught him to love books, and if I didn’t know better I’d think he’d avoided getting an MBA just to spite me.  But this plantation has always been Beau’s first love.  From reading your magazine, I can tell you two have a lot in common.  He’d rather spend an hour on a horse watching his dogs – and believe me when I tell you these two are HIS dogs.  Wilson just handles them when we have guests.”
Beau’s stock was going up in Al’s mind even though it was obvious that his father was not impressed by a son who would rather spend time in the field instead of in the cutthroat competition of the board room.  He looked at Beau and nodded.  A wry smile crossed his face and was gone before his father could see it.
“Now Beau and I have made a deal, he’ll come into the business if I get him a magazine that interests him.”
Smith left it there for a long pause — as Al quickly saw what was coming next.
Smith was obviously an astute businessman and watched Al process what he had just said.  “That’s right, Al, I want to buy your magazine for my son.”
Al was not in Smith’s league when it came to business, but he knew how to keep his cards close and not give away what he was holding.  “Well, that’s very interesting.  I had hoped my son would take over the magazine, but considering the direction his life has gone I don’t think that will ever happen.  I really hadn’t considered selling.”  Which was a flat out lie, as Al had been putting out feelers to some outdoor publishing groups to try and test the waters.  He wondered if Smith had somehow gotten wind of it.
“I’m sure once we looked over your books we would make you a fair offer.”
“This isn’t really what I expected this morning, but it’s something I would obviously have to consider.”
Wilson once again called point.  All offered to let father and son have this covey, but Smith wouldn’t hear of it.  Smith cut in front of Al to take the left side this time.  Al smiled, knowing that the real competition had begun in Smith’s mind, and he was trying to throw his opponent off by putting the left handed shooter on the right side of the covey.  On the rise Al easily dropped two birds and Smith did the same.  So far 11 shots had been fired and there were 11 birds in the cooler on the back of the wagon.
Rather than return to the conversation with Smith, Al turned his attention to Beau.  “I’d be interested in reading your thesis at some point.  Buckingham is one of my favorites.  If you can connect the dots between his writing and Faulkner’s The Bear, I would expect that you don’t have to reach very far to validate the thesis that this type of writing is literature.  Throw in a little Hemingway and who could argue with you.”
Beau smiled.  This was his type of conversation.  “Actually, Faulkner and Hemingway are both included in the paper, but I’m trying to make a larger point than sport as literature.  Buckingham and many others who wrote about the sporting life of the South have indirectly captured the angst felt by many Southerners for the lose of the agrarian life.  It’s why men like my father spend huge sums of money on places like Riverbend.  Some of our workers are the descendants of slaves who lived on this plantation.  I mean we pay them a living wage, give them health benefits, and let them keep their houses when they retire, but it is still a connection to a South that rightfully no longer exists.”
Al could see Smith scowling, but ignored him.  “That’s very interesting.  I think we have an atavistic need to somehow be attached to the land, even if all it amounts to is keeping the grass of some suburban tract house green and well manicured.”
They were again interrupted by pointing dogs.  This time they had a divided find right next to the wagon road.  Beau and Al dismounted and four more quail were dead.  The dogs were led back to the wagon and put in there boxes.  It was time for a break as the wagon men produced thermoses of coffee and a cooler full of water and soft drinks.  Donuts and other pastries also appeared on the tailgate of the wagon.  Al grabbed a diet coke.  Both Smiths had coffee from different thermoses.  The seniors was black, Beau’s appeared to have cream and sugar.
Al turned to Beau, “Those were two very nice dogs.  Have you ever run them in field trials?”
“Thank you.  Last year when they were derbies, Jim and I ran them in a couple of prairies derby stakes.  But they really didn’t have the run for that.  We had really tailored them for the shooting string.  Now when Joe was a derby, it was different story.  He wanted to see the country.”
Smith interrupted his son.  “That was one of my mistakes, I thought the hard work of summer on the prairies would convince him that he should take an interest in business so he could afford to hire people to train and take care of his dogs.  Instead the harder it was, the more he wanted to do it.  If it hadn’t been for his mother he probably would have skipped college to be a dog trainer.”
Beau smiled at Al. “As much as I love it, I have understood for a long time that I needed intellectual stimulation of books and writing to go along with it.  That’s why I’ve made this deal with my father.  If he finds me a magazine I can be happy editing and running, and I stay with it for ten years, then I get Riverbend and enough money to keep it the way it is.  We have even had a trust agreement drawn up that spells it all out.”
Al realized that there was a lot of face saving involved in the complex agreement between this father and son.  Each had given up much to come to their deal.  Al decided then and there he would let Beau have the magazine but he would let Smith squirm a little before he gave in.  “Well, Beau, that puts me in a rather awkward position.  I would hate to come between a father and son.  But on the other hand, I have to think about my own family and a certain loyalty I feel to the readers of the magazine.  Some of them have been with us since the first issue 20 years ago.”
Beau didn’t realize at the time but the next words out his mouth clinched the deal.  “I can understand that.  I had Dad get me a subscription about ten years ago and then we bought all the back issues.  I’ve still got them.”
Smith almost snorted.  “Boy, you are two savvy businessmen.  We better get hunting before we are all reaching for our hankies.  Why don’t you get that grouse dog out.”
People like Smith have a misconception about what a grouse dog is.  In Al’s mind all it meant was the dog had experience pointing grouse.  Bess was a multiple cover dog champion who had also won numerous amateur horseback stakes.  She was in the prime of her life and had just come off two months of running the Rolling Plains of Texas where she regularly out birded all the other dogs on the ranch.
Al had a hunch that he was being set up and was not surprised when the wagon man brought Riverbend Joe out of the wagon.  He was not intimidated, if that was in fact Smith’s intent.  Bess had been in the piney woods before and he’d put her up against any quail dog in the country when it came to finding birds.
Al smiled and talked directly to the dog.  “Well, Joe, I had hoped to see you run today.  I hope you’ll be a gentleman when you run with my little grouse dog. “
At that point, the other wagon man opened Bess’s kennel and missed her as she came shooting out of the box.  Al barely raised his voice. “heel.”
Bess came immediately to his side and began to whimper and tremble.  She was raring to go and could hardly contain herself.  Al was pretty sure he could heel her over to the horses but decided not to chance it and grabbed her collar.  When he got her next to Joe, two things were readily apparent, Joe outweighed her by 15 plus pounds most of it in his massive chest.  At the same time Bess was his equal in length of leg and body.  With a critical eye and the experience of having seen Joe in a trial, Al looked at the two dogs and was pretty sure they would be pretty evenly matched in ground speed.
Smith took one look at Bess and scowled again.  “That bitch doesn’t look like some little grouse dog.  How’s she bred.”
Al threw out a couple of well known all-age and shooting dog setter champions that were close up in her pedigree.  Beau caught his father’s eye, “This is White Mountain Lady, she won the Lakes States and The Pennsylvania Championships last year.  If I remember correctly there were 90 some dogs in the Pennsylvania.”
“You must read The Field as well as my magazine.”
“Yes, sir.  I’m probably the only student at Duke who had it mailed to his dorm when I was an undergraduate.  When other kids were going off to drink beer on the weekends, I’d go up to Hoffman and bum a horse from some one and ride the braces.”
Smith threw up his hands in mock surrender. “See what I’m up against . . . we aren’t going to shoot any quail standing here.”
With that Wilson and Al let go of the dogs and they took off with more purpose than the two young dogs they had just run.  Bess went to the right, Joe to the left.  Al knew Bess would show to the front or would be standing somewhere on the right side of the wagon road.  After a couple of minutes, Joe crossed way out to the front and then stopped in plain sight of the hunting party.
Smith smiled, “Looks like Joe’s drawn first blood.”
Wilson kicked his horse up into a lope and the others followed.  When he got close to the dog he look first at his boss, then at Al, then back to his boss.  “The setter’s in front of him in the bicolor.”  As he said it, all three of them saw her high in tight in front of the pointer.  “How do you want to handle this Mr. Fowler?”
“Why don’t we let the Smith’s shoot.  I’ll flush.”
Father and son were quickly down off their horses as Al and Wilson stood by.  When they were in position Al stepped into the head high bicolor and birds exploded up all around him.  Bess never moved a muscle as the four shots rang out in the brilliant morning air.  Al looked at Wilson and both men couldn’t help but smile.  The two bird dogs were led back to the wagon road and the retriever made quick work of the four downed birds.  Al snuck a look at Smith and could see a small cloud starting to build over his face.  The man obviously took winning and losing very seriously.
With the dogs once again cast away.  The group rode quietly along as they caught glimpses of the two dogs attacking the course.  Soon Joe had his first find with Bess backing.  This time Al and Smith shot.  It was in many ways like a heavyweight fight as the dogs traded finds with a slight edge going to Bess.  After an hour and a half both dog were showing no sign of letting up.  Then Bess once again was first to the birds with Joe backing.  Again it was Smith and Al who went in with their guns.  On the flush four shots again rang out.  No one had missed a bird yet.
When Al turned back to caution Bess, he was struck by the silence.  There were no congratulatory remarks from Wilson, Beau, or the wagon men.  When he looked at Smith, Al believed he knew why.  The man’s whole demeanor had changed.  “Not only did you beat my best dog, 6 coveys to 4, but I’m the goat with the first miss of the day.   We have a long standing custom here at Riverbend.  The one who misses first supplies the scotch at the end of the day.”  Smith stuck out his hand which Al took not knowing what to say, “I have to get back to Atlanta and they’re waiting for me at the airport.  Beau will be your host for the rest of the day.”
“Thank you for your hospitality.  This is quite a place.”
Smith held Al’s hand and locked eyes.  “What are we going to do about your magazine.”
Al knew Smith would ask the direct question at some point.  He hadn’t expected it right then.  Then he remembered something.  One of the girls back home who had babysat for them many years ago, was a lawyer in Atlanta who specialized in intellectual property law.  She could probably help him or recommend someone who could deal with Smith.  “Reggie, I have an old family friend whose a lawyer in Atlanta.  I’ll call her when I get home and have her get in touch with you.”
If the fact that Al had a lawyer in Atlanta surprised Smith he didn’t show it.  “That will be fine.  I underestimated you and your dog today.  I won’t do it again.”
With that he handed his gun to the wagon man, jumped into the saddle, and rode away. It was like a scene from some old “B” western with the two antagonists parting company in a cloud of dust.  It was also as if a weight had been lifted from the rest of the group.  Wilson spoke first with genuine deference to his future boss.  “What do you want to do now, Mr. Beau?”
Beau had them bring out two more dogs and then made the loop that would take them back to the barn and lunch at the big house.  On the first find Beau looked at Al, “Why don’t you do the honors, Mr. Fowler.”
“I’m afraid I might break my streak.  If I stop shooting now, I can say I shot at Riverbend and never missed a bird.  Many more flushes and my luck is bound to run out. And please call me Al.”
“Just flush them, Jim.”
Wilson got down off his horse and pulled a battered single shot out of his scabbard.  There wasn’t a dog trainer worth his salt who did have a gun just like the one Wilson stepped in front of the dogs with.  When the birds flushed he fired in the air and then sent the dogs on. 
When they got back to the barn and kennels, Beau gave Al the tour.  Talking about each dog, how it was bred, its strengths and weaknesses.  There was a special building just for the bitches that had or were about to whelp litters.  Beau talked excitedly about two of them that he had selected himself to breed to Joe.  He hoped to get more field trial dogs.
Despite the difference in age, Beau and Al were soon carrying on like old friends talking about Faulkner, Buckingham, bird dogs and field trials.  As the plane was making its descent into Atlanta, Al couldn’t help but experience a bittersweet feeling towards the memories of that afternoon that he had spent with Beau working dogs.  If only his own son had Beau’s interest in it all, there would be no question about selling the magazine.  But Josh was not a writer.  He could write clear and concise business plans and merger proposals but that did not make him a writer.  Al just hoped that he would find something to be passionate about before his fast-paced life outran him.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Riverbend Moment (Fiction)

(It's snowing like crazy here today and I was looking for something to help pass the time.  I remembered that there were some unpublished stories in the series that includes "The Longest Hour." So here, one I that's a little different.  And Timmy. remember fiction means made-up.)


Al Fowler was riding at the Masters Championship that runs over a number of quail hunting plantations near Albany, Georgia.  He was talking with one of the professional trainers that he had become friends with when he was first starting the magazine.  They were talking over the dogs they had seen and who they thought the judges might be carrying.  It was the typical gallery conversation at a field trial.  As they rode along, Al realized that the guy on his left seemed to be listening to their conversation.  When Al made eye contact with the man, he stuck out his hand as his horse siddled up to Al’s, “I’m R.J. Smith and this is my son Beau.  You’re Al Fowler, aren’t you?”

Al reached across his horse to shake hands as he sized up the man.  He was powerfully built and was wearing a well-worn pair of brush pants and an equally battered shooting jacket.  His horse was extra fancy, like his clothes his tack was well used but of the best manufacture.  He appeared to be a member of the local plantation set.  The young man riding next to him shared his father’s good looks but without the hard edge of the elder Smith.  As Al nodded to the son and then remembered who the father was, “Yes, I am.  It’s a pleasure to meet you both.  Last year I judged the Georgia All-Age, and we used your dog Riverbend Joe as runner-up.  That was a really fine performance.”  Al always remembered people’s dogs better than the people, and this time was no different as he could not remember if Reggie or Beau had been at the trial.
Reggie held eye contact with Al, “My trainer said that Joe should of won.  He claimed he got short changed by a carpet bagging Yankee judge.”
“I wouldn’t expect a trainer to say anything else.  The fact that Joe beat 98 out of the 100 dogs in the stake seemed pretty clear to me and the other judge.  But he sure as hell didn’t beat the winner.”  Al said it in matter of fact way but left no doubt that he was standing by his decision of the previous winter.  Reggie laughed.  “Yeah, that’s what my friends who had ridden the trial said, too.”
Al laughed along with him and knew that he had just passed some sort of test.  And then he remembered something else about Reggie.  He owned a dozen magazines, a handful of radio stations, and couple of TV stations.  Al made a point of getting along with just about everyone.  Through the dogs and the magazine he had rubbed shoulders with people in all walks of life including some extremely powerful people.  He was also a good listener and knew instinctively that there was more that Reggie had to say to him.
“When are you leaving, Mr. Fowler?”
“Al is just fine, and I haven’t really decided when I’ll head back to the North.”  Al could have said, “home” but used the charged North to bait Smith.
Smith had something in mind, as he ignored the bait, “I’d like you to see Riverbend, if you’re going to be in town for a couple of days.”
“Sure, I always enjoy visiting anyplace that has dogs and birds.”
“I have to go back to Atlanta soon, How about tomorrow morning at 8?”
“Do you need directions?” Now Reggie was baiting him, everyone in Albany knew where Riverbend was.  The massive gates and sign announced it to the world that passed by on the main highway.
“I think I can find it.”
“Good, we’ll see you in the morning.”
Reggie and Beau rode off without further conversation.  When Al turned back to the trainer riding next to him the man was smiling.  “You must be able to walk on water, as I’ve been told that short of Jesus H Christ no one gets invited onto Riverbend.  The talk among the trainers in town is it’s one of the top five quail plantations in the whole South.”
Al just shrugged his shoulders.  He had been invited to some of the greatest ranches and plantations in the country.  Often the owners hoped he would write about them in the magazine.  Few of them were crass enough to broach the subject, however, when the places he visited were doing something interesting as far as managing their quail population, he wrote about it.  When all they wanted was an article that would stroke their egos and they could show their guests, he didn’t.
At quarter to eight, he pulled his rig in through the fieldstone pillars from which the Riverbend sign hung.  As the drive approached the main house, an antebellum mansion that had either been restored or spared the fate many of the homes in the area had suffered in the Civil War, the trainer who had run Riverbend Joe under him stepped out into the drive, Al stopped and rolled down his window.
“Morning Mr. Fowler, Mr. Smith and Mr. Beau are down at the kennel.  I’m supposed to bring you along.”  Al wracked his brain and then came up with the name, Jim Wilson.
“Do you want to hop in, Jim. Or are you just going to point me in the right direction.”
“If you don’t mind sir, I’ll take a ride.  It’s almost half a mile to the kennels.”
Wilson walked around and got into the passengers seat of Al’s truck.  Once they were rolling again and Jim had him headed down the road to the kennel, Al couldn’t resist playing the devil.  “I heard yesterday, that I got it wrong last year at the Georgia Championship.”
The best dog trainers could communicate with a dog with a simple touch of their hands or a slight change in the tone of their voice.  Communicating with people was always much, much harder for many of them.  Wilson visibly blushed and stared down at his hands.  “Well, sir, I sure would have liked to have been winner, and I had to tell the Boss something, when he asked why we didn’t win.”
Al looked at him and laughed lightly, “If I had your boss, I would probably have said the same thing.”
Then they both laughed, they were now coconspirators.  Equals in the face of the Reggie Smiths of the world.  They quickly arrived at the kennel and barn.  A pair of mules was hitched to a traditional dog wagon and a black man was loading dogs into the wagon another was holding three horses.
Reggie came walking out of the barn with a white man who was obviously an employee.  They walked over to the truck as Al and Jim got out.  Jim went to help load the dogs and make sure things were set for the morning hunt.  Reggie stuck out his hand, “Morning Al, this is my plantation manager, Paul Faulkner.  No relation to the writer.”  Faulkner stuck out his hand without acknowledging the Boss’s joke.  It was probably well worn.  “Now, Al you got any of your little grouse dogs with you that you want to put on the wagon.  The boys will put any other dogs you have with you in the guest kennel.  We also have a pen, if you want to turn out your spare horses.”
Two more black helpers appeared and there was a flurry of activity as dogs and horses were moved.  Al had all his dogs with him as he was on his way back from Texas.  He had them put Bess on the wagon.  All the other dogs with him were puppies and derbies and this wasn’t the time or place for them.  He began the process of saddling his horse.
Two of the black men were soon at his side offering to help.  He much preferred to take care of his own animals, but this was their job and he didn’t want to buck the plantations customs.  Beau came out of the barn with a shotgun under each arm.  They were both side-by-sides and they looked to be Purdeys or Holland & Hollands.  Beau put the guns in the rack on the wagon and walked over to him, “Do you have a gun with you Mr. Fowler?  If not we have a guest gun your welcome to use.”
“Al is fine.” He reached into the trailer’s tack room and pulled out the case with his well-worn Winchester.  “It may look a little shabby next to those. But I haven’t shot anything else in so long, I’m not sure I could.”
Al saw a twinkle in Beau’s eye as he pulled the gun from the case and repeated the old homily in a lowered voice that his father wouldn’t hear, “Beware the man with only one gun.”
Al, the two Smiths, and Jim Wilson all mounted and rode down a wagon road quietly for a few minutes.  Al was impressed by how well manicured the piney woods of Riverbend were.  It was obvious that Smith and those working on his plantation had incorporated all the current best practices in managing their land for quail.  Food plots and cover abounded and there were signs that the woods had been burned in the last year or two to improve the natural habitat.
“It is customary for us to put down a guest’s dog in the first pair out of the wagon.  But if you have no objection, the second hour of the morning course has been holding a few more birds.”  Al nodded his assent.  Although he wasn’t really being given a choice as the two wagon men were already each bringing one of the plantation dogs up from the wagon.  The senior Smith continued, “These two are littermates by Joe out of one of our brood bitches.  Beau picked them out of the litter and they’re doing alright.”
Al assumed that that was an understatement as Smith would only show his best to a guest with Al’s credentials.  Wilson blew his whistle and the two almost identical pointers were off with an impressive burst of speed.  Wilson was a good enough handler to let them have their heads for a few minutes before he called them back in to start hunting.  When the dogs came back down the wagon road, he spoke to them and one went left and the other right.
Al and the Smiths followed a little behind Wilson as he handled the two dogs.  It was not long before the one on the left slammed into a perfect point well back off a feed plot.  Wilson called to the other dog that swung around and backed his brother.  It was a moment that had been captured by the best sporting artists of the last 100 years — the towering pines, the dog wagon with a Labrador retriever on the seat between the wagon men, the handler and the hunters.  Many contemporary artists would give much to have the opportunity to paint the scene in front of them.
One of the wagon men came forward carrying Al’s gun and one of the doubles.  He handed the double to Reggie and the Winchester to Al.  Being left handed Al had always found it easier to swing his gun on birds going to his left and without thinking, he instinctively went to the left side of Wilson.  Reggie took the right.  Wilson went to the dog and then looked to Al and then his Boss who had spread out on his flanks.  When Smith nodded, Wilson stepped into the cover and the covey exploded.  Al picked out a cock bird that presented a fairly straightforward shot and squeezed the trigger of his gun as the barrel pulled in front of the bird.  It was a clean kill and the bird dropped out of the sky like a stone.  At the same time he heard Smith’s double speak twice.  While they were flushing the covey, the other wagon man had brought the Lab up to retrieve the downed birds.  The dog picked up two birds on Smith’s side before coming to get Al’s.
“Our birds a little fast for you?”
“Excuse me.”  Al had been thinking just the opposite.  In comparison to the wild quail of West Texas these birds truly deserved the moniker “Gentleman Bob.”
“I only heard you shoot once.  I thought maybe you couldn’t catch up to a second bird.”  Smith said this matter of factly but Al sensed the underlying triumph of a hunter who still regularly kept score.
“I wasn’t sure of the protocol here and didn’t want to appear too eager to kill your birds.”
“Hell sir, that’s what I’ve got them for.  Feel free to blast away.”
“I will.”
They went back to their horses, handing the guns back to the wagon man, as Wilson and the other man let the dogs go once again.
“We’ll let Beau shoot with you on the next covey.  He’s almost as good a shot as I am.”
Al enjoyed the show that Wilson was putting on with the dogs as they stayed to the front often crossing simultaneously.  They were not running the kind of race that would win a field trial but their hunting pattern was above reproach.  This was the case with many plantation dogs whose owners saw them as a means to an end in the killing of birds.  Dogs like Riverbend Joe were the exception on the plantations of the South.  Few had the talent to adapt to the differences between a genteel quail hunt and the all out go for broke ground race that was needed to best a hundred other dogs.
Al was lost in thought about the nature of bird dogs and field trials when Smith brought him back to the here and now.  “Do you have a son?”
“Yup, he’s an investment banker in Boston.”
Smith gave a glance at his son that Al really couldn’t read and then continued.  “Then you’ll understand my problem.  Beau here is finishing his master’s degree in literature and writing at Duke this semester.”
“Congratulations.”  Al offered to Beau.
“Thank you, sir.”
Smith ignored the interchange.  “In fact, he’s doing his thesis on Nash Buckingham.  His premise is that those good ol’ boy stories about hunting and field trials are a unique form of Southern literature.”
There was a hint of pride in Smith’s voice, but there was something else as well.  “I’ve always intended to turn the business over to Beau.  He’s my only son by my first wife and I’ll probably be long dead by the time his half brothers are ready to come into the business.”
“Point!” Wilson called from the front as one of the dogs stacked up by another patch of cover.  They repeated the tableaux, this time with Beau taking the right side and leaving the left to Al.  On the flush, Al quickly picked out one of the lead birds and dropped it, then swung on a second with the same result.  He was pretty sure that Beau fired twice as well.  He hoped Beau had not missed.  Al was obviously here for some reason that was as yet unrevealed and felt that somehow he and Beau would both be a part of it.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Christmas Grouse

Wild Apple Jack on the front lawn of the Home Cover when he was 5 months old.

It was Christmas 1987, my daughter was seven, her grandmother was at the house for the holiday and my Brittany pup was finally getting the hang of pointing a grouse.  But there was one grouse just down the road from where I lived then that hung out in a small patch of mature spruce and fir right next to where I usually parked that I hadn't been able to get.  He’d been pointed and/or flushed numerous times during the season but always managed to escape unscathed.  To be honest, I had developed a bit of an obsession about getting the bird before the season ended on the last day of the year. 
Wild Apple LJ pointing a woodcock last summer.
            I had tried a number of tactics that included trying to cover his usual escape route as the dog came at him from the other side.  It didn’t matter.  There were even times I heard the bird flush when I closed the door of my truck.  Christmas day I snuck out with the dog to take one more run at him while the women folk were messing around in the kitchen.  I parked well down the road from the spot and heeled the dog back down the road.  When I turned the dog loose, I rushed to get into position.  There was enough snow on the ground to muffle my footsteps and I got to the spot just as the dog’s bell stopped.
            The dog stood for a moment and then I heard one ding as he took a step.  That ding was all it took as I heard the bird thunder out and head towards me.  I could hear him coming and brought the gun to my shoulder tracking the sound.  When he broke from the cover he saw me and flared away to my left.  I swung and when the bead passed his beak, I stopped my swing and pulled the trigger missing well behind.  Some might think I had choked on the shot, but I did it intentionally.  The bird had earned the right to go on and live to add to the gene pool in the spring.
Wild Apple LJ and Wild Apple Pi as captured by Chris Mathan pointing a pigeon in the bird field of the Home Cover when they were about 16 weeks old.
            Actually, it turned out for the best as that 100 acre cover has long been a great grouse cover and about 12 years ago I was able to buy it and build a house in one of the old fields surrounded by apple trees.  Most years, when we have a good wild apple crop you can walk out with a young dog and move 15 to 20 grouse in the course of a 30-minute walk.  Wild Apple Jack learned his grouse manners on those birds, as did many of his younger siblings.  Last year when LJ was a puppy he got the Home Cover almost every day in October and November as well as being run and gunned over in our other covers every other day when he was alternating spots on the truck with his brother Wild Apple Pi.  Next fall I hope to have more of Jack’s progeny and even some of LJ’s to make that last hunt of the day with.  Like that bird I spared many years ago, the birds in the Home Cover get pretty well educated but then so do the young dogs.  Even if we tried, we probably wouldn’t get many decent shots at them and we almost never run an adult dog on the Home birds – unless it belongs to guest. 
            So, today as I sit in the middle of that cover thinking about dogs past, present, and future I can place them in my own version of A Christmas Carol.  I continue to nurture the cover here with bush hog and chain saw in hopes that the grouse will be in the wild apples for many years to come.  Merry Christmas. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Breeding Adventures

There's good news and bad here at the kennel.  First the good: the breeding of Wild Apple Jack and Indian Creek Triple Rail took place yesterday via artificial insemination (more on that later).  the bad news ins the Ovuplant did not work with Veronica and we took it out yesterday.

The vet I use for all my Repro stuff is Dr. Cindy Pratt at Lamoille Valley Veterinary Services in Hyde Park, VT.  She is 100 miles away but the nearest vet that specializes in canine theriogenology.  I found her a few years ago when I was looking for someone to collect and ship chilled semen from Jack.  Cindy spends about a third of her practice time dealing with reproductive issues and is very knowledgeable.  My local "country" vet had never heard of Ovuplant when I took trip in to him on Tuesday to draw blood for a progesterone test.

So, the story with Veronica is as follows.  Cindy implanted the Ovuplant on November 29th and about a week later Veronica started to spot then stopped and nothing else happened.  She's kenneled between two male Plott hounds at Tommy's and neither one showed any interest in her.  So, yesterday morning I took her up to Cindy to have her cytology checked and she was obviously not in heat.  The cost for no puppies was $153.25 to have the Ovuplant inserted and $141.30 to have it removed.  Add to that 1/5th of the cost for five doses of Ovuplant (I had to order the entire five pack from Australia as it is no longer available here).  The five doses of Ovuplant were $185.  So the cost for no puppies was $331.55 plus 400 miles to make two trips to the Vets.  A reasonable gamble considering the interest in the breeding of LJ and Veronica.  But it's still a loss.

In talking to Cindy and Tommy about Veronica our best conclusion is she has what Cindy refers to as a "silent heat" where she goes through her normal cycle but it is not strong enough for even the males in the kennel to notice.  If that is the case she was probably in earlier this fall which negated the ability of the Ovuplant to bring her in again.  To be effective there needs to be at least four months from the end of the last heat before you do the implant.  Earlier than that and you run the risk of creating a heat cycle where there are no eggs available for ovulation and fertilization.

Things were also not easy with Trip.  We did not do the Ovuplant with her as she was just coming into heat at the end of November when we had planned to do the Ovuplant.  In fact, It was Cindy who noticed the onset of heat as she was getting ready to do the insertion.  Over the next 2 1/2 weeks she seemed to be progressing normally and was still spotting as of 12/16 but showed no interest in standing for Jack.  On Tuesday I ran over to the local vet for a progesterone test but he failed to see the urgency of getting me the numbers and I didn't get them until after I got back from Cindy's with Veronica Friday morning.  The test showed she was starting to spike with a number of 8.88 on Tuesday.  When I called Cindy with the number and the fact that she still wouldn't stand, we decided to use AI.  I turned around and drove the 100 miles back to Hyde Park and the deed was done without any problems.  Trips bill to date is $71 for the original testing to determine her heat status on Nov 29th.  $132.00 for the progesterone test and $150.00 for the AI.  So at this point we have $353 in vet bills for Trip but a very high probability that everything is a go for the AI breeding and the estimating whelping date is February 18th to 20th.

Now, I just need to get Wild Apple Annie over here from Shady Hills Kennel in Prattsburgh, NY and we'll get some LJ puppies as well.  If things don't work out with Annie, Lon Meneer over in Maine has Scooter, Annie's littermate (they're both younger full sister's to Jack and currently four) who we may also breed to LJ.

Monday, December 17, 2012


Haven't had a chance to post for a while as I've been out of the woods since December 5 and had to deal with the end of the school semester, writing deadlines and recover from a little mishap.  Now the snow is starting to pile up outside and looking at the 10 day forecast I doubt if we'll be getting the dogs back in the woods before the grouse season is over at the end of the month.  The dogs deserve a long winter's nap what with spring trials, summer training, and fall hunting they could all use a rest.

As a recap it was one neck of a bird season here in New Hampshire.  In September we got out to a number of trials and had LJ win three derby stakes on wild birds in four starts.  He didn't have a bird in the fourth event and still got an honorable mention based on his race.  Not sure if I'll run him in any quail trials this spring as he really has nothing to prove and would rather spend the time breaking him for the fall championships.  He's definitely ready to be broke as he was getting close to that in September before the birds started falling out of the sky. Too warm at the beginning but we still got a lot of good shooting opportunities on both grouse and woodcock.  The woodcock peaked around the third week of October and were pretty much gone by the end of the first week in November.  They seemed to have a good nesting season this year and if they don't get hammered my the weather down south, we should se plenty of birds back here in March and April.  The spring weather is the largest determiner of bird populations for both grouse and woodcock in this area.  From the bird counts the last couple weeks here there should be plenty of adult birds going into the winter and which will give us a healthy breeding population for the spring.  The grouse numbers for next fall can go up or down significantly based on breeding success and brood size.  For a simple example -- imagine an area with 10 nesting hen grouse if the broods are small say 2-3 then your looking at gaining only 20 to 30 birds in that area.  In instead you have perfect weather and great nesting conditions with double digit broods you could end up with 100 + birds in the same area.  We've seen both kinds of nesting seasons and when it goes really bad you might as well quit hunting once the woodcock are gone in early November.

Speaking of Early November, the Grand National Grouse Championship will be returning to New Hampshire with Joe Dahl as stake manager.  It starts the first Tuesday of the month and is an opportunity for anybody willing to walk for an hour to see the best competitive grouse dogs in the country.

On the breeding front, Steve Forrest dog Belle was bred to Jack on December 5th.  Trip is still in the first stage of her heat cycle as she was still spotting yesterday and was not ready to stand. We are going to start progesterone testing tomorrow morning so we don't miss her. Veronica is not responding to the ovuplant as quickly as expected and we are still waiting on her.  In case she doesn't get bred and/or so we'll have more puppy options to look at we are looking at a second LJ litter.  I gave Mark and Scott Forman a sister to Wild Apple Jack out of our last litter and she is four now.  they named her Wild Apple Annie and I've arranged for her to come home to be bred to LJ.  That gives us three possible litters for the spring.  Wild Apple Jack X Indian Creek Triple Rail, Wild Apple LJ X Wild Apple Veronica, and Wild Apple LJ X Wild Apple Annie.  I start accepting deposits once we get someone bred.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Longest Hour (Third and Final Installment)

Part Three
            At the top of the big opening, Bess crossed to the left and was still flying at her top speed.  She hadn’t slowed even slightly.  The dog was at her best.  There was no question in anyone’s mind that she would still be going strong at the end of the hour.  She crossed the front one more time in the waning minutes of the hour.  The road was only a couple hundred yards off to the right and ran parallel to the course.  Bess was there, on the top of a small ridge to the front with two minutes to go, when the bell stopped again.  They all had a pretty good line on her when they started in but the top of the ridge was a maze of blow downs.  By the time they found her, time was up.  Al looked at the dog and knew the bird had moved away from her.
            “I think the bird’s gone.”  He reached for his lead and was going to pick her up.  After the performance she’d just put down a non-productive would not hurt her chances.
            As he stepped toward her the younger judge said, “Go ahead and move her up.  The rules allow for time to be extended for a relocation.”
            Al fought down panic.  The rules also allowed for the dog to take a non-productive.  But now that the judge had expressed his wishes, he didn’t have any choice.  This was Bess’s greatest weakness.  She had very little stealth in her – it was full throttle, all the time.  Al stroked her side a couple of times and spoke softly to her, “Easy, girl, easy.”
            He stood and tapped her gently on the head.  She shot forward maybe 50 feet as Al held his breath.  And then she froze.  Al moved almost as fast as she did and the younger judge was right there with him.  Al stepped up beside the dog and the grouse burst into the air with thundering wings from under the log right in front of the dog’s nose.  One jump and she could have had the bird in her mouth.  God knows she had tried to catch many of them in years past.  This time she held and Al fired and quickly grabbed her.
            The older judge turned and headed back to the course.  The rules call for a dog to be sent on after a find to ensure that the dog doesn’t go back and chase the bird it had just pointed.  Al turned to the judges when they got to the path. “Do you want me to turn her loose?”
            The older judge spoke quickly, “No, we’ve seen enough,” as he turned and walked towards the end of the course and the waiting trucks.  There would be no further discussion.  Al just stood there on the side of the trail as the gallery walked by.  Some shook his hand, others patted Bess on the head.  It was a gesture that meant little to her at this point.  She wanted to go and find more birds – an hour was never enough for her. 
            Once they had all passed, Al bent down and put his arms around the dog and just hugged her.  He buried his face into the wet fur of her back and tears welled up in his eyes.  Al spoke softly to the dog, “You showed them, baby.  I knew you could do it.”
            Back at the truck, Steve toweled Bess off and put her in her box.  The other trucks were heading back up the hill for the breakaway on the Moosehorn course.  Al looked at his watch.  It was 10:00.  If there were no pick-ups, they would know if Bess had won sometime after noon.  But at this point in a trial, a lot of the handlers knew what they had to beat.  If their dogs weren’t getting it done, they’d pick-up and save their dogs for another day. 
            Al and Steve sat in the truck and talked.  It came easy to them after the many years they had been friends.  Dogs they had seen, owned, and hunted over were always part of the conversation, as were discussions about breeding.  There had been many dogs in Al’s life over the years and most of them had carved out a little piece of him.  He thought of it as his own little Greek tragedy.  He lived on as a god in the eyes of the dogs as their far too short lives passed by. 
            The trucks were coming back down the hill.  Al looked at his watch.  They had only been gone 45 minutes.  Two down, two to go.  Al started the truck and followed them over to Deer Mountain.  The last brace was two professional trainers, running dogs that were both multiple champions, and Deer Mountain was a course where you could let a dog roll.  It was a generational conflict as well.  The older trainer had passed his peak.  He was obviously paying a physical price from all the years of walking through the woods chasing dogs.  He was running a setter bitch that was, like him, past her prime.  The young trainer had a big pointer male that could be a threat to Bess.
            Al was too nervous to sit still, “You can stay with the truck.  I’m going to walk this one.”
            Steve shrugged.  If Al was walking he would join him. The two handlers broke the dogs away and the last brace of the Grand National was underway.  Two handlers, two judges, two scouts, two marshals, and a gallery of a dozen followed the two dogs. 
            The pointer swung for the fence and was gone out of bell range within the first couple of minutes.  That wasn’t all that bad, if he came back within five minutes or so.  As the group headed up onto the first big landing the pointer had not been heard from.  The handler stopped and called to the dog.  Nothing.  He had two choices: he could aimlessly head down into the large cut to the right of the course and maybe stumble on the dog on point, or he could go forward and hope the dog turned up to the front soon.  The setter was doing her usual hopping and popping.  She did not have a gait that had much eye appeal when she was running in the open ground that Deer Mountain presented.
            At the 20 minute mark, the pointer’s bell was finally heard deep to the right but coming up towards the course.  The young handler just shook his head and unhitched the lead that he wore over one shoulder and across his chest.  It was as poignant as throwing in the towel in a heavyweight fight.  When the dog came to him, he slipped off its bell and snapped the lead on its collar.  Al thought, one down, one to go.
            The little setter had a heart as big as the snow-capped White Mountains that could be seen when the course would crest a ridge or pass through an opening.  She was giving it her all.  She had been a noble champion, but she had never had what it took to run with Bess.  The handler kept blowing his whistle trying to get her to run more.  It was a futile effort and he knew it.  When they rounded Movelle’s Corner at 30 minutes, a spot named after a handler whose dog had an unfortunate incident with a bird during a championship many years ago, the handler called the dog in and reached for his lead. 
            When they arrived at the small house commonly called the guard shack, the secretary-treasurer of the club had the grouse bowl arranged on the picnic table with the ribbons, plaques, bags of dog food from the sponsor, and other secondary prizes.  Everyone milled around, waiting for the announcement slip from the judges.  There is usually little discussion at the end of the trial, the fact that it was taking the judges a while to get there made Al edgy.  His stomach was doing flip-flops.
            Finally the truck pulled up.  The judges had their game faces on.  Al couldn’t tell if they were just playing out their role to the end, or if there had been a rift in the opinion.  The older judge handed a slip of paper to the secretary-treasurer who took a sideways glance at the judges and began, “I want to thank the judges of this year’s Grand National.” Everyone applauded politely. “I also want to thank all the people who helped out with the trial and our sponsors.”  More polite applause, “And without any further ado, there is no runner-up to this year’s Grand National.  The winner is White Mountain Bess, owned and handled by Al Fowler.”
            The applause was much heartier than before and Al was soon surrounded by well wishers.  Without being rude he walked from the crowd and over to the judges. Thanked them one at a time and shook their hands.  When he got to the older judge, the man held his hand tight and leaned and whispered, “The only question at the end, was whether any other dog was close enough to Bess to be named runner-up.  There wasn’t.”
            This was the moment he had been waiting for since he ran in his first grouse trial 30 years ago.  As he looked at Bess, he realized that the real joy had come earlier in the day when she had run the race of her life and the lives of many who watched her – including Al.  He hugged the dog and once again tears ran down his cheeks into her fur.  She didn’t want hugs, she was ready to go again.
            Al wiped his eyes, and lifted the dog down off the tail gate and stopped.  He handed Steve the lead, “You pose her for the picture, that’s the scout’s job.”
            Even Steve, who Al had never seen shed a tear in 30 years of friendship as it was something paratroopers never did, wiped his eye and muttered something about the cold wind as he took the lead and proudly led the dog to the picnic table.  Steve put the dog up on the table and posed her up as she had stood on her birds.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Longest Hour (part two)

Part Two

            Her bell faded out to the front.  Al knew the course and many handlers had made the mistake of going to look for a dog over there only to have it come back over the ridge to the front.  He kept going forward – hoping that he had guessed right.  He sang to the dog as he continued down the course.  Singing is probably a misnomer in this case.  What Al did sounded more like the call of a hoarse bull moose, its only purpose was to let the dog know where he was and where the front was.  The money was always to the front.
            She was only gone for a minute or two, although it seemed longer.  He could sense the excitement in the younger of the two judges’ voice, when he let Al know he could hear the bell coming back over the ridge to the front.  His younger ears were the first to hear it and they all walked faster – seemingly pulled along by the power of the dog.   Al got on her then.  She needed to come in before the course turned.  It almost seemed like Bess was following a choreographed plan as she dipped down into the valley and came up about 75 yards in front of them.  When she hit the trail she didn’t stop, she just turned her head to acknowledge that she knew where Al was, and then she was gone to the left. 
            It was clear running under mature spruces up the side of the hill, and they got glimpses of her as she ran – her feet were barely striking the ground.  It was because of moments like this that Al had never given up on her, had suffered all the frustrations.  Even those who didn’t know bird dogs were impressed when they saw Bess in high gear.  And she was definitely in high gear on this day.  The course started to turn away from her and Al started calling.  She bent around to again take the front and Al stopped calling.  This time instead of coming in she just kept going to the front.
            Al figured she was 300 yards away and over on the next course when the bell stopped.  She had to be at a spot that had originally been part of the Ammonusuc course and was known by all as the grouse knoll.  Steve was ready to go but Al gave a slight shake of the head and turned to the judges.
            “The bell stopped over by the grouse knoll.” 
            “Let’s go!” said the younger judge as he practically took the lead.  The older man understood his enthusiasm, probably even shared it, but had long ago learned to keep his game face on when he was judging.
            It took a couple of minutes to get to her, but they found Bess pointing into the top of a blown down spruce with the same intensity she had shown on her first bird.  The bird left almost silently, but they all saw it.  Al fired again.  Two finds and they hadn’t yet reached the birdiest, and most difficult part of the course.  The older judge had judged in Kilkenny many times and knew the courses better than some of the people who had laid them out.  It was 300 yards back to the course if they went the way they came to the dog.  But it was only 75 yards up the river trail to the course.  When Al collared Bess, the older judge told them to follow him.  When they were on the river trail, Bess was once again cast to the front.  They were quickly back on course and headed for the hard part.  The course followed the river for a while down through an alder run that was only about 50 feet wide.  On the other side of the alders was an old beaver pond that still held quite a bit of water.
            Bess was again driving hard to the front and deep to the right, away from the river.  As they entered the alder run Al called her.  She turned to the front but stayed on the far side of the beaver pond.  If she pointed over there, it would take a long time to get to her.  If she tried to come in, she would have to contend with the pond. 
            Bess was in the zone, and Al fought against any stray thoughts to stay there with her.  As they neared the end of the alder run Bess could be heard coming.  She hit the pond at full stride and it sounded like a retriever going in the water after a duck.  They all heard her clearly as the bell started to ring on the near shore, it rang a couple of times and then silence.  She wasn’t more than 75 feet away but no one could see her through the thick tangle of alders.
            Al and the judges went to the dog for the third time.  Again she was statuesque.  This time there was a pair of grouse in front of her.  They flew out towards the gallery where a buzz was starting to build about what everyone was witnessing.  This was the type of performance it took to win a national championship.  When Al got back to the course he looked at his watch.  And only 30 minutes had ticked by.  He knew she could win if he could hold onto her, and she didn’t cut her own throat.  The older judge instructed him to take her about 20 yards up the course and across the beaver dam before he let her go.  Bess wanted to go now, but Al held on tight knowing that the judge was trying to help Bess by getting her out of the alders.
            The rest of the course was in more open woods where a dog would either prove its mettle on the ground or show that it couldn’t finish the way it started.  Once across the beaver dam, Al sent her down along the river.  The course headed up in the spruces but Bess hugged the birdier cover along the river.  Al had to stop and really get after her to haul her up when he knew the course was about to turn away and start climbing back out of the valley.  It was a tug of war.  Bess knew she was in the right kind of cover.  Al knew they had to turn.  He finally stopped walking and continued to call.  He would not go on without her.  A little roughness at this point was fine, but she had to come on soon.  And she did.  Bess broke off from the river and came flying up the hill towards Al’s voice and the front.
            She barely acknowledged the presence of her handler and the rest of the party as she cast out to the right of the course.  This wasn’t the best way to go.  The course was going to make a sharp left shortly but then would turn back to the right in the general direction the dog was going.  Most handlers would have hacked the dog back in to go around the jog in the course.  Al let her roll.  He had taken the same gamble the first time the Grand had been run on these ground.  That dog had had a similar ground race but no birds, and he had gone up the far side of the big clearing, rejoining then at the top of the opening.  He was betting Bess would do the same.
            As they followed the course up the left side of the cut, Bess was just barely in bell range on the right side and to the front.  Al got on her and she once again came across the front.  It was poetry.  But Al wasn’t able to appreciate it yet.  There was still over 10 minutes to go and he didn’t want to get his hopes up.  He also wanted to stay with Bess.  He owed her that.  If it went bad, it wouldn’t be because he had wandered.  Steve was practically bumping into the judges as he concentrated on the dog and tried to mentally urge them forward faster so they could keep up with the dog.  The gallery was silent as everyone strained to listen to the bell.