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.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

On Becoming a Grouse Hunter Part III


The next time the puppy stopped Art and Fred left the Doc in the trail and went in to the dog.  Soon Art yelled, “Coming out.”
He looked up at the top of trees where he thought he could hear the whistling wings.  As a woodcock appeared he raised the shotgun and fired twice as the bird flew directly over his head.  It turned and flew down the skidder road in the wide open for almost as long as it would have taken to reload and shoot again – had he thought of that.
Fred called from the woods, “Doc, did you get the bird?”
Fred had the dog in hand as they came back out to the path, “At least I was able to get a hold of him before the bird flushed.”
The next time the puppy stopped on the left side and he and Art stayed in the trail.  This time, when the bird topped the trees almost directly over his head, he waited for it to fly down the trail and it did.  He pulled the trigger once, then twice, and the bird was still flying.  Art stepped around him as he lowered the now empty gun, raised the side-by-side and fired when his cheek hit wood.  The little bird dropped well down the road.
Fred called, “Did you get it?”
“Did I shoot?”
“Hell, you don’t hit them all. Dead bird, dead bird.” Fred yelled and the setter came flying out of the thick cover and up the lane at a dead run.  It almost flipped in a somersault as it winded the dead bird and scooped it up.  Art got down on one knee and called to the dog that brought it halfway back before dropping it and charging back into the cover.
Fred looked at them and said, “Don’t take it too hard, Doc, the ones in the wide open are the hardest ones to hit.  They give you too much time to think.”
As they continued on he began to wonder if he’d ever get the hang of this and kill a bird.  Fred and Art made it look simple, but obviously it wasn’t.  They continued on with the puppy for about a half hour when they again arrived at the truck.  It was Art’s turn with another puppy who pointed both grouse and woodcock which he continued to miss.  He was already into his second box of shells when Fred said, “I admire your spunk, Doc.  A lot of young guys nowadays would be sitting in the truck playing with their smart phone by this point.”
The fourth dog out of the truck was one of Fred’s broke dogs who pointed more grouse and woodcock.  He actually thought he hit one bird but neither the dog nor the three of them could find it.  It was after 1:00 when they put that dog back in the truck and Fred began spreading out food on the tailgate.  There was bread, cold cuts, cheese, mustard, chips, cookies, and a bag of candy.  It seemed to him that the huge breakfast had been days, not hours, ago.
            After lunch he felt more like taking a nap than getting back into the woods.  He was scratched, bruised, and his legs were getting rubbery.  After the food was back in the cooler, the truck rolled a few more miles down the road to the next cover.  Art’s best dog was up next.  This was the dog his fiancée had picked out of a litter of pointers that had been born in Art’s office.  The dog had gone on to win a bunch of big deal trials that he couldn’t name, although he’d been told.  In fact, he could hardly remember his own name at this point in the day.  When the dog was turned loose, Fred told him of the last championship the dog had won earlier in the fall.  It really didn’t make a lot of sense to him but he nodded and acted impressed.  He realized he hadn’t heard the bell in a few minutes when Art stopped and pulled the GPS receiver out of his pocket, “The little bugger’s feeling good today.  He’s 250 yards away down on the edge of the cut.”
            Once again they began a forced march through the cover.  The first hundred yards were easy as they walked through fairly mature woods, then it got harder.  They cut through a fir thicket and this time when he felt something grab his leg he could hear his high tech pants rip.  When they came out of the thicket they could see the dog standing high and tight on the other side of a small swale of grassy hummocks that Art and Fred walked across as if it was someone’s mowed lawn.  Halfway across he slipped and went into the water over his left hiking boot.  Now he understood why Fred had calf high rubber boots and Art had eight inch tall hunting boots.  Art directed him to a spot of dry ground to the left of the dog.  At this point he didn’t really care if he ever killed a bird.  Fred went to the right and stepped into the alders in front of the dog.  The wings whistled and the bird seemed to struggle up through the thick alders.  His gun came up just as the bird seemed to pause as it cleared the cover.  He pulled the trigger and there was a puff of feathers and the bird dropped out of the sky.
            Fred whooped, “God damn, Doc, you finally got one.”
            Art walked over picked up the bird and tossed it to him with a smile on his face, “Good shot.”
            He caught the bird and looked down at it.  He had never imagined that killing something would feel this good.  On an almost visceral level he now understood what this was all about.  The exertion, the dog, the skill or in his case luck of the shot, the panorama of rising mountains in the distance with their hillsides a blaze in red and yellow, the bright blue sky with a brilliant sun that really didn’t seem to be generating much heat on this cool October day all brought on an epiphany of pleasure and satisfaction.  It wasn’t the green hills of Africa but it was probably closer than most people ever get.  He finally put the bird in his game pouch in the back of his vest with the many shell hulls that he had emptied during the day.   The euphoria of the moment was broken when Art tapped the dog on the head and said, “Now we have to get you a grouse.”
            The wind blowing up his pant leg and the squishing of the water in his boot didn’t seem to matter as he listened to the bell chiming into the woods.  He had walked through Hell or was it Heaven to shoot his first bird and was ready to go forward.
Fred patted him on the back, “Welcome to the club, Doc.”  And then gave the full replay of the march through the firs, the swamp crossing, the dog, the flight of the bird, and the shot.
            Despite his rising confidence, he missed a grouse and two woodcock on the next three finds.  It really didn’t seem to matter to Art and Fred anymore, now that he had gotten his first one they assured him more would come. 
They came out on the road a few hundred yards from the truck.  The dog crossed the road and made a big cast up the hill.  He popped out about halfway to the truck and suddenly stopped as if he’d hit a wall just before he went back into the woods.  He didn’t move as they approached.  Fred went beyond the dog and Art stopped him just before the dog where there was a clear lane going down into the cover.  Fred stepped off the road and half a dozen grouse exploded out from in front of the dog.  Most of the birds just disappeared into the thick poplar whips below the road.  He watched as one bird burst out and then sailed down the lane.  He didn’t rush, but he was quick getting the gun up, and pulled the trigger as he concentrated on the bird.  He kept his head down on the stock and pulled the trigger.  The grouse folded up and dropped from the sky just as a second appeared in the lane.  He snapped off his second shot throwing pellets in the general direction of the second bird to no avail. 
“We may make a grouse hunter of you yet, Andy.”  It was the first time all day that Art had called him or referred to him by his name.  Art tapped the dog on the head and called, “Dead bird.”  The dog came over and quickly found the grouse which he retrieved to Art’s hand.  Art handed the bird to Andy and he held it in his hand thinking that this was something he could come to care about.  Art put the dog in heel and walked off towards the truck.  Fred came over and held his hand out for the bird.  He looked at it carefully examining the tail feathers, measuring the central one against his hand, “The males have longer tails by about an inch, and this is a mature male bird.”
He handed the bird back and Andy carried it in his hand back to the truck, where he put it on the tailgate.  Art had put the dog up on the tailgate and handed the bird back to Andy. “Dig out the woodcock and hold them both up.  I’ll get a picture of you and the dog.”
Andy posed with the gun in one hand and the birds in the other.  The dog posed up on the tailgate as he had done many times before.  Andy would never need to see the picture to recall the vivid memories of the day.  Art rummaged around in the back seat and pulled out a battered pair of chaps, a dry pair of socks, and some rubber boots that looked like they were older than he was.  “These may help you make it through the last cover.”
He had forgotten that they weren’t done yet.  Fred had one more dog in the truck.  He changed socks and put the chaps on before slipping into the dry rubber boots.  Fred looked him over and said, “Now you look like a grouse hunter.”
He knew he was still a neophyte and would never be able to gain the experience that the two men had earned over the years of hunting together, but he felt he’d made a start.  The last dog of the day was another puppy.  It barely stopped to point before ripping out a number of woodcock on different occasions.  Art and Fred just laughed as the puppy raced from bird to bird putting them to wing with gusto.  After about 15 minutes of this the puppy ran past them and then the bell stopped – and stayed silent.  Fred took a step towards the dog and a grouse thundered out with the puppy in hot pursuit.  Art waited for the bird to gain altitude and the pup was out of danger of being shot and pulled the trigger.  The pup pounced on the bird that was still alive and shook it hard until its wings stopped beating.  There were feathers everywhere as Fred knelt down and gently took the bird from the pup.  “That’s his first bird.  I was beginning to wonder if he’d ever stand one long enough for us to get a shot.”
He tried to hand the bird to Art who turned away to follow the puppy, “I don’t carry them, I just kill them.”
Fred stuck the bird in his vest and they went on, returning to the truck shortly.  The cooler came out as well as a box of crackers and cheese, some large plastic cups, and a bottle of Jack Daniels from the back seat that seemed to magically hold everything one could need.  Art threw some ice into the cups and then poured three liberal portions of “Old No. 7.”   He topped them off with Coke or in his case Diet Coke.  “Black Jack and Coke – not the finest whiskey you’ll ever drink but for a sundowner on the tailgate it can’t be beat.”
After the exertion of the day and the proportions of Art’s liberal mixology, he had a nice buzz as they drove back along the gravel roads that led out of the woods and to the house.  When the dogs were back in the kennel and Fred had headed down the driveway, they walked into the house.  His fiancée took one look at his battered and filthy face and hands and his tattered clothes, she turned to her father, “Daddy, what did you do to him?”
“We just showed him how to become a grouse hunter.”

Thursday, November 22, 2012

On Becoming a Grouse Hunter Part II


Fred had even more advice as they followed the dog through the woods.  This time the dog stopped, pointing in small patch of alders on the edge of a clearing.  Art looked into the alders and said’ “I see the woodcock on the ground.  Put the kid on the far edge and I’ll flush it out to him.”
Fred put his finger to his lips for silence and directed him into position, then nodded to Art.  Art stepped to the bird and it flushed right out into the opening as planned.  The first shot was too quick as he didn’t have the gun all the way to his shoulder and it slammed him pretty good.  On the second shot he lifted his head as he pulled the trigger and the bird continued to fly away.  Fred gave him another quick critique.  And once again the dog was sent on.  Fred lit up another Winston and continued his diatribe on the art of wing shooting as they were again on a skidder road.  The next find was a grouse that they heard flush but neither he nor Fred saw it and no shot was fired.
Three more woodcock finds followed with each time Fred said, “No Pressure.  I’m not going to shoot,” which only increased the pressure.  On the fourth one, he fired twice and then just as he thought the bird had escaped unscathed Fred’s 20 barked and the bird fell like a stone out of the sky into some thick grass.
Fred turned to Art, “Do you think the dog can help me find this one?”
Art thought about it a moment and said, “You know he doesn’t like picking up dead woodcock.”
“I’ll pick it up if he’ll just show me where it is.”
“All right, I guess he can help you this time.”  Art walked over to the dog and stroked his side a couple of times, and then said, “Dead bird,” as he tapped him on the head.  The dog covered the space in a few bounds, rooted around in the dead grass,  lifted his head with the bird in his mouth, and then dropped it in plain sight before he hit the accelerator and was gone in search of another bird. 
It was almost ten minutes before the dog went on point again – this time only 90 yards away.  When they got to the dog Art whispered directions in his ear as he positioned him for the flush.  Again a brood of grouse blew out, and again he missed twice as did Fred.  This time one of the birds landed in a tree and stood absolutely still as Art told him to reload. 
“You aren’t going to turn the kid into a ground swatting, limb shooting punk are you?”
“The only time you object to either is when it’s not you doing it for one of your dogs.”
“It’s a bad precedent.”
“Just shut up.  We can argue about this after he kills the bird.”
He raised the shotgun and pulled the trigger when the gun hit his chin.  The branch below the bird splintered and the bird took flight.  He tried to get his cheek on the gun but there was just air there when he pulled the trigger again.  He though for sure he’d hear about this miss but instead Art turned on Fred, “You’re ruining the kid’s confidence with all this chit chat.  You need to shut up and let him relax.  He played frigging lacrosse in college.  He needs to just let his instincts take over.”
“Yeah, yeah, fine.  Now who sounds like Obi Wan?”
The dog was sent on and the banter continued.  Fred turned to Art at one point and said, “Which way’s the truck?”
Art pulled out his GPS and looked down, pushed a few buttons, “I don’t know.  I didn’t mark it, but I can get you back to the last cover we hunted yesterday.”
“That’s 20 miles away in pretty much the wrong direction.  You know I can’t find my way anymore since I banged my head on that rock when I fell last fall.”  Fred turned to him, “How’s your sense of direction, Kid?”
He didn’t know what to say.  He thought about it for a moment while the two old men stared at him looking very concerned, “I’m not really sure.  I just assumed you guys knew where you were going.”
Fred scratched his head, “Hell, we were just following the dog.”
They stepped out onto a skidder road and Art and Fred looked at each other, then at him, “Which way?”
He figured he had a 50/50 chance of being correct and pointed to the right.
Fred started that way, “Are you sure?”
“No, not really.” He replied as he fell in behind Fred.
Behind him he heard Art begin to laugh.  When he turned around Art was headed in the opposite direction.  Fred turned and followed him, “The truck’s about 50 yards up the skidder road. I take it your doctorate isn’t in geography.”
He tried to think of a witty comeback, but he was quickly realizing that he was out of his league with these two denizens of the woods.  He had had ample opportunity to shoot, but had nothing to show for it except bruises on his shins, a cut on the back of his hand, and a shoulder that was bound to be black and blue if it wasn’t already.  After an hour and half in the first cover he was very glad he had stuffed himself with breakfast.  Art and Fred never sped up in the woods nor did they slow down.  The tension of the day was starting to load lactic acid into the big muscles of his legs and he almost groaned as he thought about the fact that there were five more dogs in the back of the truck.
Fred obviously liked the doctor joke because he stopped referring to him as “the kid” and called him “Doc.”  As in, “what do you think about bird hunting, Doc?”  “The new guy is supposed to bring the lunch, Doc.”  “Don’t worry Doc, when I first met Art, he couldn’t hit a barn with his truck.”
They pulled off the gravel road onto a small landing and parked.  Fred rummaged around in the backseat next to him and pulled out a cooler that had been buried under the spare clothes and equipment that was sharing the backseat, “You want something to drink, Doc?  I got water, Gatorade, Diet Coke, and regular Coke.”
“Gatorade would be great.” He said a little more enthusiastically than he’d planned.
Fred pulled out red and orange Gatorade and he took the red one.  Fred pulled a Diet Coke out and handed it to Art telling the Doc, “Art may not drink coffee, but he’ll get downright cranky if he doesn’t get some caffeine.”
Fred let a young setter out of the box and explained, “This is just a puppy.  We won’t let him run all over like we do with the broke dogs.  And if you see him stop you have to hurry over because he may not stand for too long.  And when they’re this age we want them to get the taste of feathers in their mouth as much as possible.”
They started up a skidder road with Fred making quite a bit of noise as he hacked the dog through the cover.  About three minutes in the bell stopped to the right of the path.  Fred went to the dog and he followed.  Art stayed out on the path.  The dog moved and he heard the whistle of woodcock wings and then the bang of Art’s diminutive 28 gauge side-by-side that looked, if possible, even more worn then the 20 he carried.  Art called, “Dead, dead, dead bird.”
And the young setter ripped through the cover and followed Art’s direction to the bird that he picked up and tried to sneak away with.  Fred called to him and rather than come he dropped the bird and tore off with the exuberance of youth in search of another which he almost immediately ran over and sent flying with no chance of a shot from either gun.  Fred got a hold of the dog and set him up where he had ripped out the bird letting him calm down before sending him again in pursuit of more birds.  

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

On Becoming a Grouse Hunter Part I (Fiction)


It seemed easy enough; at least the way his soon to be father-in-law, Art, described it.  They would let the dogs go one at a time and then follow them through the woods.  When the dog stopped they would walk to the dog, flush the bird, and then shoot it.  It seemed important to his fiancée that he make a good impression on the old man and he had read Hemingway and Faulkner while preparing for his orals for his PhD in American Literature. Besides, he thought, he was in great shape and had just set a personal record in a marathon.  How hard would it be to keep up with Art who was pushing 60 and his chain smoking hunting partner, Fred, who was a couple years older and looked like he already had at least a toe, if not a foot, in the grave.
It was still dark in the morning when he could smell the bacon and soon heard the barking dogs in the kennel signaling that Fred had arrived.  He kissed his fiancée goodbye, who mumbled something about not embarrassing himself before she rolled over and went back to sleep.  He slipped into his high-tech hiking clothes and headed downstairs where Fred was complaining about Art’s coffee and Art exclaimed, “I really don’t care, I don’t drink it.  All I do is turn on the damn thing.”
There would be a lot of that during the day.  He would soon be happy when they were sniping at each other rather then directing their laser-bright attention and wits on him.  Eggs, bacon, toast, home fries, juice, and coffee seemed like a lot to someone who was seriously in training but he ate it all because he couldn’t tell whether Fred was serious or not when he said, “We don’t stop to eat until it’s dark again.”
As soon as they stepped out the door Fred lit up a Winston and puffed away while three dogs were transferred from his truck to Art’s and then three more were released from the kennel to give them six for the day’s hunt.  Art surveyed the dog crate and turned to Fred, “Do you think that’s enough dog-power?”
“If not we can always come back for a few more.”
Fred made small talk quizzing him about his degree and his current research grant.  Art didn’t say a word but he was sure that the laconic man with the weathered face and the penetrating blue eyes was interested in his answers.  He was sure there was more to this day than just killing some birds.  It took them about fifteen minutes to get to the first cover or was it covert?  They seemed interchangeable in the literature but he wasn’t sure if there was some subtle difference that he had yet to discern.  Art offered him a pair of chaps and a hunting vest.  He took the vest but decided to forego the chaps as he had climbed many mountains in these pants with no visible wear.  Art pulled one of his dogs out of the back and put one collar on that had what he had been told was a GPS tracking device and a shock collar on it.  Then Art replaced the dog’s leather collar with a two inch wide bright reflective orange collar with a bell attached.  Art pulled out his spare shotgun and went over how it worked again as he had last night.  It was a 20 gauge over and under with a smooth and shiny receiver from being carried so much.   Art handed him a box of shells and said to stuff a bunch of them in his vest pockets.  He put five in each pocket and started to hand the box back, “You know, if you run out shells in the cover, the ones you get from Fred are going to be really expensive.”
He stuffed another five in each pocket.  It had gotten light as they were driving out to the cover and now they were ready to go.  Art lifted the dog down from the tailgate and stood him up on the side of the road headed for the woods.  Art looked at him and then Fred to be sure they were ready then tapped the dog on the head and he was gone.  They listened as the bell streaked out to the front.  Art led the way into the woods with Fred following.  He fell in behind.  The bell faded in and out as they made their way down the hill.  Three or four minutes later the bell stopped as did Art and Fred.  They listened intently until Art’s GPS buzzed.  He pulled it from his pocket, pointed in the direction they had last heard the bell and said. “153 yards.”
Without further discussion the two old men fanned out and headed towards the dog.  They had been walking on an old skidder road but now were busting through the thick cover with apparent ease.  He found everything was either trying to slap him in the face or grab a hold of his legs.  He barely kept up.  Fortunately, Art and Fred soon stopped.  Art pointed to the dog and then motioned him to the right side while Fred slipped down on the dog’s left.
Art spoke in a normal tone as he stood right behind him, “Put two shells in the gun and move up into that little opening.  Fred will try to flush the bird to you.”
He moved up looking down at the ground for the bird.  When he reached the opening Fred took two steps forward and there was a whistling of wings.  He tried to aim the gun.  He heard Fred’s gun bark and the bird was already falling out of the sky when he pulled the trigger. Art turned to his hunting partner, “You could have let the kid have a chance.”
“I thought the dog should have a bird killed for him after a nice piece of work like that.”
“How many birds have you shot over this dog?  Do you really think that after a truckload of birds this dog cares whether you kill one more woodcock?”
“Of course he does.”
“All he’s ever cared about is finding them.”  Art walked out and pick up the bird and threw it to Fred, then turned to him, “Take the shells out of the gun and make sure you put the empty in your game bag in back.  They only fire once.”
He did as he was told and then realized the dog had yet to move although he was not as intense as he’d been before the bird flushed.  Art went over and gently tapped the dog on the head and he was gone again.  They got on another skidder road and followed along in the general direction of the bell.
Fred gave him a full critique of his first attempt at shooting a live bird on the wing, “First thing is don’t look down at the ground – by the time you get your head up the bird’s going to be either dead or gone.  Look out in front and listen for the wings.  Pick them up with your eyes then follow with your head as you raise the gun.  When the gun hits your cheek slap the trigger.  Don’t aim.  Keep both eyes open.”
Art almost smiled, “Don’t overload the kid with too much advice or he’ll never shoot a bird.  You sound like frigging Obi Wan Kenobi or that little Yoda character.”
They bantered back and forth as they walked pausing often to listen to the bell until it fell silent again.  Art looked at the GPS and said, “175.”
They headed out again with the raspberry and blackberry canes seemingly growing up in his path.  Mud sucked at his boots and he almost fell in a brook that Art and Fred seemed to cross with ease.  Fred once again slipped down below the dog and he waited for Art to direct him to a spot.  He loaded his gun and this time when Fred stepped forward all hell broke loose as a whole brood of grouse blew out of the cover and darted every which way.  He fired twice in their general direction and heard Fred fire twice as well.  He could see Fred walking out to pick up a bird and then stuff it into his vest.
He turned to Art, “What did I do wrong?”
“You need to pick a single bird not just shoot into the bunch of them.  But at least you pulled the trigger twice.  You can’t kill them if you don’t shoot.” Art stepped over to the dog and tapped him again.  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Tough Day in the Woods

We only had three dogs on the truck this morning and didn't head out until 9:00.  After many good days this fall including yesterday when the trainer reported that the Little Thudster had 8 super grouse finds, Today was pretty bad.  We started with Jack and he pointed a grouse within 100 yards of the truck and then had a stop to flush on a second one (or the same one again) 150 yards further along and then things went down hill.  Jack who rarely has a non-productive had about five and then went back on the truck.  Trash was next out and she did the same thing without pointing any birds.  G III was the only other dog we had today and she got dog of the day because, although she didn't point any birds, she didn't have any non-productives.  It was a beautiful day in a cover that usually has lots of birds but today just s**ked.

I won't be hunting during the holiday week but check back Tuesday for the beginning of a special series of blog posts.  Also, pray for no snow until after the first of the year.