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.

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.