Thursday December 12, 2013 | 06:40 AM

Don Kleiner, a professional Maine guide, and his pointer Rocket in Union.

Last week I headed to Union for my first upland bird hunting experience with longtime Maine guide Don Kleiner. Maine is known for having some excellent bird hunting, but arranging a successful excursion – finding and gaining entrance to a bird cover for starters – does not happen for a lot of folks without professional help. Going with Kleiner meant access to knowledge he has garnered over 50 years of experience hunting and his pointing dogs.

Kleiner operates a guide service in Union, Maine Outdoors that offers a variety of fishing, recreational and hunting services. He also serves as Executive Director of the Maine Professional Guides Association. As a child he hunted with his father and grandfather, who encouraged his love of being outdoors and enjoying wildlife, and instilled in him a lifelong love for the hunt. A guide for grouse and woodcock hunters since 1984, he rarely carries a gun. For him the joy is being in the woods and the camaraderie he has with new and longtime clients – who range from beginners to experienced hunters.

Hire Kleiner and you are also hiring his English pointers, Rocket and Cooper. Pointers are known for their traditional hunting abilities. They can smell out where a bird is (say nesting far above in a tree) giving a hunter a little bit of an edge. During our excursion, Rocket would get into scent and freeze or lock up where he smelled a bird (or maybe where one had been recently). Kleiner said his dogs are naturally instinctive and proper training accentuates their skill. Normally when Kleiner goes out with a client he brings both dogs, taking one out of the car at a time and conserving the other dog’s energy for the latter half of the hunt. Each dog costs around $5000 plus food, vet bills, etc. Kleiner said he buys what he called field trial washouts from trainers. Dogs, that might not run fast or far enough, or be mentally tough enough for some operations, but work fine for his purposes.

Rocket, an English pointer, locked up (or "on point").

Kleiner works a lot with certain Maine camp owners, Orvis, and on his own. He said guiding bird hunters is a narrow niche with a lot of clients with a lot of money. It is a great business for guides and one that could easily fill his calendar twice over between mid-May and the second week of November. Due to a couple bad snowy winters, Kleiner noted Maine’s deer population has crashed up north and sports camps catering to that business are not attracting the hunters from states like Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which are now overrun with deer. Those, like Libby Camps, in the North Maine Woods region of Maine, which cater to grouse and woodcock hunters from near and far are likely doing very well.

If you are interested in trying out hunting check out the Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife site for Hunter Safety Education Courses (offered in the spring and late summer and early fall prior to the start of hunting seasons) or think about getting an Apprenticeship Hunters License. This type of license allows someone who has not completed a Hunter Safety Course or ever hunted before one season of hunting. The license holder must, however, be under the direct supervision of the person who is going to be responsible for him or her. This type of license may only be purchased once and is intended to give interested persons a chance to try hunting out. A resident apprenticeship hunter license is $25. For more information go here

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About the Author

Sharon Kitchens is a neo-homesteader learning the ins and outs of country living by luck and pluck and a lot of expert advice. She writes about bees for The Huffington Post and stuff she loves on her personal blog, deliciousmusings.com.

When she is not writing, she enjoys edible gardening, reading books on food and/or thinking about food, hanging out by her beehives and patiently tracking down her chickens in the woods behind her old farmhouse.

In her blog, Sharon profiles farm families, reports on farm-based education and internships, conducts Q&A's with master beekeepers, offers tips on picking a CSA, and much more.

Sharon can be contacted at kitchens.sharon@gmail.com or on Twitter @deliciousmusing.

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