Silence. Down the slope about 200 yards a dog was on point. Even at that range, the tension began to build until the climactic wing whistle and shot reopened the conversation. The downhill hunters were a brace of Ohio woodcock enthusiasts. John J. Adams, 55, is a labor lawyer from Cleveland who learned the book on upland game birds by walking them up as a kid. "I bought my first gun with the money I earned on my paper route," he likes to recall. "It was a 16-gauge Winchester Model 12, the classic slide action." His partner, Jack Klages, 49, is the president of an auto-parts company in Columbus, Ohio. As they hike up the hill, birdless, neither seems dismayed. "Some tasty apples down there," says Jack, munching one.
As the morning wears on, more birds are pointed and nearly as many missed. From time to time Jack and John launch into historical monologues—as spiky with learning as the wild roses are with thorns. They comment on the "blueberry hay" that farmers have laid down on their fields, hay that will lie rotting and composting for a year before it is ignited to return its nutrients to the earth. "We burn off our fallow material too fast in the rest of America," says John. "This blueberry hay could stand as a metaphor." He is a man of careful words, judicial insights. By contrast, Jack is an enthusiast, an avowed "covered-bridge freak," and he fills a 10-minute uphill hike with a detailed, delicate account of a visit he made with his wife to the world's longest covered bridge (1,282 feet) in nearby Hartland, New Brunswick, Canada. Neither man is dying to kill, and the low-key nature of their hunting proves as refreshing as the windfall apples picked up along the way.
By the day's end, no one has killed his limit. But as Acey emphasizes, that is hardly important. "Well, boys, it doesn't bother me much that we haven't wiped them all out," he says, his wild, white roostertail of hair defying the northeast wind. "I've killed my share in these woods. I've lugged big hunks of moose and bear over these ridges, and if I had a song for every bird I've rubbed out, you'd call me John Len-non. If I never kill another bird, I won't cry about it. Glory, but it's a nice way to spend a day...." No one contradicted him. Silence prevailed.