The Willow Creek Story
Willow Creek Kennels is located north of Little Falls, MN. The kennel was built on a 266 acre farm that goes back six generations in Chad Hines’ family. Chad spent much of his childhood on the property, either hunting, dog training, fishing…learning about the world. The land offers a mixture of ruffed grouse and pheasant habitat, ideal for training grounds and leisure upland hunting. The landscape features young aspen tree lines, intermixed agricultural fields, and numerous ponds and streams.
It was a crisp October morning in 1987. A pair of wood ducks sailed by my dad and I. One came down, and Dad pulled Puppy, our lab/springer cross, through the cattails searching for the downed wood duck. I remember the many hours spent training Puppy, but he never became a competent water dog. Eventually I turned to Dad and said, “Dad, I think we need a better dog.”
When Chad was 11 he bought his first AKC registered dog. Chad had wanted to build a kennel for some time now, so he needed a name. The property is bordered to the west by Fletchers Creek. Nearby was another kennel named “Fletcher Creek” so he didn’t name it that. Chad had observed willows growing in one of the creeks (he asked his dad to be sure that they were willows) and his first AKC registered dog was named Willow Creek’s Running Wrinkles. By the time Chad was 14, he had 6 beagles he trained for rabbit hunting and sold puppies in the local paper. He still likes to follow a good pack of beagles.
When Chad was 15, he bought a lab and named him Chocolate to train for hunting and 4H. Chad and his dad found Chocolate in the local paper for $50. When Chad went to pick the puppy up he soon learned that the pup was not socialized and a difficult dog to train. Even so, Chad and Chocolate were able to earn a blue ribbon in dog training at the fair that year. Chad wanted Chocolate to go everywhere with him, but Chocolate wasn’t always comfortable with people.
The two buddies went sucker fishing one day. Chocolate was set up on a six foot leather lead tied to a cooler. He broke the white handle off the red cooler and ran off into the woods. Chad looked for Chocolate for two days until he found out that Chocolate had been hit by a car. That was the first dog death that Chad had experienced. He was crushed.
After Chocolate’s death, Chad’s dad brought him Willow Creek’s Proud Princess, a compact and talented dog. Chad did 4H right away with her and she did very well at the county fair and they went to regionals. These experiences opened Chad’s eyes further to the expansive world of dogs. Chad and Princess collected all kinds of trophies and ribbons over the next few years. Much of Chad’s early training knowledge was learned in 4H. Instructors JP and Linda Martin were instrumental in filling his young mind with training methods and techniques. Chad read and watched any video or book he could find on the subject. At first
he only trained his own dogs, but soon started to train the dogs of his friends and family.
As a teenager, Chad was always intrigued by hunt tests and he always ended up missing the Rice Creek hunt tests, which were close to his home. Eventually, Chad landed a bird cleaning job at Rice Creek when he was 16. A few years later Chad started guiding at Rice Creek and also trained dogs with for them. Chad eventually went even deeper into the hunting world as a guide for Heartland Lodge, near Nebo, IL.
During his time as a guide at various lodges, Chad had the pleasure of owning and teaming up with a yellow lab he named Willow Creek’s Honest Abby. The two trained all summer together, shooting pigeons and crows in the off season. They would start their season with ruffed grouse and woodcock in Minnesota and would head off to Saskatchewan the last week of September. Abby was a tremendous dog, running blinds out to six or seven hundred yards on the Canadian prairie.
One day in his early twenties, Chad saw an ad for Don Paltani of Rawhide kennels, which had 9 shorthairs lined up together with 9 national field champions. The thought of having such an impressive string of dogs that were able to handle all conditions excited Chad. He wanted to have a truly versatile string of GSPs and Labs. Chad bought two shorthairs from Paltani and started his journey into breeding GSPs. Chad was able to achieve his first Master Hunter pass at Rice Creek with one of these GSPs.
As Chad worked alongside other trainers to build his knowledge and experience, his own business started to bloom and helped him pay his way through college. When the time came to decide whether to teach biology and general science to high school students, or teach dogs and their owners, he chose his life’s passion, training hunting dogs. Willow Creek Kennels and Hunting was founded in the year 2000. Willow Creek added a climate controlled indoor training facility ( for those cold winter mornings or hot summer afternoons) with attached 40 run, indoor/outdoor kennel in 2008. Chad continues to experiment with training techniques and workflow improvements in order to provide the best value for the customer.
Over the last decade, Chad and the Willow Creek trainers have passed over 60 Master Hunters and have produced many fine GSPs. In 2010 Willow Creek began working with Orvis Endorsed Greystone Castle. This allowed them the opportunity to guide and train at some of the best grounds in the country. In 2010 Greystone Castle achieved the prestigious title of “Orvis Endorsed Lodge of the Year.”