I’ve been working with bird dogs for about 30 years now and have had the good fortune to have four really exceptional dogs to go along with many good ones. The first was a setter that Lloyd Murray of Long Gone Kennels gave me named Stokely’s Diablo Buddy he came from a litter that produced 3 champions and a classic winner all on wild birds. Buddy won the Burnham Grouse Classic (now the New England Open Grouse Championship) when he was only two. He might have gone on to rack up the kind of records that his littermates did but he died of Lymphoma before he was three. The second really exceptional dog I raised, trained and campaigned was Wild Apple Jack. He needs little in the way of introduction to those who follow this blog but for those who don’t he was a 5X champion (including the Grand National Grouse Championship), 1X runner-up champion all on grouse and woodcock. Over his long career he was invited to the Grouse and Woodcock Invitational five times. The next dog of this caliber was Wild Apple LJ who was a son of Jack’s and I thought he would be the equal of his father. His career started out great as he won three of four wild bird derby stakes he was entered in as a fall derby, but he became aggressive towards other male dogs and we couldn’t solve that problem. So he was sold to a hunter for whom he excelled before coming to an untimely death when hit by a coal truck in the Southern Appalachians while grouse hunting. And now there is Wild Apple Spot On. Last fall he placed in a number of wild bird derby stakes capping the season off with a convincing win of the Leslie Anderson Derby Classic in New Brunswick. He also did well in trails here in Kentucky last winter in both puppy and derby stakes. He excelled last fall during the hunting season and again on our recent trip to Kansas.
Yesterday, was his first field trial of the winter and I ran him in both the Open derby and open shooting dog of the NBHA trial held here in Berea. He took first in both stakes which is great but it was the way he did it that showed everyone who saw him that he is something special. On his first big cast he went a few hundred yards out of sight off to the right and I asked the scout to see if he was standing. When the scout finally saw him he was on his way back and about halfway to me he spun and pointed. By the time I got him back on the course we were well behind and he took off like a rocket for the front. When we caught up he was standing as was his brace mate on a separate bird. I caught up and the other handler and I both flushed. Spot’s bird was in the air first and I fired. The other handler got his bird up and his dog took a few steps on the shot and was done. We now had the course to ourselves. Spot made another deep cast this time to the left down over a bank out of site. When he didn’t show I again asked for a scout who rode over so he could see over the bank edge of the field. As I was waiting for him to call the dog the other scout who was also on horseback, as were the judges, said he thought he could see the dog ahead way at the end of long feed strip. The judges and both scouts converged on Spot and waited for me to walk to him. Spot stayed standing there as well. The bird was flushed with all in order and I knew all I had to do was hang on to him to place him. Shortly after we went through the gap into the next field Spot got birdy on the right edge and finally styled up into a point. When I looked down in front of him I could see a dead bird about 10 feet into the hedgerow. I went in and picked it up hoping he wouldn’t decide to retrieve it. Sent on again he made a cast to the left and we lost sight of him again. Then one of the judges called point and Spot was standing on the edge of an island of cover out in the field. This bird like the others he’d pointed was directly in front of him and he remained high and tight through shot and flush until I took him back to the course. I figured time had to be just about up but we still had 8 minutes. I just let him roll and at the end of time he was way to the front in one of the big dove fields that are planted in strips of sunflowers. I’ve probably watched 1000’s of braces over the years and judged 100’s of dogs in the woods, in liberated quail trials, and in horseback trials. I have only ever seen a handful of dogs that put down the race and bird work that Spot did yesterday in the shooting dog. I got a lot of compliments on the dog’s performance and told one and all that it was mostly the dog and how fortunate I feel to have him.
When I showed up at the line to run him in his derby brace someone half jokingly suggesting that it wasn’t quite fair to run him again. He put down a similar ground race with a find early that got us behind again. This time he got up with the fast moving forward party and I wasn’t even close yet when they called point from about 2/3 of the way around the course. Some people think that a dog should stay back with its handler in a walking trial but that never impressed me. It has been said many times in field trialing that “the money’s to the front” and really competitive dogs don’t want to be behind anyone and especially not behind their bracemate. Spot stood for somewhere between five and ten minutes before the judge and I got to him. He had the bird accurately pointed and all was in order at flush and shot. He took off to the front and I got up again just a little bit before time. Not as much bird work but the day had warmed and quite a few birds had been flushed off the course by the last brace of the derby. Spot was again placed first.
I ran five other dogs yesterday and had some other good performances as well as a couple of baubles. In the shooting dog Wild Apple Samantha had a really nice find with her brace mate backing and then had a long range back. Her ground effort was a little inconsistent as she made some big moves but then came too far back on a couple of occasions. I think her ground race was probably good enough to place but she took a couple of steps on the shot when she was backing and that may be what knocked her out of contention. Wild Apple Calvados was putting down a strong ground effort and had a nice find way to the front that the judge could see from his horse. She still had the bird but had loosened up as we made the long walk to her. She then took a couple steps and I picked her up. In the derby, Wild Apple Polka Dot was really ripping it up on the ground when I got to her on her first find I could see that she was thinking about helping with the flush. She’s a young derby that isn’t two yet and although she was well along to being broke last fall and has already placed in a number of open and amateur puppy and derby stakes she came a little unglued during hunting season. She’s doing well in the bird field during training but the excitement of another dog, horses, four wheelers, as well as waiting all morning for her turn is still more than she can deal with.
At the end of the day, they held the puppy stake on what was the end of the shooting dog/derby course. I had both Wild Apple Jonathan and Elhew Unsinkable (Molly) entered. Jonathan ran a little bigger but with a more scattered application which found him coming up through the gallery a couple of times. He also routed out a couple of birds that he half pointed. Molly ran forward reaching out plenty with lots of class on the ground. She’s fun to watch as she moves effortlessly over the ground with her tail cracking all the way. Near the end of her brace she slammed into a stylish point that everyone saw and stood while her bracemate came in front of her and rooted out the bird as she broke. Molly got first and Jonathan third to end a very good day in Berea. We have next weekend off then there are two ABHA weekend trials and two championships in March before I head home in early April.