Monday, January 2, 2012

AFTCA National Amateur Shooting Dog Invitational Championship
Cassique’s Linda Ronstadt earns title after three strong performances.

Ch. Cassique's Linda Ronstadt with Steve Standley and Runner Up Miller's Calamity Jane Lady with Jack Miller.
Handler Tim Moore, Judge David Williams, Judge Gary McKibben, Fran Miller, and Handler Mike Moses.

The AFTCA National Amateur Shooting Dog Invitational Championship was held at the Sportsman’s Association Field Trial Grounds near Grove Springs, Missouri on November 18th, 19th, and 20th.  

This premier championship brings together the top 12 amateur shooting dogs (as calculated by placements in AFTCA points trials) to compete in a unique endurance championship run over three consecutive days.  Each entry will be run as drawn on the first day of competition.  On the second day each entry will be run on a different course and at a different time of day, if possible.  The judgement for the initial series stops at the end of the hour and dogs are not required to be shown.  If the tracking collar is utilized to locate a dog or an infraction on game occurs during the hour, the dog will be eliminated from the competition.  The judges will select the callback dogs and stand by dogs based on the total of the two days performances.  The number of callback dogs, the courses to be utilized, and the length of the heats beyond one hour are discretionary to the judges.  The call back dogs are required to compete for a minimum of one hour and are required to be shown at the finish.  A champion will be named based on the cumulative performances over three days.  Runner up is at the discretion of the judges.

The Sportsman’s Association grounds were in the exceptional, groomed condition that has made them a favorite among field trial enthusiasts across the country, regardless of breed or discipline.  This area was made possible by the generous contributions of Field Trial Hall of Fame member and stalwart Lee Cruse.  The facilities include a clubhouse with judge’s quarters, a bunkhouse, and a full kitchen that serves up delicious breakfast and lunch to the participants and guests.  A horse barn, corrals, kennels, and electric and water hookups round out the amenities.  Three, one hour courses are laid out that challenge, but also allow a dog and handler the opportunity to show their abilities to their fullest.  There are big bottom edges of hay and grain fields that allow a dog to roll to the extremes.  Mixed with some beautiful Ozark hill country that can eliminate a rank dog, unwilling to go with their handler.   Early fall pre release birds are scattered equally among the three courses and proved to be as cagey, elusive, and skittish as wild birds anywhere.  Don Arnold and crew work tirelessly throughout the year to maintain the Sportsman’s Grounds in the amazing condition we have grown accustomed to.  The devotion to their duties are what provide this amazing place to us and for that we should all be grateful.   If you have not had the opportunity to visit this incredible venue, you should.  It is first class in every regard!

Judges for the 2011 renewal were David Williams of Cordova, Tn and Gary McKibben of Memphis, Tn.  Both men have the strong field trial credentials to judge the caliber of dogs that are invited to this trial and have the experience and knowledge to know a true championship performance.  Both men took time after each days running to sit with me and discuss at length what they saw, what they liked, what they didn’t, and what they were looking for in naming a champion in this stake.  These gentleman set a fair and equal pace, were attentive to each dog and handler, and the decision they rendered was well received. 

No field trial is successful without the generous support of our sponsors.  The AFTCA is fortunate to have Purina, Bass Pro Shops, Tri-Tronics, and Bruce Fox on board as major sponsors.  The AFTCA thanks you for all that you do to allow us to run these events.

The Winners
Winning the 2011 title was Cassique’s Linda Ronstadt for owner and handler, Tim Moore of Calquitt, Ga.   Linda won this trial hard after a solid final performance with a strong, animated race coupled with two gorgeous finds.  Linda set the bar high in the qualifying heats with solid ground races and multiple finds on both days.  She is a super fancy dog on the ground and beautiful on point.  She showed great rapport with her handler and strong bird finding skills.  Tim caught lightning in a bottle with his breeding of Ch. Elhew Fibber McGee and Magic Carpet.  This cross has been a great one, producing National Open Shooting Dog Champion Cassique’s Boss, Ch. Hardup Road Jessie, Ch. My Mustang Sally, National Ch. Cassique’s Linda Ronstadt, and other winners. 

Taking the Runner Up title was Miller’s Calamity Jane Lady for owner and handler Mike Moses.  Lady had a fancy, forward race during the finals with a back of Linda’s first find and a good find of her own at the end of Sycamore Bottoms.  It took a short amount of time for her to adjust to the open country during her first hour, but when she did she really got going.  Her performances improved each time she was down and she was very close to the champion.  She too is a very fancy dog that really looked great moving and on game.  Bred by Fran and Jack Miller, Lady is daughter of the red hot producing National Champion, Lester’s Snowatch and Lady’s Southern Charm.

The Running - Day One
Anticipation was in the air as a large gallery awaited the breakaway to begin the championship.  The air was cool and a strong wind was blowing.  This would be a factor over the first two days of running making the birds dig in for long periods of the day.  After a few words of welcome, instructions, and introduction of officials, East Coast Pete, John Malone and Miller’s Calamity Jane Lady, Mike Moses were brought to the line.  Both dogs broke away down the edge of the creek bottom and were away to the front.  Nearing the first road crossing Lady was found standing.  After a flushing attempt and a short relocation the stand proved unproductive and Lady was sent on.    At 24 Pete was found standing in Davis Bottom with a nice covey produced and all in order.  Both dogs were found standing for a divided find at 32 with perfect manners.  Pete finished with a good, forward race and 2 finds.  Lady was a little shorter, but with a fancy and useful 1 find performance to end the opening brace.

Brace two brought veteran performer Winning Combination, Harold Woodward and newcomer Cox’s Arc Fault, Brent Cox to the line in Little Vine Loop.  The action started quickly with Combination standing for a nice covey at 2 with Fault backing nicely.  Both were ahead hunting hard and were found standing for a divided find at 18.  Fault struck next with a dinger of a find at 30.  Combination struck next with a solid piece of work at 44.  Both dogs had an unproductive in the waning moments of the hour to finish.

Multiple Champions Great River Magnum, Brian Sanchez and Purpleline Dan, George Hill were away for the third hour.  Both dogs laid out strong, forward races through the first half of the hour.  At 37 Dan was found standing with Magnum backing nicely.  A nice covey was put in the air for the motionless dogs.  At 45 the roles were reversed with Magnum standing and Dan backing.  A nice piece of work for both dogs.  The race continued with both dogs hunting to the extreme of the course for the remainder of the hour with Dan being gone at time.

After a break for lunch, Downeast Millicent, Mike Crouse and Hardup Road Jessie, Tim Moore were loosed down the bottoms in brace four.  Millicent was spotted standing at 15 with Jessie under her birds.  Jessie was up with Millicent showing tremendous restraint to stand through a really tough situation.    Millicent went on to have two more good finds at 26 and 58 to conclude her hour.  She had put down a classy, shooting dog race and had gone bird hunting.

In brace five Waubeek Brutal Sin, Mark Livingston and Cassique’s Linda Ronstadt, Tim Moore broke away on course 2 and were found standing side by side at 4 with a divided find.  Sin struck next at 14 with Linda backing nicely.  From the remainder of the hour Linda when on a bird finding trip with nice finds at 28, 36, 42, and 52.  She is a snappy moving female that can flat out find birds.  Sin concluded his hour with a strong race and a back of Linda’s find at 36.

Brace six brought Heard Hill’s Queen Mary, Mr. Buck Heard and It’s Only Money Honey, Fran Miller to the line for what would be an action filled brace.  Mary was found standing for the first find of the hour at 18, all in order.  Honey, not to be outdone, had her first at 21.  Mary answered at 22.  Honey evened the bird count at 40 with a nice covey find and Mary backing.  Honey struck again at 45 with a good covey.  Both dogs were standing at 50 with good pieces of work.  Mary had another solid find at 52.  Both dogs were found standing in the waning moments of the hour with Mary moving slightly at flush.  It had been an exciting and fun filled hour by two nice bird dogs that were animated, fast, and doing their jobs well.

After Friday’s running, trialers and guests gathered in the clubhouse for happy hour.  Stories of dogs and horses and the day’s running were retold over glasses of whiskey while steaks were grilled by Tim Moore and Steve Standley.   After dinner, David Williams did his best to make up for the absence of AFTCA Secretary Linda Hunt and hosted an award presentation for each dog and handler invited to this year’s championship.  As each participant was brought to the front to receive their plaque they were given the floor to talk about their dog’s abilities, wins, and breeding.  The camaraderie among field trailers is a special thing that few outsiders understand.  These men and women compete hard during the day to win, but when the day is over it is apparent how much respect they have for one another and the game.  It was a great evening of food, drink, and stories that brought lots of laughter and temporarily relieved the pressure of thinking about day two of the running. 

The Running – Day Two
Saturday morning brought another day of cool temperatures and high winds.  Birds would again be tough to come by and dogs would have to fight the wind all day.   Brace one brought Cassique’s Linda Ronstadt, Moore and Heard Hill’s Queen Mary to run the big creek bottoms.  Mary struck first just before the road crossing into Davis Bottom.  She was high and tight with her birds perfectly located.  Mr. Buck had the birds in the air quickly for the motionless dog and she was released to grab the front.  Both dogs hunted a very classy shooting dog race for the majority of the hour before Linda got in on the action with a find at 58.  Mary came in and backed nicely.  Moore had a tough location to flush, but was finally able to get birds in the air and shoot.  Linda and Mary finished as they started, hunting to the front at time.

Brace two of Waubeek’s Brutal Sin, Livingston and It’s Only Money Honey, Miller were released.  Both dogs were strong and fancy in their pursuit with Honey having the first find at 9.  She looked great standing buried in the cover on the right of the course for the flush and shot.  Sin and Honey hunted hard and fast through the country until Sin finally pinned a covey at 59 just outside of the Bull Pasture.  Sin was good for the flush and shot with both dogs collected at time.

Downeast Millicent, Crouse was away alone in brace three headed towards the twin barns.  Millie hunted steadily to the front throughout her hour and looked good.  She was found standing ahead at 44 with birds produced.  She finished going away in the bottom by the clubhouse. 

After lunch, brace four had Great River Magnum, Sanchez and Cox’s Arc Fault away past the clubhouse.  Both dogs were flying and doing a job.  At 15 Fault was under a bird and placed in the harness.  Past the road crossing and into Davis Bottom, Magnum was found standing on the right edge at 25.  After a lengthy flushing attempt, Sanchez attempted a relocation that proved fruitless.  Sent on, Magnum took the right edge about 150 yards and slammed onto point.  After another long flush and relocation attempt, Sanchez elected to pick up his champion ending the brace.

Purpleline Dan, Hill and Miller’s Calamity Jane Lady, Moses were off in brace five.  Both dogs were hitting their objectives and knocking the front end out.  Dan was found standing with a perfect find at 30.  Lady had an unproductive stand at 45 before she had a good find at 57.  Dan picked up an unproductive of his own at 58, the birds probably leaving before we arrived.  Both finished ahead and strong.

Brace six of day two had Winning Combination, Woodward and East Coast Pete, Malone away at the Bull Pasture.  Combination had an unproductive stand at 4 followed by a good find at 9.   Combination had another find at 28 with all in order.  Pete had a find at 48 with good style for the flush and shot.  At this time Woodward elected to pick up his charge to prevent further injury to the recovering dog.  He had not felt well coming into the championship, but made a game effort and showed a lot of heart during his time on the ground.  Pete finished ahead at time in the bottoms.

Saturday evening another happy hour and dinner was hosted in the clubhouse.   More stories were told, more delicious food eaten, and possibly a little more whiskey was consumed.  After dinner, AFTCA Representative and Judge David Williams thanked everyone for their participation, thanked the sponsors, and then got to the point everyone was waiting for, announcing the callback dogs.  After two days of running in tough conditions, the judges had decided to callback four dogs and place two on standby.  In brace one, It’s Only Money Honey, Miller and Downeast Millicent, Crouse were to begin on course one.  Brace two would be Cassique’s Linda Ronstadt, Moore and Miller’s Calamity Jane Lady, Moses.  Standby dogs were Waubeek’s Brutal Sin, Livingston and East Coast Pete, Malone. 

The Finals
High hopes and anticipation were evident as the first brace of the finals were brought to the line.  The wind had laid down from the previous two days and replaced with a light rain that would make the third hour in three days all that more difficult on the dogs.  After the morning greeting and well wishes, Downeast Millicent, Crouse and It’s Only Money Honey, Miller were away in front of another large gallery.  Honey taking the left edge and Millie on the right, both dogs faded quickly out of sight.  Both dogs were making big moves down the bottoms past Andy’s and looking great.  As the gallery crossed the road into Davis Bottom, Honey was spotted making a big move around the cemetery and into the corn field on the left.  Millie still had not been seen for several minutes, with Mike riding confidently to the front.  At 29 she was finally found standing at the back of Davis Bottom on a nice covey.  Crouse lifted the birds and shot for his stylish dog.  During this time, Honey had come across the front and pointed her own birds about 100 yards away, but out of sight of Millie.  She was perfect for the flush and shot.  After both dogs were dried off and watered, they were off and headed toward the Island field.  Both dogs making huge swings through the country.  As we approached Horse Killer field, Millie was spotted by the reporter at the far end going up horse killer.  This was to be the last contact we had with her until Mike asked for the tracker.  Into Little Vine Loop, Miller had Honey in hand and had her up front hunting at a good shooting dog pace when the judges called time. 

Brace two of the finals brought Cassique’s Linda Ronstadt, Moore and Miller’s Calamity Jane Lady, Moses to the line.   Both dogs were ahead quickly with both handlers sitting back in the pocket and singing to their dog.  Linda was found standing with Lady backing nicely at 5 on the left edge.  A beautiful piece of work for these stylish dogs with the birds pinned perfectly.  Everyone was sitting a little taller and the cold rain didn’t seem so bad as the dogs were both hitting their objectives and pushing each other through the country.  As we made Sycamore Bottoms, both dogs were on the edges and flying.  Linda into the chute and Lady onto the hill above.  The call of point was made by Scout Jack Miller who found Lady buried on a covey near the pond at the Sycamore road crossing.  She was standing aloft on both ends and still through the flush and shot.  After a quick ride to the front, we were up Don Arnold hill and toward the Bull Pasture.  Lady really winding it up and Linda not backing down from the challenge.  After a great swing through the bull pasture and past the old blue house, Linda was found standing on the left edge by the twin barns at 56.  She had the same extreme style that she had on her first find, the conditions not taking anything away from her.  She was perfect for the shot and released down the third hour course towards Andy’s.  Lady and Linda still pushing each other in their quest for birds.  Time was called at the 1:10 mark and it was announced that no standby dog was needed.   All in attendance had seen classy shooting dog performance by both dogs and their handlers.  They had witnessed championship performances!

After a short break, the whistle was blown and everyone headed for the clubhouse.  The decision was in.  Judges Williams and McKibben announced that based on the merits of three solid performances, Cassique’s Linda Ronstadt was the champion and Miller’s Calamity Jane Lady was runner up.  Both of these dogs had outlasted the strong competition, laid down strong ground races, had shown their bird finding ability, and had brought their best manners to the trial.  This championship is full of great dogs, not one of the bunch is anything less.  To put it all together in new country, in bad weather, tough scenting conditions, and with every variable that can undue a performance, they had done it. 

Congratulations to all of the invitees.  You should be proud of yourselves and your dogs!  It was an honor and a pleasure to attend this trial, meet you, and watch you and your dogs perform.   Another thing that left a big impression was that in my years of field trialing, I can’t remember a trial that showed better sportsmanship between competitors.   This is now a must attend trial for me and I look forward to seeing you turn them loose again.

-Chris Gebhardt, Reporter.


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