GUYS MILLS, PA. — The 28th renewal of the Grand National Grouse and Woodcock Invitational Championship returned to Pennsylvania grouse range and was conducted March 28-30 at the Black Ash Sportsman’s grounds near Guys Mills, Pa. The Black Ash Club spared nothing in their efforts to make this prestigious event successful and memorable.
The grounds are located on the northern tier of Pennsylvania not far from the New York border and Lake Erie. The land utilized is part of Pennsylvania State Game lands number 069, consisting mostly of flat land containing young beech growth, hardwoods, hemlock and pine plus swampy areas that make for ideal grouse and woodcock cover and feeding areas.
Spearheading the organizational efforts for this event was Joe Cammisa, a man who has dedicated much of his time to the sport of field trialing in so many ways. Joe currently serves as secretary/stake manager for the Invitational and performs his duties peerlessly in every aspect.
Joe conducted the drawing on Tuesday evening at the Hunters Inn in Meadville, Pa., where the group gathered and enjoyed various flavors of chicken wings, drinks and other items on the menu.
Members of the Black Ash Sportsman’s Club were on hand from start to finish and ensured this event ran flawlessly. Those involved included John McKellop, Joe McCarl, Brian Ralph, Dave Ralph and Russ Richardson.
The courses were laid out and marked with ribbons by John McKellop. John, Brian, Dave and Russ marshalled every brace on foot and assisted the judges with their horses. Norm Meeder, Tim Tufts, Joe Cammisa, Deb Nihart and Marie Bly moved vehicles from course to course.
The format for this trial parallels most of the other major invitational events in that all of the entered dogs perform the first and second day, braced on different courses each day. The third day contestants are determined at the judges’ discretion as to pairings and course selection. A minimum of two dogs and maximum of eight are called back for the final hour. Winners are then determined based on overall combined performances of all three days, not just the last day.
This event evolved from the Grouse Invitational Classic that was started in 1987 and ran for four years before gaining championship approval.
The initial championship running took place in mid-April, 1991, at the Gladwin Game Refuge near Meredith, Mich. Hall of Fame member and professional handler Dave Hughes won with Stillmeadow’s Benjamin, white and orange setter male; Scott Kinne won runner-up with Hey You Dolly, white and liver pointer female.
The second running was held at Black Ash with Dave Hughes again winning with Stillmeadow’s Jim and amateur J. L. Libby taking runner-up with Stoke’s Kalamity Kate. The third and fourth renewals were back at Gladwin, the fifth in Marienville, thereafter held at rotating locations within the three major grouse trial regions in the Northeastern Area, Central Atlantic and the Great Lakes Areas.
Dave Hughes holds the record for winning — eleven times, four times runner-up, followed by Scott Chaffee with four titles and Scott Forman with three wins.
The courses at Black Ash consist of four one-hour arrangements, all conveniently accessible along sparsely traveled dirt roads. The first three are pretty much in bottoms containing many coverts for native grouse and woodcock.
No. 1 begins on the west side of Carpenter Road off of game lands parking area near a stand of old hemlock and hardwoods, crosses a creek and swampy area early then proceeds northward paralleling a large pond and crossing several streams, finishing near Turkey Track Road.
Course No. 2 starts on the north side of Turkey Track and makes a 20-minute loop eastward, then south crossing Turkey Track and paralleling Carpenter Road to a termination near an old roadside apple orchard.
No. 3 begins a little south of the apple orchard off the west roadside then crosses Carpenter at about 15 to the east onto higher ground and cut over areas along Maple Hill Road, crossing and re-crossing Maple Hill to wind up near roadside parking area. No. 4 is located about a five-minute drive to Dingman Road where newer cutover hardwood stands are reputed to be home to several grouse. Though a bit hillier than the other three, the course winds it way through several beautiful stands of second growth hardwood and beechnut stands, nearly every step in ideal looking cover.
We were not blessed with good weather conditions. Temperatures were cold the entire time with either rain or snow falling most of the time. The ground was saturated, the creeks were high and footing was muddy at best, nearly impossible in certain spots. Rain gear and rubber boots were the order of the days for most participants.
The Grand National organization makes every attempt to obtain the services of the most knowledgeable judges for these important events. This year they hit the jackpot with two gentlemen possessing unprecedented credentials in Tony Bly of Milan, N. H., and Tom Fruchey of Beaverton, Mich. Both men are directors of the Grand National trials, both have trained and campaigned their own dogs and both give their full attention to the job at hand, know what they are looking at and know how to assess a cover dog performance. As Ben Franklin once stated, “Well done is better than well said.” Thank you gentlemen.
Ponderosa Mac, white and chestnut setter male coming six years old, owned by Steve C. Snyder of Ellendale, Minn., and handled by professional trainer Scott Chaffee, was a fairly clear cut winner after three days of consistently applied hard hunting efforts in less than ideal running conditions. Mac earned his invitation to this event by winning the Michigan Woodcock Championship plus runner-up in the Grand National Grouse Championship last fall. Mac’s first day performance was on course No. 2 on Wednesday afternoon, released at 3:52 along Turkey Track Road. As noted the course traverses bottomland and contains ideal woodcock habitat. Mac hunted the fore, making wise choices in checking likely objectives and was rewarded at 35 when he wheeled into a granite-like stand where handler produced a well located woodcock to perfect manners at flush and shot. Sent ahead, Mac went a short distance and slammed into another intense pose but this time nothing flown, Mac ahead to finish the hour hunting strong.
The second day Mac ran on course No. 3 starting at 10:40 a.m. The first 20 minutes are in the bottoms before crossing Carpenter into higher ground. Mac strengthened his position in the trial immensely by scoring a perfectly executed find on a grouse at 15 before Carpenter Road crossing, then adding his second high styled woodcock find at 40 near Maple Hill Road crossing. Mac’s ground application and handling response were superior throughout the hour and he finished with strength to spare, this gaining the nod for performance of the day and cashing in on the day money award thus earning a third day callback in the finals.
After two days of outstanding cover dog performances all Mac had to do on day No. 3 was not to make any mistakes and he took full advantage of the opportunity by rendering his third forward hard hunting ground effort running again on course No. 3 without a bracemate. Released at 10:38, Mac scoured the bottom country, crossed Carpenter and was making his way into higher ground when a grouse that had flushed wild from across the road flew by within Mac’s eyesight at 17 and he jammed on the brakes for a mannerly well executed stop to flush thus adding to his credentials and leaving little doubt he was the top performer. Mac continued his divine effort the rest of the hour and finished well ahead still going strong and had to be called in as time expired. His final tally was two finds on woodcock, one grouse find, one unproductive and one stop to flush on a grouse.
Chasehill Little Thudd, five-year-old liver marked pointer male owned by Tim Kisieleski of Amesbury, Mass., and handled by John Stolgitis, was awarded runner-up. Thudd earned his invitation to this Championship by winning the Southern New England Woodcock Championship and the Maritime Grouse Classic.
The judges both felt that Thudd was their most consistent dog on the ground the first two days, both times attacking the course in spirited fashion with nary a letup the entire hour.
The first day Thudd ran on course No. 1 starting at 8:30 in the morning. His application was well ahead and very wide in scope. He registered a mannerly back at 47 and finished the hour on a far-flung exuberant cast, demonstrating plenty of highly animated footwork throughout.
Thudd drew course No. 3 the second day, braced with the winner, start made at 10:40 a. m. Thudd’s determined ground effort went unrewarded; his only stop a mannerly back recorded at 15. His strong finish and stylish way of going created an opportunity to perform on day No. 3.
Thudd’s third day callback was on course No. 2 starting at 9:24 on the north side of Turkey Track Road. For the third day in row, Thudd hunted to likely cover in stalwart fashion but couldn’t connect with game, registering a back at 43 near the lake edge. After crossing and re-crossing Carpenter Road with only seconds left on the clock Thudd was espied pointing stylishly near old apple orchard. Handler spotted a cock pheasant on the ground and quickly put it to wing with Thudd remaining composed and mannerly for the shot, a find literally in the nick of time. Thudd’s final tally was three backs and a pheasant find.
Before the announcement was made, a question as to whether or not a dog could be placed in this Championship without a grouse or woodcock find arose. A meeting of the minds concluded that the champion must handle grouse or woodcock but the runner-up could be placed on other game birds if necessary.
THE RUNNING — DAY NO. 1
Chasehill Little Thudd (Stolgitis) and Hershner’s Grouse Gunner (Scott Chaffee) were away at 8:30 on course No. 1. Thudd has been described. Gunner, setter male coming seven years old, qualified with a runner-up win in the 72-dog Michigan Woodcock Championship. Owner Scott Hershner was in the gallery to cheer him on. Action began at 22 when Gunner scored on a pair of woodcock, pointing with excellent style and proving mannerly for the shot. Gunner progressed in forward well-directed fashion, hitting the likely places. He locked up solidly at 47 and again at 58 but both stands proved fruitless. The gallery noted two grouse were walked up along the way, one near Gunner’s first unproductive but not seen officially.
Call Me Maggie (Craig Merlington) qualified with her impressive win of the Grand National Grouse Championship last fall, this being her second time to qualify for the Invitational. Meredith Grade Annie (Tammy Chaffee) qualified by taking runner-up in the Northern Michigan Cover Dog Championship. They were loosed from Turkey Track Road, both fast and forward, Maggie perhaps a bit wider overall. After crossing Turkey Track and paralleling Carpenter southward toward the pond, Maggie styled up at 40 in the bottom but nothing was flown. Sent forward, she pointed majestically at 49, this time a grouse put to wing, Maggie magnificent for the shot. She finished the hour going strong, her performance earning the honor of day dog. Annie hunted in earnest the entire time and pointed at 49 where Maggie stood on a grouse find but the judges determined that she failed on an opportunity to back.
Blast Zone (Thor Kane) is owned by veteran field trialers Richard Brenneman and Bob Watts. He qualified by winning the National Amateur Grouse Championship under the whistle of Thor Kain. Nic Of Time (Marc Forman) is owned by Jim Kilrain and earned his invitation by winning the Lake States Grouse Championship. Released on course No. 3, both looked good and hit the right cover. Neither made contact with game in spite of hard hunting efforts the entire hour, the judges most impressed with the overall ground race of Blast Zone. The gallery reported two grouse sightings.
Tim’s Setter Rosie (Tim Callahan) qualified with her win of the Wisconsin Cover Dog Championship and River’s Edge Bailey (Scott Forman) earned her spot by winning the New York Grouse Championship. They were loosed on course No. 4. Rosie flitted through the heavier thickets with ease and maintained a steady pace while handling kindly. She made contact with a grouse at 41 and unfortunately pursued at flush. Handler got her stopped and Rosie remained steady as another grouse took wing, this time holding mannerly for the shot. She finished hunting ahead. Bailey hunted far and wide, at times out of pocket and difficult to control. Her effort was strong the entire hour, finishing ahead going at top speed. The gallery walked up two additional grouse for a total of four birds sighted.
After lunch at the clubhouse we were back at 2:38 p. m. on course No. 1.
Daddy’s Little Boy Butch (Stolgitis) earned his invitation with an impressive resumé as runner-up in the New York Grouse Championship, winner of the North American Woodcock, New England Grouse and the Northeastern Grouse Championships. Snyder’s Full Rage (S. Chaffee) earned her appearance by winning runner-up in both the Wisconsin Cover Dog and the Lake States Grouse Championships. Butch hit the cover and dug in deep most of the way. He pointed stylishly at 10, this proving unproductive, then handled a woodcock at 20 in swampy area. He ranged farther and farther until finally out of pocket at 49, the retrieval unit called for at 60. Rage hunted the cover nicely as it came and handled kindly. She suffered an unproductive at 15 then scored a back at 20, hunting the balance of the hour attractively to the front.
Ponderosa Mac’s (S. Chaffee) winning effort was described above. La Sombra (Dave Hughes), callname Trico, earned his invitation by winning the Pennsylvania Grouse Championship last fall. Owner Carlos Escalante was present in support of his effort. They broke away from Turkey Track Road. Trico ranged far while maintaining a forward pattern, attractive going with high head and tail. He backed mannerly at 35, this his only stop during the hour, finishing strong and ahead.
Boston (S. Forman) won the Northern Michigan Cover Dog Championship to qualify for the Invitational. Centerfold Bette (D. Hughes) was automatically qualified as runner-up in the last two renewals of this event. Her owner Dr. Harold Holmes was present in support of her effort. Start made on course No. 3, the weather cold, wet and miserable. Boston searched the woods at great distance from handler most of time, making a brief appearance occasionally then off to the races again, no birds seen. Bette’s effort was forward with good response to handler, a very solid ground race that only lacked contact with game. Bette finished the hour going forward with plenty left in the tank.
Boston and La Sombra were away at 8:01 on course No. 1 under the hemlock trees. Boston started where he left off the day before, running strong and wide. He pointed stylishly at 4 and again at 12, neither producing a feather, then was off to the races and finally counted out at 52 when the retrieval device was requested. “Trico” was forward and handling kindly, backed mannerly at 4, then scored on a woodcock at 26, holding his granite-like statuesque form as the bird lifted and shot was fired. At 38 a bird was sighted in the air near edge of pond, Trico stopping mannerly to flight of a wood duck, then ahead to finish the hour still going strong.
Snyder’s Full Rage and Centerfold Bette were off on course No. 2 at Turkey Track Road. Rage started full steam ahead, hunting the thick cover with purpose and was putting on a show after scoring a solid mannerly find on a grouse at 22, then following with a high styled find on a woodcock at 29. She continued to impress on the ground until 52 when she wheeled into another high posed stand but gave way to temptation as handler moved in to flush and put a well located grouse in the air. Bette hunted forward for the entire hour, pointed solidly at 29 where nothing was produced and needed to come up with a bird to be in contention.
Ponderosa Mac’s and Chasehill Little Thudd’s performances were described above.
Nic Of Time and Call Me Maggie competed on course No. 4. Nic hunted the second growth stands diligently, handling the hills and turns with satisfying response but failed to make contact with birds, finishing the hour ahead. Maggie hunted industriously with an appealing gait but her performance ended abruptly at 35 when she returned to handler favoring a front shoulder and could. Two birds were walked up by gallery.
After a lunch break the start was made at 2:37 on course No. 1.
Meredith Grade Annie presented herself well with a searching forward race. Her only chance for bird work was at 37 where she locked up high and tight but nothing could be raised. River’s Edge Bailey once again impressed with her fancy footwork, attractive carriage and strong determination. Her ground effort was enough to put her on the judges’ reserve list for the third day final series.
Hershner’s Grouse Gunner and Blast Zone started along Turkey Track Road. Gunner handled kindly while hunting the cover in earnest. His scope of range was of medium proportions and consistently applied. He suffered an unproductive stand early but nailed a woodcock with high style and approved manners at 47, finishing ahead to make the third day callback. Blast Zone was impressive with his hard charging way of hitting the cover and laying to the front. He pointed at 47 near bracemate’s stand, the judges determining this as an independent point. Handler attempted flush and shot when bracemate’s bird was in the air, officially not counted as a find. Zone continued his hard charging effort and finished the hour still going strong, thus earning a chance in the final series.
Tim’s Setter Rosie started at 5:06 on course No. 3 headed south along Carpenter Road. Rosie hunted fast at medium range but her effort was terminated at 19 when she misbehaved on a woodcock contact, bringing second day action to a close. Daddy’s Little Boy Butch was scratched.
The judges announced the second day’s top dog as Ponderosa Mac and prepared their list of five dogs for the third day, plus one on reserve.
THIRD DAY FINALS
Hershner’s Grouse Gunner and Blast Zone. Excitement ran high as day No. 3 action started at 8:13 on course No. 1 after rising water from a small stream caused the starting point to be altered to slightly higher ground, crossing the pond dam instead of the low land below the dam. Action started early but unfortunately for both dogs the actions were not positive. Gunner was espied under a woodcock early, then onward to register three stands that resulted in unproductive or mutual backs. Zone fared no better in the bird work category with a pair of divided unproductive stands at 8 and 39 but hunted hard the full hour.
La Sombra and Chashill Little Thudd were loosed at 9:24 on course No. 2. Thudd’s runner-up performance was described above. “Trico” rendered a wide-ranging forward ground effort. He styled up nicely at 43 in swamp area with nothing produced or relocated. Disaster struck near the old apple orchard at 50 when he put a woodcock to flight and failed to stop, ending his bid.
Ponderosa Mac, as a bye, broke away at 10:38. His winning effort was described above.
The dog held in reserve, River’s Edge Bailey, was not requested and everyone headed to the clubhouse to await the announcement.
Guys Mills, Pa., March 28
Judges: Tony Bly and Tom Fruchey
Grand National Grouse and Woodcock Invitational Championship
[One-Hour Heats on Two Consecutive Days; One-Hour Finals] — 5 Pointers and 9 Setters
Winner—PONDEROSA MAC, setter male, by Jetwood—Copper Mountain Pepsi. S. C. Snyder, owner; Scott Chaffee, handler.
Runner-Up—CHASEHILL LITTLE THUDD, pointer male, by Beaver Meadow Benjamin—American Honey. Tim Kisieleski, owner; John Stolgitis, handler.
BLACK ASH HIGHLIGHTS
The Black Ash Sportsman’s membership rolled out the red carpet for everyone attending the Invitational. The clubhouse was open for lunch daily, with Dave and Barb Ralph welcoming all and serving hot food. They also prepared and served hot coffee, donuts and cookies at morning and afternoon breaks.
Club members opened their homes and welcomed several attendees who stayed with them. Joe and Cheryl McCarl shared their home with Tony and Marie Bly. Brian and Brandy Ralph welcomed this reporter and Scott and Tammy Chaffee.
Appreciation is extended to John Capocci for purchasing food for daily lunches in honor of his pointer female Grouse Hill Bell which won this trial the past two years but was unable to return and run in this year’s renewal.
We lost former Grand National secretary George Johnson recently.
All were pleased to have his loving wife Shirley Johnson attend the Purina handlers’ dinner Wednesday evening.
The field trial sport is fortunate to have Purina as a sponsor. Dean Reinke was in attendance throughout and sponsored the prime rib handlers’ dinner, assisted in road patrol, donated Purina product and generally spread good will and sportsmanship. Thank you, Dean.
Sincere appreciation is also extended to Garmin for their continued support in providing electronic training aids that were awarded to the winners.
As noted earlier, Invitational Secretary Joe Cammisa worked tirelessly to plan and implement a successful trial. Beside every good man there is a good woman and Joe is indeed fortunate to have Suzie. She prepared food for lunches, baked cookies and cherry and apple pastries that were gobbled up and enjoyed by all who partook.
Had there been an award for the most agile handler, Tammy Chaffee would have won easily when she demonstrated unbelievable gymnastic balancing moves during a slip in the mud while handling. On the 10 scale, one judge gave her a 7.5 and the other an 8.5. Thankfully Tammy was not injured.