BERLIN, N. H. — The 2019 Grand National Grouse Championship ran to a successful conclusion at the Kilkenny Management Area in the White Mountains of Northern New Hampshire. The Championship, cover trials’ most coveted prize, was established and first run in 1943 and set up to rotate to three different geographical regions in “grouse country.” It was first run at Kilkenny in 1998. We are fortunate to still have some venues with wild birds.
Lloyd Murray, John Stolgitis, Joe Dahl, Joe Cammisa, Bob Little, Thom Richardson, Dick Brenneman, Tom Fruchey, and Thor Kain were among many who helped during the running.
Many others helped move vehicles and contribute in other ways.
Many thanks to Dean Reinke and Purina for the unwavering support of the Grand National and other cover trials over many decades now. We can never adequately express how grateful we are. Seventy-eight dogs were drawn and seventy-five would run.
The monumental task of judging that many dogs on foot fell to Brian Ralph of Grove City, Pa., and Bert Benshoof of Roseville, Minn. Both brought championship level experience to the task. They not only held up superbly but both seemed to be humbled to even be asked to judge such an historic stake. Their efforts were truly appreciated.
THE WINNERS AND OTHERS
Winning in fine style was seven-year-old white and orange pointer male Titanium’s Hammer, owned by Bob Leet of Paw Paw, Mich., and handled by Michigan trainer Bruce Minard.
This dog checked all of the boxes. He moved nicely, hunted hard, ranged well in a forward manner, but handled easily, and had a magnificent dug up find.
No stranger to the winners’ circle, Hammer also won the Lake States Grouse Championship, the Midwest Open Shooting Dog Championship, and was runner-up at the Wisconsin Cover Dog Championship.
He was sired by Ch. Dateline Black List out of Ch. Hifive’s Wrangler. Black List was also a runner-up champion. Wrangler was a 3x champion, one of those a national title (National Amateur Grouse Champion) along with five runners-up.
For many of the dogs up-close in Hammer’s pedigree, Bruce was involved with both campaigning them in the field and in orchestrating the breedings.
The runner-up was Panola Bacon, coming three-year-old white and liver pointer male handled by John Stolgitis, and owned by Mac Stidham of Columbia, S. C. He came from brace No. 26.
Bacon’s was a similar performance in many respects to Hammer’s. Stolgitis rolled the dice and pushed to the end of the course in the hope that Bacon would push on into cover that was not yet explored by dogs the previous four times the course had been run. The gamble worked. Bacon also had a spectacular dug-up find at the end but the pace required made the dog look slightly lateral at times and that was one of the hairsplitters. It was, however, a performance that would have won this stake outright most years.
Bacon is a first year shooting dog and was sired by Daddy’s Little Boy Butch, out Richfield Rose. Bacon was, previously this fall, awarded runner-up honors in the New York State Grouse Championship with 50 dogs. He also placed in multiple horseback Derby stakes as well as winning the Woodcock Futurity, and placing in the Grouse Futurity.
Bacon’s line has had unprecedented success in the Grand National at Kilkenny, which hosts the trial every three years.
In 2016, Daddy Little Boy Butch (Bacon’s sire), champion; 2013, Chasehill Little Bud (Butch’s sire), runner-up; 2010, Chasehill Molly (full sister to Chasehill Little Bud), champion; 2004, Beaver Meadow Benjamin (sire of Bud and Mollie), runner-up; 2001, Benjamin’s dam, Beaver Meadow Bette, champion.
The judges also liked the championship worthy performances of (in the order they ran): Wild Apple Spot On (PM/Craig Doherty) in the 9th brace; Spring Brook Maximus (PM/Russell Ogilvie), 12th brace; Ponderosa Mac (SM/Scott Chaffee), brace No. 32.
A dozen dogs would have grouse work during the running and two others finished with woodcock finds.
Long Gone Porky (SM/Lloyd Murray) and Wild Apple Calvados (PF/ Craig Doherty) were up first on Lonesome Ridge. Temperatures were in the 40s and it was breezy. Both dogs hit the cover well, had plenty of range and snap, and both handled kindly. Porky continued strong through the middle and punched well to the finish. Calvados also worked hard down the stretch and both dogs applied themselves to the course but nothing was seen in terms of game.
Bawl Of Fire (Bruce Minard) and Braggabull (Mark Hughes), both pointer females, began well on Deer Mountain. Brag moved well and hunted but was inconsistent. She would execute a big showy, forward cast then follow it up with a short or medium swing. Bawl was consistent in that regard but lost a step the last 20. Both hunted to the finish and neither connected with game.
Fireside Aiden (SF/Tammy Chaffee) was snappy, quick and hunted well. She was rewarded with a nice woodcock find at 50, done with fine style and impeccable manners. She finished the last 10 with fire to spare. Wild Apple White Lightning (PM/Craig Doherty) was rangy and hard to handle at times but always showed up in time. His style and drive were topshelf. Near the half he pointed a woodcock with good style but broke at the flush and was taken up. Three other grouse were seen on the course, one out of a tree.
Chasehill Little Thudd (PM/Doherty) and Quail Trap Will (SM/Scott Chaffee) set out with enthusiasm, both working at the edge of their bells for much of the first half but forward and no big absences. Thudd was scouted at 30 but faded back in after two minutes or so. Doherty rejoined the front at 45. Thudd was wide again by then and not returned to judgment. Will was generally rangy down the stretch but had a five-minute short spell before ranging out again and finishing strong.
Cairds Little Macy Mae (PF/Bob Little) and Pistol Grip (PM/Dave Hughes) were next on the Moosehorn. This course proved tough for the judges to evaluate dogs on. Both of these dogs hunted hard, looked good going, and were forward. They were described by the judges as “medium ranging” but, with the cover being so tight, along with the twisty nature of the trail, a wider ranging dog would have missed cover or risk being lost on point. So the judges were easy on this aspect of the performance. Macy posed up in likely cover near the half, looked good on point, but nothing flew. It was much the same the second half: both dogs worked hard and hunted to the finish but neither had a contact. As luck (bad luck) would have it, after both dogs were on the leash and the party deadheading out, five or six grouse were walked up.
Phillips Half Moon (SF/M. Hughes) was alone in the last brace as Wild Run Kat (Ecker) was scratched. Moon hunted well at an easy pace and was medium ranging with the occasional big move. At 35 a grouse blew out near the trail and Moon stopped mannerly but was low-stationed. Another grouse blew out to the fore and Hughes shot, all in order. Moon looked fine on point at 44 but nothing flew. She stopped again four minutes later. Two grouse flew out in the general vicinity but not in the direction she was pointing in. Hughes did not shoot and no unproductive was assigned. She finished as she started and so ended day No. 1.
Hypointe Left Turn (S. Chaffee) and Baxter’s Apache John (Brent Peters), both setter dogs, were up first the second day on Lonesome Ridge. They began well, hunted the cover and handled. John looked good pointing in a likely spot between two blowdowns at 25 but nothing flew. Turn looked great on a woodcock at 42 and with perfect manners. Both dogs lost a bit of steam down the stretch but continued to work to the finish.
All Out (SM/S. Chaffee) was fancy, worked hard, was generally forward, but had trouble keeping the fore at times. Grouse Hill Annie (PF/Stolgitis) moved nice and drove hard but was wide at times with several short absences always showing in time. All Out posed up at 53 and looked good but no feathers flew. Both finished strong and forward.
Cairds Remi (PF/Little) and Wild Apple Spot On (PM/Doherty) were loosed on Goldenrod. Both dogs set out strong with Remi wide at times. Spot made some nice moves but got hung up a time or two. A grouse was walked up at 18, neither dog near. Remi was wide about then and Little asked for the retrieval unit at 23. Spot made some nice moves through the middle and was generally forward but did return from the rear a time or two, though nothing persistent. He looked great on a grouse at 53 where he showed commendable style, good location and exemplary manners. He finished strong and forward.
Pointer males Cairds Lefty and Titanium’s Hammer were loosed on the Pancake course. Both dogs impressed immediately with good style and showy forward moves. Though the casts were big and forward, sometimes to the end of the bell, each dog handled well without a lot of effort from the handlers. By the time they hit the swamp in the middle, the judges were praying for a bird. Things went a bit awry for Lefty down the stretch. He spent a chunk of time up on a hillside and Little had to work to get him to cross. When he did finally come down he had two barren stands at 52 and 58. Hammer, meanwhile, made a big move into a bowl in the terrain and the dog was at the end of his bell when it fell silent. Several minutes passed until they arrived in the vicinity of where the bell stopped. The cover was tight there and Hammer’s owner, Bob Leet, was called over to help search. About the time Leet arrived, though, Minard saw part of Hammer’s head sticking slightly out of the cover about fifty yards away. It took a minute or two to work their way to the dog but Hammer still looked good when they arrived and, more importantly, had a grouse neatly pinned in the brush. The grouse rumbled out, the shot rang out, the manners were perfect and the judges’ prayers were answered: A dug up find and great forward race was what they had. The brace ended shortly after.
Setter female Meredith Grade Annie and Caliber Peak Storm Warning (PF/D. Hughes) were first up after lunch on Moosehorn. Both dogs performed admirably on this tough course. Annie hunted hard, got hung up briefly in a corner a time or two, was forward and handled. At 35 she appeared “birdy” working back and forth frantically. A grouse blew out 25 yards away and she never changed her direction or countenance. It was a bit suspicious but there was not nearly enough evidence to indict. Warning worked hard down the stretch, stayed in touch well and hunted hard. She was scouted at 57 and a grouse moved during the search but her bell faded in from further along. Both dogs finished strong. Three grouse were walked up during the brace.
Double Deuce Zeke (PM/D. Hughes) and Spring Brook Maximus (PM/Russell Ogilvie) broke away hard on the Ammonoosuc and looked good going. Maximus crossed nicely, well to the front several times with hardly a word from Ogilvie. Zeke was also hunting forward and at good range and, by the half, both judges were again praying for a bird. Both dogs were deep at 40 along the Ammonoosuc bottom. Neither handler was sure as noises in the distance sounded like they might be bells (and there always are such noises). Ogilvie saw a tiny patch of white through the brush and went to investigate. Indeed, there was Maximus looking good and a woodcock put to flight, all in order. Then things got a bit strange. They noticed Zeke standing there too AND a grouse blew out nearby. The dogs were awarded a divided find. Up the hill to the finish, Zeke got hung up a time or two and required some handling, but nothing serious. Maximus stopped to the left and fairly deep but corrected shortly after Ogilvie left the trail. Both finished strong and forward.
Sanderling’s Wild Pepper (PM/Little) and A Distant Spec (PF/M. Hughes) were up first on day No. 3. Both dogs hit the course hard and looked good going. Both were wide at times the first half and both handlers had to work on occasion to keep the dogs in touch. After the halfway point, both settled in to an easier handling race and a more modest pace. Pepper posed up nicely in a likely spot at 46, corrected as Little was flushing and was taken up. Spec finished the hour without incident.
Single Shot Barley (SF/D. Hughes) and pointer male Daddy’s Little Boy Butch were next on Deer Mountain. Barley ran a very good race with fine style and good range. She hunted, punched and handled throughout. Butch was all that and more. He made cast after cast, each strong and forward and with evident rapport with his handler. Both dogs had the judges wishing for a bird, but none were seen.
All On (PF/Stolgitis) hit the course hard early but was up at 8 after an encounter with a woodcock. Miss Penn Star (SF/ Ecker) looked good going but was wide at times and while she always showed in time, was often out of touch. Penn Star stood at 11 left of course in an area where birds had been seen in previous days. An extensive flushing attempt came up empty. She had a tough time negotiating the turn at the half but she was on track after a few minutes and shot to the front. She continued wide though and Ecker asked for the retrieval unit at 41. No other birds were seen.
Caliber Peak Hundredth Meridian (PF/Sarah Gomes) looked good going and was wide the first 10. She settled in thereafter, hunted well, handled but lost a step down the stretch and had no contacts with game. Blast Zone (SM/Thor Kain) also had his running shoes on. He looked good when seen but spent a lot of time at the end of his bell deep and left early. Stolgitis spotted a small pool of fresh blood on the trail and Kain asked for the retrieval device. The blood did come from Zone but nothing serious.
Texas Free Mason (SM/Ecker) hit the cover well but was wide at times the first half, though always showing in time. His bell fell silent at 28 but he started back up and continued on before he was located. Setter male Lester’s Jiggster was easy on the eyes but also wide at times and made Scott Forman work. Three grouse were moved at 18, and two more at 37 and 45, but neither dog was near and neither would connect today. Both worked hard down the stretch and finished strong.
Bud Of Piney Woods (PM/Ecker) moved nicely and was ambitious off the breakaway but settled in by 25. He looked good on point at 35. Nothing flew but woodcock splash was observed near the stand. He was industrious up the hill, handled well and Ecker elected to take him up near time. Grouse Hill Bullet Proof (SM/Forman) drove exceptionally hard, looked good going, but had periods where he put his handler to work. He worked hard around the course, wide at times for short periods, and finished strong and forward but without incident.
Snow fell overnight, perhaps two or three inches, just enough to be troublesome. Light snow fell periodically throughout day No. 4, but the bigger issue was the first bone-chilling temperatures of the season along with a stiff breeze.
Up first were Blast Off (SM/S. Forman) and Stokely’s Willie B (SM/ Tony Bly). Both moved nicely and worked the cover well. Blast ranged a bit wide a time or two the first half, though nothing too bad, while Willie handled kindly throughout. Both dogs were a pleasure to walk behind the second half; each worked hard at good range and handled kindly. It was, overall, an enjoyable brace, but neither dog connected.
Two setter males were up again on Deer Mountain, Shady Hills Whiskey Bonfire (S. Forman) and Stokely’s Willie B (Bly). Whiskey began with some big, forward and fancy going. Willie, according to his handler, was under the weather but started pretty strong nonetheless and ranged well, though tending to check back all the way. Bly elected to take him up near the half. Whiskey was beginning to shorten some by then, nothing too bad, but Forman took him up as well near the half.
Chasehill Baby Bella (PF/Stolgitis) offered a very good effort on Goldenrod. She charged hard, applied herself well in a forward manner and handled well to the finish, but with no game contacts. Double Deuce Molly (PF/Hughes) looked good and worked hard as well. She was, though, a bit of handful at times, lost to judgment near time.
Setter male Islander went on a distant search off the breakaway, was not seen again under judgment and Ecker asked for the retrieval unit at 23. Long Gone Juicy (SF/D. Hughes) offered an exemplary race. She charged hard, hit the cover well, was forward and handled kindly. She had the judges’ attention. Juicy looked good on point at 30 in likely cover, and fresh tracks were seen in the snow near the stand but no grouse. Her second half was also outstanding for ground work and she finished strong, but with no bird contacts.
A Game Winner (SM/D. Hughes) and Snyder’s Pioneer Scout (SM/T. Chaffee) were up on Moosehorn. Both dogs faced a tough challenge on this course and the snow added to the tough going. Scout’s bell stopped in thick cover just off the swamp at 20. Both Chaffee and her scout went in to search as the cover was thick there. After about two minutes of searching, the bell started up further along, no game seen. Game Winner battled through, keeping to the front and never off bell. Both finished, both, all in all, having done a good job. Again, while deadheading out, four grouse were seen; a single and a group of three.
Wayward Flying Tomato (SM/M. Hughes) and Chasehill Little Izzy (PF/Stolgitis) were the last brace of the fourth day on Ammonoosuc. Both dogs began hard charging and with good application. No game was seen in the bottom and both dogs handled kindly up the hill. Tomato slowed slightly the last 15 and was taken up at 55. Izzy was still as strong as at the start but with few chances to show on game left Stolgitis elected to pick up as well.
Day No. 5 began with temperatures around 10°, but it was calm and sunny. By afternoon things warmed to 34°.
Boston (PM/Ecker) and Duck Hook (PM/Stolgitis) were up first on Lonesome Ridge. Boston hustled throughout and moved well. A couple of spells where he seemed to prefer the pole timber to the cover were the only faults observed by the judges in his effort. He was forward, handled and finished strong. Hook looked good going, hunted hard and handled throughout. He stopped and posed up to the right at 45. No feathers flew but there were fresh grouse tracks in the snow. He finished strong. Neither dog connected today.
Leslie’s Silo Joe (SM/Marc Forman) worked hard, hunted well but did not reach. He was medium ranging and Forman took up near the half. Panola Bacon (PM/Stolgitis) impressed early with a strong stride and several big, searching, forward casts. He worked the cover well through the middle, occasionally lateral as the pace of the handler was driving forward, but Bacon charging and hunting. Birds had been a bit hard to come by and, wisely, Stolgitis was hoping to find one at the end of the course where no dog had yet been. The gamble paid off. Near time he was at the end of his bell when it fell silent in the distance. The search lead the party across a dirt access road to a thick stand of evergreen trees; perfect winter grouse cover. But the dog had been so far off that finding the dog in there would still be no easy task. Fortunately, the dog’s tracks were seen in the snow and followed they found the dog in short order and noted his intense, stylish stand. He looked great on point, and had a grouse neatly pinned. The grouse boiled out, Bacon’s manners were true. A great limb find! The dog was leashed immediately as it was several minutes past time.
Maximum Resistance (SM/Ecker) and Long Gone Mersadies (SF/D. Hughes) were up next on Goldenrod. Both set off strong. Not much was seen of Resistance after 15 and Ecker asked for the retrieval unit at 39. Mersadies had a very good first half. She drove hard, was fancy, hit the cover well and handled. She pointed at 22 forward and right in likely cover but nothing was home. She ranged increasingly wider as the heat progressed and Hughes requested the retrieval unit at 50.
Upper Ammonoosuc Violet (SF/ Ecker) did some good things and was fun to watch. She was a bit inconsistent though, mixing some showy big casts with a short one here and there. She punched well throughout. Violet looked good on point at 57. A grouse had been moved from there the day previous but nothing flew today. She finished well. Phillips Moonlight Lilly (SF/D. Hughes) did a fine job on the ground. She was fancy and fun to watch work. She pointed without results at 27. Lilly continued her fine effort the second half, finished strong, but without bird work.
Thornapple Cody (SM/Minard) was all bird dog. This dog hunted hard and though it was difficult for a dog to reach on this course, Cody ranged fairy well. He was searched for near the half and found pointing after six or seven minutes. He was intense and posed up nicely. Minard swung in and put a grouse to flight with dog showing faultless manners. Cody continued to work hard down the stretch and finished well. Suemac’s Sashay (PF/M. Hughes) was very fancy and handled well. She was generally in the pocket and hunted hard throughout. Sashay finished strong but with no bird work.
Anna Lake Sophie (SF/D. Hughes) set out ambitiously and looked good going. Quickly though she became a bit too ambitious, was out of pocket for several spells and Hughes took her up near the half. Bo Of Piney Woods (PM/Ecker) started with several nice forward swings where he crossed nicely at good range. He shortened some down the stretch (an injured pad may have played a role in this) but gamely finished the hour. No birds seen.
Day No. 6 began with temperatures in the mid 20s; they warmed to about 38°. Shady Hills Colt (Forman) and Warrior Zeke (M. Hughes), both pointer males, were up first and the brace did not last long. Colt did not set out strong and Forman leashed him early. Zeke was better for range but not better enough. Hughes hooked him at 10.
Ponderosa Mac (SM/S. Chaffee) offered a solid ground effort. He was strong and easy on the eyes. According to the judges, there were a few times where he did not reach to what the course allowed but he hunted every step. He pointed without results at 26. His bell fell silent again in the distance at 45. As they searched for the dog, Judge Benshoof spotted some grouse tracks in the snow and followed them. Then he heard a grouse flush and called to Chaffee. They went in together to where the grouse had flushed and there stood Mac. A nice piece of work. Mac finished strong. Sterlingworth Jack (SM/Ecker) offered a strong, hardworking sixty minutes. He hunted hard, came from behind a time or two, though nothing persistent, and had a few “stops” and starts, though no unproductives. It was a solid effort with a strong finish and no bird contacts.
I’ll Be Back (SM/M. Hughes) and Ruffed Grouse Lilly (SF/Paul Christopher) were up next on Goldenrod. Back wore a small bell, was hard to track at times as he was rangy. He was never out of touch for long periods and ran hard with a good hunting effort when seen. Back was strong to the finish but with no contacts. Lilly was fun to watch, worked well and at good range for the first 45. Thereafter she shortened a bit but continued with a good hunting effort and pace to the finish. Neither dog connected today with a grouse.
La Sombra (PM/D. Hughes) and Snyder’s Full Rage (SF/S. Chaffee) were loosed on the Pancake Course. Sombra was fancy, forward, but wide and out of touch at times through the middle, though never gone long enough to be counted out. He was strong throughout and finished well. Rage was fancy going and carried a strong pace. She generally did not reach to the limits, handled well, hunted hard and finished strong. Neither dog connected today.
Kendall Hills Dawson Creek (PM/ M. Hughes) and Hershner’s Thunderbolt Jet (SM/T. Chaffee) broke away on Moosehorn. Dawson worked hard, was wide at times with several short absences, but was hunting hard when seen. Hughes requested the retrieval unit at time. Jet had a very good first half on this difficult course. He hunted and worked the tight cover at a good pace. He lost a step the last 15 but never quit. Neither dog had a contact with game.
Mooselook Mac (SM/Little) and Rockland Ridge McGraw (SF/Ecker) comprised the last brace of day No. 6. Mac looked good and worked hard early. He was taken up near the half for failure to back. McGraw had a hardworking first half and was hunting the cover well. She pointed toward the Ammonoosuc River at 35. Her bracemate came in just then and flushed the grouse. McGraw took a small hop, the judges determined a “bobble,” and not enough to be ordered up. McGraw worked well up the hill and pointed another grouse at 50, all in order. She finished strong.
Both Hershner’s Grouse Gunner SM/S. Chaffee) and Upper Ammonoosuc Sadie (SF/Ecker) ran well in the open timber, shortened a bit around halfway. Gunner was a bit pathy early but got on track after about 15. Sadie hunted well and forward at a moderate pace but well applied and handling well. Gunner had a nice grouse find deep to the right as the course turns left along the river at 45, accomplished with fine style and manners. Sadie was forward at the time and Gunner came up to the forward group and hunted hard. Both dogs crossed the road, Gunner without handler or judge. Both then stopped, Sadie about 80 yards ahead of Gunner. Craig Doherty took over handler duties for Gunner. Judge Ralph was caught between dogs. He went with Sadie, which, as events transpired, had a grouse pointed and her manners flawless at the flush and shot. Nothing was seen for Gunner. Chaffee and Judge Benshoof arrived as the action concluded. Another minute or so and time was up.
Wild Apple Jonathon (PM/Doherty) and Double Deuce Dexter (PM/D. Hughes) did not go the distance. Both dogs started well enough but the races by that point in the trial were not clearing the high bar that had been set and both handlers took them up near the half.
Berlin, N. H., November 5
Judges: Bert Benshoof and Brian Ralph
GRAND NATIONAL GROUSE CHAMPIONSHIP [One-Hour Heats] —
36 Pointers and 42 Setters
Winner—TITANIUM’S HAMMER, pointer male, by Dateline Black List—Hifive’s Wrangler. Robert Leet, owner; Bruce Minard, handler.
Runner-Up—PANOLA BACON, pointer male, by Daddy’s Little Boy Butch—Richfield Rose. Mac Stidham, owner; John Stolgitis, handler.
News, Notes, Anecdotes
Dean Reinke was a gift to cover trials by Purina. He has now retired and, in honor of that occasion, was roasted by Auntie Henrietta, a local comedian. His replacement, Greg Blair, will have some big shoes to fill.
On Tuesday night, after the members meeting and the first day of the running, Tom Fruchey called an emergency meeting of all available directors.
Weather forecasts at the time were calling for up to eight inches of snow, which would certainly have delayed the running. The problem was that deer hunting season in New Hampshire was scheduled to begin the following week and no one wanted to be out in the woods with bird dogs alongside people shooting rifles. They came up with a contingency plan which, fortunately, never needed to be carried out because, while snow did fall Thursday and Friday, the amount was only two to three inches or so, and no delays in the trial resulted.
Judge Bert Benshoof wore a device that tracked steps. Through the six full days and one partial day of running, the device recorded over about 213,000 steps, figuring to roughly 101 miles walked by each judge.
Matt Mentz won the Grand National in 1999 with Seneca’s Autumn Reign and would judge the Grand National with Tim Tufts at Kilkenny in 2004.
He loved the sport and requested before his passing that portions of his ashes be spread at various cover trial venues. With a somber moment of silence, this was accomplished before brace No. 32 was loosed on Deer Mountain. He was far too young when he left us.