2014 Grand National Grouse & Woodcock Invitational
OXFORD, N. Y. — ‘The twenty-third Grouse and Woodcock Invitational Champion is River’s Edge Sadie,” proclaimed Invitational Secretary George Johnson to the large group of ardent grouse trialers on a brisk but sunny morning in rural Oxford, N. Y. A loud and lusty cheer went up for the setter female’s magnificent three day effort.
The announcement was the culmination of a full year’s work, much paperwork and behind the scenes work of the secretary to make this event run smoothly. The top 14 dogs are invited based on a points system of eligible trials (basically to be a points trial you must run on multiple courses, and wild birds). The winner and runner-up of the previous year’s Invitational receive an automatic invite, as does the winner of the Grand National Grouse Championship, leaving the remaining 11 slots. This year the owners of three dogs declined: the defending runner-up, Terhaar’s Elvis, whose owner was elected to judge; Chasehill Little Bud, who had to be scratched due to an injury; Denny Bloom’s Old Dollar. Every dog invited this year is a championship title-holder. It was a very good field of competitors.
Secretary Johnson (and his right hand woman, wife Shirley) have a load of work to do before the first dog is “turned loose”. In addition to maintaining the bank accounts for the Invitational (and he also is required to submit an annual financial report at each yearly board of directors meeting plus the general membership meeting), he must calculate all points, send and receive all invitations, submit all ads to The American Field, book accommodations for judges and trial officials, line up horses and appoint a stake manager. George also gets the dogs to the line, announces them, helps with lunches and dinners, road guards each brace, to name just a few of his duties. Considering he was handed a whopping $12.13 when he took over the Invitational, and now has it in the black with a several thousand dollar bank balance (hard to do with only 14 dogs). I think we in the wild bird game owe our secretary a “tip of the cap”.
We are very lucky to have the support of several very strong sponsors. Nestlé Purina’s continued support is immense to the Invitational. This year we had the smiling face of Pat Lamantia with us all three days as Purina’s rep at the event. Pat answered questions, was around for the whole event and was a welcome addition to the successful running.
Purina helps with advertising plus product support for all handlers as well as the winners, in addition to the handlers’ steak dinner on Wednesday night after the running. Thank you Nestlé Purina!
Garmin again came through big for us, with Warren Smith making sure we had a brand new Garmin product to give to the champion. Most of the cover dog folks use your good products in training. There was also a substantial monetary contribution, made anonymously, by a generous benefactor!
The grounds this year (we also ran here in 2011) were Hall of Fame member Dr. Tom Flanagan’s farm in Oxford, N. Y. Upstate New York is beautiful, mostly former and present farm country. Rolling hills and scenic farm scenes are everywhere. In addition, Cooperstown, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame, is located nearby. Several of us met there the day before the running to spend a few hours in this national baseball shrine.
This almost 3,000 acres of grouse and woodcock habitat is perfect for a multiple course wild bird trial. Each course has some “sweet spots” where the cover just screams out “Birds here”! Old orchards, reverting field edges and young growth cuttings all comprise part of this cover. Briars are prevalent in places as cover and food for grouse, but flushing in this can be painful, but usually fruitful. Visibility is good; you can see a dog run.
Peter Flanagan had all seven courses cleaned and marked, a remarkable feat as the snow was just (not everywhere yet) coming off. All seven courses are horse friendly and the mounts provided by the Flanagan family are up to the task of walking through mud, water, plus up and down slopes all day.
Peter has a crew of able assistants to help facilitate the actual running. Dog wagon drivers Bill Balin and Tommy Flanagan were on duty all three days. Mark Flanagan helped marshal as well as providing some additional horse flesh. Katie Flanagan was everywhere, providing appetizers for the draw at The White House, getting lunches ready daily at the historic Lost Pond clubhouse. Overseeing the steak fry, along with volunteer Chef Thom Richardson, who came over and helped all three days. Lake States director Roger Johnson came for his Puppy Classic judging assignment early to pitch in; he was a welcome addition out on the courses, marshalling and holding judges’ horses while they covered finds.
Paul Fuller was out walking most of the braces filming the event for an upcoming episode of his popular show, “Bird Dogs Afield”. Pete Flanagan, in addition to marshalling virtually every brace, coordinated the movement of the horse trailer between courses, got the dog wagon with the next brace of dogs to the right spots and generally took charge out “in the field” so all went smoothly, all day, every day. Thank you so much to Pete, Katie, all the Flanagans and folks who pitched in to make this a fun and enjoyable field trial.
Bird numbers were very good; most of the work was on ruffed grouse, although we did have the occasional woodcock pointed. Grouse were seen on every course.
The elected judges this year were Dave Terhaar of Allegan, Mich., and Mike Spotts of State College, Pa. This selection process is another of Secretary Johnson’s duties. All elected Grand National directors and officers receive a mailed nomination form. They are requested to submit a list of three persons to judge and three to report the coming year’s event. The list is compiled and resent for all to vote on. Judges Terhaar and Spotts were the top vote-getters, and both accepted this prestigious assignment. Both men have won national championship stakes on wild birds with dogs they have trained themselves. Both have judged national championship stakes. Both brought a positive attitude to their assignment, strengthened by their deep knowledge and experience in the wild bird arena. Both men worked well together, and their decision was logical and well received. It was a pleasure to have judges of this caliber judging this year’s event!
River’s Edge Sadie, tricolor setter female, ran in the fourth brace on day No. 1 on the Hermit’s House course, braced with Rocky Point Lilly which won the New England Open Grouse Championship last fall in Kilkenny to receive her invitation. Sadie was named runner-up in the Michigan Cover Dog Championship to earn her invitation.
Sadie and Lilly broke big and fast to the front. Sadie settled in and ran a beautiful race, forward, big and strong, hunting every bit of cover, with minimal handling by Marc Forman. Lilly, small but fast and fancy setter female, was a handful. She was out of hearing by 15, back at 29. We heard her a little at 34 and she threw in a back at 52. It was a bullish hour that had her handler, Dave Hughes, working hard.
Sadie’s bell stopped on the edge of an old field at 49 but it took a bit to locate her. When found she looked very good, head and tail elevated pointing deeper into the woods which was comprised of a large white pine. As Marc was flushing he broke off a branch and threw it in an area in front of him that looked promising, and out roared an adult grouse to our collective surprise. “I’ve never had that work before!” Marc exclaimed.
Personally, I’ve seen it done a lot, but never producing anything. We put up another grouse on the left of the course at 56. Sadie finished dead forward and powerful to complete an impressive first day effort.
Day No. 2 found Sadie in brace No. 3 paired with Full Blast on the course that breaks away behind the old Grouse Ridge Kennels, and picks up at the burnt house. Full Blast, good size white and orange setter male, earned his way here by winning the Michigan Woodcock Championship and runner-up in the Pennsylvania Grouse Championship. (He won the 2014 Seminatore and 2014 Harnden Foster Awards for his accomplishments). Jeb, as he is called, is owned by the winning team of Brenneman and Watts of Port Matilda, Pa. Jeb ran strong and large in the first half, particularly his breakaway in the first field was very attractive showing good foot speed and a high cracking tail.
Although Jeb’s casts were big and full they tended to bring him in from behind, with this the case at 10, 16 and 23. Jeb pointed at 33 and was relocated; no bird was at home. Judge Spotts informed that he missed a back at 31 and did not finish with the same spark and sizzle with which he started.
Sadie, which is barrel chested and strongly gaited, took off on day No. 2 like she finished on day No. 1, big, forward and hunting. She carded a mannerly stop to flush on a grouse at 24 on the right of the course in a big briar patch in an old orchard. This grouse flew over all of our heads. Sadie was stopped quite awhile, ahead, slightly left, standing partially on the course in a small patch of tangles with water everywhere. Handler Forman called “Point!” when he spied her standing with outstanding style. It was at this point that Jeb went by and failed to honor. Marc excitedly called the woodcock running around in front of his dog, and it finally flushed, with shot following quickly with all in order. A very impressive piece of work. This course offers several opportunities to show some heels in pole timber, both early in the hour and later, and she cashed in on these opportunities, showing great strength while reaching for more good cover to hunt, another very strong hour on the ground. Two additional grouse got up wild at 56 with no dogs nearby.
At the conclusion of the running on day No. 2 Secretary Johnson announced from the porch area at The White House, “The judges would like to see the following dogs tomorrow morning beginning at 8:00 a. m. The order of callback means nothing. On course No. 3 (old kennel), High Dessert Dream (Scott Forman) with Moss Meadow Traveler (Scott Chaffee); on course No. 2 (pond by Pete’s), River’s Edge Sadie with Grouse Ridge Force (Dave Hughes).”
River’s Edge Sadie flew off the breakaway on day No. 3 on a mission, fast, driving yet, as always, hunting and looking for birds. At this point it was her Invitational to win. Sadie’s first two days had been a clinic on how a grouse trial dog should apply itself. Sadie had bird work, on both kinds of birds, on day No. 1 and day No. 2, and her races were unrelenting in application, never wavering in pace or range. All she had to do was finish day No. 3 with a good race and she would be the 2014 Invitational Champion. She did NOT need more bird work. Apparently no one told Sadie because at 19 deep on the left, next to a big blow down, stood Sadie. It took several moments to find her but when spotted she was breathtaking on point! Marc began to flush and a grouse rumbled out the other side, Sadie holding her ground for the flush and shot, logging another remarkable find for the judges’ books. Sadie finished her day No. 3 hour going away, big (she was scouted near time but came on), strong and driving, yet, in the good cover and hunting, she seemed to me to be fresh.
I have had the pleasure of seeing many of the great Invitational performances over the years, including the inaugural in 1991 when Ch. Stillmeadow’s Benjamin just out birded us all in Gladwin, Mich. I saw multiple Invitational champion Elhew Cassie’s win in Marienville in 1995 and multiple Invitational champion Centerfold Rose’s magnificent three-day effort in 2001. Ch. Cracklin Tail Speed, Ch. Texas Copper Top, Ch. Terhaar’s Elvis, Ch. Elhew Hustler, Ch. Paucek’s Tommyknocker, Ch. Sunkhaze Fast Break, Ch. Wintergreen Max and last year’s Ch. Straight Forward were all great winners that I have seen as reporter or judge.
This year’s champion, River’s Edge Sadie’s, three-day performance ranks up there with the one of the best . As “Doc” Harold Holmes, the owner of the only three-time Invitational champion, the great Centerfold Rose, so sagely points out, “You can’t hide the warts,” meaning, if the dog has a hole, it will be revealed in three days.
River’s Edge Sadie is by Shady Hills Billy out of Forward Loop Lefty. Sadie is owned by Pat and Lynn Cook of Rochester, N. Y. Sadie is a grouse trial dog of the first order and has four (now five) championship placements to her credit, this being the most prestigious.
Runner-up Grouse Ridge Force drew course No. 5 or “Luther’s” on day No. 1. We call it “Luther’s” because Hall of Fame member and legendary grouse dog trainer Luther Smith lived in the house near where we break away. Pete Flanagan showed me an old rusted barrel in the woods that Luther kept grain in to keep released quail in the area. Force was braced with Shady Hills Billie Too (Marc Forman). Billie Too earned his invitation by winning the Lake States Grouse Championship. Billie is a hard driving white and black setter male with good carriage running and pointing.
Three deer flew across the course ahead of us at 5 but no dogs were involved. Billie pointed at 26 on the field edge where we would see several grouse the next day, but none were home today. Force backed this work. Billie pointed again at 38 and 44 but no feathers were flown.
Force, tricolor strongly built setter male, earned his way here by winning the Empire Grouse Championship, with work on both grouse and woodcock in the spring of 2013. This was a remarkable win as the dog was only run twice all spring, in workouts, and roaded some, as Pete was in New York City most of the winter fighting cancer (which we are happy to report he is free of!).
Force ran a comfortable, forward, easy handling race on day No. 1. Force pointed at 12 in the old orchard by an ancient stone wall but it proved unproductive. Force stopped again in a small pocket of cover in a series of larger fields. A woodcock flew at Dave’s approach, all in order for the flush and shot. His pointing style is pleasing as is his running style. Force finished his hour fine, hunting and handling forward. We put up a woodcock wild at 51.
Day No. 2 found Force on course No. 6 that breaks away behind the big barn. Force was braced with Dr. Gus Piperis’ High Desert Dream. Jade, as this fancy running white and liver pointer female is called, earned her way to this Invitational by winning the New York Open Grouse Championship. Both dogs were running forward and driving, yet handling. Force stopped on the right of the course at 48. Dave approached a large thicket with Judge Spotts, a grouse exiting the far end of the briar patch. Judge Terhaar yelled for him to shoot, Force fine for the flush and shot. Another grouse was put up wild shortly after this work also.
Jade stopped at 59 on a side hill to the right of the course in sparse cover. We could all see her standing proudly, facing away from us. Scott began to flush rather wide as it looked like the only decent cover to hold a grouse, but at this point the grouse exploded right in front of Jade which held her ground nicely, with shot being fired quickly. This was a great piece of work coupled with her exciting race earned her day dog for day No. 2. Force pointed also on the left of the course at the end of the hour but this proved unproductive.
The day No. 3 finals saw Force braced with River’s Edge Sadie. Force had pointed birds on day No. 1 and day No. 2, had run good races each day with perhaps his biggest strength being they seemed to get better each day, which is what an endurance stake is meant to test. Force had demonstrated good bird-finding skills, finding and handling both grouse and woodcock. Force got stronger each day on the ground, and had delivered a solid three-day performance. Grouse Ridge Force was a very worthy runner-up.
Force is by Ch. Grouse Ridge Spencer out of Grouse Ridge Jugs. Force has wins from horseback as well as walking trials. Force does not run your scream at, pull and tug kind of race. Force keeps his handler in mind while hunting, and has what Pete Flanagan calls “come back”, or a desire to come and look up his handler, a very desirable trait that some say we are losing. Force will be in next year’s Invitational in Pennsylvania as a result of this win.
DAY NO. ONE
Herbie’s Asta La Vista (S. Forman), tricolor setter female, ran a very good race here in the first brace of day No. 1, on the No. 1 course that breaks away about a half mile below Pete’s house, off of the tar road. We were away by 7:10 a. m. with a huge gallery ready to walk. (Actually 20 minutes early; Dick Brenneman would have been proud!) This was the only brace in the trial we did not see birds on. Ice was still on the water hole. Asta earned her way here by winning runner-up in the Michigan Woodcock Championship. Today she had backs at 25, 32, 52 and 55. Straight Forward (Hughes), the defending champion, is a white and orange hard going setter female. Cracker, as she is called, was here by virtue of her win last year, thus an automatic invitee. Today the Brenneman-Watts owned charge got smitten with the unproductive bug and suffered unproductives at 25 on splash, 34, 52 and 55. Cracker ran hard, as always.
High Desert Dream (S. Forman) and Jonesy’s Rebel Revenge (Shaffer) were away in the big field below Pete’s with the big pond on our left, going right into an old orchard and some great grouse cover. Jade, as Dream is called, ran a wonderful race, fast, smooth and generally big, yet under control. Jade’s owner, Dr. Gus, was in the gallery cheering her on. Grouse got up wild at 13 and 16 (the latter one flew over Judge Spotts’ head), but Jade did not connect today. Annie, as Revenge is called, ran a more moderate race. This tricolor setter female is coming off a big litter of pups and it seems to have had its effect, yet she gutted it out and never wavered in her effort. Annie, with Virginia pro Bruce Shaffer at the controls, pointed at 11 on the left of the course with magnificent style. Bruce flushed everywhere, then moved her, yet no birds were flown. Annie pointed again at 46 on a side hill, again looking great, this time the grouse flew and shot was fired, all good. Both dogs finished hunting fine in the old orchard. We all went to coffee and donut time now at the Lost Pond clubhouse.
Suemac’s Coventry (Hughes) and Chip’s Charlie Brown (S. Forman). Course No. 3 breaks away behind the old Grouse Ridge Kennels and picks up at the old burnt house. Covey, fancy white and liver pointer female, earned her invite by winning the Pennsylvania Grouse Championship. Covey is owned by Dr. Roger and Sue McPherson. By now the morning had turned into a beautiful sunny day with a light breeze, with temperatures in the 50s. Covey was running a very good race when she stopped on the left on side hill at 14 in old grape tangles and ancient apple trees, with great style. Dave flushed everywhere but this proved unproductive. Covey stopped again at 48 very deep left along a field edge in a wet spot with woodcock splash evident everywhere, but again unproductive. Charlie was running a big but not always forward race. Charlie won his invitation by being named runner-up in the New England Open Grouse Championship in Kilkenny last fall. Scott was working hard to keep the white and orange setter male forward, and for the most part was successful. Charlie stopped at 27 on the left. We all heard him stop yet it took us a minute or two to find him, pointing away from us into a briar thicket. At our approach the grouse roared out and shot was fired, all in order. Paul Fuller, filming for his show, “Bird Dogs Afield,” got this one I believe. We put up a woodcock wild at 33 on the left and a grouse wild at 57. Both dogs finished strong.
Rocky Point Lilly (Hughes) and River’s Edge Sadie (M. Forman). Course No. 4 is the Hermit’s House Course (and yes, there is a hermit in the house that we pass at about 15). Lilly, smallish white and black setter female, is an eyeful, fast and snappy with a big engine. Lilly received her invitation by winning the New England Open Grouse Championship in New Hampshire. Lilly had the “pedal to the metal today” and ran a big but unruly hour with Dave working very hard to keep her with him. Lilly took a bender from 14 to 35 (where we only heard her) but she did back her bracemate mannerly at 52. Sadie was a model of grouse hunting, forward, strong and “in the pocket”, had a grouse find at 52 and finished strong.
We repaired to the historic Lost Pond clubhouse where Katie Flanagan and Thom Richardson had a wonderful luncheon buffet set up.
Shady Hills Billie Too (M. Forman) and Grouse Ridge Force (Hughes). Course No. 5 began next to Luther’s house. This brace has been reported.
Upper Cove Desert Devil (M. Forman) and Moss Meadow Traveler (Chaffee) broke away behind the big barn and after the field crossing goes into some great cover. Grumpy, as Devil is called, is a hard going tricolor setter male. Grumpy earned his way here by being named runner-up in the Lake States. Today he ran hard, handled great and was rewarded with a good grouse find at 59. Traveler, also a tricolor setter male, was here by virtue of his Grand National win last November in Kilkenny. Trav, as he is called, ran a strong race. Trav was scouted at 14 deep on the right and when found, the grouse was there. Pete Flanagan marshalled them forward as they had gotten far behind because of this work. Trav made a big move to the deep right in pole timber at this point with scout Tammy Chaffee being dispatched. Scott decided he needed to look also, so we all went in search of the big setter. Several minutes later Tammy yelled, “Get on him,” and Scott got him back in the pocket to the fore. This cast was reminiscent of his final cast in Kilkenny last fall when he won the Grand. Traveler backed Grumpy’s grouse find at 59. Traveler was named “Day Dog” at the Purina dinner that evening in the Lost Pond clubhouse.
Old Glory Red (Parsons) and Full Blast (Hughes). Austin Parsons, owner of Red, extremely fast tricolor setter female, drove 18 hours from Nova Scotia to compete with his champion. Austin was notified only two days before the draw that Red was invited when Chasehill Little Bud came up injured and was scratched. Red earned her invitation by winning the International Amateur Woodcock Championship in Debec, New Brunswick. The No. 7 course breaks across a field with good cover on both sides, and picks up below the Lost Pond clubhouse. Red ran a good race, pointed at 24 with outstanding posture but Austin could not make it fly. Red finished fine. We put up grouse at 16 and 59. Full Blast broke away big, strong and very animated. He was an eyeful! Jeb hunted the whole course, yet a stand at 40 in likely cover was his only stop. At the end of the day’s running we all retired to the Lost Pond clubhouse for the steak dinner being readied by Katie Flanagan and Chef Thom Richardson.
DAY NO. TWO
Moss Meadow Traveler (Chaffee) and Rocky Point Lilly (Hughes) were away at 7:24 a. m., again a very cool morning, in fact the bells were freezing up, with Scott cleaning Trav’s bell several times. Traveler stopped on the left at 19; he looked good. Scott asked him to move. He wouldn’t so the flushing attempt began, with a woodcock whistling away with a lot of bantering following the shot. Traveler stopped again at 44, same place as Straight Forward did the day before; no bird was produced. Traveler finished hunting in the pole timber and old stone walls at the end of this course. Lilly, diminutive speed demon, kind of picked up where she left off the day before, big, ragged yet hunting. Dave worked hard to keep her with him. After Travelers’ find at 19, another woodcock got up deeper in the cover, and moments later Lilly’s bell started up. She had been pointing this bird for awhile. Lilly was with us in the forward party briefly but again she went out of hearing, with Pete Flanagan picking her up at 42 way off course, with judicial permission.
The bright sunny morning continued as we loosed Upper Cover Devil (M. Forman) and Suemac’s Coventry (Hughes). Devil ran a big, hard hunting effort, which has become his trademark, but he did not score today. A grouse got up wild at 11 on the left under apple trees. Covey was running big early and was scouted at 6 and 13. At 17 on the right she pointed looking very good. Dave flushed, then asked her to relocate. In the process the grouse got up, with Covey trying for a closer look. She was picked up by her handler.
Full Blast and River’s Edge Sadie have been reported.
It was getting windy and warm.
Old Glory Red (Parsons) had a good gash on her stomach but she still went hard for the hour. Red pointed in thick briars at 19 on the left behind the hermit’s house, unproductive. It is very hard to flush in there. Red’s two-day effort was very good. Straight Forward (Hughes) also stopped in thick briars at 21 on the left; this was unproductive also. Cracker was found pointing under power lines at 39. Dave flushed everywhere, and then asked her to relocate, which she did crisply. As he was flushing Judge Terhaar’s horse put up the woodcock, all in order for the flush and shot. Cracker stopped on the left at 50 but corrected. Cracker was scouted and found at 58, almost on the shore line of Lost Pond but no bird was produced.
Jonesy’s Rebel Revenge (Shaffer) ran another hard hunting hour. Two grouse got up wild at 25 on the right. Revenge and Chip’s Charlie Brown (S. Forman) were found in good cover at 43 with both handlers flushing; this proved unproductive. Charlie stopped again at 48 on the deep left, with woodcock being produced. Charlie ran hard, although not always forward for the hour. He was stopped in open field at 34, low stationed, and Scott simply tapped him on. Revenge backed this work but also moved on. Judges did not penalize her for this.
Grouse Ridge Force and High Desert Dream have been reported.
Herbie’s Asta La Vista (S. Forman) stopped at 15 but was moved on. Scott picked her up at 18 as he felt she was not punching enough. I personally am a big fan of Asta’s. I saw her place in the Grouse Puppy Classic here in 2011, and have seen her in several grouse championships where she acquitted herself well. Asta has a bright future. Shady Hill’s Billie Too was also not pleasing Marc Forman today and was picked up at 31.
We retired to “The White House” for the announcement.
Oxford, N. Y., April 9
Judges: Mike Spotts and Dave Terhaar
GRAND NATIONAL GROUSE AND WOODCOCK INVITATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP [One-Hour Heats on Two Consecutive Days;
One-Hour Finals] — 2 Pointers and 12 Setters
Winner—RIVER’S EDGE SADIE, 1594508, setter female, by Shady Hills Billy—Forward Loop Lefty. Pat D. Cooke, owner; Marc Forman, handler.
Runner-Up—GROUSE RIDGE FORCE, 1622145, setter male, by Grouse Ridge Spencer—Grouse Ridge Jugs. Grouse Ridge Kennels, owner; Dave Hughes, handler.