2016 Grand National Grouse and Woodcock Invitational Championship

Championship Winners. From left: Bryan Wood, Grouse Hill Bell with John Stolgitis, John Capocci, Mike Singleton, Jerry Kolter, judge; Harold (Doc) Holmes with Centerfold Bette, Joe Dahl, judge, and George Johnson.

GLADWIN, MICH. — On April 13-15 it wasn’t Barnum and Bailey that had the greatest show on earth, it was the 26th running of the Grand National Grouse and Woodcock Invitational at the historic Gladwin Field Trial grounds, this year celebrating its 100th anniversary of running trials on these hallowed grounds.

But it was no three ring circus because it was hosted by the very efficient Beaverton Grouse Dog Club and its many members and volunteers. Under the watchful eyes of George Johnson, secretary-treasurer, and sponsored by our friends from Purina and Garmin, we were blessed to have two of the best grouse dog judges in the country. Joe Dahl of Bangor, Me., and Jerry Kolter of Sandstone, Minn., traveled to Michigan to determine a winner in this very talented and competitive field.

This is a must-see stake for anyone wanting to know what it takes to compete at the highest level. With 14 of the best grouse dogs and handlers in the country, based on their performances and accomplishments from last year, nine setters and five pointers competed over three days on these premium grouse grounds.

The contestants were: Henry of Ferguson, owned by Thomas Eberle and handled by Lance Bressler; Bud of Piney Woods, owned by Richard E. Warters and handled by Robert Ecker; Grouse Trails Pride, owned and handled by John McKellop III; Grouse Hill Bell, owned by John Capocci and handled by John Stolgitis; Centerfold Bette, owned and handled by Harold Holmes; Upper Cove Billie Babe, owned by John Capocci and handled by Marc Forman; Chasehill Baby Bella, owned by Erin Stolgitis and handled by John Stolgitis; Straight Forward, owned by Richard Brenneman and handled by Dave Hughes; Grouse Ridge Sarge, owned by George and Shirley Johnson and handled by Dave Hughes; Ponderosa Mac, owned by Bruce Cartwright and handled by Scott Chaffee; Hypointe Left Turn, owned by Jeremiah Watson and handled by Scott Chaffee; Full Blast, owned by Richard Brenneman and handled by Dave Hughes; Woodcock Haven Stella, owned by Russell Ogilvie and handled by John Stolgitis; and Call Me Maggie, owned and handled by Craig Merlington.

The grounds, as they have been described many times, with streams, lakes, beaver ponds, swamps, thickets and cuts came through the winter well. The only change from last fall was on course No. 13, which had to be rerouted due to a 200-acre cut by the Michigan DNR. Our local biologist Bruce Barlow oversees all of this as part of our continuous improvement program. In about four or five years, handlers who draw course No. 13 will have a big smile on their faces.

The birds also fared well with good numbers being moved all spring. Only the slow and foolish were eliminated by the fox, coyotes and hawks this winter, leaving only the wise and wily. All of this led to a great test for the dogs, with the birds winning some and the dogs winning some, as it should be.

Summer came early to Gladwin when March had temperatures reaching into the 70s and left us wondering if it would be too hot to run spring trials.

Winter returned in April and dumped a foot of snow on Gladwin. As the first brace broke away on Wednesday, the temperature was 17° and we were walking through six inches of snow; by Friday, the temperature had risen to 80°.

But that didn’t stop the dogs from putting on a great show: 13 out of the 14 dogs had clean bird work the first day.

Large galleries followed every brace.

Day No. 1 started out on course No. 7 with Robert Ecker having a bird at 3, leaving him feeling pretty good early. But by the end of the day as stated earlier 13 of the 14 dogs had clean bird work, 42 birds moved with 21 pointed. Call Me Maggie took first day honors and was named dog of the day with four woodcock finds and a nice ground race. I looked at one of the veteran handlers and said with this many talented dogs how are they going to pick a winner? He winked and said, “Don’t worry, this is a three day trial and they will sort themselves out”, and he would be right.

Day No. 2 saw temperatures similar to day No. 1 with the humidity dropping to the low 30s making it more difficult for the dogs to pin down the birds. We still had eight dogs with clean bird work and 26 birds moved, with 13 birds pointed. Grouse Hill Bell took second day honors and was named dog of the day with a grouse find and a nice race.

At the end of day No. 2, the judges named four callback dogs for day No. 3: Call Me Maggie (Merlington), Hypointe Left Turn (Chaffee), Centerfold Bette (Holmes) and Grouse Hill Bell (Stolgitis). In reserve were Upper Cove Billie Babe (S. Forman) and Ponderosa Mac (Chaffee). Their plans were to put Maggie and Lefty on course No. 9-10 hoping to get a better look at their ground application, and Bell and Bette on course No. 11-12, hoping to see some additional bird work. But to their surprise the birds were everywhere and the action was fast and furious, with twelve birds coming into play on the two courses.

When the dust had settled after three days of running, the whistle blew at Alibi Hall with a large crowd on hand. With a great deal of anticipation, because all dogs performed well and all dogs did something that could have changed the outcome. It was fun to listen to all the speculation with someone certain each one of the dogs had won. George Johnson ended the speculation and made the announcement: Grouse Hill Bell (John Stolgitis) was the winner of the Grouse and Woodcock Invitational Championship and Centerfold Bette (Holmes) was the runner-up.

Thursday night was our dinner. Our resident chef Ken Moss prepared his signature steak dinner with help from Mary Moss, Marlene Fruchey, Denise Peters and Norma Johnson. Over 60 diners raved about the meal.


The running started Wednesday, April 13, on course No. 7 at 9:00 a. m., giving the snow an extra hour to soften, with overcast skies and no wind.

Brace No. 1 featured Bud of Piney Woods (Ecker) and Henry of Ferguson (Bressler) on courses 7-8. The dogs headed to the front. Course No. 7 features a large valley on the left with a nice six-year-old cutting often holding woodcock. Today would be no exception. Bud’s bell went silent at 3; Bob knew right where to look and quickly located the dog which stood nicely as two woodcock took flight and shot was fired. Bob quickly caught back up with Lance. Dogs continued to move forward until 40 when both bells went silent to the left. A quick search found them standing, Henry pointing, Bud backing. No bird could be raised; both dogs were moved on and ran comfortably until Henry’s bell went silent. Lance located the dog standing to the right and moved in to see a grouse take flight, manners proper throughout. Both dogs finished strong to the front, leaving both handlers feeling pretty good about day No. 1.

Grouse Trails Pride ( McKellop) and Grouse Hill Bell (Stolgitis), down on courses No. 9-10, released in the cut at the start of No. 9 which often holds birds. That wouldn’t be the case today as both dogs moved through with no bird contact. Dogs covered the middle and more open part of the course, staying to the front and moving strongly. At 25 Bell took a stand. Despite John’s best effort no birds could be moved. At 29 both bells went silent; a quick search found the pair pointing each other. Handlers took one look and decided to move them on without flushing. Both pointers ran nicely for the next 20 minutes until Bell’s bell went silent again at 52. John had a good line on her and located her standing to the left. A quick flush produced a woodcock. Shot was fired and manners were proper. Dogs were both forward with two minutes left when both bells went silent. The dogs were located with Pride standing and Bell backing. Handlers moved in and a woodcock lifted, shot was fired, all was well. Time had expired so both dogs were leashed, with both handlers feeling pretty good again. A note in one of the judge’s books under Bell read “nice race”.

Centerfold Bette (Holmes) and Upper Cove Billie Babe (Forman) on course No. 11-12. Both are large running dogs and today would be no exception. The start of No. 11 features a large beaver pond with large swamps on either side. Handlers must keep dogs forward, not allowing them to swing wide early. The dogs navigated through the swamps. Upon exiting, Bette’s bell went silent at 12. Doc located her in a thicket just to the right of the path. A quick flushing attempt produced a woodcock. Bette stood nicely throughout. Doc moved back to the front quickly to join Marc, where both dogs ran strongly ahead for the next 15 minutes. At 27 Belle’s bell went silent again; this time no bird could be moved. At 36, for the third time, Bette’s bell went silent with better luck this time. A flush produced a woodcock and all was well again. We hustled to catch up where Billie was running a nice ground race, continuing to make nice forward casts and running hard. It was getting late in the heat and Marc was getting concerned that a nice ground race could go to waste. His prayers were answered at 56 when Billie’s bell went silent. The boys located the dog to the left and were able to flush a woodcock, manners proper. Marc moved the dog on with time running short. Two minutes later Billie struck gold, pinning a grouse nicely, manners proper. Dogs were leashed and Marc gave a sigh of relief. Again both handlers were comfortable with their dogs’ performances.

Straight Forward (Hughes) and Chase Hill Baby Bella (Stolgitis) competed on course No. 13-14. Course No. 13 is the one we had to reroute this spring. The first part is fairly wide open, but this didn’t stop us from flushing a couple of grouse in that section on Thursday. Handlers knew to move through this section quickly and get to the more productive cover. This was Bella’s first time to Michigan and I believe she wanted to see all 5,000 acres. She put on her P F Flyers and made her best effort today. She’s a beautiful moving pointer, but I don’t believe the judges got to see enough of her today. On the other hand, Straight Forward ran a nice race, hitting all the likely stops and handling well. She stood at 42 and had a woodcock pinned nicely; shot was fired and all was well. She finished the hour strong and forward. Note in judge’s book, “nice even race”.

Grouse Ridge Sarge (Hughes) and Ponderosa Mac (Chaffee) on course No. 1-2. Course No. 1 features a swamp along the right side for the first 20 minutes. This is where the grouse normally winter but with the early warm weather they had already moved to the nesting grounds. Dogs were released and dove right into the swamp. Mac struck quickly at 3 and had a nice woodcock find. Both dogs continued to dart in and out of the swamp until Mac stood again at 19. Scott moved in and flushed another woodcock. While this was happening Sarge went on point but no bird could be moved. Both dogs moved on until the creek just before the road where Mac pointed for the third time. Scott flushed and Mac carded his third woodcock. Moving on to course No. 2 Sarge finally hit paydirt at 46 in the cutting to the left. Dave quickly located the dog and flushed a woodcock, manners proper. Sarge finished the last 15 with a couple of unproductives. Both handlers felt good going into tomorrow.

Hypointe Left Turn (Chaffee) and Full Blast (Hughes) on course No. 3a-3b. Course No. 3 starts in a nice cutting that holds a lot of birds in the fall but they didn’t seem to be there this spring. Both dogs moved through the cutting nicely and Lefty had a stand at 19 in a likely spot but no bird could be moved. I’ve watched “Jeb” run several times; he is truly an outstanding dog, but today was not be his day. He came from behind several times and did not really settle in, although he carded a woodcock at 36 and a stop to flush at 57. Lefty ran a nice forward race and finally got into some birds on course No. 3b. Lefty took a stand at 51 and no bird was moved. He was moved on and at 57 his hard work finally paid off. He was credited with a nice woodcock find, which left Scott feeling a little better about the day.

Woodcock Haven Stella (Stolgitis) and Call Me Maggie (Merlington), No. 5-6. Course No. 5 is a handler favorite, often producing a lot of woodcock. Dogs were released atop the hill and quickly turned right toward the road. Just across the road is where you usually run into the woodcock, but not the case today. Shortly after the cutting, Maggie pointed but no bird could be moved. At 19 Stella was credited with a stop to flush on a grouse. At 20 Maggie pointed again, credited here with a woodcock. When we got to course No. 6 the action hit its peak. At 40 Maggie pointed for the third time and had another woodcock pinned. At 44 judges felt Stella got too close and bumped a bird. Maggie struck again at 51, her third woodcock. With just a few seconds left Maggie’s bell went silent where she had her fourth woodcock find. Craig had a big smile on his face and for good reason. Maggie’s effort earned her dog of the day.


The second day started with similar conditions, but the humidity had dropped to the low 30s and made it more difficult to find the birds.

Woodcock Haven Stella (Stolgitis) and Full Blast (Hughes), courses No. 7-8. Both dogs had a bad day, Stella continuing her scenic tour and being picked up. “Jeb” finished with no bird contact and not his best race.

Hypointe Left Turn (Chaffee) and Grouse Ridge Sarge (Hughes), courses No. 9-10. Lefty had a better day on the ground than he did the first day. Note in judge’s book: “finished strong”. He pinned a grouse at 24 with very high pointing style. At the end of course No. 9 at 33 he scored again, a woodcock. Moving forward he stood again at 39 where no bird could be moved. He was sent to relocate which he handled perfectly, scoring a woodcock. His performance this day would earn him a place in the finals. Sarge ran a nice race, scoring a woodcock right off the breakaway at 3. She moved comfortably through the woods until 32 when she pointed; no bird was moved. She finished with a woodcock at 55, leaving handler with hope for a callback, but that would not be the case.

Ponderosa Mac (Chaffee) and Call Me Maggie (Merlington), course No. 11-12, would lead to an interesting day. Maggie is a stylish, hard running female. She quickly settled in and pointed at 18 but suffered an unproductive. At 22 she stood again scoring a woodcock. At 32 she pointed in a likely spot but suffered another unproductive. Craig moved her on and she quickly pointed again, Craig hoping this was the bird she scented the first time, but it would be a no go. Two minutes later she stood again. Craig knew this could be the title slipping away, made a thorough flushing effort with no luck. Moving her forward Maggie started her redemption effort. First at 44 with a woodcock and again at 54 with a grouse and finally a back at 59. Her first and second day efforts reserved her a place in the finals. Mac, coming off a good first day on the ground, ran much rougher this day. Note in judges book: “wide and rough”. But this didn’t stop him from having a nice grouse find at 45 and a stop to flush at 59. His performance earned him a reserve callback.

Bud of Piney Woods (Ecker) and Upper Cove Billie Babe (Forman). Courses No. 13-14 were our least productive. Despite both dogs’ best efforts neither could come up with a bird, which at this point and time in this stake was critical. Billie ran nicely again and with a bird the first day earned a reserve callback.

Grouse Ridge Bella (Stolgitis) and Straight Forward (Hughes), course No. 1-2. Bella had a nice first day and followed it with a better day. She ran strong and forward all day, with an unproductive at 15. At 30 just before crossing the road she stood in the ditch to the left. John moved in and a grouse moved out. She finished on course No. 2 with the same pace she started with. Note in judge’s book: “very strong”, which would earn her dog of the day. “Cracker” had a nice first half; her bell went silent at 25. Dave and his scout went looking as I moved forward with Bella. Ten minutes later she showed up in front. Dave was still far behind and took almost until time to catch up. Unfortunately, this didn’t give the judges much to see and affected her chances of moving on.

Henry of Ferguson (Bressler) and Chase Hill Baby Bella, course No. 3a-3b. Bella didn’t have a good day with John deciding to pick her up at 25 when he couldn’t locate her on top of the big hill on course No. 3. Henry desperately needed some bird work to get him some consideration but was unable to locate any. He ran a nice race and finished strong but wouldn’t be moving on.

Centerfold Bette (Holmes) and Grouse Trails Pride (McKellop), courses No. 5-6. Bette, coming off a very strong performance on the first day, had a very good first half. She stood at 13 and was credited with a woodcock find while Pride backed. They both moved nicely through course No. 3a but Bette put in her ear plugs for the second half, making Doc pretty nervous about his chances for the finals. But based on her performance the first day and the first half of the second day the judges moved her on for the finals. I moved forward with Pride which continued to run a nice race but just needed another bird to put her into consideration.


Temperatures had warmed up the previous afternoon and melted most of the snow. The thermometer rose to 80° and put the grouse back on the ground and made for an exciting finals.

With a large gallery following, Call Me Maggie and Hypointe Left Turn, on courses No. 9-10, were turned loose at 8:15. Both headed to the front and the action started quickly and lasted the whole hour. Lefty took a stand at 4 but no bird could be moved. Maggie pointed at 9 and again no bird. Not the start either handler was looking for. At 20 Maggie’s bell went silent and was quickly located to the left of the trail. Craig moved in and a grouse lifted; a few seconds later a second grouse took flight. Note on judge’s book: “dog moved on second bird”. At 25 Lefty was found standing. When no bird was moved he was sent forward. He quickly located a woodcock and was credited with a nice relocation. At the same time Maggie pointed to the right and scored a woodcock. Both dogs moved nicely through the woods until 42 when Lefty was credited with a stop to flush and Maggie with a back. Nearing the end of the course Maggie stood again. Craig moved in and a grouse busted out. At 52 Lefty pointed to the left again with Maggie backing. Scott could not move a bird. Sending the dog on, he took three bounds and stopped again. A woodcock was flushed and Lefty was credited with another relocation. Shortly thereafter time was called and dogs were leashed. Giving both handlers time to take a deep breath and ponder what had just transpired in the last hour.

Centerfold Bette and Grouse Hill Bell, courses No. 11-12. were released at 9:30 with the same large gallery plus two very interested handlers. Both dogs headed to the front and again didn’t take long for the action to start. These are two large running dogs and it still amazes me that handlers are able to know exactly when and where their bell stops. At 12 John pointed and said, “She stopped over there!” I hadn’t heard the bell in five minutes. But there she stood right where he pointed; a grouse lifted and manners were proper. At 17 Doc sent Craig out to scout on the left where Craig quickly located the dog. Doc moved in and a grouse blew out. He fired, his unmistakable .45 sending echoes through the woods. He quickly rejoined the front and dogs moved comfortably through the woods. At 22 Bette’s bell went silent again. Doc located the dog and sent a woodcock to wing. Before Doc could get back to the front, Bell stood again. John moved in and sent a grouse looking for another place to hide. At 39 the real drama took place. John’s dog’s bell went silent; she was quickly located just off the path in a small patch of aspen, in full view of the gallery. John moved in and made a thorough flushing effort, knowing he was in very good shape and this could clinch it. But despite his best effort, no bird could be moved. He tapped her on the head and in three bounds a woodcock took flight. There were about twelve people standing there and if you asked all of them what happened you would probably get twelve different answers. In the end, the judges’ opinion is the only one that matters and both firmly stated they didn’t believe the dog knew the bird was there. Both dogs finished nicely. I believe all four handlers had reason to hope and worry. In the end Grouse Hill Bell was named the winner and Centerfold Bette was named runner-up.

Gladwin, Mich., April 13

Judges: Joe Dahl and Jerry Kolter

GRAND NATIONAL GROUSE AND WOODCOCK INVITATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP [One-Hour Heats on Two Consecutive Days; One-Hour Finals on Third Day] — 5 Pointers and 9 Setters

Winner—GROUSE HILL BELL, pointer female, by Sugarknoll Buckshot—Hifive’s Pepper Ann. John Capocci, owner; John Stolgitis, handler.

Runner-Up—CENTERFOLD BETTE, setter female, by Lilleyhill’s Secret Stash—Call Me Kate. H. J. Holmes, owner and handler.


The helpers are the people who get the least ink but are the most important. Whom without their efforts nothing would be possible. It seems to be the same group of people week after week despite which club is running. I will not attempt to name them all in fear of leaving someone out.

A special thanks to George Johnson, Bryan Woods, Jennifer Hollister for their help and Ken Wong, professor at the University of Pittsburgh, for writing a program to help with the draw.

With a nice hatch this spring this will be the place to be this fall. Look forward to seeing everyone in Gladwin this fall! M. S.