2017 Grand National Grouse and Woodcock Invitational Championship

OXFORD, N. Y. — The 27th Grand National Grouse and Woodcock Invitational has written another chapter into its storied and venerable history with Secretary George Johnson announcing the 2017 runner-up, Centerfold Bette, and champion, Grouse Hill Bell, on a bright but cool early spring morning overlooking the rolling hills of upstate New York.

George Johnson has been Invitational secretary for almost two decades now, and has done an outstanding job (along with his lovely wife Shirley). So much work must go into this event prior to the running that for most folks it would be a daunting if not impossible task.

George took over the Invitational and a treasury of $38! Today George has the Invitational on solid financial footing.

The stake was awarded championship status in 1991 under the Grand National presidency of Tom Fruchey. Those of us who participated in that inaugural event have watched this stake grow to the outstanding fixture it is now as it rotates through the three grouse regions.

The Invitational invites the top fourteen dogs in the grouse and woodcock woods based on a points system from the previous spring and fall wild bird, multiple course trials. Three regional coordinators (Richard Brenneman for Mid-Atlantic; Bryan Wood for Lake States and Lloyd Murray for Northeast) send the points sheets from each qualifying event to George who makes the tabulations and publishes the standings in The American Field.

The previous year’s Invitational winner and runner-up receive an automatic invitation as do the winner and runner-up of the Grand National, so actually only ten spots are available to receive the honored formal invitation.

Stake manager for this year’s renewal was Peter Flanagan, who is also an elected Northeast director of Grand National. Peter had the grounds in great shape with the seven one-hour courses all cut, cleaned and flagged.

We moved 25 grouse and 14 woodcock in the first series which indicates Peter has us in the right places. Peter also supplied the good mounts we used for three days. These horses could go anywhere. Up and down steep hills, through deep mud and across streams.

The “White House” is a real plus for these grounds. All trial officials stay in this large and well-appointed home that overlooks a couple of the breakaways. It saves the club considerable money as we are not putting officials in a motel room.

Northeast Director Tony Bly volunteered three days to do all the lunches and he honchoed the Purina handlers’ dinner on Wednesday evening at the historic Lost Pond Clubhouse (with a big assist from Sous Chef Robert Ecker, who made amazing sautéed mushrooms and a special horseradish sauce). Dean Reinke also pitched in and helped with the hand carved prime rib dinner.

Mid-Atlantic Director Joe Cammisa was everywhere helping, getting dogs on the line, going for coffee and donuts each morning and lending his positive attitude to the whole event.

Futurity Secretary Thor Kain was here to marshal every brace on day No. 1 and was also pressed into scouting service.

Dr. Bruce Mueller came up from the Keystone State to pitch in also; plus we had a good crew of marshals out on the courses lined up by Director Flanagan.

Billy Ballin and his son Liam were a major help. Bill Flanagan and his special friend Casey also were out on the courses and helped so much moving the horses. Judge Groy and I never jumped off a horse to cover a find that a marshal was not right there to hold the horse.

The trial went very smoothly and on time as indicated by the afternoon completion of all seven braces each day. This was due to Peter Flanagan’s organization of the event and all our volunteers and helpers, some of whom I am sure I have missed, and for this I apologize!

Nestlé Purina again supported this event with product for the handlers, advertising support and product for the winners. Perhaps more importantly is Purina Representative Dean Reinke. Now that all of us feed Pro Plan, his presence is more of an advisory nature. Dean answers any nutritional questions we may have, tells us about other events he attends and some of the great dogs and performances he gets to witness. Dean has a variety of breeds including, but not limited to, Springer Spaniels, Red Setters and English Setters. Thank you, Dean and Purina, for all you do for us in the grouse and woodcock world.

Garmin also comes up BIG for us in all four Grand National events — Puppy Classic, Futurity, Grand National and Invitational. Warner Smith heads up the wild bird division and he sees to it that the winner of each of our events receives one of their superb units. Thank you, Garmin and Warner. We appreciate your continued support!

This year’s elected judicial panel was  Mike “Booker” Groy of Anneville, Pa., and your reporter of Stark, N. H. Booker is one of the most experienced and sought-after judges in the grouse woods. He has bred, raised, trained and campaigned a boatload of winners including Grouse Futurity winners (he also won the Flanagan Setter Derby Award) and grouse champions. When judging, he does not talk, but watches the dogs in front of him. Booker does not miss any birds and brings a positive approach to his judging assignment, always looking for what a dog did right, not wrong.

I have been elected to judge this Championship three times (2009, 2012 and 2017) and have presided with outstanding judges, Grand National President Dick Brenneman and Hall-of- Famer Dave Hughes, but I must declare that the most enjoyable and most fun was with Mike “Booker “ Groy.

At lunch the first day at the Lost Pond clubhouse and at the championship announcement Secretary Johnson rightly paid tribute to our late benefactor, Hall-of-Famer Dr. Tom Flanagan. Those of us who had the pleasure and privilege of meeting and spending some time with Dr. Tom knew what a great bird dog man he was. His deep resonate voice and ready laugh are deeply missed.

The Flanagans’ contribution to English setters is monumental, continuing and enduring. For many years the closest grouse person elected to the Field Trial Hall of Fame was Dr. Tom, but in the last two years we are on a roll in the grouse woods with our Mid-Atlantic vice-president for Grand National, Pennsylvania  professional Dave Hughes, and our own former secretary-treasurer for many years, Dave Fletcher, both elected and inducted into the hallowed hall!

In my humble opinion we have other worthy candidates who have shown the necessary decades of “giving” to our sport in a quiet but profound way — Dick Brenneman of Port Matilda, Pa., and Wayne Fruchey of Beaverton, Mich.

Speaking of the “Hall of Fame”, I  strongly encourage any who have not been to this outstanding facility to please try and make a pilgrimage there. I believe you will find it an eye-opening and very enjoyable experience. What most come away with is a feeling that you’re “proud to be a bird dog person and proud to participate in our grand sport!”

The Winners

Grouse Hill Bell, medium size white and liver pointer female owned by John Capocci of Katonah, N. Y., and handled by John Stolgitis, vanquished a talented field and won this Championship convincingly for the second year in a row.

Bell ran in the sixth brace on day No. 1 and was braced with the fancy setter female Rockland Ridge McGraw, handled by Robert Ecker. McGraw ran an industrious race of good range and proportions but suffered two unproductives (on splash).

Bell also suffered an unproductive at 31 on the left of the course. A grouse got up wild in front of us at 38, no dogs involved. Bell stopped deep ahead at 41 and the search was on. We crossed under a power line but we didn’t think she was that far. She was. John found her and I rode the horse right in there and John flushed the grouse, shot fired for a spectacular, dug-up limb find.

During this time the forward gallery walked up a pair of grouse, then another pair; no dogs were involved.

Bell started hunting immediately. Several minutes later her bell stopped and again the search began. Deep on a side hill call of “Point!” rang out from scout Thor Kain. As we approached the magnificently pointing female a woodcock flew, with all in order for the shot. These two finds clearly separated her from the rest of the field on the first day.

It was not so much what she did, but “how”. Bell does not waste time in unproductive cover; she goes to where the birds are and knows what to do when she finds them. She is dead broke. John brought her all the way back to the course and sent her forward. She finished as she started, strong, light on her feet and hunting forward,  a very strong hour and for her considerable efforts was awarded “day dog” honors and money.

Grouse Hill Bell was drawn in the fourth brace on the second day, braced with Herbie’s Asta La Vista, tricolor hard going setter female handled by Marc Forman. Both dogs stopped early with their respective handlers looking when Bill Ballin spied them both standing on a side hill and called point. As we approached a grouse roared out from right to left and shots were fired, all in order for the divided find. Both stopped again a few minutes later in thick alder cover on the left of the course. Although a half-hearted flushing effort took place, it looked like a “back off’ to me and neither dog was penalized an unproductive.

Asta stopped again in the alder bottom, which entailed a long look. While we were looking, a grouse got up right next to us. Marc and I fully expected to find Asta pointing nearby, but we simply could not find her. Finally someone in the gallery called “Point!” We worked our way to the staunch setter. As we approached, a woodcock lifted right in front of her. Marc shot, all in order. Asta finished fine, hunting all the way. She made the reserve list for her efforts.

I had covered Bell most of the first day, as Booker and I got separated, so I asked him to take her on day No. 2 to begin with, in case we got separated again, as I wanted him to see her also. This is exactly what happened, but Judge Groy told me Bell’s race was forward and driving and she logged an outstanding woodcock find on a big farm field hedgerow with stunning posture on this work. Bell finished going away, hunting every step. Bell was named “day dog” again, for day No. 2.

The third day we braced Grouse Hill Bell with Centerfold Bette as they had already shown us multiple finds on grouse and woodcock. Both had delivered very strong, forward, hunting, handling races. Handling meaning, when handlers called on them to show (although at this point John really had no voice left at all, mostly just a squeak!), they did. Yet both displayed a reserve of energy (considering they had run for three consecutive days, an hour each day), that both judges felt we had to see, and had discussed this before the first brace was turned loose.

Our champion and runner-up were very worthy winners which made for a class event.

Grouse Hill Bell is by the great multiple champion Sugarknoll Buckshot out of the winning female Hifive’s Pepper Ann. This is some royal pointer blood! When Bell is not winning field trials, her owner is an avid grouse and woodcock hunter and both enjoy hunting the coverts of the Northeast. Mr. Capocci has a very successful business and does a lot of work in New York City. He has done a lot of work for the Trump family. I have been ribbing him about this for years, and now I am having fun with him about his new access to the White House. Congratulations, John and John, for a job well done!

Centerfold Bette, tricolor setter female, is owned by veteran grouse trialer Harold “Doc” Holmes of Flint, Mich., and handled by Hall of Fame grouse dog trainer Dave Hughes. “Doc” is a big supporter of the Invitational with some of our greatest moments provided by his legendary setter female, two-time Invitational champion and Invitational runner-up Centerfold Rose.

I had the honor of naming Rose runner-up in the 1999 Michigan Woodcock Championship which sent her to the Invitational,  and which she just dominated for the next several years. No one has even come close to what “Rosie” had accomplished, until now with Grouse Hill Bell’s current run. Great females both!

Centerfold Bette was drawn on day No. 1 in the 7th brace with Chasehill Baby Bella, white and liver pointer female owned by Erin and handled by her dad, John Stolgitis.

We walked up a grouse wild at 27 on the left. Bella ran a big forward race, went out of bounds for approximately  15 minutes from 31 to 47, was heard on the other side of the brook in “Luther’s Bottom” moving and came on at John’s urging. Her bell stopped and scout Thor Kain was dispatched to the right and called “Point”. When spied, her pointing posture was acceptable, John going wide for the flushing effort. While he was doing this, her style let down considerably. John called flight of the bird and was instructed to shoot. Bella’s demeanor on point was not a death sentence, but if we had got to the reserve dogs we would have put her on the bird heavy courses needing to see her point with good posture of her appendage.

In the meantime, Bette was hunting with great drive, pace and style. At 31 Bette’s bell stopped deep on the left with a long look finding her pointing a woodcock with wonderful style, all good for the flush and shot. Bette suffered an unproductive at 36, and at 42 on the left of the course Bette stopped again in old grape tangle, pointing beautifully. Dave approached and the grouse exploded, again Bette displaying finished manners.

Bette finished forward with us, driving and hunting, just past the bridge crossing in Luther’s bottom.

The second day Centerfold Bette was drawn on course No. 1 with Dun Rovens Drifter, setter male owned and handled by Michigan pro Rich Hollister. This course was a disappointment, the only course on which we did not point birds, although we walked up two grouse the first day.

Drifter is a big, strong good looking mostly white setter male that ran a very large race, but did not run off, and finished without the benefit of birds.

Bette on day No. 3 continued where she left off on day No. 1, running forward, hunting with good eye appeal. Bette pointed a drumming log deep on the left of the course early then simply “laid one down”.

One move that I loved was at 57. We were high on a hardwood ridge and could see forever, down on the bottom where the good and only cover was, was Bette, tearing it up, flying from clump to clump. I rode up to Booker and he just smiled, he was loven’ it too!

Bette’s two days of inspired approach to her ground effort (with multiple finds) got her to the finals. Her third day has been discussed above, but day No. 3 was remarkable also, and she was a very worthy runner-up, and in many years would have been champion, except for Grouse Hill Bell!

Bette is by grouse champion Lilleyhill’s Secret Stash out of Craig Merlington’s big-time winner Call Me Kate.

Doc spends a lot of time working his dogs on wild birds. He is a bird dog man through and through. He is committed to grouse hunting and great trial grouse dogs.

Congratulations, Doc, you have certainly earned it!

Day No. 1

Miss Penn Star (Ecker) and Grouse Hill Pepper Ann (Scott Forman). Dogs, handlers, judges, stake manager and a large gallery ready to go. (Dick Brenneman you would have been proud!) It was cloudy but in the low 50s. First, we had to walk the dogs past the quail that was walking across the breakaway. Penn Star is a very quick nice moving darkly ticked tricolor setter female. She pointed twice with no results, but looks great on point; her race was consistent but not real large. Pepper Ann backed Penn Star’s first unproductive, then logged one of her own. Her race also was a steady effort for the full hour. We had turkeys on the course, quail, deer and two grouse flush wild while the geese were flying overhead.

Islander (Ecker), good size mostly white and black setter male, started with us and finished with us. He suffered an unproductive at 57; however, most of the in between we did not hear or see him. I have to give Robert credit. Once he realized that Islander had his own agenda this day, he dropped back and did not yell and scream for his dog, as he could have destroyed his bracemate’s dog, but he played the game right, was a gentleman and was quiet.

Speaking of gentleman, that is the term best to describe Kenny Moss and indeed his dog also, Moss Meadow Traveler, a good looking big tricolor setter male that has had a wonderful career in the grouse woods including winning the Grand National. This day Traveler had a good grouse find at 37 on the left of the course in old apple orchard; he looks good on point. Traveler logged an unproductive (as did most dogs in this stake as spring conditions are very tough with lots of “splash” prevalent) and backed his bracemate’s unproductive at 57. A woodcock was walked up by the gallery at 59 on the other side of the course.

Out of The Shadows (Wheelock) and Chip’s A One Hundred (Scott Forman). Maddie, as Shadows is called, is an almost all white setter female that catches your eye early. She is blazing fast and is very fancy, cracking all the time. Maddie hunted hard for the full hour, not a real big-going dog but a pleasure to watch. Handsome setter male One Hundred ran a forward, driving race for the full hour. Ace, as he is called, suffered an unproductive at 9. The quality of his ground coverage was very good. Deep penetrating casts of depth and pace. Both judges liked him a lot.

Dun Rovens Drifter (Hollister) is a good looking well put together white bodied setter male. Drifter was on the edge of gone, but not quite. He had a big hole early as he was gone, from the alder bottom, early on the course to 38 when he came up from behind. I’ll give him credit, this dog can run, just was a bit large for this event. Daddy’s Little Boy Butch (Stolgitis) is the defending Grand National Grouse Champion. Butch started extremely fast and was amazing to watch, flying around, tail cracking on every jump, simply an outstanding animal to watch with an abundance of physical attributes. Butch was also not here early and Johnny began to look for him. At 34 he called for the retrieval unit, a good thing; they found him over three miles away! We then gathered in the Lost Pond clubhouse for Chef Anthony’s (Tony Bly) famous clam chowder and sandwich buffet lunch.

Herbie’s Asta La Vista (M. Forman) and Straight Forward (Hughes). The sun had come out for the afternoon running with a stiff breeze, but it was great spring running weather. Straight Forward, callname Cracker, is a former winner of this event. Cracker is a good size white and orange setter female. She pointed at 4 with Asta backing. While Dave was flushing, Cracker moved hard with many in the gallery calling a rabbit; both handlers just took their dogs out of there. At this time Judge Groy heard and saw a grouse depart on a woodsedge, so far away he could not and did not attribute this bird to any of the work that was unfolding in front of us. He simply wanted me to know that a grouse had flushed. At 6 on the right of the course Cracker came running in and pointed hard. I said very softly, “Dave”, as I could see her clearly from my horse. He squalled at her to “Leave it”, she did, and chased that grouse for about six good jumps. That was a shame considering what she did next. Cracker stopped at 21 and Dave flushed a grouse that we all saw walking in front of her. Much talk in the gallery about what a great shot that grouse presented when it flew from right to left over the course. Of course, several said it would not have gotten that far considering its original position. Asta backed this grouse find with good style. Cracker stopped again at 26 and logged a good woodcock find; again Asta backed. Asta is a nice moving, good looking heavily ticked tricolor setter female that ran a good race. Dave knew he was basically dead in the water with Cracker, as chasing a bird is pretty much a death sentence. But he left her down as our Invitational rules want all dogs to stay down to have the benefit of a bracemate. This is difficult for handlers when you know you are running and cannot win, but that is what makes the Invitational such a special trial.

Rockland Ridge McGraw and Grouse Hill Bell have been reported. Chasehill Baby Bella and Centerfold Bette were also covered earlier.

Day No. 2

Dun Rovens Drifter and Centerfold Bette have been reported.

Chasehill Baby Bella and Rockland Ridge McGraw. Baby Bella ran a heck of a race on day No. 2, big, strong, forward. Bella would have been in the first brace of reserve dogs had we gotten to them. McGraw is a female I was looking forward to seeing, as I saw her get second while reporting the Grand National Grouse Futurity several years back and liked her a lot that day. I liked her today too. McGraw ran a forward industrious race but logged an unproductive at 48 to be her only stop in her effort on day No. 2. She was fading a bit near time but showed some heart and gutted it out. McGraw made the second brace of reserve dogs.

No. 3: Daddy’s Little Boy Butch (Stolgitis) and Straight Forward (Hughes). Johnny and Butch’s owner, Paul Scott, decided not to turn Butch loose on day No. 2 as the best they could hope for was the $100 day money as he was eliminated after his day No. 1 performance (the rules call for the winner to run and be under judgment for an hour a day for three consecutive days). The decision was not going to adversely affect his bracemate as she was done also after her first day performance. Straight Forward went out of the starting gates and pointed at 3. After a masterful relocation the grouse was flushed as it ran out of cover to run through. This kind of work can usually only be done by wise veteran grouse dogs and “Cracker” is all of that. Unfortunately Cracker threw a few  unproductives (mostly on splash) on Dave and she packed it in at 34.

Grouse Hill Bell and Herbie’s Asta La Vista were previously reported Islander was with us today, logging unproductives at 8 and 51. Islander got on the board at 55 with a good grouse find. Chip’s A One Hundred ran another very strong race. One Hundred was the first dog we had in reserve and ran a championship, quality race, both days. He simply needed some birds.

Out of The Shadows (Wheelock), callname Maddie, again was an eyeful off the breakaway with all the footspeed and style you would ever want to see. A fun dog to watch. Maddie logged unproductives at 23 and 27 in likely looking spots. She pointed on field edge at 36 under a big white pine tree. As we approached handler Bob Wheelock said, “I see it.” I assumed it was a woodcock as it was quite wet; however, a beautiful red phase grouse exploded in front of us and flew past Maddie which could not resist a bit of a bounce or two, handler firing then putting her on the lead. Sometimes this game will rip your heart out. Bob and his lovely wife Dianne are great amateurs and play the game right. Miss Penn Star was a little “point happy” today and Ecker terminated her effort at 9.

Grouse Hill Pepper Ann (S. Forman ) and Moss Meadow Traveler (Moss). A grouse got up wild at 13 in one of the old apple orchards that are very prevalent on this large farm and another along one of the many old stone walls at 30. Scott Forman relayed that Pepper Ann had been a bit under the weather and he  picked up at 16. Kenny Moss was showing his Traveler to advantage, hardly ever raising his voice. The big setter knows where to go to look for birds and after watching them work as a team I suspect many a bonasa umbellus have gone to the promised land as a result of Traveler’s talent and Kenny’s wing shooting!

We then went to the clubhouse where Secretary Johnson announced day dog (Grouse Hill Bell) and the callbacks for the next day.

First brace on old course No. 1 at 8:00 a. m. Grouse Hill Bell with Centerfold Bette. If necessary; first brace in reserve; on courses No. 7 to No. 4, Chip’s A One Hundred with Chasehill Baby Bella. Second brace in reserve, on courses No. 2 to No. 6, Rockland Ridge McGraw with Herbie’s Asta La Vista.

When the smoke had cleared and we had our two best dogs run their allotted hour without incident and bobbles we  gathered at “The White House” for the announcements. There, Dave Hughes acknowledged that we all owe a big debt to Secretary George Johnson, who had publicly said “thank you” to Peter Flanagan and all the Flanagan family for allowing us to run on such a great place as their almost 3,000-acre holdings. When one is out on the seven one-hour courses, with the average course being two and a half miles, and one sees all the work that went into these courses, and all the equipment that got wrecked out here (you can see where brush hogs are hitting big rocks) and not one penny was charged to the Grand National or the Invitational, we must all tip our caps to the Flanagans of Grouse Ridge.

Oxford, N. Y., April 12

Judges: Mike Groy and Lloyd Murray

GRAND NATIONAL GROUSE AND WOODCOCK INVITATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP [One-Hour Heats on Consecutive Days; One-Hour Finals on Third Day] — 3 Pointers and 11 Setters

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

Grouse Hill Bell
Winner of the 2017 Grand National Grouse and Woodcock Invitational Championship

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