Grand National Grouse Championship 2015

Full Blast, Richard Brenneman/Bob Watts’ Setter, Takes Crown; Rich Warters’ Pointer Bud of Piney Woods is Runner-Up

73rd (2015) Grand National Grouse Championship

By Mike Spotts and Dave Fletcher | Dec 04, 2015

Grand National Grouse Championship Winners. From left front: Mark Hughes with Full Blast and Robert Ecker with Bud of Piney Woods. Behind: Bob Watts, Janet Watts, Dave Hughes, Judge Joe Cammisa, Judge Mike Husenits, Dave Fletcher, Mike Spotts, Helen Brenneman and Dick Brenneman.

MARIENVILLE, PA. — The 73rd running of the Grand National Grouse Championship started on its traditional date, the first Tuesday in November, and was concluded on Friday, November 6.

The trial was held on the Loleta and Lamonaville grounds near Marienville, Pa., in the Allegheny National Forest.

The Grand National Grouse Championship had its inaugural running at Black Forest, Slate Run, Pa., in November, 1943. Prior to the organization of the Grand National Grouse Championship, many clubs across the Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions held small, local grouse trials, including championships.

Recognized trials on ruffed grouse began December 3-4, 1913, hosted by the National Grouse Dog Championship Club at Killarney Park, Indian Creek Valley, Pa. Many thought that trials on the wary ruffed grouse could not be accomplished. The inaugural event was a great success.

The Brokenstraw Amateur Grouse Dog Championship was staged at Pittsford, Pa., in 1921 followed by the All-America hosted by the Saginaw Field and Stream Club at the new Gladwin Game Refuge grounds in 1923. The Michigan Grouse Dog Club staged the United States Grouse Dog Championship and the Continental Grouse Dog Championship at Sanford, Mich.

Many grouse trialers thought all of these championships now on the field trial schedule were “too local” and that a National Championship Grouse fixture was needed.

In the Hotel Statler in Cleveland, on August 21, 1943, the Grand National Grouse Championship was born. There were nearly one hundred grouse stalwarts in attendance led by the legends of the day in the grouse world, namely Sam Light of Pennsylvania, John Hadaway of Michigan and W. Lee White of Connecticut who became the meeting chairman.

Seventy-three renewals of the Grand have been staged since then. The formation of the Grand spurred the Michigan clubs to consolidate their four grouse championships into one event, and the Lake States Grouse Championship was inaugurated beginning at the Gladwin area in 1945.

The Grand rotates venues on a three-year cycle embracing the White Mountain National Forest near Berlin, N. H., the Gladwin Field Trial Area near Houghton Lake, Mich., and the Allegheny National Forest near Marienville, Pa. The regions are: Lake States, Middle Atlantic and Northeast.

There are eight one-hour courses on the Marienville grounds — four located off of Loleta Road and four adjacent to Lamonaville Road. The grounds are secured through a special use permit by the Pennsylvania Grouse Dog Club. The layout is generally open pole timber with pockets of cover: blueberry swamps, conifers, and timbered areas, mixed in.  A dog must run here to cover ground and find birds. The open cover makes viewing a dog easier than some venues, but also puts a premium on bird work.

Most of the Grand National directors and officers were on hand to assist in the running of the trial. Secretary Dave Fletcher conducted the public drawing the Friday before the running, then traveled to Pennsylvania. He was on hand each day with judges’ books, running orders, collecting entry fees while also working on the minutes from the slate of Grand National meetings held in the evenings. He also kept the judges and reporter entertained at breakfast each morning with his stories of field trials and other incidents from his past!

Grand National president Dick Brenneman also served as stake manager for the event and as everyone can expect, had us running like a well-oiled machine with no hiccups or delays. Directors Tom Fruchey, Roger McPherson, Dave Hughes, Roger Johnson, Bryan Wood, George Johnson, Lloyd Murray and Marc Forman all helped with moving cars and marshalling braces.

The annual meetings were held Tuesday and Wednesday evenings at the Microtel Motel and the Bucktail Hotel. Expiring terms for directors were renewed; Peter Flanagan was re-appointed director of the Northeast Region after a few years absence from the Board. One important revision to the bylaws was finalized regarding the judge selection process.

Our hats are off to Judge Joe Cammisa and well known trialer Dr. Tim Perschke for providing accommodations for judges, reporter and secretary.

Grand National club member Thor Kain handled the brunt of the marshalling duties. Thor walked nearly every brace and helped to ensure everyone made it around the courses and ended up where they needed to be. His help was needed and greatly appreciated.

Nestlé Purina, as always, was extremely generous in the support of this event. Purina’s financial support is a major asset to the trial running at a high level. They supply dog food to the winners and hats to all participants.

Representative Dean Reinke was on hand for much of the trial.

Weather was unseasonably warm and dry, with temperatures in the mid-70s each afternoon and very little breeze or cloud cover. These conditions, coupled with below average bird numbers, made finding and pointing birds extremely difficult.

Judges for this premier event were two Pennsylvanians with years of field trial and bird hunting experience. Joe Cammisa of Butler, Pa., and Mike Husenits of West Lebanon, Pa., were attentive, positive, and gave every dog their full attention. Both men have competed their dogs in walking and horseback venues and have judged numerous championships and other important stakes.


Claiming the championship title was Full Blast, five-year-old setter male owned by Pennsylvanians Richard Brenneman and Bob Watts. “Jeb” was handled by recently inducted Hall of Fame trainer Dave Hughes.

Having the course to himself after his bracemate was scratched, Jeb was wide and fast out of the gate. His race was extreme for the first 30 minutes. We only saw him cross once to the front at 5 but handler Dave Hughes and Judge Cammisa heard his bell to the front periodically. At 20, where the course makes a hard turn back toward the breakaway, Jeb had not been seen or heard for several minutes. Scout Thor Kain was sent deep to the right and quickly yelled back to Dave Hughes to “get on him!” In short order the big, fancy setter was back with us and hunting the thick blueberry swamp. The course was very tight for the remainder and the thick cover impeded Jeb from running with extreme speed or range. His pace slowed slightly, but he remained forward and hunting. At 55 his bell stopped sharply just right of the course in a small opening of beech. Jeb was located quickly and was pointing with superb posture and intensity. The grouse quickly rumbled out, shot was fired, all in order.

Full Blast is no stranger to the winners’ circle. This is his third championship title as he previously won the Michigan Woodcock and Ontario Grouse Championships. He also has a runner-up title, the Pennsylvania Championship. Full Blast has won consistently throughout his career. He stands as the only dog in history to win the top Cover Dog Setter Awards as a Derby (Flanagan) and all-age (Seminatore) as well as the Purina Top Cover Dog Award (for all breeds) as a Derby and all-age.

Full Blast was bred by Jim Chambers of Uniontown, Pa., and sired by the noted champion and producer Pennstar. Full Blast is the latest winner of this prestigious event for the highly successful  Brenneman-Watts partnership. Body Guard (1997) and Full Tilt (2009) were previous winners.

Runner-up was Bud of Piney Woods, handsome four-year-old pointer male owned by Rich Warters of Pinehurst, N. C. Bud is trained and handled by Pennsylvania pro Robert Ecker. Bud ran in the ninth brace with Centerfold Sis. Both dogs hunted strongly off the breakaway with Sis hitting the pines along the right swamp and Bud making a big, forward move through the pole timber to the left. Both dogs showed great running style and maturity as they hunted the cut at 10. At 23 Bud stopped suddenly near a blowdown one hundred yards off the course. His style was breathtaking as we approached; tail perfectly straight in the air and his head tilted to the sky, slightly cocked toward the tangle in front of him. As Ecker circled the fallen trees to flush, a grouse roared out and sailed down the hill. The shot was fired without a flinch from Bud.

Bud ran with great style but a moderate race in terms of both pace and range the second half of his hour. He hunted the cover and looked good doing it but was lateral at times. Sis continued to hunt strongly and with good application but could not connect with game.

Bud of Piney Woods was bred by Earl and Margaret Drew out of their female Racey Kate and the legendary Chasehill Little Bud. John Stolgitis had the pick of the litter and gave the pick to Rich Warters. Rich started the precocious pup and soon put him with pro Eric Russell. Eric placed him in several Derby stakes including the U. S. Complete Futurity. After his early success, Rich decided his goal was to have a winner on wild birds and turned the young dog over to successful pro Robert Ecker who took the dog on at age three and began working him in the woods. This season, his first being campaigned on wild birds, he also was runner-up in the Northeastern Grouse and Woodcock Championship in Maine and placed in a grouse trial in Michigan. Bud has a dedicated owner and a very bright future!

The judges deliberated for a long time to determine which dog, Full Blast or Bud of Piney Woods, was more deserving of the title. In the end they reasoned that it was Full Blast, whose performance was closer to the all-age championship standard they were looking for, who should get the nod. Still, both dogs rendered championship performances, especially considering the conditions and other performances.

Closest to the winners was Miss Pennstar, handled by Robert Ecker. “Lady” had a beautiful relocation on a running grouse but two unproductives and a moderate race kept her from challenging the winners.

There were several dogs that had outstanding races that had the judges sitting high in the saddle. If any of these dogs would have pointed birds the outcome would have been changed. In no particular order these dogs were: Suemac’s Coventry (Dave Hughes), High Desert Dream (Scott Forman), Upper Cove Billie Babe (S. Forman), Thunderhills Ghost Rider (D. Hughes), Double Deuce Dexter (D. Hughes) and Celtic’s First Strike (Robert Ecker).


The reigning champion Long Gone Buckwheat (Hughes) and Michtners Rock’N’Rye (Frame) broke away at 7:07 a. m. Both dogs hunted well the first 15 showing good style and application. A grouse was flushed along the trail at 18 with no involvement from the dogs. Buckwheat made a big move to the left at 50 and was lost to judgment, Hughes asking for the tracker. Rye made some nice moves, ran with good style, but couldn’t connect with a bird.

Grouse Ridge Sarge (Hughes) and Upper Cove Billie Babe (Forman), two champions. Sarge stopped left of the trail at 20 with good posture, point being called by scout Thor Kain. Dave Hughes flushed all over the beech thicket but could get nothing to fly. She stopped again at time in good cover but nothing was produced. Billie Babe was an eyeful over the ground; fast, fancy, and with great application. She required very little handling and hit all the likely spots.

Celtic’s Signature (Ecker) and Bar P Matty (Ralph) ran together on the tight “M&M” course. Strike was having a hard time getting started and then suffered an unproductive at 28. Ecker put her on the lead after a brief relocation. Matty was also slow starting but then started reaching and Brian Ralph had a hard time getting her to turn with us. We had her when we made the turn at the road but she faded out again and Brian called for the tracker at 55. One bird was flushed along the course at 35.

Long Gone Studly (Hughes) and Hunter’s Pale Face (Bressler) both made some nice moves early through the blueberries as the temperature started to warm rapidly. Both dogs stopped in the back of the course with Studly backing Pale Face. No bird was produced. Studly had a few stops but was generally forward and busy. Pale Face ran a big, steady race and stopped again at time with no bird being flown.

Dew Sweeper (Hughes) and Celtic’s First Strike (Ecker) were away after a tasty lunch of Kim Ecker’s pork barbecue and Hazleton’s famous Senape’s pizza provided by Robert Ecker. The temperature was now a very warm 71° with no wind or cloud cover. Dew Sweeper was forward and hunted well at moderate range nearly the entire hour. Strike ran a big, forward, driving race that was exciting the entire hour. Her range and application were noteworthy.

Henry of Ferguson (Bressler) and Rockland Ridge McGraw started out fast but settled into a moderate pace. Judge Cammisa saw a grouse lift at 33 well ahead of the dogs. Both dogs swung nicely throughout the hour but neither could dig up a bird.

Straight Forward (Hughes) and Grouse Hill Dixie (Forman) broke away with some shadows starting to show but still warm and calm. Dixie pointed with great style in a blowdown at 13 but no bird was flushed. Straight Forward made a big move to the left that took her behind and stopped sharply at 20 as she was moving forward. Dave Hughes flushed but could not produce a bird. It was later reported that a bird was seen by the gallery well ahead during the relocation. Both dogs were driving hard with Dixie a bit more lateral when, at 53, Straight Forward stopped quickly in the cutting right of the course. Dixie swung through and backed neatly. As we were dismounting, Dave Hughes called bird as he was walking to the dog. Unfortunately, neither judge nor reporter saw or heard the bird. Both finished strongly.

Kendal Hills Foxfire (Hughes) and Herbie’s Asta La Vista (Forman) streaked ahead in the first brace of day No. 2. The Fox had her running shoes on and was making Dave work early. She showed briefly a few times but never stayed too long. Asta pointed in a likely location at 18 but Scott could not flush a bird. She hunted nicely the remainder of the hour.

Bud of Piney Woods and Centerfold Sis were previously covered.

Pouncey (Straub) and Miss Pennstar (Ecker) swung right into the cut off the breakaway. Both bells stopped at 5 with Pouncey starting up and coming on his own. Miss Pennstar was found standing with good style but no bird was flushed and she was sent forward. At 23 Miss Pennstar stopped in the pines right of the course, again with good style, but again no bird was produced. At 48 Miss Pennstar stopped again, was briefly relocated and pinned the running grouse in a group of small pines. All was in order at the shot. Her race was moderate and behind at times the remainder of her hour. Pouncey was steady and made some nice moves but did not make contact with any birds.

Thunderhills Ghost Rider (Hughes) and Ghost Train Cody (Fruchey) broke away with temperatures now very warm. Ghost Rider was very big, forward, and applied himself very well. This was one of the better races we saw but unfortunately he could not connect with a grouse. Cody ran with good style, and had a stop along the road in the back of the course where he looked very intense but it turned out to be an unproductive.

After lunch, Spitfire (Spotts) and River’s Edge Sadie (Forman) broke away on the Lamonaville No. 1. Both dogs were fast and reaching the first half. Sadie stopped left of the course at 20 in a beautiful spot and was flushed for but no bird was moved. Spitfire stopped sharply at 45 as we came down the hill. As we started searching for her a group of deer jumped up in the thicket in which she was standing. She lacked some style as we located her and handler relocated her after a brief flushing attempt, assuming she was pointing deer scent. Both dogs continued to hunt with mature application but their pace slowed the last 10 minutes.

Jar’s Way Shirley (Hughes) and Chip’s A One Hundred (Forman) both drove well throughout the hour. One Hundred was the wider of the two but Shirley made some good moves and kept good pace despite the heat.

Suemac’s Coventry (Hughes) and Upper Amonoosuc Sadie (Ecker) both started with good pace and application. Covey ran a memorable race that went unrewarded. She was to the limits and looked in all of the right places. Sadie hunted nicely but shortened quite a bit toward the end.

Grouse Trails Sharptail (McKellop) and High Desert Dream (Forman) were first up on day No. 3. Dream ran a far- flung forward race that had everyone’s attention. This was one of the better ground efforts of the trial but like many others it went unrewarded. Sharptail was stylish over the ground and made some very nice moves. She handled kindly and stayed busy.

Phillips Half Moon (Hughes) and Grouse Trails Pride (McKellop) started strongly and hunted together up the right side. Moon stopped briefly at 25 but was sent on with the whistle with no flushing attempt. She stopped again at 56 and was flushed for but no bird produced. Her race was good throughout. Pride was consistent and made some good casts but had no stands.

Full Blast was previously covered.

Pleasant Valley Copper (Stiteler) and Chip’s Charlie Brown (Forman) both made some big casts initially with Copper settling into a more moderate hunting race. Charlie Brown was big and forward but slowed some toward the end as the temperatures were rising. No birds were seen.

Grouse Ridge Darla (Hughes) and Grouse Trails Adrenaline (McKellop) broke away after a brief lunch. Darla stopped sharply at 2 but Mark Hughes could not flush a bird. She made a big move to the left and was not seen again. At 24 Adrenaline swung across the front and stopped quickly as a bird took flight, a mannerly stop to flush. Everything was in order on the shot but she moved on her own before handler could collar her.

Uptown Girl (Hughes) and Nic of Time (Forman) ran moderate races with no stops or birds seen. They both finished the hour.

Kendal Hills Dawson Creek (Hughes) and Shady Hills Billie Too (Ecker) streaked forward together off of the breakaway. Billie ran with good style and purpose but looped some the second half. At 18 Hughes sent his scout to the right when Dawson had not been seen or heard for several minutes. At 22 he called for the tracker and headed for the road.

Double Deuce Dexter (McMillen) and All In (Kain) were first out of the gate on day No. 4. The weather was warmer and more overcast than previous mornings. All In started slow but was soon reaching and ran a good, eye-catching race. Dexter was wide from the beginning but handled well and showed great drive and stamina. At 40 All In stopped with great posture well ahead on the trail with Dexter backing nicely. Thor Kain flushed briefly and elected to take the dog on instead of relocating, hoping to get him into the better bird cover at the end of the course. Both dogs finished strong with no bird contacts.

Willow Wood Boone (Hughes) and Centerfold Bette (Holmes) made a strong move through the pole timber. Boone ran hard the first half but came from behind a few times and slowed considerably near the end. Bette was wide and hunted the available cover with good speed and purpose. She finished strongly and with good style but did not encounter any birds.

Grouse Hill Bell and Bloom’s Old Dollar (Bressler) broke away in a warm drizzle. Owner John Capocci had trouble hearing Bell’s bell but she showed forward several times and drove hard throughout her hour. Dollar ran a very mature race and hunted the thick swamp well. We walked up a grouse on the trail at 55 but neither dog was nearby.

Fire A Way (Hughes) was the last dog to run and was a bye. He made a big cast to the right and stopped at 8 near the course. He looked good but no bird was flushed. He made some good casts but his pace slowed some through the middle. At 39 as we crossed the road his bell stopped in a new cutting. Mark Hughes flushed and when he couldn’t produce a bird he elected to pick him up.

Marienville, Pa., November 6

Judges: Mike Husenits and Joe Cammisa

GRAND NATIONAL GROUSE CHAMPIONSHIP [One-Hour Heats] — 32 Setters, 14 Pointers and 2 Irish Setters

Winner—FULL BLAST, 1623042, setter male, by Pennstar—Walnut Hill’s Cracklin Patch. Richard Brenneman & Robert Watts, owners; Dave Hughes, handler.

Runner-Up—BUD OF PINEY WOODS, 1643462, pointer male, by Chasehill Little Bud—Racey Kate. Richard Warters, owner; Robert Ecker, handler.



Social events kicked off at Marienville on Monday evening with the Purina Awards in honor of William Harnden Foster, the English Setter Awards, and the Legends of the Cover Dog World plaques.

Dean Reinke of Purina, Joe Cammisa, Tom Fruchey and Mike Spotts made the presentations at Bettina’s Italian Restaurant in Marienville.

Winning both the English Setter and Purina Dog of the Year Awards were Cover Dog Derby of the Year Waymaker Super Sam, setter male owned by Bob Kluger of Noblesville, Ind., handled by Rich Hollister, and in the Cover Dog Shooting Dog category Terhaar’s Rogue, setter female handled by her owner Dave Terhaar of Allegan, Mich.

Dave Hughes was winner of Handler of the Year.

Legends of the Cover Dog World plaques were for Nugym, outstanding setter from the 1920s; Beaver Meadow Bette, setter female owned by Paul Horchen of DuBois, Pa. Bette was an outstanding winning and producing pointer female. Dave Hughes, a 2015 Field Trial Hall of Fame electee, was a Persons recipient.

Presenting and giving a history of the Legends plaque program were Ryan Frame and Dave Fletcher.

A well attended celebration and party took place at the MACA (Marienville Area Civic Association) facility on Thursday evening. The event was to mark and honor handler Dave Hughes’ election to the Field Trial Hall of Fame. Many ladies from the field trial group cooked and served delicious food. Also in attendance were locals headed by Forest County Commissioner Bob Snyder and his wife Laurie. It was a great evening gathering for the field trial group.

A thank you from the Grand goes to Barbara Kuhl, proprietor of the historic Bucktail Hotel, for opening her restaurant at 6 a. m. for judges, reporter and secretary to partake of hearty breakfasts. Her early opening allowed judges to get on their horses at 7 a. m. each day to look at the competing dogs. Barbara also hosted the Wednesday evening meal followed by the GNG Board of Directors meeting.