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Fifty Years of Glory — Part Two

Quail Championship Invitational

The Invitational at Paducah; The Foundation
By John P. Russell | Sep 17, 2013
At the drawing in 1967. Mrs. Cameron McElroy, Jr. of Marshall, Tex., assists Henry Weil with pairing the invited contenders. [Photo of newsclipping courtesy of Kate Weil Morton.]

In May of 1952, a group of West Kentucky sportsmen held a meeting to determine if a suitable area of land could be identified and secured for use for bird dog field trials. The group elected Arthur Curtis (Field Trial Hall- of-Famer) as its chairman and began efforts with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) to accomplish its goals. In September, 1953, “a license and permission” was granted to the KDFWR by the Atomic Energy Commission “for the purpose of developing wildlife upon and sponsoring the use for field trials” on a tract of land immediately north of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant. At the same time an additional lease was obtained from the Tennessee Valley Authority for a tract of land adjacent to the AEC parcel. Permission to use an additional tract was gained from the Commodity Credit Corporation. This area, totaling about 1,650 acres, was the location of a field trial sponsored by the McCracken County (Ky.) Game and Fish Protective Association in November, 1953. This first trial, a shooting dog stake with 16 entries (eight pointers and eight setters), was successful and was the impetus for additional efforts on the part of the sportsmen and the KDFWR to promote the field trial sport in western Kentucky.

The McCracken County Game and Fish Protective Association became the West Kentucky Sportsmen’s Club and subsequently the West Kentucky Field Trial Club.

Because there was no land ownership or permanent facilities belonging to the state, early development of the grounds was the responsibility of the sportsmen. Significant amounts of mowing, food plot development, and brush clearing by volunteers improved the quality of the area to support field trials.

At the same time, continuing efforts by the KDFWR resulted in an additional lease of 872 acres from the AEC in 1955. In 1957, a Quitclaim Deed transferred ownership of 325 acres from the General Services Administration to the KDFWR. This action enabled the KDFWR to establish permanent facilities and to provide a full-time manager who would be responsible for development and maintenance of the area.

In 1958 John D. (Duke) Boss (Field Trial Hall-of-Famer) was hired as the first manager of what was to become the West Kentucky Wildlife Management Area. In 1959 the area was expanded through additional leases from the Atomic Energy Commission (481 acres) and the Tennessee Valley Authority (1,206 acres). Even more important, in 1959 the General Services Administration deeded a tract of approximately 2,300 acres to the KDFWR. A final acquisition of 244 acres of surplus land brought the total land available to the West Kentucky Wildlife Management Area to 6,964 acres.

The selection of J. D. Boss as the first manager was fortuitous. It is one matter to acquire land, it is quite another to convert that land into an area suitable for holding field trials and other uses. Although sufficient land was available, the conditions were far from ideal. The land was rough containing brushy fallow fields, ditches, holes, and obstructions of many kinds. There were no kennels, no stables, nor any of the other necessary facilities.

Beginning with one tractor and a sickle-bar mower and no staff J. D. Boss set out to build the finest public field trial grounds in the United States. He brought to the task a strong dedication to the sport of bird dog field trials, an understanding of the capabilities of high-class bird dogs, the nature and habits of quail, and how to construct a venue to showcase their attributes.

Perhaps even more important, he brought an enthusiasm for introducing people to the sport and encouraging participation at all levels.

What was accomplished? Hundreds of acres were cleared of brush and opportunistic hardwood; courses were determined, bridges and crossings were built, food plots were established,

kennels built, stables built in the old ammunition storage bunkers, and a clubhouse was built. J. D. Boss and the West Kentucky sportsmen did not just create a place for field trials; they created the finest public, multiple-use field trial area in the nation. They created an area on which the National Amateur Championship, the National Brittany Championship, the National Red Setter Championship, the National Amateur Shooting Dog Championship, and many regional championships would be contested. They created a field trial area that provided and continues to provide one of the most demanding tests for high-class bird dogs to be found in the sport. A dog that can compete successfully at  Paducah can compete anywhere in the sport — a fact proven many times.

The large expansion of the area available for the West Kentucky Wildlife Management Area in 1959 made possible the description of multiple courses in a six-course arrangement. In addition, the development of sufficient ancillary facilities made possible the presentation of more than just local trials. The west Kentucky sportsmen, with the desire to showcase the qualities of the field trial grounds, began plans to hold an annual open stake to be known as the Kentucky Quail Classic. Their goal was to establish a major trial that would attract to the area the best dogs available.

They were successful! The first Kentucky Quail Classic was held in 1960, attracting a field of 18, 14 pointers and 4 setters. The trial has been held annually since that time and quickly gained credence as a major open all-age trial and has been listed as a Purina Top All-Age Dog and Handler points trial, a National Championship qualifying trial, and, the companion Derby Stake, a Derby Invitational points trial. Just as important, those stakes quickly established that the grounds were eminently suitable for conducting major championships.

A New Beginning

One would think that the success of establishing a field trial grounds and a major open all-age stake would satisfy the west Kentucky sportsmen, but not this group! The early editions of the Kentucky Quail Classic demonstrated that there was a sufficient population of native quail available, that the courses provided equitable opportunities for the competitors, and that the facilities were adequate to support major field trial championships. At the same time, those who remembered the brilliant promise of the two editions of the Quail Championship at Albany, Ga., wished to promote the renewal of the concept of the trial.

In 1963, Purina established a Top Field Trial Dog Award program, providing an unbiased means of identifying the top performers of the field trial season. Dogs would earn points based on winning performances in 24 major open all-age trials, a system similar to that devised by the Georgia sportsmen for the original Quail Championship. The Purina Award program thus provided an essential element for the renewal of the Quail Championship — an unbiased and equitable means of identifying the top performers of the previous year’s competition. With all of the necessary elements available or in place, the Quail Championship was reborn as the Quail Championship Invitational December 7-9, 1964 at Paducah, Ky.

To tell the full story of the rebirth of the trial, we best look to the report in the December 19, 1964 issue of The American Field. The report appears without attribution but again, most certainly, is the contribution of William F. Brown, editor of The American Field. Excerpts from that report capture the essence of the event very effectively:

“There was an air of excitement when a dozen of the country’s top bird dogs gathered at Paducah, Ky., for the renewal of the Quail Championship that was being revived after a lapse of more than a score of years. Young old-timers will remember that two events were run at Albany, Ga., over those famed piney woods game plantations, and were completed early in 1941 and ’42. A great deal of interest and enthusiasm was aroused. But World War II caused abandonment. The brain-child of Raymond Hoagland, Col. W. H. McNaughton, Trammell Scott and other leaders of the original Quail Championship, strongly supported by Robert W. Woodruff, W. C. Potter, L. D. Johnson, et al., proved a war-time casualty, but all present for those two renewals in Georgia never forgot what an extraordinary sports spectacle it was. For class bird dogs an all star attraction like the all-star baseball game, or the college football all stars versus the pro champs. It was designed to bring together the top winners of the season in a series of tests where, so far as possible, the breaks would be eliminated, particularly the luck of the draw. For the original renewals, sixteen dogs competed. Here at Paducah at this season of the year with daylight relatively short it was necessary to reduce the number to twelve. The mechanics provided that all dogs would compete in one-hour heats the opening day, all dogs would run again after being rebraced so that those which had run morning and evening courses the first day would run during the middle of the second day with different bracemates. Then for the finals, the judges would select at least six dogs to be run in two-hour heats, plus the provision that others could be called back if desired . . . .

“Resuscitation of the Quail Championship Invitational is a fait accompli. The West Kentucky Club intends to renew the event annually. Judging by the hallelujahs for this event its success is assured. But who were the individuals who tried over the last three years to get the stake going again? John Gates and V. E. Humphreys spoke frequently of what a grand event it was, telling other handlers, and they received support from Ray Smith, Jack Harper, Howard Kirk, and others who remembered. These prime movers enlisted the support of Henry E. Weil of Paducah, Harold S. Sharp of Atlanta, Ga., B. McCall of Birmingham, Ala., and other prominent sportsmen. Robert W. Woodruff, apprised of the proposed renewal by his associate Harold Sharp, endorsed the plan.

During the National Amateur Quail Championship at Albany, Ga., last March, Joe Rosenburg, Richard Tift, and others who had important roles in the original event added resolution to the effort to restore the stake.

“The West Kentucky Field Trial Club, with its president, Arthur S. Curtis of Paducah, an energetic and dedicated official, at the helm, determined to sail the course charted more than twenty years ago, realizing that the grounds were adequate and desiring to widen the fame of this excellent area. The wheels were put in motion and within the short space of six months the Quail Championship running became a reality. There were many who cheered the endeavor. Among these, Emory R. Beetham,

distinguished sportsman of Cleveland, Ohio, who with the late Henry J. Banks of Guerrytown, Ala., judged the first two renewals of the Quail Championship. Mr. Beetham, who was designated as the honorary judge of the stake, came to Paducah and was a close observer throughout the three days of running. He said: ‘I came to Paducah to indicate my interest in the revival of this championship event. There is no doubt at all that it is one of the most fascinating trials ever run. Except for the tragic passing of Trammell Scott, it would be well established by this time. I cannot applaud too vigorously the fine work of the men who have restored this grand stake which should have a glorious future.’”

But surely, this new version of the “dream trial” could not live up to the promise demonstrated by the original two renewals! After all, this version would be contested in western Kentucky, on a public, multiple-use wildlife management area, conditions very unlike the original. The habitat would be different, the management practices substantially unlike those of the game plantations, the weather likely very different. How could a trial run under completely different circumstances possibly support the concepts of the originators from a different time and place.

Again, we turn to the December 19, 1964 report:

“Exciting episodes and bird-finding thrills made the revival of the Quail Championship Invitational an extraordinary success. California’s Sammy, five- year-old white and black pointer dog owned by George and Bonita Szody of Gilroy, Cal., handled by Ed Harrison, went on a bird-finding spree with seven finds and a back in his final two-hour appearance and emerged victorious. Runner-up laurels were bestowed on Safari, white and orange pointer bitch, seven-and-one-half years of age, the property of S. H. Vredenburgh of Montgomery, Ala., handled by John S. Gates. She had three bevies in the final two hours . . . And the gods must have been in a propitious mood for resumption of this dream c hampionship event, for all factors connected with the trial — or practically every one — proved favorable.

“The weather in these latitudes at this time of year is admittedly unpredictable, but it could not have been better, a source of gratification when reports were of many areas of the country being plagued by inclemency. Temperatures were invigorating, the competition exhilarating, and only the fact that scenting conditions were not optimum throughout precluded a constant succession of bird-finding thrills. It is accurate to report a most pleasant aura at this grand field trial, with attendants this year anticipating with pleasure its renewal next season. But the ‘gods’ were not satisfied with merely providing satisfactory conditions for the conduct of the trial — they wished the renewal to be provided with a dramatic outcome that could not be foreseen by any devotee of the sport.”

Again, from the 1964 report:

“California’s Sammy won the title and in doing so dramatically established some sort of record. The Szody color-bearer had competed in the Texas Open Championship at Paris, Tex., and Ed Harrison brought Sammy here for this stake. Upon completion of the first series running in Texas, the judges called Sammy for a second series.

Harrison chartered a plane for the flight back to Paris, Tex., after he had run Sammy in the first series here in the initial brace on Monday morning. Sammy clicked on four finds in the hour in this Championship and looked sharp. Some speculated that the air flight might have an adverse effect, altitude and pressure changes. But in Texas, Sammy, in a twenty-minute performance, scored a find and a back and won the title of 1964 Texas Open Champion.

“Back on the plane next morning for the return flight to Paducah, the craft circled the field trial party late in the morning. Sammy was scheduled for his second appearance here immediately after the luncheon recess. Harrison had him on the line on time. California’s Sammy went birdless in his second hour. Had the plane flight and altitude caused this? Unlikely. Scenting conditions were to blame. Sammy’s bracemate also failed to show on quail. Indeed, nearly all of the dogs on Tuesday had difficulty pegging their game accurately . . . .

“California’s Sammy went down with Safari for the final two-hour heat on Wednesday afternoon. Birds had been at a premium in the forenoon, scent concededly non-existent early, but elements had changed slightly and there was hope that scenting conditions would be much improved. Every experienced bird hunter knows how it can happen, as does any fox hunter. Apparently it did, for Sammy went on a bird-finding spree the initial hour, piling up six finds, and he added another bevy shortly, plus a back of his bracemate, and to all intents and purposes there was no denying this California sensation the crown. Sammy continued to hunt throughout the long heat, but contacts were scarce in the latter portion, although his bracemate,

Safari, scored on a bevy at the very end . . . .

“California’s Sammy wrote a colorful chapter in bird dog annals when in this jet age he captured two championships in widely separated parts of the country in the space of 48 hours. He has to be starred with the ‘iron dogs’. John Proctor gained that reputation when he won the National Championship in 1916 — running three hours on Friday, a two-hour second series at Grand Junction on Saturday, his one- hour qualifying heat in the Free-for-All at Calhoun, Ala., on Monday, and on Tuesday his three-hour heat in the Free-for-All Championship finals. John Proctor had to be jounced over many muddy roads between Tennessee and Alabama, while Sammy rode the sky lanes and became the first in history to achieve such a feat. As Ed Soph, the Houston, Tex., sportsman, said: ‘He sure set a record!’ He surely did, and in doing so he attained an honored status, along with The Texas Ranger and Tarheelia’s Lucky Strike, as the ‘best of the best’ — the first to be identified at Paducah.

The new Purina Award program had identified the best dogs from the 1963-64 season. From that list the starting field included twelve pointers, nine dogs and three bitches:

 

Checkmate Swaps, pointer male, G. W. (Stub) Poynor, handler; W. E. Martindale, owner.

Vendetta, pointer male, John Rex Gates, handler; Harold S. Sharp, owner.

Mistletoe Express, pointer male, Howard Kirk, handler; Clyde T. Wilson, owner.

Miss Medallion II, pointer female, Bob Lamb, handler; P. J. Blanchard, owner.

Yankee Storm, pointer male, Cecil Ladner, handler; Riley Smith, owner.

Warhoop Judy’s Suzette, pointer female, G. W. Poynor, handler; H. L. Phares, owner.

Technique, pointer male, John Rex Gates, handler; J. D. Spears, owner.

Rampaging, pointer male, Leon Covington, handler; B. McCall, owner.

The Untouchable, pointer male, Bob Lamb, handler; P. J. Blanchard, owner.

Maxim, pointer male, John S. Gates, handler; S. H. Vredenburgh, owner.

Safari, pointer female, John S. Gates, handler; S. H. Vredenburgh, owner.

California’s Sammy, pointer male, Ed Harrison, handler; George W. & Bonita Szody, owners.

The field trial committee, Henry Weil, chairman, Arthur Curtis, J. D. Boss, and Nathan Sholar, had selected a distinguished judging panel of Jimmy Hinton of Tuscaloosa, Ala., owner of Sedgefields Plantation, home of the Free-for-All Championship, Carl W. Parsons of Herrin, Ill., president of the Crab Orchard Club, home of theAmerican Field Quail Futurity, and Ray Smith of Somerville, Tenn., Field Trial Hall of Fame professional handler. The connection to the Albany, Ga., trial was emphasized by the availability of the “Albany Trophy” originally commissioned by Robert W. Woodruff to be won for permanent possession by the first owner to win the Championship three times. The presence of Emory Beetham as an honorary judge further confirmed that this was not a new trial but a renewal of a concept of a unique format to test the competitors in a manner not otherwise available. The American Field report of the trial provides a detailed account of each dog’s performance.

After the first two days of competition, the judges called for three braces for the two-hour heats — Rampaging with Miss Medallion II, Vendetta with Warhoop Judy’s Suzette, and Safari with California’s Sammy. It is interesting that only three bitches were in the field of twelve but all three made the “callback” and one, Safari, was named runner-up. At the first running of the Quail Championship at Albany, Ga., the field had 53 quail contacts, “finds”; at the first running of the Quail Championship Invitational at Paducah, Ky., the field had 52 “finds”; perhaps the “gods” were indeed supportive of the ambitions of the west Kentucky sportsmen.

The emphatic success of the first Invitational Championship at Paducah was prophetic of what was to come. Year after year each renewal added a new chapter to the story of what rapidly has become a classic event of the sport alongside the National Free-for-All, the Continental Open All-Age Championship, and the National Championship, and now perhaps the Florida Championship. Each year, despite variations of habitat conditions, weather, and availability of game, the challenge remained the same — demonstrate the highest expression of endurance, adaptability, and consistency against a field of the best dogs available in the sport. Each year the challenge of simply making the field, more difficult than for any other event of the sport, available only to twelve, the best, to have the opportunity to achieve distinction as the “best of the best”. Each year, the all-star event for the sport, not an exhibition, but competition at the highest level. Each year the challenge to meet the ideal expressed by Raymond Hoagland in the ultimate test for high class bird dogs; expressed now by the standard published for the trial at Paducah:

The Quail Championship Invitational provides a unique qualifying standard for the open all-age competitors. By limiting the entry to twelve top performers from the previous year’s major circuit trials, the Invitational becomes the “de facto” all-star event for the open all-age class. The Invitational field is comprised of proven performers, the best from the previous year’s competition. The Invitational is not intended to identify a champion performer but to establish the “best of the best” from a field of champions. To accomplish this purpose, the Invitational features a unique format intended to provide a fair and rigorous test for the dogs. By requiring four hours of performance over three days of competition, the Invitational format eliminates, to the extent possible, the element of “luck of the draw” and requires consistency of effort rather than a single flash of brilliance. Further, the Invitational is the premier endurance test of the sport and is intended to exemplify the endurance all-age performer.

The winner of the Quail Championship Invitational must demonstrate the requisite qualities of the all-age class at a high level. The Invitational winner must: hunt boldly and independently throughout; should not require excessive direction from the handler; demonstrate qualities of the finished dog by consistent coursing to logical objectives; responsiveness to the handler, and maintaining a forward pattern; exhibit strength, courage, and an unquenchable desire to find game regardless of cover or conditions — not simply choosing the easy path but hunting through habitat likely to hold game, exhibit style, speed, and stamina in action, handle game correctly — locate and point quickly and accurately using body not ground scent; back without caution; be steady; demonstrate extreme character and finish around game — style, intensity, location, and polish — must not show softness or apprehension.

The Quail Championship Invitational seeks to identify the epitome of the open all-age class of dogs, an individual with strength, courage, intelligence, and character at the highest level. A flawless performance of pedestrian quality should not be favored over one that, although imperfect, thrills with the magnitude of the effort. Above all else, the Invitational seeks to identify the endurance performer. If the judges are, to any extent, uncertain of the ability of an individual to continue at an all-age level of performance, then that dog should not be recognized as the Invitational champion.

 

Charles Colton’s phrase “Imitation is the highest form of flattery” perhaps expresses the importance of Raymond Hoagland’s concept better than any other. Since the establishment of the Quail Championship Invitational as a fixture of the field trial sport, Invitational events patterned after the original have been established in every class of pointing dog field trials.

Tom Word, for a number of years the reporter for the trial, upon the retirement of Arthur Curtis as president of the West Kentucky Field Trial Club and J. D. Boss as chairman of the Quail Championship Invitational and the transfer of those responsibilities to John Russell penned the following tribute:

The Invitational

Twelve

Only twelve

the best twelve

here by invitation

On Paducah’s

sedge and bean flats

gently rolling

woods-lined pastures

Thanksgiving weekend

the faithful gather

Friday night we

draw them twice

All-age groundwork

deep and sweeping

way out yonder

don’t look back

On-the-limb finds

style and composure

stamina and guts

first and finish

Eighteen hours

of pure delight

for devotees

of running dogs

An hour Saturday

an hour Sunday

the judges’

picks for the finals

Monday six go

two grueling hours

all work weighed

as one performance

Conceived as war clouds

gathered over us

renewed here in ’64

guarded by Kentucky’s faithful

The Invitational

for fifty years

the fairest test

of all-age greatness

Dedicated to Arthur S. Curtis and J. D. Boss.

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