American Field

Hell Creek Field Trial Venue — Eighteen Years and Counting; A Boon for Field Trials

By D. Hoyle Eaton | Aug 09, 2018
D. Hoyle Eaton

Booneville, Miss. — It has been some eighteen years since the Hell Ceek Wildlife Area near Blue Mountain, Miss., was established.

A special thanks to Dr. Sam Polles for his distinguished service for several decades as director of the Department of Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. His wisdom and vision have contributed significantly to the greatest place in our nation for which an all-age dog can display all its finest qualities, and the facilities at Hell Creek are second to none.

There were a large number of people who helped in the development of the area — to name a few: Dave Godwin, Steve Coleman, Jack Griffin and a young man, Josh Nunley, who was not there in the beginning but has made his presence known since being promoted to the position as the No. 1 department official in our section of Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, and Nathan Blount, Northern District Biologist.

And others played a key role in getting the area up and running — Charles Deaton, congressman from Greenwood, Miss. (deceased); Speaker of the House Billy McCoy; James Page (deceased); Dutch Boren (deceased); Joe G. Walker; Carl Graves (deceased); Jimmy Downs (deceased); and Richard Tollison, who designed and built the clubhouse, barn, kennels and corrals.

There are several young men who are making an impact at Hell Creek, namely Jeremy Taylor, president of the Hell Creek Club; Greg Bane, president of the Alabama Championship; Steve Hurdle, president of the Tootsie Hurdle Open; Brad Kennedy, president of the Southern Championship.

Brad has not been active at Hell Creek as long as some, but is a representative of Sunshine Mills, maker of Sportsman’s Pride dog food. He has contributed to field trials wherever there is a field trial, monetarily as well as giving of his time and talent.

Other important activities on the area are scheduled deer hunting, youth hunts, dove, squirrel, rabbit and quail. Also there are extensive farming practices. With Dr. Polles’ knowledge and foresight, the Hell Creek Area will be a place where trialers and others come and enjoy outdoor activities and competing for years to come.

At this time there are six all-age and championship trials scheduled to run on the Hell Creek Area next season (2018-2019).

I have heard all kinds of versions as to what an all-age dog is. An all-age dog is a glorified gun dog in every respect. A true champion bird dog has to be endowed with more genetic qualities than any sporting animal in the world and that includes humans. These qualities include intelligence, affectionate nature, independent but biddable, lofty and animated in motion, fast with a determination to find birds, a nose that will allow him to distinguish between ground scent and body scent quickly, always keeping his nose high enough to follow the scent cone from the airflow allowing him to go to the birds fast and with accuracy.

Heart and stamina enough to never quit regardless of conditions; good eyesight and ears that will let him know where his handler is and which direction he is traveling by the handler’s voice.

Yes, pedigree, conformation and appearance are important but I would never pass judgment on a dog until I saw him perform and display his genetic qualities in the field and around birds.

I have told this story to a lot of people. White Knight taught me a lot more than I taught him. He was my first field trial dog and being inexperienced I was smart enough to give him his head and let him do the thinking. I did teach him three commands: Come, whoa and heel, and the only one I had to enforce was whoa.

It was in the fall just before the (American Field) Quail Futurity. Billy Morton was helping me at the time.

We were giving “Bud” a workout and to our surprise we saw him standing on point in front of us. I had seen him point and knock a lot of coveys prior to this but had never been able to flush birds in front of him. He figured he knew better than me how to make the birds fly.

We rode up within a safe distance behind him. I jumped off my horse and grabbed my shotgun. In my excitement I went the wrong way and crossed directly behind my horse. As I did he kicked me in the rear but I kept making my way to my dog, all the while dragging one leg and saying “Whoa, Bud”. He stood for me to flush the birds and was steady for the shot.

White Knight won the Fifty-Sixth Futurity that year, beating 105 other dogs and put one D. Hoyle Eaton on the map. That day was in November, 1960. From that time on he gave me the honor of doing the flushing.

Billy Morton still laughs about me getting my tail kicked. That was the one and only time that horse ever kicked. I think he did that so I would never forget what happened that day.

In any form of sporting activities people are always looking for a higher degree of excellence.

My understanding is two of the lords in the Parliament of Great Britain and Northern Ireland liked to bird hunt and they kept debating each other as to who had the best dog. Some of my specifics could be wrong but generally speaking I am not. The only way they knew how to settle the debate was to put the dogs down together. As a result, one of the lords came away happy and the other one making excuses.

Isn’t that typical even today?

I don’t know exactly when field trials started in the U. S. It would have been in the 1800s. I do know they began to flourish after World War II.

At that time there were lots of native birds throughout the United States and Canada.

I heard the old trainers talk about loading their gear and dogs in a boxcar headed for the summer training in Canada, that would have been in the 1930s.

It makes one sad to think that the native quail are almost distinct in our part of the country and without any hope of their return.

Field trials and all-age dogs have been the foundation for the pointer and setter breeds for almost a century. The all-age dog excels in intelligence, stamina, speed, range, biddability and able to adjust to the terrain before him.

I have made this statement and stand behind it. I want the kind of bond with my dog that if we found ourselves walking through a jungle I would expect him to be with me when we exited the jungle.

What I am trying to say is this: if a walking hunting dog had the qualities that I have described in this article then he could adjust to becoming a top contender in an all-age trial. They don’t have to be one or the other but could all be rolled up into one. From my experience, to find a gun dog like I have described and to take a look at his pedigree you will find a good all-age dog close up.

I have heard it said by someone who wanted to clone ole Jack or Bud. My theory about this, and I have written about this before. It could be done as far as a “look alike,” but to be the same dog as ole Jack, he would have to have the same environment as a puppy and in his developing stage, and who knows if he would have the same degree of mentality and the other genetic qualities that made ole Jack the dog he was. If someone can answer that question, please let me know.

The field trialers who participate at Hell Creek, and some others who were interested, sponsored a fish fry at Hell Creek Clubhouse on June 7 in appreciation for the service and cooperatiton of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. We were pleased to have attending two young people with the Tennessee Game and Fish Department — namely Bubba and Amy Spencer, and from the Mississippi Department, Josh Nunley, Nathan Blount, and Jack Griffin. The clubhouse dining and lounging area was full of field trialers and other interested parties.

It was a general consensus that the event was a huge success and Mr. Brad Kennedy is due a round of applause for the meal and Jackie Martin for his cooking expertise.

We were in hopes that Dr. Polles, Russ Walch and Amy Blaylock could have come but understand their busy schedules with the Department.

I would like to close this lengthy article with these thoughts. I describe success by means of a good home, a loving family and friends who helped shape my life for the better and also a God-given talent and profession that was a joy and some great dogs that culminated in fulfilling my dream in becoming a successful dog handler.

I was watching a movie awhile back about a young boy who had a dream about a baseball field. The name of the movie was “Field of Dreams” and I thought what a similarity to another boy’s dream at another time and a different field.

The stories were the same except the playing field was different but basically the same; both had to have the driving force of a dream, then commit to making that dream a reality. Here is where the tricky part comes into play. It took the field and the know-how to make it work, also the support of family and some interested parties with the monetary means and a willingness to be a part of the dream.

The other playing field I speak of is the Hell Creek Wildlife Area where people come to enjoy the sport of field trialing and the camaraderie with other like-minded bird dog people and hopefully be able to witness a great performance by one of the dogs.

It has been a wonderful life-long career with my wife, Miss Betty, as she affectionately was called by field trialers, being there with me 63 years through it all.

Hope all your dreams come true!


[Editor’s note: Hall of Fame handler D. Hoyle Eaton turned 88 a few short weeks ago. His name is indisoluably associated with field trial greats and Hall of Fame electees Riggins White Knight, Red Water Rex, Ormond Smart Alec, Miller’s White Cloud, et al. The Hell Creek initiative was actually started more than forty years

earlier, coming to successful fruition

eighteen years ago.]

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