American Field

Anent Dave Grubb’s Retirement

All Good Things Come to an End

By Gerry MacKenzie | Oct 30, 2018

McLeansboro, Ill. — A muddy boot, a slippery stirrup, and a stumbling horse brought a long and storied career to an unceremonious end in late September.

The mishap caused a double fracture in Dave Grubb’s lower leg, and faced with the prospect of missing an entire season and the uncertainty as to how the injury would heal, he reluctantly decided to hang up his whistle for good.

I asked Dave for a thumbnail sketch featuring the high points in his career, and he ended it as follows:

“Started in field trials in 1954. From then to the present totals 64 years. Ran with the greatest handlers of all time and under the best judges of all time. Loved every minute of it, and still do!”

Not exactly the words of someone looking forward to retiring.

I first met Dave Grubb in 1967 at Corvallis, Ore. He was there on one of his seventeen trips to the West Coast. Having made that trip of reverse (West to Midwest) several times, I can assure you that is not an easy venture, taxing to both animals and persons alike. It’s a 2200-mile trip, and as the old saying goes, “uphill in both directions”. In this instance that adage is true as one must cross the Rockies — twice — coming and going.

A few years ago Dave Grubb was one of a group of friends who wrote letters nominating this writer for the Field Trial Hall of Fame. I remember that in his piece, Dave wrote that “when he first met me he didn’t much care for me”. Well, I wasn’t crazy about him either. After all, he mounted his horse from the wrong side and always wore that infernal black cowboy hat and all that costume jewelry. My reaction was, “what a hot dog — put some mustard on it.”

One small incident occurred in 1976 that caused me to look at Dave in a different light. I was running Charismette in the Pacific Coast Championship (which she won) and while attempting to flush on her fifth and final find I heard a voice coming from the dog wagon truck which was parked nearby. It was Dave. “Here’s your bird over here, Gerry,” as he had espied the hen pheasant that was trying to elude my attempt to get it airborne. With Dave’s help, an unproductive was averted which may have altered the outcome of the trial. I then decided he might not be such a bad guy after all.

A few years later, after relocating to the Midwest, I attended the Michigan Open Shooting Dog Championship. A week or so later I received a nice letter from Dave acknowledging my presence at the trial and remarking how he enjoyed watching some of the dogs I ran in the stake. Notice, he didn’t say ALL of the dogs I ran, for if so he would have been a bald-faced liar, as I didn’t even enjoy watching them all.

Once finally firmly rooted back in my beloved Midwest, Dave’s and my paths began to cross several times each season. It was then that what I perceived to have been a “hot dog” was viewed from a much different and more objective perspective.

Dave Grubb realized early in his career that being a field trial handler is another form of “show business”. With this in mind he became the consummate showman. This was evident in his dress, his equipment, and the condition of his dogs and horses. Dave’s dogs always looked well-fed and in prime condition — some critics regarding them as too heavy. However, they always seemed to have more than enough stamina. Concerning his manner of dress, Dave’s career began when it was not uncommon for a handler to show his dogs in competition attired in a coat, tie, and sporting a fedora hat. Dave decided to create his own image — more along the lines of the Rhinestone Cowboy, a look that was unique and appealing, without being ostentatious. His equipment was always first rate and brandishing his name done in appealing script lettering. When his rig pulled into a trial area you knew right away whose it was. The only aspect of his persona that I could be critical of was that four-legged pogo stick that he furnished to his loyal helper, Bob Simmons. When Bob passes he will definitely be “called up yonder.” His “hell” was here on earth riding that orangutan.

Dave spent many winters working on the Anderson Ranch near Hernando, Miss. Not long after he left I relocated to Hernando, with the early part of my tenure there spent on that same Anderson Ranch. Amazingly, all of those coveys that Dave wrote about were gone when I got there. I soon figured out where they went, and Dave’s subsequent trainer updates about his new digs near Selma, Ala., indicated they had followed him to the new locale.

I write this with “pen in cheek”. As much of the Anderson holdings had been subdivided, and soy bean farming had been replaced with cotton. I was able to find some great grounds west of Hernando on the Banks plantation. The development of Tunica as a gambling Mecca ruined that, as once again suburban sprawl reared its ugly head. Both of us having spent time in the Hernando area offered a lot of common ground for conversation wherever our paths did cross, and an acquaintanceship grew into a friendship that is still intact.

When Dave was stripped of the veneer he adorned himself with to put on his “show”, what came through was a down to earth, man’s man, fun guy to be around.

However, if you had to compete against him the day after a night of fun you could rest assured he’d do whatever it took within the framework of good sportsmanship to beat you.

David Grubb’s contributions to the bird dog sport were many — too numerous to mention. One that stands out from my perspective was that Dave educated West Coast field trialers that you could win stakes with dogs that handled and found and pointed birds as readily as you could with dogs that ran like striped butt apes and were lucky to have more than one bird contact in an hour.

On the lighter side, whenever I felt like our game birds might become endangered species, I had only to read Dave’s summer training reports to realize my fears were unfounded.

When I decided to write this piece, I asked Dave to send me a list of highlights of his career. The following is what he sent:

Born in Stonehouse, Scotland, May 9, 1938. Came to the USA at the age of 12. (Right there I have always had a bit of an edge on him — I can be president of the United States and he can’t).

Won the International Pheasant Championship seven times (a record); Violet won it three times (also a record); went to the West Coast seventeen years. Won the Pacific Coast Championship nine times (a record). Ch. Shalimar won it three times. The only handler to win national championships on five game birds — twice — pheasant, quail, chukar, grouse, and prairie chicken.

Miller’s Silver Ending won the National Championship in 1997 and the Purina Award in 1996.

Won walking grouse championships with dogs he won all-age championships with. Was the breeder of many of the dogs with which he won championships.

Before closing allow me to point out an observation of my own. Throughout his career, many of Dave’s clients remained clients and/or friends for years. To remain loyal as.

So there you have it — from the grouse woods to the uplands, from the East Coast to the West Coast and all points in between, Dave Grubb was there and always made his presence felt, as there were many more great moments in between these listed highlights.

Dave was elected to the Field Trial Hall of Fame in 2008. I am proud to have been one of those who nominated him.

As I told him when he called to inform me of his accident and retirement, the same as I told Bill Holmes when he sold Gunsmoke Kennels and hung up his whistle, old dog trainers never die, they just fade away (paraphrasing the great General Douglas MacArthur — a fellow Scotsman) when he addressed the cadets at West Point).

Dave was scheduled for knee surgery on October 25.



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