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David Grubb — A Seven-Decades Journey

By Al Mannes | Jun 07, 2019
David Grubb

Lake Orion, Mich.— “If he didn’t have bad luck, he’d have no luck at all.” That old saw seems to best describe Dave Grubb’s recent medical history.

The Hall of Fame handler was training dogs at Highland, Michigan in a downpour when — “the horse slipped and I went over its head and my foot got caught in the stirrup and when the horse righted himself he twisted my knee.”

He lay in the pouring rain for some 45-minutes before help could arrive. Many hospital visits later, surgery was performed on the leg and then came rehab.

As he moved toward his car to attend one of those rehab sessions last winter, he slipped on an icy sidewalk and fell. Again, he lay motionless on the cold wet ground until the trash truck driver, doing his rounds, saw Dave’s situation and got him back into his house.

At first Dave thought his back was just sore, but later the doctors confirmed he had a broken back to go along with the splintered knee. At that point, and at the age of 80, Dave decided to retire.

Dave became a fixture in field trials across the nation. He is the only handler to win national championships on five different game birds, and has been so recognized. That achievement includes a Chukar Championship awarded on the West Coast. His success has been uniquely coast to coast.

Dave says he will surely miss a profession he’s devoted his life to, although admitting the sport has taken its toll physically. “I’ve broken thirty bones and 29 of those breaks have been horse related.” I got a good laugh from Dave when I suggested he’s the Evel Knievel of the field trial world.

Born and raised in Scotland, he came to this country as a teenager. He loved to hunt and his father purchased an English Collie. He was able to get that dog to hunt, but his real epiphany came with a bird dog that wouldn’t point.

“It was out of show dogs and I didn’t know any better. A shooting preserve nearby was co-owned by Hall of Fame handler Er Shelley. His brother-in-law and partner suggested I send the dog to Er down South.”

Dave did just that on the meager income he had scraped together on his paper route. Er later informed Dave that he couldn’t get the dog to point either. Dave decided to just hunt the dog anyway.

On one occasion the dog pointed, and then repeated the feat again and again. Dave was thrilled, and decided to enter the dog into a local field trial. The dog won against a field of 61-dogs and Dave was hooked. “I had people ask if I would help train their dogs. I did and thought it would be an easy way to make a living. Boy, was I wrong.”

He worked as an amateur until the age of 23 and then turned professional even though he had earned a college degree as a teacher and also coached basketball and baseball on the side.

 

FOR many years Dave experienced success nationwide including in his home state of Michigan. There he won the inaugural Michigan Open Shooting Dog Championship in 1978 with Shalimar, a dog that won seven championships both all-age and shooting dog.

He also won the Michigan Championship with Fast Astro Boy, Penelope and Violet. What amazes me as an avid grouse hunter is that Dave could use the same dogs to win grouse and woodcock championships as well as all-age and shooting dog. That, to my way of thinking, is real training.

“I always hunted my dogs,” noted Dave, “and found the highly intelligent ones would adapt to whatever field you were on.” That sounds easier said than done.

Dave’s best shooting dog was Little John Boy that won all over the country. His most famous dog is Miller’s Silver Ending, winner of the National Championship in 1997 and that year was also the recipient of the Purina Top Dog Award.

“Silver Ending was a one of a kind when you consider that just a day before he was to run in the National Championship some 40 miles from Ames, I entered him in the West Tennessee trial against some 60-dogs and he won that trial on the last hour of the last day. Came over the next day to Ames and won the National Championship!”

But the story of that Championship is a story unto itself. Dave had a cold leading up to the Grand Junction trial at Ames and was taking a lot of aspirin. He never realized until then he was allergic to the common pain killer. He experienced stomach bleeding and was hospitalized. Owner Ray Grace asked John Rex Gates to handle Silver Ending; the great pointer won the Championship and is now in the Hall of Fame.

Dave is the first to admit he’s been very lucky with his best moment coming many years ago when he married Henrietta. She raised their two sons, Dave and Dean, and oversaw the horse and kennel operation when Dave was on the road several months a year.

“One winter I had a road trip from Selma, Alabama to the West Coast and then back to Michigan that took many weeks and covered some seven thousand miles. I left Henrietta with 21 puppies and she worked full time as a nurse. She’s been a godsend.”

It’s plain to see that without Henrietta, Dave’s chosen career path would have been impossible.

Long periods on the road also require another major ingredient called “winning.” “Once I hit the road for the West Coast or the Deep South I could burn up a small fortune in gas, motel bills, meals and of course animal feed for dogs and horses. If you don’t win you’re in a world of economic hurt.”

Fortunately for Dave he won enough to enjoy his chosen lifestyle, but he worries about the young handlers coming up. “A lot of things have to fall into place to make a career out of this and the main ingredients are great enthusiastic owners. It’s getting more difficult to find those kinds of people.”

Dave’s memory of some six decades of competition is still excellent; it seems he can document even the most arcane moments and details of trials run years ago. And although he won many championships, he will still

recall with greater clarity the losses and near misses. I suppose he is cut from the same cloth as all great competitors. No matter what the sport, they appear never to be able to apprehend the sheer felicity of their victories until years later; not being able to live in the moment must be the fate of all great sportsmen.

For Dave that moment has finally arrived. It’s time, Mr. Grubb, to sit back, relax, and taste the sweet wine of victory.

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