American Field
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Don’t Let the Tail Wag the Dog

By Gerry MacKenzie | Sep 10, 2019

All of us who have become involved with bird dogs have no doubt encountered one individual who fanned the initial spark of interest into a flame of passion, whether as a bird hunter, field trialer, or both.

My initial experience with bird dogs began when I lived on the county line road separating Ford and Livingston counties near Chatsworth, Illinois. The area was teeming with pheasants during the early 1960s, affording a great opportunity for a neophyte bird hunter to enjoy his very first bird dogs. I could not get my fill of hunting that first season, spending every spare moment afield with my two pointers.

That spring two individuals involved in field trials, T. R. Miller of Cooks-ville, Illinois, and Gene Brown of nearby Pontiac, having heard of this young teacher and coach who was crazy about bird dogs and bird hunting, began to drive over on Saturdays to visit. They did casually mention the myriad opportunities to attend field trials in Illinois; however, I believe the real reason for their visits was to work their pups in the inviting fields around my country home.

Later that spring my two weekly guests brought another fellow along on one of their visits. None other than Dr. Clarno, from nearby Bloomington, Illinois. Dr. Clarno was president of the Field Trial Clubs of Illinois at the time. He was more forceful in encouraging me to become involved in the sport of field trialing, no doubt feeling an obligation to act as a promoter of his organization (FTCI).

At that time I began to learn new bird dog terminology. My two pointers that I had grown to look at with button-bursting pride were described as “meat dogs”. Somehow my intuition led me to believe that among my guests this was not exactly a complimentary description.

Another term that I began to hear was “classy”. Dr. Clarno noticed a third pointer that I owned and had just recently acquired. It was a short-coupled white and liver female that I had traded a darned nice 30:06 Mauser bolt action rifle with a new Tascoscope to a dog jockey who had declared her to be “broke”. This was also a new term that I learned that I found to be oftentimes rather ambiguous.

Dr. Clarno liked her looks, and suggested we turn her loose for a short spell. After just a few minutes of observing her he declared her to be “classy”. He asked if she was “broke” and I allowed as how she must be because the man I got her from said she was. He asked did she point with a high tail and I allowed as how I didn’t know because I had never seen her point. He attributed that to her being new to the area, an opinion we later learned to be untrue. Since she was so “classy” and because she was “broke” he invited me to attend the Pointer and Setter Club of Sangamon County’s trial the following weekend and run her in the amateur shooting dog event. He even offered to pay the entry fee.

Well, what did I have to lose?

I agreed, and asked if I could also run the pointer male I had hunted all season, offering to pay his entry fee myself. He said that would be fine.

The trials back then were usually run from foot, so my limited equestrian skills were not a source of embarrassment, nor was the “classy” female’s performance either. She did not knock and chase any birds simply because she didn’t find any. We later discovered the reason: she couldn’t smell a skunk if she was standing on it! She had somehow lost her sense of smell.

The pointer male I ran was another story. I learned another new bit of terminology — “lumberwagon”. My keen intuition told me that this too was not a complimentary term.

While attending this trial I heard one name bandied about by the attendees — Cincebox. I had seen this name frequently in the pages of The American Field in the short time since I had become a subscriber. Apparently this name was synonymous with field trial success in that locale.

As fate would have it, that spring I saw that a teaching job was available in Divernon, where Don Cincebox resided. Divernon is about fifteen miles south of Springfield, where Herb Holmes lived at the time, and even closer to Pawnee, which was just a few miles south of his Gunsmoke Kennels. I had purchased three of my pointers from Herb and was able to spend some time at his home and at the kennel.

Thus my burgeoning love for bird dogs was instrumental in my applying for the job, since it was apparent that bird dog activity was rife in that area. So, in late July of that summer I became a resident of Divernon.

Remembering the frequency which I had heard the name Cincebox at the trial I had attended, and how often I had seen the name in The American Field, I made it a point to meet this Don Cincebox fellow. I asked my new neighbor directions to his house and wasted no time in driving there and making his acquaintance. What ensued was one of those scenarios wherein we became friends almost immediately. After our initial meeting I couldn’t wait to show him my dogs.

Now, Don was an affable fellow with a heart of gold, but tact was not one of his attributes. Once again I heard those new words that I had learned — class, broke, lumberwagon.

Having expressed a desire to begin field trialing I was told curtly that I had to get rid of my dogs which had no class, were not broke, and in fact were lumberwagons. I did have one dog, a pointer female sired by Ch. Riflesmoke that met with his approval, since she demonstrated plenty of class. She was not quite a year of age, and Don allowed as how she might fare well in puppy and Derby stakes. (She did — 13 placements in 15 starts. Registered name Riflette. More on her later).

With Don’s encouragement, my kennel was purged of its mediocrity.

A friend of mine, Foster Burkett of Pontiac, Illinois, had a pointer male sired by Ch. Titanup registered as Chiefup Ike that he’d had some success with as a Derby that he told me might meet Don’s approval. Ike was four years old at the time. Foster allowed me to take Ike home to Divernon and try him out for a month. I did, and with Don’s blessing and his help we had him steady to wing and shot by the end of the month. I bought him from Foster now with two dogs with which to start a field trial career.

I saw a trial advertised to be held at the Wild Wings Shooting preserve near Muscatine, Iowa, in mid-September. Offered was an amateur shooting dog stake and an amateur puppy stake. Amazingly, I won first place in both events. I don’t think that there has ever been a heroin addict that got hooked so quickly or so hard as I did on field trials on that fateful weekend. Little did I realize it but my life was changed forever. Thus it was ultimately Don Cincebox who fanned that spark into a flame, and that flame has burned steadily for over fifty years.

All of this no doubt begs the question, how does any of it relate to the title of this piece? Obviously I have taken a rather circuitous route to.explain where I began and how it led to my meeting Don Cincebox. Bear with me, as Don Cincebox is very relevant to the title of this article. He was a great guy. He never smoked, drank, or swore. A hard worker and as kind and loyal a friend as one could ever ask for.

But he was not perfect. He was very opinionated, which isn’t all that bad, but along with it he was hard-headed and inflexible. He was also very willing to share his opinions. Because of his prowess in the field trial sport in his locale, and because of his compelling nature, many of the field trialers in that area looked up to him, and in fact became disciples of his, adopting his theories and opinions as their own.

One opinion that he was most adamant about and that he espoused liberally was that if a dog did not point with an absolute poker straight tail and carry it accordingly when it ran it was nothing but a “two-bitten hound.” Although I enjoyed seeing such a quality in the caudal appendage, after observing more and more bird dogs in action it was no longer paramount in my mind. I began to recognize the appeal of intensity on point or a dog that ran with a merry tail, albeit not one that was perpendicular.

I had a good season of competing in what was my “rookie year”, placing Riflette thirteen times and Chiefup Ike three times. Ike won the Pana Club’s amateur shooting dog stake with an entry of 32 dogs, which was a whopping entry back then. Don got second with his brag dog, Cinch’s Dynamite, and didn’t speak to me for a week afterwards.

Along with this first year success, I grew very “knowledgeable” in my own mind, and was very willing to share same with anyone who would listen. Therefore, many easily impressionable folks thought I might be able to judge a field trial, even though at the time I lacked what has become a major criterion for selecting judges — a horse.

Early that winter I traded Chiefup Ike to Don Cincebox for a pointer female sired by Ch. Gunsmoke that was a fantastic prospect. If she would have had the opportunity to compete she would have been a great one.

Late in the spring I left Divernon and moved back to my home town. I was unable to travel to many trials but spent countless hours afield with my newly acquired “Smoky” bird hunting.

Having been removed from the competitive arena I began to get requests to judge, and apparently didn’t make too many folks angry, as the requests kept coming.

The following spring I was invited to judge the Iowa Amateur Shooting Dog Classic. It was held at Ed Lloyd’s shooting club near New Sharon, Iowa. When I was invited I was told that I could choose my judging partner, thus sharing the task with someone I had confidence in. That is when the trouble began!

I opted to invite a friend that I had worked dogs with and attended trials with from the Divernon area. Let’s just call him Leon.

Apparently when I left Divernon Leon began spending a great deal of time with my pal Don and had become ingrained with many of Don’s philosophies. In short, he had become one of his disciples. The Iowa trial featured one-hour heats run on two courses, each laden with plenty of birds. Bird work was not at a premium!

After the smoke had cleared and all the dogs had been run, there was one that stood out clearly above the rest.

Ed Lloyd’s Dr. Pointemup had run a hustling, searching ground race with five evenly spaced finds and a back.

He was not a “knock your eyes out” stylist, pointing at a shade above 45 degrees, but plenty adequate in the “class” department. He pointed his game with riveting intensity, and ran with an attractive “hop” to his gait. His tail carriage was just a touch above 30 degrees while running, albeit very animated, and he exhibited flawless manners at flush and shot.

There was no provision in this event for a runner-up, which became academic, since there was not a dog close to “Doc”. However, when Leon and I got together to arrive at our decision, I was shocked that he did not concur.

He began extolling the virtues of a dog whose bracemate had erred at the onset of their heat, thus giving Leon’s choice the entire course to himself. Leon pointed out that said dog was beautifully conformed, ran with a high motherin’ tail, and pointed with it poker straight.

“Leon” I stated, “he had the whole course to himself, ran around aimlessly with no purpose whatsoever, and didn’t have but ONE find and blundered into that one.” “Yeah,” Leon argued, “but did you see that tail when he pointed? Right up there at twelve o’clock!”

Well, I didn’t care if the dog was a canine Adonis, it was evident to me that he appeared to be prancing around admiring himself and not hunting a lick. After all, this was a field trial, not a bench show. Much debate got us nowhere, and finally Leon uttered those words I could not believe I’d heard: “Let’s have a second series.”

I don’t know why I agreed to what I deemed a ridiculous suggestion.

Perhaps because the trial was held on Ed Lloyd’s “home court” and because when the stake began Ed jokingly announced, “Gerry, I’ve put you on my very best walking horse (and he had some good ones) so you can do your best job.” I was a bit paranoid that some would fear a bit of home cooking in the making. Had they known me well they would have known better than that.

So, to the surprise of many we announced that we were going to run Ed’s dog and Leon’s choice until we could arrive at a decision. And so the fiasco began. Doc began in earnest and quickly scored two good finds, while his bracemate pranced around, occasionally discovering a new place to relieve himself. I asked Leon if he had seen enough. “Nope, he just doesn’t have as much class, Bud.”

After the fourth unanswered find I posed the same question and got the same answer. Now I could hear the gallery grumbling behind us. Unfortunately we had not issued a disclaimer at the beginning of this run-off wherein it was understood that regardless of what happened during this second series, one of the two would be the winner. After the fifth and sixth unanswered find wherein my partner again refused to budge, I was getting nervous. I could see the gallery peeling off toward the clubhouse to begin building the gallows. Believe it or not, gentle reader, it took NINE finds before concession was finally made.

In retrospect, I blame myself for not having been more forceful, but did not want to jeopardize a friendship by being overbearing. I never let that happen again. Privately, I apologized to Ed Lloyd, and he graciously acknowledged that he knew it was not my doing. Was this not a clear case of the tail wagging the dog?

[A postscript with a bit of irony: Don Cincebox, who could rightly claim both judges in this instance as proteges, having won several hundred field trial placements, won his only titular placement with Chiefup Ike, the dog he got from me in a trade. Ike never pointed with his tail higher than just a shade under 45 degrees in his life.]

Don Cincebox died October 26, 1999 at age 63.

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