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Field Trial Report

Grand National Grouse Championship

Ponderosa Mac Named Champion; Sets New Cover Dog Record
By Mike Husenits | Nov 18, 2021
The Winners' Circle. In foreground, Champion Ponderosa Mac with Scott Chaffee. Standing, left to right: Bob Leet, Joe Cammisa, Dick Brenneman, Helen Brenneman, Judge Brent Peters, Tammy Chaffee, Mike Husenits, Judge Brian Ralph, Dave Duell, Bruce Minard, Eric Munden, and Mark Hughes.

Marienville, Pa. — The 79th renewal of the Grand National Grouse Championship, the mother pearl of cover dog events, transpired November 2-5 over the famous venue located near Marienville, Pa. The courses are part and parcel to the 500,000-acre plus Allegheny National Forrest. Seven one-hour courses were utilized daily starting on Loleta Road — courses 1, 3 and 4, a lunch break then moving to Lamonaville Road where courses 1, 2, 4 and 5 were used.

Wild grouse were present, though not in the numbers recorded in past years. The birds that were found were quite skittish at the approach of dogs and humans, which most likely contributed to several unproductive stands.

The Grand has a rich history dating back to 1943 when the initial running was held at Slate Run, Pa., following an organizational meeting held in Cleveland, Ohio where a contingency of 33 notable cover dog enthusiasts founded the organization, adopted by-laws and running rules and established three regions that would comprise the geographical boundaries with each region represented by elected directors.

The initial running in 1943 and subsequent runnings through 1957 featured one-hour qualifying heats followed by a two-hour final series with the number of dogs called back at the discretion of the judges.

Starting in 1958 the format was revised to one-hour heats, which carries forth to present. Prior to the establishment of the Grand there were many locally based coverdog trials held, the first in 1913 by the Pennsylvania Field Trial Club named the National Grouse Dog Championship that ran until 1946 when the club withdrew the National name in favor of the Grand National, then was renamed the Pennsylvania Grouse Dog Championship.

Michigan established the Lake States Grouse Championship in their region and the New England States established grouse and woodcock events. Other very early grouse trials included the Brokenstraw Amateur Grouse Dog Championship founded in 1921, the All-American in 1927, the United States Grouse Dog Championship in 1938 and the New England Grouse Championship beginning in 1927.

The founding fathers of the Grand National intended to unite the three primary regions and sponsor a rotating Grand National Championship, the “Super bowl” event of the year. The three regions are the Northeast, the Middle Atlantic and the Lake States. The Grand has rotated region to region except for the years of 1974 through 1984 when Michigan sponsored the event ten of eleven years with New York holding the trial only once during that span. Five of the 79 renewals declared no champion. The average entry over the first forty years was 27 per year, whereas the last forty years has averaged 64 dogs per year. The record entry was in 1999 when 99 starters were drawn to run at Gladwin, Mich.

The Grand National Board of Directors and Officers are indebted to the loyal sponsors who have supported this and many other major trials over a long span of years. Nestle Purina (Karl Gunzer, Greg Blair) are the primary sponsors providing dog food, financial support and useful advertising materials. Garmin supports the Grand with electronic training equipment and Lion Country Supply (Eric Munden) furnishes gifts and dog supplies.

R. B. and David Powell of Nittany Mountain Trail Rides furnish dependable horses for the judges and reporter.

Deserving accolades for all the time and effort to make the Grand a special event and operate smoothly included President Dick Brenneman and Helen Brenneman, Secretary Tom Fruchey, Invitational Secretary Joe Cammisa, Dave Duell, Chad Wheeler, John Stolgitis, Bert Benshoof, Bruce Minard, Ken Moss, Bob Leet, Justin Evans, Scott and Tammy Chaffee, John Capocci, Doug McMillen, Joe Dahl, Marc Forman, Deb Nihart. I apologize to those whose contributions I missed. All of these men and women pitched in to ensure the Grand ran as a well-oiled machine without a squeak or a rattle.

Judges elected for this year by the Board of Directors were Brent Peters and Brian Ralph. Both are experienced cover dog trialers with many miles of boots on the ground experience. Both campaign their own dogs and both are avid bird hunters. They rode attentively and gave every dog an equal opportunity.

THE 2021 CHAMPION

Records are made to be broken and this year’s Grand National Champion Ponderosa Mac is a record-breaker extraordinaire. The nine-year-old lightly chestnut marked veteran setter not only tied the record for most Grand National wins but set a new record for all-time cover dog championship wins.

Mac is owned by Steven C. Snyder of Ellendale, Minn., and is handled by Scott Chaffee of Pioneer Kennels fame of Clare. Mich. Mac was whelped at Pioneer Kennels on May 19, 2012, raised and trained by Scott and Tammy Chaffee for his original owner Bruce Cartwright. Mac was acquired by his current owner, Steve Snyder, at age four and has been rigorously campaigned in cover dog trials. This win of the Grand National is Mac’s eighth in cover dog events thus surpassing the record of seven held by Sam L’s Skyhigh, a record that stood since 1952.

More recently, several others to amass multiple cover dog championship wins include: Long Gone Agnes, Hard Driving Bev, Chasehill Little Bud and Pleasant Valley Clyde.

Mac has accomplished his unprecedented record by winning on grounds in every region of the grouse trial world placing on five different grounds over the three regions. From 2017 to 2019 Mac either won (CH) or was (R-U) in four consecutive National Championships. His wins include runner-up in the 2015 Northern Michigan, CH in 2017 Michigan Woodcock, runner-up in 2017 Grand National, CH in 2018 Grand Invitational, CH in 2018 Wisconsin, CH in 2018 Grand National, runner-up in 2019 Grand Invitational, CH in 2020 Wisconsin, CH 2021 New York, CH in 2021 Wisconsin and CH in 2021 Grand National, totaling eight Championships and three runners-up Championships.

Mac has a penchant for finding the elusive grouse when other participants cannot as proven by the fact that his two wins of the Grand at Marienville in 2018 and that this year birds were scarce and extremely hard to pin and handle. Mac accomplished these feats like a true champion delivering solid finds on the Loleta courses in 2018 and this year on the Lamonaville courses.

THE RUNNING

First Day. Tuesday dawned overcast and cool, temperature around 40° with a slight breeze. Start made at 8:08 a.m. with Sumac’s Sashay (Mark Hughes) and Grouse Trails Cracker Jack (John McKellop), both forward with eye-catching way of going. Jack pointed in the strip at 8 and handled a woodcock in perfectly — if only it had been a grouse! Sass penetrated the tall timber, her bell silent at 11, resulting in an unproductive with Jack making the scene and backing in proper form. Sass continued ahead and pointed at 53 in the right side thicket, some declaring a grouse was heard lifting but nothing seen under judgment. Sass was ahead for a good finish. Jack maintained a fast pace but got hung up rearward on the last turn before being called forward to finish ahead.

Full Breeze (M. Hughes) and Snyder’s Full Rage (S. Chaffee) started fast with Breeze slamming into a stylish point at 12 along the right edge with nothing flown or relocated. She pointed again at 16 along dirt road edge where Rage failed to back and was taken up. Before handler arrived, Breeze moved on and was laying down an earnest effort until her bell disappeared in blue berry tickets at 35 and was gone for the count.

Meredith Grade Corky (Tammy Chaffee) and Bo of Piney Woods (Robert Ecker) tried hard, searched in a forward pattern and hit likely cover. Corky suffered an unproductive at 31 at a likely looking blowdown. Both hunted ahead to the finish.

Braggabull (M. Hughes) and Grouse Trails Firestorm (J. McKellop) were the first brace after lunch which saw a few snowflakes in the air but not sticking. Bull, callname Emmy, ran a consistently forward race with plenty of eye appeal, handling with ease. Storm was a bit rangier but fell behind on several occasions. Neither made contact with birds.

Pistol Grip (M. Hughes), the 2020 Pennsylvania Grouse Champion hit the ground with reckless abandon, reaching for far away places but lacking in response to his handler. Magic Mist Sydni (Joe Dahl) hunted hard and handled the course well from start to finish but ended up birdless.

Shady Hills Zeena, newly crowned Lake States Grouse Champion, demonstrated a stylish way of going and maintained a forward pattern. She pointed intensely at 35 in likely cover with nothing flown or relocated. Miss Pennstar (R. Ecker) likewise put forth a gallant forward effort but suffered a pair of unproductives.

Kendall Hills Dawson Creek (M. Hughes) went forward and ranged to far away places, causing his handler to request the retrieval unit after a long absence. Blast Off (M. Forman) blasted off boldly and sustained his hard driving forward ground race throughout, pointing stylishly at 55 with nothing raised, concluding the day's running.

Second day. Wildland Warrior (E. Munden) and Wild Apple Siri (B. Minard) were released at 7:55 a.m. with snow showers arriving soon after their start. Warrior hunted handily with mostly a forward pattern early, closing in heavier cover but widening in the tall timber to finish strong ahead but birdless. Siri was a bit wider but somewhat lateral at times. Her bell fell silent at 20 in a thick blowdown area but nothing flown or relocated and finishing the hour well forward.

Foxbrook Poker Face (John Stolgitis) and Oscar Robinson (S. Forman) were up next. Fox applied herself well, pointed solidly at 25 but moved on before a flush attempt and continued hunting strong for the full hour. A grouse flushed wild from a tall pine at 15, however, no involvement by either dog. Oscar hunted forwardly with pleasing style, pointed with intensity at 35, albeit proving fruitless, but finishing well to the front.

I’ll Be Back (M. Hughes), aka Mickey ran well ahead, fading out of bell range at times but reappearing hunting the right covers to the finish, absent bird contact. Panola Bacon (J. Stolgitis) started somewhat lateral but soon on track for an hour of well-applied hunting, also birdless.

Game Winner (Hughes) and Thornapple Cody (B. Minard) ran following a hearty lunch at the clubhouse, start made at 12:30 p.m. on the Lamonaville course No. 1. Winner applied herself in earnest, hitting the right cover and handling like a dream but once again grouse were not to be found. Cody reached well forward and hit the cover with abandon. He recorded a well-handled woodcock find at 29 in the swamp bottom beyond the beaver dam. Had Cody’s find been a grouse he would have been in the thick of contention.

Sterlingworth Jack (R. Ecker) and Moss Meadow Seeker (Ken Moss) followed, providing an exciting brace as both applied themselves superbly to the job at hand, Seeker drew the most attention due to his ever forward high speed application. Both covered the course in eye-catching fashion but again grouse were not to be found. At 55 Seeker pointed with apparent certainty but flush and relocation proved futile.

Conneaut Creek Rosin Dubh (Hughes) and Pleasant Valley Shiner (J. Stiteler) were next. Rosin started fast but failed to make the first turn and was counted out at 25. Shiner applied himself well, hunting the objectives as they appeared to no avail.

Deciding Point (Hughes) and Duckhook (J. Stolgitis) put on a show of forward hard running ground heats directed to likely places. Point hunted fast and wide to the very end as did Duck but birds were not present on the course. Several groups of deer distracted both dogs along the way.

Third day. Breakaway at 7:56 a.m., the temperature near freezing.

Leslie's Jigster (S. Forman) and Snyder’s Pioneer Sam (T. Chaffee). Jigs hunted hard, pointed solidly at 35 in heavy cover but corrected and moved on before flush, then applied himself well to finish the hour. All were concerned when Jig’s owner Les Bressler’s horse went down at a creek crossing. Fortunately both horse and rider were okay. Sam toured the terrain with wide sweeping swings but ventured out of pocket a little too much. Leashed at 35.

Jarway’s Leroy (M. Hughes) and Hifives Top Shelf (B. Minard) put on a front-running show that had them high on the judges' list for superior ground races. Leroy failed to connect with game. Shelf pointed with style at 30 and 40 but nothing was produced or relocated.

A Distant Spec (M. Hughes) and Chasehill Poison Ivy (J. Stolgitis) were next. Spec, recently crowned Pennsylvania Champion hunted hard, making several well-sustained wide swings but was unfortunately birdless. Ivy was attractive going and fast afoot, pointed intently at 32 and 45, both proving unproductive.

Grouse Hill Pepper (S. Chaffee) and Chasehill Little Lilly (J. Stolgitis). Next, a pair of attractive going pointer females, Pepper laid down a well applied forward hard hunting race absent game contact, though Lilly was also well forward and hunted the likely cover, pointed at 40 looking certain but alas, was also unproductive. One grouse flushed wild near the path at 10 with no involvement by either dog.

LaSombra (M. Hughes) was braced with Ponderosa Mac (S. Chaffee). LaSombra, aka Trico, sped away, his bell soon silent off to the right. Handler and judge searched but could not locate him as he had moved out of the area. The retrieval unit was requested at 30.

The veteran Mac had the course to himself and took to the job at hand in earnest, maintaining a forward searching pattern and responding well to his handler’s direction. He styled up in heavy cover at 33 but with an unproductive recorded. At 41 his bell fell silent along the right side opposite some thick pines. As handler and judge approached, a grouse flushed on its own between Mac and the oncoming judge and handler. Mac held as solid as a granite statue as the shot rang out, resulting in an excellent find by the seasoned veteran. He finished the hour hunting ahead.

Double Deuce Zeke (M. Hughes) and Grouse Hill Smokey (M. Forman) were released next. Zeke hunted the fore, styled solidly at 30 but corrected and moved ahead to finish the hour strong. Smokey was classy, maintaining a pleasing pattern, pointed stylishly at 40 with nothing flown or relocated, hunting ahead to finish the hour.

Daddy’s Little Boy Butch (J. Stolgitis) and Shady Hills Whiskey Bonfire (S. Forman). This brace saw Butch rambling wide from the get go, reaching well beyond bell range and out for the count at 40. Whiskey started fast and was hunting the likely places the first half but tightened up the second half and was leashed at 46.

Fourth Day: Double Deuce Sage (M. Hughes) and Chasehill Little Izzy (J. Stolgitis). Frost was on the pumpkin for the 7:57 a.m. breakaway. These two took to the front and maintained a consistently pleasing hunting pattern for the hour but no birds were found by the dogs or espied along the course.

Warrior Zeke (M. Hughes) and Titanium Hammer (B. Minard). Zeke started off slow taking a while to get on track. He stayed forward, his bell fell silent at the 8-minute mark, and Zeke was spotted standing high and tight with a well-located grouse blowing out as handler and judge approached, all in order for the shot. Sent on, Zeke warmed to the task and finished the hour with several good forward swings, responding well to his handler. Hammer laid down a wide-ranging forward, albeit, birdless race with a short time out of pocket near the end when he appeared on Loleta Road and narrowly escaped a speeding vehicle.

Flycast Rollie Fingers (S. Chaffee) was running a well directed forward ground heat but couldn’t locate game. Grouse Hill Bullet Proof (R. Ecker) ventured to places unknown, seen sparingly until the retrieval device was called for at 40.

Wayward Flying Tomato (M. Hughes) and Fireside Aiden (T. Chaffee) started their brace after lunch at 12:40 p.m. on Lamonaville course No. 1. Both dogs hunted fast and forward, responding willingly to handlers but without any contact with game.

Chasehill Little Speck (J. Stolgitis) and Snyder’s Pioneer Scout (S. Chaffee) were next. Speck started strong and to the fore. His bell fell silent at 34, Speck standing tall and confident but nothing flown. Sent ahead he pointed statuesquely at 40; as handler approached flight of a grouse was called but unfortunately neither judge saw a bird, the stand officially recorded as a second unproductive. Speck finished the hour well ahead. Scout went on a wide touring spree that carried him to far away places; the retrieval unit was requested at 30.

Hifive’s Power Line (B. Minard) took to the front but his performance was inconsistent and was leashed at 25. Caliber Peak Storm Warning (M. Hughes) hunted stylishly ahead for the hour at medium range with no birds contacted.

Vitali’s Grouse Ringer Pappy (S. Forman) and B K Rolling Dice (B. Minard) were the final brace released at 4:19 p.m. Both tore away to the fore but deer were soon encountered on the course that distracted both from their mission of bird hunting, bringing the trial to an uneventful finish.

Marienville, Pa., November 2

Judges: Brent Peters and Brian Ralph

GRAND NATIONAL GROUSE CHAMPIONSHIP

[One-Hour Heats] — 31 Pointers, 24 Setters and 1 Irish Setter

Winner—PONDEROSA MAC, 1645586, setter male, by Jetwood—Cooper Mountain Pepsi. Steve C. Snyder, owner; Scott Chaffee, handler.

SOME HIGHLIGHTS AND SIDELIGHTS

The week kicked off with a reception and banquet on Monday evening at Bettina’s Italian Restaurant in Marienville. The group was honored to have Greg Blair, Purina area manager in attendance. Purina sponsored the dinner, provided dog food and other niceties in support of this Grand National Championship. Thank you, Greg Blair, and Purina. Bettina’s also supplied food for the daily lunch breaks at the clubhouse.

President Dick Brenneman, Grand National Secretary Tom Fruchey and Invitational Secretary Joe Cammisa welcomed a throng of nearly forty attendees. Tom introduced Judges Brent Peters of Gladwin, Mich., Brian Ralph of Sandy Lake, Pa., and reporter Mike Husenits of West Lebanon, Pa., and presented each with a gift certificate from Lion Country Supply.

A scrumptious dinner consisting of mixed greens and vegetable salad, lasagna, chicken parmesan, Italian noodles with red sauce, was topped off with a choice of three dessert cakes.

Following dinner, keynote speaker Dr. Bruce Mueller, DVM and bird dog enthusiast from Bedford, Pa., gave a presentation focused on procedures and remedies to take when accidental matings occur, presented valuable advice on digestive problems caused by internal parasites and offered common sense inexpensive recommendations to help correct these issues — break out the Kaopectate.

Joe Cammisa and Tom Fruchey presented “Legends of the Cover Dog World,” the Michael Seminatore top all-age Cover Dog setter award and the Dr. Thomas Flanagan top Derby Cover Dog Setter Award. Duly inscribed wall plaques were presented to the winners. The Purina top dog and handler awards for the fall 2020 to spring 2021 season had been cancelled for the year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Brent Peters accepted the award on behalf of owners Tom and Mark Fernandez  of Canal Fulton, Ohio for the Thomas Flanagan top cover dog Derby, Dun Rovens Zip, handled by Richard Hollister, Sr. Brent also accepted the Michael Seminatore award for the top all-age cover dog setter, Travel Alert, owned and handled by Dr. Harold Holmes of Flint, Mich., who could not attend.

Helen Brenneman was honored as a “Legend of the Coverdog World” for her numerous and on-going contributions encompassing a time frame of over fifty years of dedicated service. Helen has served as secretary of the Pennsylvania Club and Nittany Valley Club, always on top of the job at hand, making sure lunches were prepared and that the clubhouse was in order at all times. Helen is a true ambassador of goodwill and most deserving of this honor.

Legendary dogs honored included seven time grouse dog champion Sam L’s Skyhigh, owned by the late Sam Light of Punxsutawney, Pa., and handled by Rich and Larry Tuttle. Pennstar, noted champion and producer of champions, owned by Dick Brenneman and Bob Watts, was also honored. The room exploded with a hearty round of applause for all honorees.

*  *  *

Headquarters motel was the Sure Stay in Marienville where two important annual meetings were held. The first was the general membership meeting on Tuesday evening. President Dick Brenneman called the meeting to order at 7:20 p.m. with 22 members present. Secretary Tom Fruchey called for dues payments and presented several reports. Open discussions concerning the formation of a fourth region to include Minnesota and Wisconsin took center stage and concluded with the membership deciding further investigation was in order. Discussions regarding an earlier date for the grand were also a topic ending with the general consensus that the Grand National should be the last cover dog championship of the fall season. Directors whose terms were expiring or were resigning were additionally addressed. Brent Peters will replace Roger Johnson who is retiring.  Russell Ogilvie was nominated to replace retiring Joe Dahl. Others whose three-year terms were expiring were all re-elected.

On Wednesday evening the Grand National Board of Directors meeting convened. Upon approval of last year’s financial reports, April 13, 2022 was set for the Invitational Championship to be hosted by the New York State Bird Dog club. Several new trials were added to the list of qualifying trials for Invitational points.A motion to incorporate New York State into the Mid-Atlantic Region and a motion to create a fourth region to include Minnesota and Wisconsin both passed with the understanding that both proposals will be placed on the agenda for discussion at next years Directors meeting once the committee on by-laws and running rules formulate exact wording and definition and have presented their recommendations to the Board of Directors for a final vote the following year. The Grand secretary will prepare exact and complete official minutes for the above meetings. [The information written by this reporter is unofficial.]

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