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Field Trial Report

Masters Open Championship

By Andrew Campbell | May 12, 2020
Courtesy of: Chris Mathan Championship Winners. Front row, from left: Aimee Atkins, Judge Harold Ray, Judd Carlton with Miller’s Blindsider, Nick Berrong, Jamie Daniels, Tommy Davis with Game Wardon, Claudia McNamee, Luke Eisenhart and Eddie Sholar. Back row: Ray Pearce, John Mathys, Tim Moore, Paul DeLoach, Woody Watson, L.J. Lundstrom, Judge Harold Johnson and Jay Cole.

Albany, Ga. — The 51st edition of the Masters Quail Championship was contested between March 8-11 and represented a da capo of sorts, a return to the grounds of Blue Springs Plantation (and to its old “North End,” Nonami Plantation), after hurricane damage interrupted its running there last year during the Championship’s golden year.

But there are no returns without departures, and without the inevitable changes wrought by the passage of time and forces beyond our control. There will be more to say about that later.

Nevertheless, it was a glorious Championship and with its share of opinions as a result. From a field of 49 starters — 44 pointers and 5 setters — the champion and runner-up could not be named until the final minutes of the final brace; the judges, Harold Ray of Waynesboro, Ga., and Harold Johnson of Shorter, Ala., sitting upright in the saddle until the very conclusion of the fourth day.

Nevertheless, from that field they would award the the Norman J. Ellis Memorial Trophy to Miller’s Blindsider, owned by Nick Berrong of Maryville, Tenn., and handled by Jamie Daniels, and the runner-up to his bracemate, Game Wardon, owned by Dr. Fred Corder of Corinth, Miss., and handled by Luke Eisenhart.

The Club and handlers all appreciated both judges’ diligence, attention, and dedication to their task at hand over the course of the four days. They, in return, also wished to express their particular admiration for two other dogs not so far behind the winners: Lester’s Georgia Time and Touch’s Malcolm Story both handled by Mark McLean.

This da capo was of course possible by the generosity of two understanding landowners, Mr. Witt Stephens of Blue Springs and Mr. Ted Turner of Nonami. Their ongoing commitment to sharing their prime wild quail habitat with the field trial community to prove the nerve and blood of our finest competitors is highly commendable — and for which the Southern Field Trial Club remains eternally grateful.

Their agents, managers Marty Adams and Ray Pearce, respectively, also deserve deep thanks for their diligence and expertise in maintaining and expanding the bird populations on these two incredible properties — and birds were in plentiful supply on every course.

This year’s courses reflected the literal impact severe weather could have on south Georgia farmers of every type, and especially those trying to foster quail. While the first course on Blue Springs was only slightly abridged, it then had to turn more tightly counter-clockwise above the South End Pond to come over the two whalebacks above the flooded plain of the Show Me Bottom, and was then obliged to avoid the entire sequence of cover crop fields along the Flint River (and therefore also avoided such landmarks as the Allison Swamp and Cat Pond).

It would then turn north once more at what long-timers knew as Sam’s Honey Hole to run up into the powerlines and then turn west, rejoining the old second course, and dropping southwest at the dog leg in the powerlines and then dropping off the edge of the big rotator field to head west.

The very high levels of the Flint River had also closed off the ‘River Course’ on the eastern side of the Blue Springs road, a course the Masters had been obliged to use after the tornado ripped across the northwest corner of Nonami in late January 2017.

Returning to the former second and third courses was still mildly traumatic: while all the downed timber had been cleared, very little upright timber remained, the ground cover wide open to the sky but nonetheless beginning to recover after its scouring by heavy wind and heavy machinery. What I had called the Lane of Oaks in previous reports, a line of mature live oaks that bordered one of the major east-west paths the course followed, is now entirely gone without trace.

The Southern Field Trial Club is also grateful to its event sponsors: Purina, Garmin Tritronics and John Rex Gates, and Flint Ag & Turf for the loan of the John Deere Tractor to pull the dog wagon — and to Mr. Ray Reece for driving it for four days.

The Winners

Game Wardon (Eisenhart) and Miller’s Blindsider (Daniels) had been paired in the 22nd brace, the first brace on the final afternoon over on Nonami Plantation. With a warm, light rain shower to greet the gallery and contestants, both dogs would be sent out parallel to the Wildfair Road to the south.

The first call of point would come at 7, Game Wardon standing in an oakey thicket in the hollow before the first of the north-south cover crops fields on the south side of the course, the handler stepping in front to flush with one covey getting up some 50 yards ahead of him and then a second packed in tight flushing directly ahead of him.

As the course got its very first glimpse of the Blue Springs headquarters well over a half-mile away through the trees, Game Wardon could be seen down out in the distant hollow ahead, while Blindsider swung across the face of the slope ahead of him. To put it in perspective: between the tree cover and the undulations in the terrain, seeing an all age dog at extreme range in south Georgia is a rare and precious thing— and the judges and gallery had just seen both, moving out independently and to the front at well over 500 yards. It was as powerful and decisive a move as Dominator’s Rebel Heir’s when he cruised out of sight along the edge of the Allison Swamp when he won in 2015 — and both dogs had performed it.

Blindsider, however, had turned forward soon after he had dropped out of view and effectively crossed the turning course and coming to a stop at 18 on the northwest corner of the second of two, paired skinny cover crop fields, the dog turned back into the faint southwesterly breeze and looking into an oakey thicket. The handler would flush a single easily ahead of the dog, a second bird flushing out as he collared his dog on.

Eisenhart called point shortly afterwards at 21, just over the final rise before the Blue Springs headquarters directly to the east, Game Wardon a little low in the front, perfectly acceptable bearing in mind the solitary bird buried in the grass directly ahead of him. Turning north, Blindsider was seen powering out to the east, moving smoothly out along the outside edge of the slender cover crop field, while Game Wardon had pushed well out front, once more disappearing over the next rise several hundred yards ahead.

For his part, Blindsider had then crossed the front to cross the wind, running the southern edge of the long, east-west cover crop field, coming to a stop at 30 some 250 yards down, looking up into the wind, head high above the broomsedge and dog fennel— a covey easily kicked out ahead of him. Both dogs would independently punch out hard over the small rise to the north — where a rotator field had once been — but would be successfully turned across the front to more closely follow the course parallel to the Blue Springs Road.

Around the 45-minute mark and only 100 yards from the road, the course drops down into a dip demarcated by a slender cover crop field some 250 yards long before rising out again at its end; the lowest part of the field and the road, itself, were under at least 12 inches of water. As the gallery made a partial descent into the dip, Blindsider could be seen cresting out directly ahead before disappearing out of sight. Soon after the course crossed the dirt road and entered the woods paralleling the long cover crop field, Daniels and then Eisenhart initially called point at 51, the two dogs apparently together some 300 yards ahead; however, the call of birds in the air would come with the judges still cantering to the front and otherwise invisible to them. Advised of this, both handlers would immediately water their dogs and send them on to finish well out to the front over the next rise.

Both dogs had profoundly demonstrated the ability and desire to work with boldness and independence, and yet still evidence their willingness to work with their handler when asked to. They had both been blessed with that luck of timing and perspective: the good fortune that comes when speed and terrain collaborate to allow a dog to be seen at great distance without any need for elaborate showmanship or teamwork.

The gap between them was minor, Blindsider showing a little more ease and strength of finish — qualities that he had demonstrated all spring, especially at the Continental and the Southeastern.

Honorable Mentions:

There were two honorable mentions —Lester’s Georgia Time, owned by Jim Clark and Baker Hubbard, and Touch’s Malcolm Story, owned by Alex and Bryanna Rickert—both handled by Mark McLean.

The first, running in the ninth brace over on Blue Springs, had set the early benchmark for the trial; the second, running in the twenty-fifth and final brace, had the herculean task of trying to split, let alone beat, the two dogs that had already run that same afternoon in the same conditions and on the same property.

McLean deserves tremendous credit for not merely trying, but keeping the judges’ attention until the call of time.

Touch’s Malcolm Story had already had a distinguished spring season, winning the Continental Championship a month before, when he came to the line for the final brace with Shadow’s Lord Magic (Eisenhart), his owner Carl Bowman riding in support of his dog. Starting a little ways south of the Nonami golf course, the course would turn north after roughly 5 minutes, coming up along the eastern edge of the golf course, both dogs taking a little work to bring them around the swampy bottom to the left. Clearing the most easterly point of the golf course, Lord Magic would come to a stop ahead at 9 roughly parallel with the small house on the southwest of the course, birds successfully kicked out of the scrubby cover ahead of him. Both dogs would break out to the southeast before turning forward with their handlers as the course passed the Baptist Church some three-quarters of a mile to the east, Lord Magic showing nicely along the eastern edges of a triple stack of narrow cover crop fields. For his part, Malcolm Story had pushed out on the right side, dropping down into a live oak bottom and coming to a stop at 28, perhaps 150 yards upslope from the very bottom of the swale, looking up into an oaky thicket, and directly into the southeasterly breeze: a covey of birds pushed skyward out ahead of the mannerly dog.

Turning west as the course paralleled the Blue Springs headquarters, Lord Magic would fire out along the edge of a westbound cover crop field to the left, while Malcolm Story dropped out of sight out on the right, the call of point coming for him at 36. Standing on the slope looking into the grassy cover above a dried-out swampy hollow beside a live oak, he would stand taut through the initial single bird’s departure, then that of another, and then the rest of the large covey’s flight. He stopped again at the head of a T-shaped cover crop field on the left side of the course at 45, half the covey leaving ahead of him, the other half behind him, as his handler stepped in front.

Lord Magic had pushed out towards the edge of the large rotator field to the right, coming to a stop of his own at 46, roughly 75 yards south of the big rotator field edge near a prominent live oak. After the initial flushing effort would prove unsuccessful, he would relocate some 25 yards across the wind to the west, and a pair of birds flushed out of the broomsedge.

Dropping southwest towards the large bowl normally on the left on the first outbound cast in the morning, Malcolm Story would swing down into a hollow roughly 150 yards west of the belly of the bowl, stopping at 52, looking upslope and upwind into a swath of broomsedge. Sadly, all flushing and relocation efforts would prove unsuccessful. In the meantime, Eisenhart had elected to pick up in the awareness that Lord Magic was not beating what he had already run.

Swinging around the bowl and heading east once again, McLean called point for Malcolm Story once more at 58 as he crested the first rise out towards the Wildfair Road, calling birds in the air shortly afterwards— but with the judges unable to see them, he would promptly elect to take his dog on. He would finish out on the right shoulder well to the front.

If only slight differences had separated the two winners, only slight differences had held Malcolm Story back from a placement despite his impressive ground race and his three beautiful finds.

At the trial’s conclusion, Judge Ray stated that they had four dogs, each of whom had given a championship-caliber performance, and the first to cross that high bar had been Lester’s Georgia Time. Sadly due to the late start of the Championship due to bad weather and their own work schedules, his owners, Jim Clark and Baker Hubbard, had only been able to come ride the day before to get a sense of the terrain he would have to work over out on Blue Springs.

He was drawn in the ninth brace with Dominator’s Rebel Squire (Daniels), although with the early pick-ups in the previous two braces, they would be turned loose at the end of the first whaleback headed approximately northeast. Dropping down to the red dirt road, Georgia Time would drop off the shoulder to the south towards the already-draining bottom, coming to a stop at 6 roughly 50 yards off the road, looking out into the bedraggled broomsedge -- where the handler would readily produce a covey that would have been wearing snorkels the day before. Crossing the road, he would punch out down the long going-away field and drop out the far end, where he was found standing at 14 roughly 100 yards off the northeast corner of the field in the piney woods, the birds rising expressly at the handler’s arrival. He stopped again soon after being cast away to the northeast, standing tall in a fire trail — although McLean would quickly deduce that he was backing a downed tree limb that the sunlight had caught just right and simply take him on. Swinging east under the edge of the big rotator field, both dogs would drop down into the hollow towards the River Road— and the call of point came shortly thereafter at 20.

Immediately after crossing the road, Rebel Squire had spun back into the southwesterly breeze looking into the corner of the adjacent crop field, Georgia Time standing in a respectful honor as Daniels kicked out the birds from the grassy cover ahead of his dog.

The course then turned north between the River and Blue Springs roads headed to the powerlines to turn west once more. Shortly after turning north and following the edge of a quarter-mile long cover crop field, Rebel Squire punched over to the east side of the field, turn and then drop out of view— where he was found on point at 26 by the other scout. With some confusion over whose dog it was buried in the thicket of oak striplings, Luke Eisenhart took over flushing responsibilities while Daniels came back to his dog, kicking out a covey from the tangled mess. The two dogs would then punch north across the former airstrip field now planted in clover and out into the woods on the right side of the twinned cover crop fields immediately ahead. Rebel Squire would come to a stop roughly midway down the length of that field at 36, some 25 yards deep into the woods — Georgia Time visible pushing out through the bowl to the northeast another 150 yards deep. A small covey easily flushed out ahead of Rebel Squire.

Hitting the powerlines, Georgia Time would punch out along the right side, still moving smoothly, turning south smoothly with his handler at the dogleg in the powerlines. As the course began to wind around the large rotator field, Daniels conceded that Rebel Squire had not made the turn and ask for his retrieval device at 55.

Moving out to the west, the call of time would come as the gallery entered a roughly square cover crop field, Georgia Time having entered the woods out to the left where he was found standing out in the hollow some 200 yards south just a couple of minutes into the grace period, a covey easily produced ahead of the stylish dog. With multiple finds and a number of bold, independent casts entirely visible for the judges’ appreciation, Georgia Time established a clear threshold for others to try and surpass.

The Running

The first brace featured Smooth Operator (Furney) alongside Chinquapin Bill (Warren). Moving out smoothly through the first bottom and past the Black Pond, Smooth Operator a stopped at 9 in the middle of the piney woods section roughly parallel with the bottom edge of the cover crop field on the left, looking up into some dense grass— although sadly, all flushing and relocation efforts would prove fruitless. In the process of being brought back to the front, he would nonetheless come to a successful stop at 15 on the climb out of the bowl below the big rotator field, standing some 50 yards off the left side of the main path, a healthy-sized covey successfully flushed out of the broomsedge. For his part, Bill had accepted his mission from the outset and, literally, run with it, leaving Warren to ask for his retrieval device at 16. He would move through the next bottom and then disappear as he approached the first of Smith Fields, found standing at 29 in the dense thicket of live oaks, the birds rising as the judges and gallery came on in force. Through the remainder of those fields and through the piney woods savannah, Smooth Operator moved kindly around the initial turn east -- and where in previous years, the course had cut across a deer stand field in the direction of the swampy South End Pond, it now took the entirety of this field, now sown in clover, to the east. Reaching the end of the deerstand field, Smooth Operator had apparently swung wide through the turn, but was returned to the judges within the grace period at the call of time.

The second brace drew Erin’s Three Leaf Shamrock (Eisenhart) with Touch’s Gallatin Fire (McLean). As the course cast off to the northeast, it became quickly obvious why it had been diverted from its customary swing to the south, the entirety of the wide plain of the Show Me Bottom entirely under water -- presumably forcing the birds up onto the knolls of the first and second whalebacks. By the time the clock had reached 11, Gallatin Fire had already scored a non-productive, a divided find, and a find of his own at the far end of the line of young pines up over the crest of the first whaleback, while Shamrock had recorded two finds, a divided find, and then two more finds. The dogs would not be out of the proverbial woods quite yet -- although after dealing with a predominance of singles from a large, scattered covey, Shamrock would come to a stop roughly 200 yards before the red dirt road out on the left side at 16, a large covey packed tight scared out ahead of the mannerly dog. For his part, Gallatin Fire would swing down towards the flooded bottom below the road and come to a stop of his own at 18, an abrupt relocation producing a dispersed covey popcorning off all around the mannerly dog, surprising because the handler had already flushed all through the area.

Across the road finally, Shamrock powered down the inside edge of the long going-away field, now too sown in clover, before crossing from right to left and dropping into the deep pocket of woods to the northwest. He swung across the head of the field for the turn northeast and came to a stop on the shoulder, although a turkey would be seen leaving the vicinity and Eisenhart would elect to simply take his dog on. Nevertheless, Shamrock pointed once more several hundred yards further along the high shoulder at 32, another covey flushed out ahead of him. At that point, McLean would come in for his retrieval device unconvinced his dog had made the eastward turn out of the going-away field. Shamrock would work consistently forward as the course angled northeast where he would come 46 in a glade of mature pines roughly 250 yards south of the Airstrip Field, the covey flush prompting a six-pack of deer to leave the area in haste as well. He would stop for a ninth and final time at 51, roughly 200 yards deep in the median between a pair of twinned cover crop fields shortly after the Airstrip Field, another covey sent skyward ahead of the stylish dog. Reaching the powerlines, Shamrock would go out along the long wooded edge to the right, seen still going away at the call of time.

The third brace brought Touch’s Whitewater (McLean) to the line with Sandhill Stud (Davis), with owner Dr. Randy Peel riding in the gallery to watch his dog. Turned loose just before the red dirt of the River Road, both dogs would break down into the woods on the left of the powerlines to go forward. Through the dogleg, both dogs would disappear into the woods to the southwest, bordering the large rotator field -- where first Stud, and then Whitewater, were found standing at 10, the former some 75 yards off the southwest corner of the small rapeseed field, the latter some 150 yards further in; both with a covey directly in front of them. As the course headed approximately south and then southwest off the edge of the rotator field, the distant call of point came for Whitewater at 20, the dog perhaps a quarter-mile out to the right standing atop a small rise above a cover crop field, looking into a bleached-out food strip of Egyptian wheat -- with a large covey of birds ahead of the stylish, young dog. Moving roughly south towards the River Road, the other scout would call point for Stud at 32, standing in a little hollow off the corner of a cover crop field, a healthy covey of birds sent out ahead of him.

As the course began to turn southwest above the River Road, Whitewater was seen swinging wide through the bottom below. As the course headed north, Stud was found out on the western side at 41, standing tall and handsome on a low rise beneath a white oak, the birds packed tight ahead of him. Swinging north then around the rotator field to the northwest, Stud would pass out along the outer edge of the crop fields to the right, Whitewater now unseen for some time. As the course angled west through the patchwork of cover crop fields towards the Queen Ash Road, McLean would come in for his retrieval device shortly before the call of time, Stud for his part having now disappeared out the front to be found on point shortly after the call of time, standing in the wooded median separating three fields, the birds immediately ahead of him.

The fourth brace brought Shearjoy’s Unforsaken (Davis), with owner Betty Shearhouse riding in support of her dog, head-to-head with Chinquapin Legacy (Sikes) to be turned loose over on Nonami. Legacy would immediately punch out hard on the left side, and coming over the first small rise, would be seen rimming the outer edge of the first bowl. Unforsaken would take a little time to find his pattern, but would eventually settle into a consistent trajectory eastward out on the right. Shortly after sighting the Blue Springs headquarters for the first time, Unforsaken would swing across the front and come to a stop on a low rise out on the left at 18. He was promptly asked to relocate, a first and then a second time, ultimately moving only about 5 yards further upwind, the covey finally pinned in the scrubby grass ahead of him. With the course swinging north (but before turning northeast towards the Baptist Church), Sikes would concede he had lost contact with his hard-running dog and came for his retrieval device at 31; at which point, aware that his dog was not having his strongest day, Davis would elect to pick up Unforsaken.

The fifth brace drew Dunn’s True Issue (Eisenhart), with proud owner Claudia McNamee riding in the gallery, alongside Woodville’s Yukon Cornelius (McLean). They were loosed with the two, long, slender cover crop fields to the east, True Issue tackling their long outer edge to go forward. Around the turn past the Baptist Church, the course would be forced to angle across the slope above the flooded dip and road -- at which point, Cornelius would be found on top of the rise at 16, some 150 yards out to the north (as the course turned northwest). An initial batch of birds would get up as the handler went in front, the remainder of the much larger covey getting up as he went back to collar his dog. Both dogs moved smoothly through the road crossing, True Issue moving out through the woods on the right side, and coming to a stop in the final cover strip before the long field began at 30. Not looking entirely certain, he would be promptly asked to relocate— and would come to a decisive stop some 25 yards further east, all for a single bird to be flushed out ahead of the intense dog. Taken on, he crossed the course and then come to another stop at 35, some 50 yards west of the bottom edge of a transverse cover crop field, this time a covey produced with relative ease out of the oakey thicket. By the time the course had turned west under the rotator field and out into the sparse, but rejuvenating post-tornado cover along the north edge, Cornelius had not been seen in some time -- and, in fact, as the course began to angle southwest, McLean would come in for his retrieval device at 45. Working consistently ahead of his handler, True Issue came to a stop out on the right side roughly parallel to the pecan orchards to the north at 50, a single initially flushing out of the broomsedge, the remainder exploding skyward as Eisenhart went back to collar the dog. True Issue would finish his hour going away out front to the south.

The sixth brace would see Dominator’s Rebel Rogue (Daniels) brought to the line with Sandhill’s Little Junie (Rayl) and turned loose southbound of the Hardup Road roughly 300 yards to the west. Rogue would almost immediately establish point at 1, although after a brief flushing effort he would be asked to relocate twice, finally taking himself almost 100 yards down the cover strip before setting up, whereupon a single would flush wild ahead of him. He stopped soon after again at 4, this time on the corner of a cover crop field, another single bird sent out ahead of him. Crossing the dirt road and angling to the southwest in towards the stables, Junie would cast out far to the east to leave the workshed behind and move forward up the low ridge, Rogue coming to another stop at 25 down in a closer swale, beneath a mature longleaf, and looking up into the easterly breeze. He was asked to relocate three times, but while the handler was moving forward to monitor the dog’s widening search pattern, he would flush a covey of birds -- at which point he whoaed the dog and fired the gun. And, while the dog had not been at fault, he nonetheless elected to pick up his young dog to minimize the possibility of any confusion down the line. Junie would swing in from the left and punch out forward again, coming to a stop at 36 at the top of a cover crop field roughly 150 yards out on the left. After a prompt, initial request to relocate, she would firm up with a covey huddled up close ahead of her. And while she would do her best to move out on the ridge to the right, by the time the course had turned west, Rayl elected to pick up his charge at 51, aware that this was not her strongest day.

With Erin’s Wild Justice a scratch, Lester’s Private Charter (McLean) ran by himself -- with his owners, Bruce & Karen Norton riding along in the gallery to watch their dog. Turned loose in the cool, damp morning, there would be a brief moment of excitement in the woods shortly before the first cover crop field to the left, the dog stopped and then birds called in the air by a gallery member, the birds unseen by handler and judges alike -- and so the handler elected to simply take the dog on without further delay. Across the first field and Private Charter would swing out around the bowl on the upper right side and come to a stop shortly after the main path connected with the contour of the shoulder at 14, a covey successfully flushed out of the slim strip of broomsedge ahead of him. Around the edge of the rotator field and up through the broomsedge savannah, Private Charter would be largely unseen through the glade below the Smith Fields — although as the gallery entered the first section of the former pecan fields, Private Charter would appear three-quarters of the way down the western edge having pursued the front out through the wooded median to the right. With McLean out on the left side trying to reacquaint with this dog, Jamie Daniels would take over piloting the dog forward — Private Charter then crossing the field at the junction and dropping into the woods on the left, coming to a stop at 36 roughly midway down and some 150 yards east of the crop field. McLean would rejoin his dog in time to work the birds, initially unseen by the approaching judges but called by the reporter. Private Charter would then power forward through the dogleg and continue south through the next section of pine woods parallel to the large cover crop field to the south. Sadly, in a very rare loss of concentration, he would blunder into another covey of birds some 250 yards down and fail to stop in a sufficiently mannerly fashion ending his bid.

The eighth brace would bring Rocky Knoll Annie (Rayl), with Pat and Marilyn Lockhart riding, with T’s Wild Man (Eisenhart). Both dogs pushed out into the piney woods to the south, working up alongside the patchwork of cover crop fields to the west. Coming to the clover-covered deerstand field and turning east, Wild Man could be seen turning along the lower edge -- while Annie had been gone for some time. Nevertheless, on top of the first whaleback, Wild Man had still to find an extra gear and Eisenhart would elect to pick up at 21—while Rayl would come in to ask for his retrieval device bringing the brace to an unexpectedly premature end.

The ninth brace featuring Dominator’s Rebel Squire and Lester’s Georgia Time has already been covered in the placements above.

The tenth brace drew True Confidence (Eisenhart) alongside Touch’s Mega Mike (McLean) out on the first course at Nonami, the skies bright and blue, the temperature already into the 70s, the breeze coming in at a steady rate from the south. Mega Mike would immediately punch out to the north, and would be seen flowing around the upper rim of the bowl as the gallery cleared the first low rise. He would disappear out of sight only to be found at 7 at the far end of the 600 yard-long, narrow cover crop field immediately to the north. Intense in his style, he had a sizable covey pinned in the surprisingly sparse broomsedge cover ahead of him. As Mega Mike was coming back to the front, True Confidence had come to a stop at 11 down in an oakey thicket to the south -- and with an initially unsuccessful flushing effort, he would be asked to relocate. Birds would rise in the process and Eisenhart would make the decision to pick up his dog. For his part, Mega Mike had kept on working through the center of the course and had come to a second stop at 16 roughly 150 yards northeast of a cover crop field, standing tall in a green fire trail, and looking up into the southwesterly breeze. After flushing extensively ahead of his dog out in the broomsedge, McLean appeared ready to relocate his dog but remembered to flush directly in front of him, panicking the large covey out of the grassy fringe barely 2 yards off the mannerly dog. Coming over the final rise before the Blue Springs headquarters, Mega Mike was seen out hard on the far shoulder before swinging across to the north at his handler’s direction -- looking both strong and confident in his application. He would clearly make a turn back to the northeast in the very general direction of the Baptist Church, but then disappear out the front -- and after another 10 minutes of eager searching, McLean would come in for his retrieval unit at 40.

The eleventh brace saw Miller’s Heat Advisory (Daniels) turned loose with Touch’s Blue Moon (McLean) at the eastbound turn below the church. Heat Advisory would break out hard to the northeast, although by the time the gallery passed the church, neither dog had been seen in several minutes. As the course turned north and the gallery was forced to stay high above the flooded bottom, Blue Moon could be seen coming back in from the other side of the road, the flooding in the road eliminating the obvious visual boundary but also providing a convenient location for the dog to briefly cool in the high point of the afternoon’s temperatures. As the course angled to the northwest and reached the main dirt road heading west to the stables, Blue Moon could be seen a quarter mile down standing in the road, looking up into the southeasterly breeze and the scraggly grassy cover. Sadly, despite a relocation and further flushing effort, this would all prove for naught. By the time the course had begun its turn west into the post-tornado wilderness, McLean opted to pick up his dog at 30 aware that this was not his strongest day. Heat Advisory had also not been seen in some time by this point and as the course prepared to turn south once more parallel to Hardup Road, Daniels would also ask for his retrieval unit.

The twelfth brace featuring Dominator’s Rebel Cause (Daniels) and Nonami’s Kings Ransom (Pearce) was short and only bittersweet. By the time the course had begun to angle in to the southeast towards the gold course and stables, Kings Ransom had failed to make the angling turn leaving Pearce to ask for his retrieval unit at 16. Rebel Cause, too, was in a headstrong mood, leaving Daniels to ask for his retrieval unit at 24.

The 13th brace brought Dominator’s Rebel Heir (Daniels), with owner Jim Hamilton along in support, head-to-head with Touch’s Red Rider (Eisenhart) on a cool, damp, overcast morning. Down into the first chute, the call of point would come quickly with both dogs stopped up high on the right wooded shoulder at 2, the birds seen leaving as the two dogs pointed up into a scraggly thicket, Red Rider a little higher up on the slope and buried deep, but with Rebel Heir not eight-foot downslope to him, and both handlers firing. As the course passed the Black Pond the call of point would come for Rebel Heir once more at 8, roughly 100 yards before the dirt road crossing and still in the piney woods. A rabbit would be called leaving ahead of the dog and he would be promptly taken on. Through the first field crossing, Rebel Heir would stay high on the right shoulder as Private Charter had the morning before -- and like Private Charter would initially come to a stop at 14 where the angle of the shoulder met the main path. He would initially set up, though, roughly 75 yards further out along the contour of the bowl. After the handler flushed ahead of him, he would be asked to relocate, initially bending at the waist to turn his front end. Encouraged to move up, he would unlock his feet, a bird would flush wild, and the dog would immediately freeze -- and a shot fired. While there had been all kinds of excitement for Rebel Heir, Red Rider had been gone for some time --and in fact, by the time the gallery reached the top of the bowl at 18, Eisenhart would come in for his retrieval unit. Entering the broomsedge savannah section, Rebel Heir would punch up through the center of the grassy plain, and come to a stop at 22, a covey called in the air as the handler called point, a second getting up directly ahead of him as the handler went directly to his dog to collar him on. Through the Smith Fields and through the dogleg, Rebel Heir would move out nicely out along the outer field edge on the left, disappearing behind the copse of trees ringing the swamp. As the gallery waited at the end of the enclovered deerstand field, Daniels would manage to locate and bring Rebel Heir back to the front, to then send him out to the south. However with his original scout nowhere to be seen and out of earshot, Tommy Davis was temporarily drafted into the role as the dog cast out to the southeast.

After several minutes, Carlton would rejoin the group, appear to acknowledge the judge calling his name (and alerting him that Tommy Davis was already out as a temporary surrogate scout), but then take off to the south to look for his dog. While the subsequent, amicable conversation between judge and scout clarified that Carlton had merely heard his name, at that given time and bearing in mind there were now two active scouts, the judge was obliged to send Daniels his retrieval unit at 55.

The fourteenth brace brought Mercer Mill Grand (Morton) to the line with Erin’s Prometheus (Eisenhart), to break away to the southwest of the first whaleback. Up atop the whaleback, on its crown roughly 125 yards south of the parallel crop field, Prometheus would come to a stop at 4 looking up into the very light southeasterly breeze -- although sadly all flushing and relocation efforts would prove fruitless. For his part, Grand would come to a stop some 250 yards ahead at the head of the cover crop field, a covey spooked out of the broomsedge ahead of him. Across the red dirt road and out into the long going-away field, Prometheus would punch down the long, righthand edge to disappear off the right shoulder shortly before the neck of woods, Grand having apparently headed north down through the woods on the left side of the field. As the gallery approached the neck, Prometheus could be seen standing down off the right shoulder at 21, a covey put up ahead of him. Sadly, by the time the gallery had cleared the neck of woods, Morton conceded that he lost contact with his dog and asked for his retrieval unit at 24. Prometheus, for his part, had continued down the shoulder and come to another stop at 25 some 75 yards off the northeast corner of the going-away field, standing near the stob of a collapsed pine, a covey of birds nicely pinned in the oakey thicket directly ahead of him. Sent on once more, he would get perhaps 250 yards before stopping once more at 28 on the edge of the skinny cover crop field to the north, another covey located and accurately pointed. He would get perhaps 200 yards before stopping once more at 29 -- however when asked to relocate, a bird would flush at his movement and Eisenhart would not give him the benefit of the doubt.

The 15th brace drew Simple Man (Swearingen) alongside Aces R’ Wild (McLean). Turned loose at the road crossing, Simple Man would come to a prompt stop at 2, on the front edge of the large north-south cover crop field, although sadly all flushing and relocation efforts would prove fruitless. Arcing to the north, with Sam’s Honey Hole out to the right, and approaching the Airstrip Field, both handlers were acting as if their dogs had taken what would be the inside of the counter-clockwise turn towards the powerlines. The call of point would come for Aces towards the far western end of the airstrip at 13, the dog having just crossed the prominent dirt road to the north -- although the relocation would provoke only a rabbit from the undergrowth and the dog taken on without further ado. He would come to a stop at 18 some 250 yards further on, off the northeast corner of the next cover crop field, the birds seen leaving ahead of the mannerly dog as the judge approached. Turning east along the powerlines and across the red dirt of the River Road, Simple Man had been gone for some time -- while Aces would be seen coming off the right edge and crossing the course at the dogleg. Reaching the dogleg at 28, Swearingen would admit defeat and come for his retrieval unit. As the gallery swung under the big rotator field, Aces too had dropped off into the piney woods and could not be readily gathered up leaving McLean to ask for his own retrieval unit at 38.

The sixteenth brace brought Neely’s Standing Ovation (Eisenhart) to the line with Touch’s Folsom Blues (McLean), with proud owners Bruce & Karen Norton riding in the gallery, the smell of early burning already hanging in the air, the temperatures already in the mid-70s and slated to break 80 degrees. Both dogs would push forward out on the right side parallel to Wildfair Road and, in fact, would be found together at 7 just over the first rise, roughly 100 yards before the first of the larger north-south cover crop fields and roughly 150 yards north of the road. Ovation would be standing looking upslope into the southwesterly breeze, Folsom Blues clearly having stopped to honor from the shoulder of the slope. Sadly, all flushing and relocation efforts would prove unsuccessful. Both dogs would be turned loose out along the right side once more, briefly stopping to be watered in the swampy hollow roughly a half-mile further east before disappearing out across the front as the course came up on the final rise before angling northeast. They would be found together at 25 on the low shoulder roughly 200 yards out on the north side of the course, Ovation honoring Folsom Blues as they looked up into a grassy thicket. After the initial flush and relocation proved unsuccessful, Folsom Blues would be called in to be watered before being turned loose once more and would be forced into an immediate stop-to-flush as first one and then the remainder of the covey rose ahead of him. Through the turn north, Folsom Blues would initially push up the center of the course ahead of his handler, while Ovation had not been seen in several minutes at this point. The call of point would come at 40 from out on the left side at 41, Folsom Blues having hit the eastern corner of the major east-west cover crop field and turned west along its southern edge, coming to a stop some 275 yards down. He would be found looking up into the broomsedge edge, and a large covey of birds would rise as the handler stepped in front. Reaching the turn east towards the Baptist Church, however, Eisenhart would come in for his retrieval unit at 45. Moving north parallel to the road, Folsom Blues would move smoothly well ahead of his handler and, at his beckoning, turn across the front and up into the cover crop field on the left, moving with both grace and power. Pushing down its western edge, he would spin to a stop at 55 roughly 100 yards along it, and in full view of the gallery. A large covey of birds would get up out of the mixed broomsedge and dog fennel at his handler’s very initial effort. After dodging some timber machinery shortly after crossing the road, he would finish up moving out smartly out in the long cover crop field, perhaps simply needing a little stronger start to come close to the winners.

The seventeenth brace drew Wild Desire (Furney), with proud owner Ginger Bippus in the gallery, alongside Wildhawk (Carlton). Breaking away from just beyond the dirt road, Wild Desire would immediately break out on the left side and come to a stop at 1, standing tall under a pine, and looking back up into the southwesterly breeze. A handful of birds would be seen leaving 75 yards away, but beyond those coincidentals, all flushing and relocation efforts would prove for naught. Sent on, Wild Desire would make it roughly 250 yards further up the piney median before coming to a stop once more at 5 -- and despite the intensity of his stance, once more nothing could be produced ahead of the handsome dog, bringing his bid to a very premature close. Wildhawk, for his part, was moving out smoothly out front -- and, in fact, as the cover opened drastically, and the gallery had its first glimpse of the rotator field to the northwest, not only was it greeted by a wall of warmth as the afternoon temperatures peaked, but a brief glimpse of the dog out on the low ridge to the right. Nevertheless, as the course turned west and had then had its first glimpses of the houses on the far side of Hardup Road, Carlton would concede that his dog had apparently not made the turn and would come in for his retrieval unit at 32.

The eighteenth brace saw Touch’s Joyride (McLean) drawn head-to-head with Touch’s Blue Knight (Davis) for the initial cast south. Davis would call point for Blue Knight at 4 out on the top of the low ridge to the left, standing roughly 250 yards down the edge of a cover crop field, looking up into an oakey thicket. Sadly, though, all the flushing and relocation efforts would prove fruitless. Joyride, in the meantime, had also pushed forward on the left side where he, too, would come to a stop roughly 100 yards before the head of a T-shaped cover crop field at 9, looking up into the broomsedge cover -- out of which an energetic covey would burst. Both dogs would move out smartly at this point, Blue Knight in particular tackling the piney woods out to the southwest as the gallery approached the main dirt road to the stables. Over the second dirt road and angling past the workshed, Joyride would punch out along the low ridge to the east above the oak swale while Blue Knight would work the inside face of the valley, coming to a stop at 31 between two live oaks, the birds readily flushed out of the broomsedge ahead of him. As the course turned west, both dogs would appear to get hung up in the turn -- only to be discovered standing together out to the southeast at 37, Joyride honoring Blue Knight for a covey to be flushed out ahead of the two mannerly dogs. With McLean unaware his dog was back in the corner, scout Judd Carlton would bring Joyride forward only to have him stop of his own accord at 40, another healthy covey produced from the oakey thicket on the edge of a cover crop field. By the time Carlton was able to return the dog to McLean, McLean recognized he had not beaten what he had already run -- and elected to pick up his dog at 46. Blue Knight would make good progress out on the northern side of the course underneath the rotator field, but as the course began its turn to the south parallel to Hardup Road, he would turn north and take significant wrangling to gather him up -- at which point Davis would elect to pick up his dog, too.

The final morning saw the nineteenth brace comprising Chief’s Rising Sun, owned and handled by John Mathys, and James Pond Bull, owned and handled by Woody Watson. Down through the first chute, both dogs moved out onto the wooded shoulder to the right into the southerly breeze, the weather overcast and the air dense -- the fog hanging low in the pecan groves on Hardup Road on the drive to the grounds. Bull would stop at 6, some 100 yards further south of the bottom edge of the cover crop field and the same distance to the west. This was the same spot that had either produced nothing or merely a rabbit on the previous days, but today produced just a single bird ahead of this handsome dog. Across the first cover crop field and down into the bowl, Rising Sun would drop down to the edge of the Black Pond and climb forward across the face from the left, Bull pushing down through the middle and out on the right. After a couple of self-relocations, Rising Sun would come to a stop at 15 midway up the facing slope -- but sadly, despite several relocations, these would prove fruitless. Under the rotator field and into the broomsedge savannah section, both dogs would take the lower left edge along the swamp to more forward and climb up into the long chute of the Smith Fields -- where the fog had still not entirely burnt off -- Bull appearing out of the brume at the far western end of the first field, Jamie Daniels taking the dog forward till Watson reclaimed the front with his dog at the head of the next section. Both dogs would work consistently forward through the woods towards the deerstand clover field, although by the time the gallery began to exit, it was not clear that Bull had made the turn to the east. And in fact, while Rising Sun appeared to still be moving well, he had also shortened up. As the gallery waited at the end of the clover field, Watson would ultimately concede defeat at 54 and come for his retrieval unit -- while Rising Sun would finish his hour moving out front.

No. 20 featured Awsum Country Justice (Eisenhart) and Dominator’s Bull Market (Daniels) —turned loose from the top of the first whaleback after a slightly delayed start to allow more of the fog trapped down against the Flint River to burn off. Country Justice would stop quickly at 2 down in the pocket above the swamp on the right side, the birds seen leaving as the judge rode to the find. Across the dirt road and into the long going-way field, Country Justice would break down the left side of the field and come to a stop some 50 yards deep into the woods, a covey rising as the handler dismounted. In the meantime, Bull Market had dropped off onto the right shoulder above the swamp and had also come to a stop at 10 in the piney woods, a covey scared out of the miniscule strip of grass ahead of him, too. Out into the woods, Bull Market would come to a stop at 21 in the piney woods perhaps 100 yards below the lip of the rotator field, another solid passel of birds sent skywards. He would stop twice more soon after crossing the River Road on the gentle arc to the northeast, first at 24, then again at 27, in both instances a covey in front of the dog. After the flurry of activity for Bull Market, the excitement would ramp up on the left side of the course for Country Justice. The dog wagon passengers would call point for Country Justice at 30 as they came across the dog perhaps 150 yards east of the River Road atop a low rise, a covey taking to the air readily ahead of the handsome dog -- and he would stop once more on the way to the front at 35 about 150 yards off the northwest corner of a prominent north-south cover crop field, birds aplenty ahead of him. Nevertheless, as Eisenhart continued north towards the powerlines on the inside of the normal counterclockwise turn, the two dogs would reunite shortly before them, Bull Market significantly out ahead of his handler. He would spin to a stop at 40 roughly 50 yards south of the powerline channel looking into an oakey thicket and after a prompt, definitive relocation, the birds would explode from the base of a handful of very young longleafs. Soon after reaching the powerlines and turning west, he would stop once more at 45 roughly 100 yards south in the woods, birds once more readily produced ahead of him. Through the dogleg off the powerlines and Country Justice would punch out into the field to come forward under the spigot arm before dropping off back into the woods ahead of his handler and coming to a stop at 58, and after a relocation, pinning a final covey of birds. For his part, Bull Market had punched out through the piney woods and disappeared out the front at the call of time. This was probably the most entertaining brace performance of the trial, at least to that point, although both dogs found themselves a little bogged down in birds to truly show their abilities as all-age athletes of the highest caliber.

The twenty-first brace drew Showtime Sam Houston, owned and handled by Larron Copeland, alongside Dominator’s Rebel Patch (Daniels). The course would drop southeast down well past the weathershed, Rebel Patch swinging out wide on the outside of the turn -- and coming around smoothly with his handler. He would come to a stop at 9 out on the right side, just beyond the prominent junction of two feed trails, standing pretty in a patch of broomsedge and young pines, looking up into the now northwest breeze -- and a covey of birds pinned directly ahead of him. In an inspired piece of scouting, the call of point would come for Sam Houston out on the right side beside a sinewy cover crop field at 12, buried in a line of five-foot-tall oak saplings and young pines, the birds popcorning out in twos and threes. Crossing the River Road and making the clockwise turn, a little speckle of rain would greet the gallery as it turned north and then northeast, Rebel Patch showing out along the edge of the swampy bottom out to the left. (This would be the swampy bottom that forms the eastern border on the savannah section on the outbound first course.) With Sam Houston not seen after the U-turn, Copeland would elect to come back for his retrieval unit at 30. Passing the weather shed to the right and coming up the River Road, though, Rebel Patch had squeaked out of contact leaving Daniels to come for his retrieval device at 40.

The twenty-second brace featured Game Wardon and Miller’s Blindsider and is already featured in the placements.

The twenty-third brace drew Great River Joe (Swearingen) alongside Notorious King’s Ransom (Mathys) on the second course at Nonami. As the course turned west as the cover thinned and the sky opened up ahead, Joe would take the inside of the counter-clockwise turn, King’s Ransom the wide outside turn beyond the rotator field. King’s Ransom would take some work to bring him out of the northeast corner, but soon after swinging forward along the northern face of the swale, he would stop due south of the rotator pivot at 15, a covey ahead of him. But knowing what was already ahead of him, Mathys elected to pick up his dog. Joe would also follow the swale on the right side of the course to go west, the call of point coming for him at 30, below the belly of the final rotator field up on the inside face of the swale towards the path. Standing on the edge of a broomsedge and oakey patch, looking up into the southerly breeze, he was stunning in his demeanor, a pair of the birds kicked up directly ahead of him, the remainder of the covey exploding from off behind his back, right leg. He would stop again at 36, this time directly ahead and looking into a sparse copse of grass near the main trail -- a covey, nonetheless, scared out into view ahead of the handsome dog. After a brief conversation with the judges, however, Swearingen would elect to pick up his dog.

The twenty-fourth brace drew Erin’s Longmire (Eisenhart) alongside Touch’s White Knight (McLean), with owner Eddie Sholar riding in the gallery. After a brief passage west, the course would turn south -- with White Knight on the inside of the turn, where he would come to a stop some 150 yards out to the west at 4, standing under a half-dead oak, the covey flushing hard at his handler’s insistence at a good distance upwind from him. Approaching the dirt road that angles down towards the golf course, Longmire would break hard to the east along the roadside edge of the cover crop field -- and then, at the point Eisenhart was about to reel him in, spin to a point at 8 beneath a pair of live oaks, a single bird kicked out ahead of him, the remainder of the covey bursting out in sympathy behind him at the handler’s shot. Crossing the road and heading south, White Knight would tackle left edge of a long, slender cover crop field -- but came to an abrupt stop at 10 about 150 yards south in the corner where the field flares out and widens. Self-relocating before his handler arrived, he would go some five yards and spin upwind, the covey nicely pinned ahead of him. The course would then make a fairly tight U-turn to the northeast, but knowing what he had already run, Eisenhart opted to spare his dog any further effort in the heat at 20. Despite the tight loop, White Knight had continued to stay forward as the course crossed back over the golf course road and then began to loop around the course clockwise. Nevertheless, aware of what had run, McLean opted to pick up the two-time Masters champion at 36 as the course crossed the northern top of the golf course.

The final brace — Touch’s Malcom Story and Shadow’s Lord Magic — already covered above.

Albany, Ga., March 8

Judges: Harold Johnson and Harold Ray

MASTERS OPEN ALL-AGE CHAMPIONSHIP

[One Hour Heats] — 44 Pointers and 5 Setters

Winner—MILLER’S BLINDSIDER, 1674983, pointer male, by Just Irresistable—Miller’s Bring The Heat. Nick Berrong, owner; Jamie Daniels, handler.

Runner-Up—GAME WARDON, 1676189, pointer male, by Caladen’s Rail Hawk—Game Creek. Dr. Fred Corder, owner; Luke Eisenhart, handler.

 

Notes from the Masters

As is noted in the main report, this was a return to Blue Springs — and a return to parts of Nonami— that had been devastated by hurricanes, tornados, and torrential rain over the last three years. And yet in the wake of that devastation, there is also growth.

The constant work of maintaining properties like Blue Springs and Nonami was also self-evident: the number of cover crop fields converted to clover for deer (and what seemed like a record number of tractor-tire-bursting sheds) and the clearing of acres of unkempt understory on Blue Springs, and the limbing crews on Nonami ensuring plenty of light for the underbrush. And as a result, the sheer number of birds on both properties!

Sam Ellis, the legendary marshal of Blue Springs, was remembered many times this year — as the course was obliged to pass by Sam’s Honey Hole, a place he knew he could always find birds when things seemed lean for a hunting party. He was also remembered on the third course at Nonami, the old Blue Springs ‘North End,’ as the course headed south on one side or the other of the swale with live oaks at its often-damp base — this was the place where a handler “could take the bridle off” and really let a dog roll.

With this year’s course changes on Blue Springs, a number of folks were surprised to learn that the slender, 600 yard-long east-west field just north of Sam’s Honey Hole had been an airstrip at one time in the plantation’s history. And while Mr. Ray Reece did a fine job piloting the dog wagon, it was sad to learn that longtime driver, Mr. Eddie Lee, had passed away between this year’s championship and last. I have no doubt that Eddie knew where the airstrip used to be.

While there was the usual strong showing of owners riding in support of their dogs — some like the Lockharts from as far away as Montana — there were also newcomers like Jeff and Barbara Lindtner, friends of Betty Shearouse, who I had met at the Continental in January but who came to ride at least a full day of the Masters, as well.

While the new Youth Field Trial Alliance tries to meet newcomers on the front end, here’s another great way to grow our sport — invite a friend! Or two!

 

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