American Field

Touch’s Mega Mike Wins Title in Sixty-Dog Stake; Shadow’s Next Exit is Runner-Up

Masters Open Quail Championship

By Andrew Campbell | May 09, 2018
Touch's Mega Mike Winner of the Masters Open All-Age Quail Championship

Albany, Ga. — The Masters Open Quail Championship drew another large entry — 58 pointers and 2 setters — for its 49th annual March 8-12 in Albany, Ga.

Over the course of the five-day running, there was a little bit of all kinds of weather — cold and blustery, still and warm and humid, one morning’s delay due to fog, as well as a morning of gentle but steady rain.

After five days of competition, the judges awarded the Norman J. Ellis Memorial Trophy to Touch’s Mega Mike, three-year-old white and orange pointer male handled by Mark McLean, and owned by Eddie Sholar and Ted Dennard of Leesburg, Ga. Shadow’s Next Exit, four-year-old white and orange pointer male handled by Robin Gates, and owned by N. G. “Butch” Houston of Nashville, Ga., was proclaimed a worthy runner-up.

The courses remained the same from the previous year: the morning courses running on Blue Springs Plantation, the afternoon courses on Nonami (although with the same post-tornado modification to the second course that contestants experienced last year).

In the year since Mr. Witt Stephens, Jr. took ownership of Blue Springs, the amount of work already undertaken and ongoing during the trial by manager Marty Adams was stunning — dead  timber cleared, unused structures eliminated, and an obvious plan of brush-hogging to open up the understory. While still very much retaining the character of Blue Springs, having the opportunity to witness its transformation was uplifting.

While crews were also out in force at Nonami limbing trees to preserve the kinds of vista we have come to appreciate, a more gradual transformation, too, is also taking place there in the form of habitat recovery after the January, 2017 tornado — and manager Ray Pearce was optimistic that the Championship would be able to use its historic courses for the fiftieth anniversary running next year.

In both cases, the Southern Field Trial is deeply grateful to both Mr. Stephens and Mr. Ted Turner and their staffs for the opportunity to contest the Masters on these two spectacular properties — and ensuring the highest caliber of bird work for the dogs and handlers.

The success of the Masters Open Quail Championship is due in no small part to the ongoing support of its perennial corporate sponsors: Eukanuba, Plantation Supply, Bennett Supply, Albany Tractor for the loan of the tractor pulling the dog and gallery wagon, and John Rex Gates of Garmin Tri-Tronics which provided the winning handler with a Pro 550 system. Individual thanks also to Eddie Lee, our intrepid dog wagon driver, for his ongoing assistance and expertise for yet another year.

The judges — Mike Cheely of Fayetteville, Ga., and Reid Hankley of Thomasville, Ga. — are both seasoned bird dog men with extensive experience in the saddle all over the country. The club and handlers all appreciated their diligence, attention, and dedication to their task at hand over the five days.


At least in this reporter’s opinion, Touch’s Mega Mike gave the kind of dominant performance that recalled Dominator’s Rebel Heir’s first win of the Masters in 2015. Like Rebel Heir on Blue Springs in 2015, Mike began halfway through the first course and finish up midway through the second — albeit over on Nonami. The brace would start on the northbound straightaway, the Blue Springs headquarters off behind the handlers’ right shoulders. Mike quickly established a bold, searching race, seen coursing the edges of the cover crop fields to the west as he pushed forward. As the course approached its first significant turn east toward the Baptist Church, the big bodied dog was pointing a quarter-mile to the north at 8 on the edge of what had been a large pivot field 25 years ago. A covey was sent out ahead of him, standing tall and proud.

He handled kindly through the sweeping U-turn that would take him across the red dirt of Blue Springs Road to cast south. After sweeping behind Ray Pearce’s house, Mike climbed out the far rise approaching the turn east toward the river. He came to a stop on the shoulder of the climb looking into a cover square in a glade of pines, the birds leaving unseen as the judge rode up. Walking to him, McLean elected to fire, collared the dog to water him, as a remaining single popped from the far corner of the thicket ahead of him. While unable to be credited with a find, little doubt remained as to the integrity of the dog’s nose.

Sent east toward the river, Mike dug into the hook in the direction of the now-retired Mitchell Steam Generating Plant stack. He required a little wrangling to bring him around, but after watering in the river he was sent forward northbound once more. He chose the river side of the course for the next period, motoring past the cemetery, before crossing the front of the course to explore the low ridge on the western side of the course. He was found in a glade of pines toward the center of the course at 44, upright and taut, as the covey of birds scattered ahead of him. Sent on, he powered out the front, not seen for several minutes — a distant glimpse finally at the head of a cover crop field, enough to reassure and simultaneously assert the strength of his sense of purpose. Scout called point for him on the left side at 59, standing tall and proud, looking into a plum thicket, a small covey of birds bursting out ahead of him as time expired. He had claimed his title with sixty minutes of power, boldness, imagination, and bullish pride in his bird work.

The early benchmark had been set by Shadow’s Next Exit running in the sixth brace, owner Butch Houston spectating from his truck.

Turned loose on the third afternoon course, it was sunny, but with a blustery northwest breeze as Next Exit sped off around the outside edge of the course. Staying up on the low ridge above the Nonami golf course, point was called at 11, the predominantly white dog standing in a green firebreak looking into a strip of scrubby cover, a small cluster of birds kicked out ahead of him. Swinging around counter-clockwise, Next Exit stopped just beyond the prominent cover crop field off the northwest corner of the golf course at 16, a large covey sent out of the brambles and broomsedge.

Casting south, Next Exit moved purposefully out the front, staying on the right side as the course crossed the access road to the stables. He was found at the foot of the large cover crop field at 24, a single bird flushed out of the grass ahead of him. Gates swung him out on the left side to tackle the low ridge line — the decision rewarded with a picturesque find on the crest of the hill at 35, the dog standing in a firebreak easily seen from 300 yards away across the low valley, the covey readily flushed ahead of the mannerly dog. Soon after he was sent on, he suddenly swung around up into the vestiges of the breeze at 39, a single bird initially flushed by his handler, several more popcorning around him at the shot. After turning west, Next Exit continued to swing wide through the southern section of Nonami, momentarily seen assuring handler and judges that he was prepared to go bold in his quest to find birds. He finished out his hour as he had started, out front and seemingly unaffected by the effort.

While the two winners had demonstrated complete packages of athleticism, boldness of purpose, and precise bird work, the judges also wished to recognize a number of dogs which came close to that same degree of totality: Miller’s Blindsider (Jamie Daniels) and his bracemate Big Sky Pete (Gates); Funseek’n Hit Man (Daniels), Miller’s Speed Dial (Gary Lester), Erin’s Longmire (Gates), Erin’s Rebel Rum (Luke Eisenhart), and two more bracemates, Dunn’s Tried’N True (Eisenhart) and Just Watch (Daniels).

The Running

Smooth Rider (Furney) was braced with the freshly-repeated National Champion Lester’s Sunny Hill Jo, owned and handled by Gary Lester, and accompanied in the gallery by proud co-owner David Thompson. The dogs were turned loose on a cool morning and, after cutting up into the piney woods cover on the right, immediately settled into their rhythm for the hour — tackling wide swaths of country before the first big field crossing. Smooth Rider pushed through the Bay Pond bottom, climbing out strongly through the woods toward the edge of the big rotator field. Jo had worked his way forward through the corridor of piney woods on the right as the gallery made its way through the bottom. Leaving the piney woods section to come into the long Smith fields, Smooth Rider had not emerged from the woods on the far left — while the scout called point for Jo at 33 out on the right near a lone oak tree, the dog intense for a single bird tucked in close. While Jo was working through the remainder of the long fields and the minor jink into the next section of woods, Furney conceded that he had lost contact with Rider and came for his retrieval unit at 41. Jo, meantime, had worked his way forward primarily on the left past the swampy bottom before swinging across the front and stopping at 47, roughly 150 yards out to the right side. He was dug in a nest of broomsedge and briars on the edge of the harrowed cover crop field, although all flushing and relocation efforts proved fruitless. Jo moved out nicely around the outside woodsedge of the big deerstand field skirting the eastern edge of the south end pond — its frontside edge all harrowed, and the water level in the cypress swamp on the other side visibly low — before moving out to the riverside edge where he finished going away.

Miller’s Blindsider (Daniels) and Big Sky Pete (Gates) broke away from the path paralleling the Flint River, both dogs busting forward down the lane of oaks garlanded with Spanish moss. After initially punching out into the cover crop fields on the left, Pete dropped into the big bowl of Swallow Me Bottom — freshly brush hogged into cover strips. Down there he stopped at 7, surrounded by a small, very young patch of trees, birds readily flown out of the fern and broomsedge. Blindsider, in the meantime, had climbed out of the bowl up and over the first whaleback and was found buried in dense, grassy cover at 10, the birds ridden up by the judge on the way to the find. Turned loose, he barreled to a stop barely 100 yards farther on, the birds scattering all around the stylish, mannerly young dog at 12 as the handler went ahead of him. Once over the second whaleback and across River Road’s red dirt, both dogs broke down the left side of the long going-away field and took it to its culmination. Blindsider swung wide and high through the turn into the piney woods, Pete the lower edge of those woods as the course passed the first of the various-sized cover crop fields out the right, river side. Blindsider made his own way through the turn and, after appearing ahead, Rick Furney took him forward while his handler was retrieved to resume control. As Daniels came forward, Furney alerted Gates that Pete was on point directly ahead of him, some 150 yards into the woods from the road. Gates successfully flushed a sizeable covey from a small grove of young pines ahead of the stylish dog at 34. For his part, Blindsider crossed the road and worked the line of young pines framing the roadside edge of the third big field, stopping about midway down at 37, another large congregation of quail bursting out at the rumbling arrival of handler and judge. Both dogs and handlers swung wide through Rabbit Bluff in another echo of Dominator Rebel Heir’s win in 2015 (where Rebel Heir and Daniels had secured their final, winning find and Erin’s Muddy River and Gates had come so close). Swinging north, both dogs were found on point at 55, Pete out on the right, his style lacking some of his usual loftiness, perhaps in part to it being a single bird just ahead of him. Blindsider was some 300 yards ahead over a small rise in a thicket of broomsedge, his style lofty, but the stand barren. Sent on, Pete stopped a quarter mile ahead at 59, his characteristic style returned, and a sizeable covey sent out ahead of him. Time expired as both dogs approached Cat Pond, shortly before the course began to turn westward.

Chinquapin Legacy (Sikes) and Cross City Hank (Davis) were loosed just beyond the shadowy pool of Cat Pond. Both dogs punched forward through the piney woods and swung down around the lower, left edge of the big rotator field, disappearing into the woods, but emerging on the far side of the island of trees before going forward — Legacy climbing out on the far side of the crop fields to the southwest. Coming west beyond the empty site of Sam Ellis’ house, Hank tackled the southern edge of the main woodsy strip, stopping in a thicket just before the River Road crossing at 18. All flushing and relocation efforts proved fruitless. Sikes was unable to re-establish contact with Legacy after his last bold move and came for his retrieval unit at 23. Davis also conceded shortly after crossing the red dirt road that this was not Hank’s greatest day ending the brace at 24.

Miller’s Dialing In, newly acquired by Sean and Debra Hauser, and now campaigned by Luke Eisenhart, came to the line with Funseek’n Hit Man (Daniels). Breaking away on Nonami, Hit Man initially swung out wide on the left side, moving forward nicely around the bowl, Dialing In moving forward through the near side rim punching forward. He connected at 11 standing just off the main path on the second rise, a single bird flushed out of a tangle of briar and broomsedge. Both dogs came together in a small swale of scrubby grass on the right at 12, Hit Man pointing high and tight, Dialing In honoring, as a small covey was kicked out ahead. Both dogs rolled eastward toward Blue Springs headquarters, Dialing In working the left side, Hit Man concentrating on the right where he was found atop of a small rise approximately 150 yards north from the road at 21. A pair initially rose ahead of the handler, another dozen at the shot. While Dialing In concentrated on the inside of the turn north above the Blue Springs headquarters, Hit Man swung wide through the turn, staying out toward the roadside edge, forward along the edge of the long, slender cover crop fields. Soon after the turn east toward the Baptist Church, Dialing In was found standing at 37 some 200 yards to the north on the edge of the grove of what are now adolescent pines, a covey flown out ahead of him. Passing beyond the church, both dogs punched forward. Hit Man briefly crossed the arc of the course ahead of his handler and stopped at 47, a covey produced ahead of him. Shortly after, Hit Man was whoaed to a stop as a covey flushed wild well ahead of him — and then sent out once again toward the roadside. Eisenhart, in the meantime, came back to ask for his retrieval device at 54, Dialing In having moved out over the crown of the hill on his last cast. Crossing the access road, Hit Man fired down the long, harrowed crop field on the right, finishing his hour still intent on finding birds.

Seminole Boss (Furney), with owners Jack and Sarah Schwarz riding, and Chinquapin Bill (Warren) out on the riverside course. Both dogs punched south, Boss accepting the challenge with particular fervor. Climbing up toward Ray Pearce’s house, Bill tackled the edges of the long cover crop fields out on the right toward the road, Boss the low, wooded slope on the left. Bill stopped at 19, roughly 150 yards before Ray Pearce’s house, looking up into the wind surrounded by a variety of scrubby, young trees. All flushing and relocation efforts were fruitless. In the meantime, Boss had stopped at 21 just barely off the northeast corner of Ray’s lawn, looking up into a thicket of tall, scraggly briars and broomsedge, a sizable covey flushed ahead of the stylish dog. Headed south once more, Boss stopped abruptly at 25, a pair of birds sent out from the cover strip immediately ahead of him. Bill, too, stopped again at 26 just beyond Ray’s house, but this also proved to be a barren stop, ending his bid. Boss made his way up toward the turn at the line of pines still moving with force and self-assurance, the Mitchell smokestack like some sort of beacon. Furney came back for his retrieval unit at 42, the dog lost somewhere to the southeast.

Shadow’s Next Exit’s effort was already covered. Wild Hawk (Carlton) was away nicely, immediately engaging with the rolling terrain and moving forward. He was well to the front as the course had its first glimpse of the Nonami golf course. Hawk continued to swing wide through the counter-clockwise turn below the golf course, appearing to move well with his handler. Crossing the access road to the stables, Carlton gathered him up to water him. Hawk continued to work wide and forward, making the westward turn relatively easily — and was finally rewarded at 51 out on the edge of the large pivot field — a single bird initially popping ahead of him, the remainder of the covey lifting at the shot. He got a hundred yards farther on before stopping again at 53, another sizeable covey lifting from directly in front of him. Climbing out of the next low rise, Hawk stopped again at 55, although looking a little unsure and was asked to relocate immediately. While attempting to pin the moving birds, they flushed independently, the dog whoaed and shot fired. Hawk finished the hour going away to the front.

Shadow’s Bewitched (Watson) and Sandhill Trig (Rayl). While not as blustery as the previous morning, there was frost still on the grass as both dogs sped out to climb into the woods on the right shoulder. Bewitched stopped at 2 up on the crest of the shoulder roughly parallel with the entrance to the chute, a large group of birds sent out of the straggly cover. Both dogs pushed through the piney bottom and over Queen Ash Road before breaking out into the first big field. They were found in the hard right corner as the gallery entered the field at 11, Bewitched standing in a patch of broomsedge, Trig backing from a good distance with all the presence a dog could ask for. Sadly, the stand prove unproductive and the dogs taken on across the field toward the Bay Pond. Coming out of that bottom, Bewitched emerged from the left side and swung forward around the arc of the rotator field, while Trig had pushed out to the cover crop fields on the right. While occasionally a little erratic in his pattern, Trig punched out into the Smith Fields and powered down through the wooded cover on the left — leaving Bewitched unseen for some time. Watson admitted defeat and asked for his retrieval unit at 34. In the meantime, going into the second half of the Smith Fields, Trig had crossed to the right and, roughly fifty yards shy of the head of the field, he stopped at 38 near a solitary oak, a single initially kicked out, the remainder of the small covey flushing out low and fast. Trig moved smoothly through the next section of woods and across the deerstand field, down toward the South End Pond. He swung out to the riverside edge as the course wound through the procession of moss-hung oaks, finishing his hour shortly before the turn above the Swallow Me Bottom.

Neely’s Power Play (Gates) came to the line with Awsum in Motion (Eisenhart), proud owners Bill and Margie Ricci riding in the gallery in support of their setter. The first call of point came early for Awsum. He was found over the left shoulder of the low, rounded ridge at 5, looking up into a patch of broomsedge, the birds readily flown out ahead of the stylish dog. Coming across the River Road and up into the long, going-away field, Power Play took on the long, left edge, intermittently seen until crossing just beyond the neck of the field. Having successfully made the turn northeast, he was standing up on the rise of the woods section above the road at 23, a small packet of birds sent out of the tall, tangled grass ahead of him. Awsum had slipped out of contact with his handler at the head of the long going-way field and, upon reaching the River Road crossing at 27, Eisenhart came back for his retrieval unit. As the course began to pass alongside the first of the cover crop fields out on the river side, Power Play had initially dug into the woods on the left, but soon after reaching the second big field he was sent out toward the river. Not quite appearing to find his regular stride, Gates picked up soon after at 37.

Simple Man (Swearingen), with proud owners Hailey Moreland and Courtney Davis riding in the gallery, was braced with Chinquapin Reward (Sikes). The dogs broke away at the beginning of the Cary homestead field, all that now remains of the old house is a single brick chimney. Reward swung wide out toward the river, while Simple Man elected to go forward through the woods to the left, showing nicely along the edge of what Sam Ellis called “the Booger Field”. Reward also showed nicely as he crested the low rise of Rabbit Bluff and punched north. Shortly after the course turned east past the corner of the Allison Swamp, Simple Man had ducked north into the wooded cover between the two cover crop fields and stopped at 12, standing in a tangled thicket. Birds were seen leaving as the handler approached, a second group leaving as the judge arrived — everything in order for the mannerly dog. Simple Man swung out to the right side as the course approached the shaded pool of Cat Pond, moving snappily through the rolling terrain. He pointed in the very southeastern corner of the large cover-crop field, some 250 yards out from Cat Pond at 23, a small covey boosted from the grassy edge of the field. Sikes, in the meantime, conceded that he had lost contact with Reward after the turn north and came back for his retrieval unit at 25. Approaching the big rotator field, Simple Man swung down the lower left edge and showed nicely coming around the big copse on the bottom edge as the gallery approached the now-empty site of Sam’s house. Moving down the long cover crop field to the south, Simple Man stopped at 39, the birds seen leaving by the judge as the handler approached. Not quite done, he stopped again at 46 shortly before the red dirt road and roughly 200 yards south in a patch of young, scraggy oaks — a pair of birds leaving as handler flushed in front, the remainder of the large covey exploding from beside the judge’s horse. Sent on down the power lines, Man pushed out into the woods on the right side and continued to make solid forward progress through the woods until time. While not showing the same degree of forward punch as the winners, Simple Man had more than acquitted himself in his sixty minutes.

Tee’s Wild Man (Gates) and Mercer Mill Grand (Sikes). Breaking away on Nonami, Wild Man took a little while to get settled in as Grand punched out down the roadside. The pair ultimately came together ahead beside the first two long, skinny cover crop fields on the right. Roughly parallel with the always-wet pond on the roadside, Grand was found pointing just beyond the northwest corner of the large cover-crop field on the left at 18. Standing in a green firebreak, a pair of birds was successfully flushed out of the scrubby grass ahead of the stylish dog. In the meantime, aware that this was not his dog’s best day, Gates elected to pick up at 21. Grand continued his yeoman work out on the left as the course had its first clear view of the Blue Springs headquarters. After turning north, however, Sikes too acknowledged that this was not Grand’s best day either and conceded up at 33.

Touch’s Mega Mike’s effort was detailed earlier. Stash the Cash (Lester) broke away nicely down the left side of the course and worked in a pleasing fashion across the terraces of brooms-edge and pine before swinging forward with his handler as the course turned east just beyond the Baptist Church. Cash stopped at 13 on the edge of the pines just beyond the triangular field above the church, although all flushing and relocation efforts proved fruitless. Taken on, and having crossed the road to turn south, Cash worked purposefully through the undulating patterns of cover crop fields, broomsedge and bramble squares. He was found at 24 in one of these cover squares, but this too proved a barren stand and ended his bid.

The 12th brace — Erin’s Wild Justice (Eisenhart) and Chinquapin Bear (Warren) — was loosed at the regular start of the third course on Nonami. Heading roughly west, both dogs angled slightly north to swing around the head of the golf course. Wild Justice stopped at 12 up on the sideslope roughly 150 yards from the apex turn of the course, an initial large covey getting up ahead of the stylish dog, in turn triggering at least two others nearby to flush. Bear, in the meantime, had swung wide through the turn but was found standing at 20 on the inside of the turn south, where Jim Hamilton had found Big Sky Pete on point last year from the dog wagon, with Wild Justice backing in fine fashion. Sadly, for Bear, there were no birds here for him this year. Sent south, both dogs appeared to make contact soon enough at 26 — Wild Justice some 250 yards further south of Bear, roughly parallel with the Nonami equipment shed. While another covey was successfully flushed ahead of Wild Justice, for Bear all flushing and relocation efforts proved fruitless and his bid ended. Wild Justice then crossed ahead of his handler as the course slowly climbed, passing a squadron of boom trucks limbing pines, and coming to a stop at 34 in a green firebreak near a solitary oak. While he appeared to be looking intently up into the wind, this proved to be a barren stop. Sent on, he went 150 yards farther on then stopped, a slight tick in his tail that prompted him to be immediately relocated. Fifty yards farther, he stopped, a solitary single produced ahead of him. (The remainder of the large, scattered covey flushed in fits and starts as the gallery moved on after the find.) He handled kindly through the turn west, and stopped again at 53 on an east-facing slope looking into a thicket of broomsedge. All flushing and relocation efforts proved futile bringing the brace to a premature end.

The third morning brought True Confidence (Eisenhart) to the line with Miller’s Speed Dial (Lester). Turned loose on a cool, damp morning, Speed Dial immediately engaged with the upper right-hand, wooded shoulder, True Confidence the lower chute, although he was seen swinging across the front and up toward Hardup Road as the gallery entered the chute. Both dogs moved purposefully through the piney woods, True Confidence living up fully to his name, and by the first major field crossing both dogs were up high on the right side. While Eisenhart continued to ride wide on the right to keep contact with his dog, the scout located Speed Dial on point at 22, out on the right at the far end of a skinny crop field. He was dug in deep in a thick patch of broomsedge, near a solitary oak. Although a likely spot, all flushing and relocation efforts were unproductive. Onward into the Smith Fields, both handlers were still out to the right, although by the head of the first field Speed Dial crossed over to the left. Coming to the head of the second field at 34, Eisenhart came back for his retrieval unit. Speed Dial stopped in the grassy cover shortly before the access road crossing. After some initial uncertainty, he styled up and a large covey was boosted out ahead of him. He worked dutifully through the woods section on the right side and, as the gallery entered the deerstand field, he was found standing at 44 beneath a pair of mature oaks. After a relocation 75 yards farther upwind to the southeast, a small covey was sent out from the broomsedge ahead of the handsome dog. New firebreaks had already been cut in the previous twenty-four hours as Speed Dial swung around the cypress swamp and out toward the riverside. He dropped over out into the Swallow Me Bottom and was found standing at 59, the handsome white dog presenting a pretty picture standing out among a stand of mature pines, surrounded by bracken, a final covey flown ahead of him. He was quickly turned loose and was climbing out of the bowl at the call of time.

Jumpstart (Carlton) was paired with House’s Buckwheat Hawk (McLean), with proud owners Bruce and Karen Norton in the gallery, turned loose at the first whaleback. The action began soon when Hawk stood at 3 in a strip of very young pines on the edge of the cover crop field at the far end of the whaleback. Jumpstart was backing stylishly as a covey was sent out ahead of the mannerly twosome. Swinging through the second whaleback and across the red dirt road, both handlers appeared to have their dogs out on the left side of the long going-away field. Jumpstart punched all the way to the end of the field and, after a little wrangling, was successfully turned east and out toward the river. Crossing the River Road, Jumpstart swung back into the woods on the left. The scout found him stopped some 300 yards in, on the edge of a swampy section, at 30. All flushing and relocation efforts proved unsuccessful. Soon after, McLean came for his retrieval unit at 33, unable to re-establish contact with Hawk after crossing the River Road the first time. Jumpstart stopped on the swampy edge at 34; the birds were unseen leaving by the approaching judge. Turned loose, he appeared to course eastward. Shortly after passing Rabbit Bluff, Carlton acknowledged he no longer had a connection with his dog at 49.

Strut Nation (Davis), with owner Scott Jordan riding in the gallery, came to the line with Shadow’s Full Throttle (Gates). They were loosed at the last northbound section of the usual second course with a couple of rolling terraces to traverse before passing Cat Pond. The morning now distinctly warm, Davis elected to water his dog in the pond on the way past, while Gates swung his dog wide on the outside of the turn. Shortly after crossing the cover crop field and turning northwest, Strut Nation came to a stylish stop in another freshly-cut firebreak at 9, a half-dozen birds kicked out ahead of him. As Strut Nation pushed through the woods on the left side toward the big rotator field, Gates came in for his retrieval unit at 15, his dog likely in cahoots with one of the large numbers of deer seen scattering ahead of the gallery. In the meantime, Strut Nation had made the wide outside turn below the rotator field — and the distant call of point came from the deep left corner some 500 yards from Sam’s house at 20. A small covey was encouraged to leave ahead of the staunch dog. Shortly after crossing the River Road, he stopped again at 28 in a thicket beside one of the cover crop fields, a little curl to his tail perhaps indicating that there would only be a pair of birds ahead of him. For the next 24 minutes, as the course wound its way south and then around the big rotator field, it seemed as though Strut Nation couldn’t avoid finding covey after covey, credited with finds at 34, 37, 45, and finally at 52. Cutting out west, Strut Nation punched out across the harrowed field with the weathershed at its southwest corner and then into the next rotator field, finishing going out the front in the growing heat of the day.

Beginning the afternoon braces were Erin’s Longmire (Gates) and Sims Ramblin Wreck (Rayl). Turned loose, Wreck immediately went out to the left side and out wide of the bowl, Longmire swinging forward on the upper rim of the bowl. Scout rode in a quarter-mile in order for the call of point for Wreck to be heard, the dog a half-mile north standing, quite literally, in the last line of scrubby cover before the big rotator field. A nice covey was produced ahead of him at 10. While being taken forward, he barely cleared the southeast corner of the big field before stopping at 15, looking into a scrubby strip, a small covey produced ahead of him. Rejoining the front group, Longmire had pointed at the far end of the cover crop field above the watering hole on the right side at 18; although all flushing and relocation efforts were fruitless. Swinging northbound past the Blue Springs headquarters, Longmire coursed forward through the woods in full stride, Wreck still moving nicely but not demonstrating the same degree of forward punch as his bracemate. Swinging wide through the eastbound turn, Longmire then punched north through the long-gone rotator field planted with pines, Wreck taking the outside edge through the canola field above the Baptist Church before cruising north. He pointed at 59 shortly after the bend to the northwest, his style crouched but not lacking in intensity, the large covey directly in front of him, time expiring as they were flown. In the meantime, Longmire had been located on point over a half-mile due north of where he’d last been seen, now some 25 yards shy of the access road, at 59. All flushing and relocation efforts proved unsuccessful, the dog’s valiant efforts on the ground sadly for naught.

Mayhaw King ofthe Hill (Phillips) and Mercer Mill Gunpowder (Morton) competed on the riverside course. Both dogs headed southward, Gunpowder casting out along the roadside edge, King ofthe Hill settling into a consistent forward pattern to the left as the course came up over the first small rise and began to angle left to skirt Ray Pearce’s house. Gathered up to make the turn, Gunpowder crossed the front and dug into the woods beyond the course’s low center rise. Nevertheless, as the course came up the final rise before the turn, Phillips realized he was not breaking the bank and elected to spare his dog at 20. Shortly afterward Morton also came in for his retrieval unit acknowledging that Gunpowder had slipped away in the course’s low terraces.

Shadow’s White Warrior (Gates) drawn head-to-head with Dominator’s Rebel Heir (Daniels), with the proud owner of the two-time winner here (2014 and 2017), Jim Hamilton, riding in support. Rebel Heir was a quarter-mile off the breakaway when he stopped, head high, on the scraggy edge of a long cover crop field at 2, a covey sent out ahead of him. He pointed at 7, again on the edge of a cover crop field — the red flags of the golf course now visible some 250 yards to the southwest. After an initial relocation some 75 yards farther upwind, he pinned the running covey. White Warrior, in the meantime, had swung wider, but dropped down toward the course, stopping in the piney woods at 11, the shot hopefully not startling the party on the course too badly. Swinging around the turn back north, both dogs appeared to have swung wide out into the mosaic of cover crop fields. The call of point came from a scout at 24, Rebel Heir some 300 yards out on the right in a glade of shady pines, the birds rising as handler and judge approached. Shortly after being turned loose, he went perhaps a couple of hundred yards farther forward before stopping again at 26, this time a single bird in the brooms-edge. In the meantime, Gates had come in for his retrieval unit at 25, White Warrior having slipped out into the fields to the west. Rebel Heir barely made it over the access road to the Nonami stables before he stopped at 29. This time all flushing and relocation efforts proved fruitless. Climbing up the gradual rise past the equipment shed to the east, and then the school of boom trucks to the west, after so many contacts in the first half-hour Heir had begun to look for every bird and Daniels picked up at 39.

Erin’s Muddy River (Gates) and Erin’s Redrum (Derrig) began the fourth morning over on Blue Springs. It was a late start by some 75 minutes due to heavy fog, the taller weeds crowned with candy-cotton cobwebs, but both dogs piled out on the right side of the course, new lanes freshly brush-hogged through the cover since the previous day. Climbing out of the first bottom, Muddy River pointed in the middle of a cover strip surrounded by young pines at 6, a covey successfully sent out ahead of him. Coming into the first big field, Redrum was coursing out on the right slope, while Muddy River crossed the front from the left. The distant call of point came from the right shortly after, Redrum some 400 yards out virtually on the edge of the Wildfair Road. It was as perfect a scene as you could have hoped for, riding up to a handsome dog standing tall and proud in the heavy, damp air, the covey rising out of the scrubby grass at the moment the handler began to walk forward toward his dog. (While ostensibly about a fictional setter female, Greymist, Albert F. Hochwalt’s words written in 1925 still seem to appropriately honor the scene: “ . . . she needed no cautioning, for she stood like a graven image, the embodiment of suspended motion, with head high in air and flag well up. Not a muscle, not a hair of her magnificent body moved.”) Coming back to the front, Gates was up on the edge of the rotator field above the Bay Pond as the course headed south toward the Smith fields. Sadly, for both handlers, after promising starts neither could re-establish a connection with their strong dogs, both coming in to secure their retrieval units at 33.

Touch’s Red Rider (Eisenhart) was drawn with Showtime Sam Houston (Copeland) in the growing warmth of the morning. Leaving from the head of the first of the Smith fields, Red Rider broke down the right side and stopped midway down the middle strip on the right at 3, a covey leaving ahead of him. Sam Houston had punched down the left side for the duration of the second field. Coming through the next woods section before the deerstand field, both dogs worked purposefully through the relatively dense grass understory. Swinging up high on the outer rim of the bowl on the left at 13, Sam ran through a patch of birds and failed to stop in a sufficiently mannerly fashion. Coming over the deerstand field, Red Rider was out wide in the next section of woods, turning nicely with his handler to swing around the South End Pond. Swinging around through the moss-covered oaks, he worked out toward the riverside before crossing the front. He dropped down deep into the Swallow Me Bottom, narrowly missing a flotilla of deer breaking out behind him, and then motor forward to reunite with his handler at the first whaleback. He shortened some coming up and over the second whaleback and by the time he had crossed the River Road at 38 Eisenhart elected to save his dog the effort in the still, humid air.

Mercer Mill Moon (Morton) and Lester’s Private Charter (McLean) were away at the long going-away field. Moon successfully crossed the field at the neck to make the turn down to the River Road with her handler, although electing to stay up on the left shoulder in the piney woods. Shortly after the road crossing but some 300 yards north of the main track, Moon stopped under a solitary oak at 15, pretty as a picture, with a sizeable covey pinned ahead of her. Coming forward and abreast of the front edge of the second big field, Moon stopped again at 19 framed by a small glade of oaks, another covey accurately located ahead of her. McLean was forced to request his retrieval device at 20, Private Charter never seeming to have made the turn east with the course. Moon tackled the open field edges on the right side, moving well despite the thick still air. Moon then crossed the course and moved out along the outer edge of the Booger field toward the swamp. She pointed at 33, virtually at the corner where the path and the Allison Swamp come closest. All flushing and relocation efforts proved unsuccessful. Sent on north, she stopped soon after, some 50 yards off the edge of the cover crop field at 37. This was a barren stand and her bid ended.

Touch’s Gravedigger (McLean) and Spencer’s Ramblin Lawman (Rayl). Turned loose on Nonami a half-hour earlier than usual to try to avoid the projected late-afternoon rainstorm, both dogs broke down the right shoulder. After sailing out over the first terrace, both dogs a stopped near a firebreak out on the right at 9, a running single getting up between the two dogs. Taken on, Gravedigger pointed just off the main track east at 13, a covey easily produced from the broomsedge. Over the next rise with the first view of the Blue Springs headquarters, Gravedigger was climbing out of the next rise well to the front. Lawman pointed on the southwestern edge of the cover crop field beside a downed oak at 21, a single bird put up from the broomsedge ahead of him. Gravedigger pointed at 24 in the southeast corner of the small field the course crosses diagonally to begin its northeastern cast. After an initial flushing effort, he relocated some 75 yards upwind, and while making a significant turn to mark at the birds’ flush, McLean elected to pick up. Taken on down roadside edge to swing wide through the turn, Lawman pointed at 26 in the swale below Blue Springs, some 200 yards farther south from Gravedigger’s find — a hint of moisture now in the air. Relocated some 50 yards north, he stopped crisply and turned back into the wind — a single bird successfully flushed ahead of him. Lawman then began his cast northbound, moving steadily through the rolling terrain. The call of point at 42 heralded the first significant shower of the morning, with Lawman up on a hill some 300 yards out on the left in a dense median between two skinny cover crop fields, a dove and then a quail successfully flown ahead of him. Swinging around to the east toward the Baptist Church, Lawman stayed out to the north and swung forward with his handler around the pine-planted edge of the old rotator field. Time expired at the eastern apex of the old rotator field, with Lawman out front and steadily working.

Miller’s Bushwacker (Daniels) and Erin’s Rebel Rum (Eisenhart) were down on the riverside course. Punching south, both dogs engaged with the left side of the course and shortly after rounding out behind Ray Pearce’s house, the call of point came at 8 for Rebel Rum. He was found almost a quarter-mile east of Ray’s house, standing tall in a scrubby thicket, a covey pinned directly ahead of him. Approaching the turn east at the end of the course’s southern cast, Bushwacker pointed up on the slope at 12, the initial flushing effort proving unsuccessful, and the dog executing a stop to flush as a bird flew during the subsequent relocation. Through the turn back north, both handlers swung their dogs out wide along the riverside, passing the cemetery near 20. Swinging across the front and out toward the center of the course Bushwacker stopped at 32, a covey successfully flown ahead of him. Meanwhile, roughly 300 yards northeast from Bushwacker’s find about fifty yards from the path running out beside the river, Rebel Rum was found at 33 — a covey flushed ahead of him here. Both dogs worked smoothly through the woods section before the access road crossing, Bushwacker more to the center, Rebel Rum out toward the river, as the course crossed into a section of varied cover crop fields, the twin grain bins just visible 600 yards or so to the northwest. Both handlers swung out toward the river to make the counter-clockwise turn as wide and gradual as possible, Rebel Rum coming to a stop on the edge of a triangular-shaped cover crop field at 46, a single bird produced from the grassy edge. Bushwacker also came to a stop about 200 yards further north in the median between two other fields at 47, the initial flush proving unsuccessful. A bird popped while the dog was relocating, the dog stopping successfully but prompting Daniels to end Bushwacker’s bid. After the turn back north, Rebel Rum climbed the next slope, seemingly having found his gear again after a downshift in the last section and moved out toward the roadside. He then crossed the Blue Springs Road and worked the low shoulder on the other side, only to stand tall on point at 59, some 200 yards south of the normal starting point for the third course. Time expired as the covey flew ahead of the mannerly dog.

Touch’s White Knight (McLean) and County Justice (Eisenhart) were loosed promptly on the third course in an effort to beat the likely rain. White Knight was found standing in a firebreak beside a solitary pine at 4, almost a quarter-mile out from the course. All flushing and relocation efforts were fruitless. The rain began to fall in mild fashion as White Knight was taken to the front, the two handlers and dogs coming back together at the head of the golf course. At 15 both handlers assessed their dog’s performance and elected to end their bids.

Touch’s Blue Moon (McLean) and Sinbad’s Rumor (Daniels) were brought to the line for the final morning. Both dogs cut up onto the right shoulder as the gallery entered the chute. Coming out of the first woods section to the first field crossing at 10, neither dog had been seen for awhile, both scouts scurrying out to the sides of the course. Approaching the Bay Pond, Rumor seemed to have climbed out of the bowl and into the cover fields to the southwest. For his part, after a final foray out to the left side, McLean came in at 17 for his retrieval unit. Daniels followed suit at 19.

Run N Shadow (Gates) and Miller’s Creative Cause (Lester) were away from the corner of the cover crop field closest to the edge of the rotator field and both dogs punched out through the woods section ahead of them. Creative Cause stopped soon afterward near a downed pine, but did not appear entirely sure. While not dismounting, Lester encouraged the dog to move up or firm up — which he eventually did. As Lester approached, the birds flew from the thicket ahead of him. Fully aware of how others had looked on their birds, Lester elected to pick him up. Not long after Gates declared his dog lost and asked for his retrieval unit.

Dunn’s Tried’N True (Eisenhart) and Just Watch (Daniels) broke away just before the Smith fields. Coming out the first of the fields, True appeared out on the right of the long second field, stopping at 7 in the median strip, framed by a pair of middle-aged oaks, and a scattered covey flushed out around him. Exiting the second field and into the dogleg, Just Watch was found standing at 11, dug in deep in a tall, thick bramble thicket. Sadly all flushing and relocation efforts were unsuccessful — the dog’s demeanor and the blustery conditions strongly suggesting that birds had left in the time it took to locate him. Both dogs moved assertively through the next woods section, swinging wide around the outer edge of the deerstand field. Clearing the South End Pond, True pointed at 21 in the broomsedge on its western edge; bird flushed during the relocation, the dog whoaed for the shot. Just Watch, in the meantime, had punched through below the cypress pond and was moving out smoothly through the patchwork of cover crop fields to the north. Around the turn with the Swallow Me Bottom on the right and coming into the first whaleback, both dogs swung down into the bowl. Leaving the whaleback, True crossed the front and went forward out on the left side — the weather having turned distinctly cold and blustery. Scout called point for Just Watch almost a quarter-mile out on the left beyond the big crop field at 38. A covey was successfully flushed from directly in front of him. Coming into the long going-away field, both dogs punched hard down the left side, the judges and gallery able to watch them both, independently, swing powerfully through the apron of trees on the left some 500 yards away, one of the nicest power moves seen in a brace the whole trial. Both dogs successfully dropped down into the River Road section. Crossing the access road, Just Watch cast off toward the river and was found standing 400 yards out in the median strip between the first and second big fields. After yet another impressive independent move, all flushing and relocation efforts went unrewarded and his bid ended. True had worked his way down along the inner edge of the big crop fields, stopping midway down the third field at 59 on the other side of the path from the line of pines where Miller’s Blindsider had located birds in the second brace. After an initial flushing effort, he was asked to relocate and stopped again, this time the covey successfully flown ahead of him.

The final afternoon began with Touch’s Secret Agent (Furney) and Touch’s Game Point (McLean) dealing with a cold wind from the northeast. Secret Agent broke away out to the roadside immediately, Game Point initially taking the bowl before swinging forward. The dogs came together at 5 out on the right, Game Point pointed, Secret Agent honoring. Game Point appeared initially uncertain and was quickly relocated, while Secret Agent was taken on. Sadly this stand proved unproductive. Scout called point roughly a quarter-mile ahead for Secret Agent at 8, Game Point now backing. Uncharacteristically, Game Point took a step forward when Secret Agent was asked to relocate and his handler ended his bid. The stand proved fruitless — a pattern repeated a couple of hundred yards ahead on the edge of the wide cover crop field at 12, bringing the brace to an end.

McRee’s Roxanne (Eisenhart) was brought to the line with Rocky Knoll Annie (Rayl), with owners Pat and Marilyn Lockhart riding in support of Annie. Roxanne was found standing tall at 3, looking upwind into a broomsedge patch — a covey of birds sent out ahead of the pretty dog. Coming up over the last eastbound rise, Annie had worked her way around the outside of the turn and through the swale below Blue Springs headquarters, while Roxanne had never quite found her top gear prompting Eisenhart to end her bid at 16. Occasionally a little scattered in her pattern to this point, Annie punched north purposefully at the turn — and was found in the pine woods atop a small rise at 26, roughly a quarter-mile before the next eastbound turn. After an initial self-relocation before the handler arrived, she styled up confidently, and a small covey was successfully produced ahead of her. Approaching the turn she moved out to the outside of the turn and was found standing at 30 in virtually the same place she had pointed the previous year. She swung through the canola field immediately north above the Baptist Church, and moving north out on the right stopped at 43 in the northwest corner of the skinny cover crop field beyond the sinkhole. Relocating herself before handler arrived, she firmed up again — but all flushing and relocation efforts proved fruitless. After a short conversation with the judge, Rayl picked up his dog.

Wild Desire (Furney), a brother to the eventual winner Touch’s Mega Mike, with owners Ginger Bippus and John Fuller riding in support, with Lester’s Georgia Time (Gates), whose owner Jim Clark riding in the gallery, too. To avoid deadhead time on the back side of the course, the dogs were turned loose where the previous brace had ended, but then cast out around the golf course to resume the conventional third course. The distant call of point came from the far side of the low ridge at 14, Georgia Time found standing some 400 yards out, looking out from the sideslope toward one of the long north-south cover crop fields. Stunning in his demeanor, he stood staunchly through the covey flush ahead of him. Back at the golf course at the turn back to the south, Furney conceded his dog had slipped away and asked for his retrieval unit at 19. Pushing north past the Nonami stables, Georgia Time worked out on the right side of the course, swinging over to the left as the course moved past the equipment shed. He pointed at 30, some 200 yards out on the left side on a woody shoulder, another covey successfully located immediately in front of him. Moving purposefully forward, he climbed across the far left slope of the oak swale where he came to a stop at 40, a pair of birds boosted out of the scrubby grass. Swinging to the southwest, Georgia Time downshifted slightly as he pushed forward over the succession of rolling terraces. He swung out on the left side as the course, got its first glimpse of the rotator field to the northwest and finished up to the front and going away.

Albany, Ga., March 8

Judges: Mike Cheely and Reid Hankley

MASTERS OPEN ALL-AGE QUAIL CHAMPIONSHIP [One-Hour Heats] — 58 Pointers and 2 Setters

Winner—TOUCH’S MEGA MIKE, 1669609, pointer male, by House’s Ring of Fire—Touch’s Blaylock Bess. Eddie Sholar & Ted Dennard, owners; Mark McLean, handler.

Runner-Up—SHADOW’S NEXT EXIT, 1656238, pointer male, by Exit Lane—Weber’s Little Snowball. N. G. Houston III, owner; Robin Gates, handler.

Notes from the Masters

With another year in the books, I feel blessed to witness the spectacle that is the Masters Quail Championship — and I am grateful for the opportunity to have come back for another year. Thanks go to  Mr. Paul DeLoach and the members of the Southern Field Trial Club for putting on a well-organized, hospitable trial — from providing fish fry dinners to ensuring that horse trailers were readily available to transport the judges and reporter (and any lucky lottery winners) from way out back, especially when the heavens were on the verge of crashing open.

The opportunity to ride private grounds and watch top-tier dog work, especially during the beautiful weekend weather, was one shared by many, too — with the Saturday gallery numbering 42 horses for the tour around Nonami.

What also marks the Masters, although I doubt it is unique among the premier wild bird trials in the South, is the camaraderie and sportsmanship of handlers, scouts, and owners. There are undoubtedly minor rifts and rivalries amongst those who congregate to compete — nevertheless, those are profoundly outnumbered by the small acts of friendship and good sportsmanship that take place, too. While there to support her own dog, Miss Courtney Davis was nonetheless promised a case of beer after pointing out the ultimate winner making a turn far ahead in the cover, while Mr. Jim Hamilton, owner of Dominator’s Rebel Heir, joked about volunteering to scout for Robin Gates after locating one of his dogs on point from the dog wagon last year.

Along with the never-ending stories about longtime course marshal, Sam Ellis, it was also a year to reflect on long-time consistent performers — on past winner Big Sky Pete, for example, still turning in commendable performances for the fifth year in a row — and on those dogs lost from us in the last year or so.

Lee Phillips and I reminisced about Lester’s Storm — and I can still see Charles Morton’s Eisenhower in my mind’s eye rimming the big rotator field to finish on the third course at Blue Springs. But when it comes to tales, both real and fictional, there are few who can produce them like Mr. Tom Word — with whom it was a pleasure to visit, however briefly.

A. C.

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