American Field

Chelsea’s Thunder Bolt Wins; A Strong Runner-Up Effort by Cock’N’Fire Maggie

Michigan Open Shooting Dog Championship

By Al Mannes | May 16, 2017
Chelsea's Thunder Bolt Winner of the Michigan Open Shooting Dog Championship

Ionia, Mich. — What a great way to celebrate a birthday. Chelsea’s Thunder Bolt is about to blow out the candles on his fifth birthday cake when he and handler Shawn Kinkelaar are informed at 5:00 p.m. on April 21 that they have won the Michigan Open Shooting Dog Championship. Co-owner Dr. Tom Jackson of Columbus, Ind., was in a celebratory mood as well. This was Thunder Bolt’s fourth championship of the year.

“This is the fourth time I’ve won the Michigan Championship,” noted Kinkelaar, “and the performance by ‘Bolt’ was right up there with any I’ve ever had.”

“It’s very exciting to be here,” said Dr. Jackson. “I think Shawn has done an incredible job bringing that dog along.”

The victory was sugar-coated by the fact the win gave Kinkelaar and Thunder Bolt commanding leads in the Purina Handler of the Year, and Shooting Dog Award of the Year competition.

Bracemate Cock’N’Fire Maggie, handled by Jerry Raynor, was a strong runner-up. “Braced with the champion, which ran a stronger race, Maggie was superb in every aspect of her game,” noted Judge Kevin Stuart.

Maggie is seven years old and won the National Open Shooting Dog Championship at Sedgefields Plantation in Alabama a couple months ago.

“This dog’s experience and history on these grounds was important to her success,” concluded Raynor.

Maggie is third in the Purina Dog of the Year race, and owned by Auddie Brown and Allen Johnson of Sumter, S. C.

The trial took place from April 17-21 over the continuous courses of the Ionia Recreation Area in Ionia County, Mich. Forty-one dogs and seven handlers represented the cream of the shooting dog crop. The top eleven Purina Shooting Dog of the Year candidates and five of the top ten Handler of the Year competitors were on hand. Two Hall of Fame handlers competed, and five others with a composite total of two dozen Handler of the Year Awards. The seven have also captured twenty Dog of the Year trophies.

With the Michigan Open being the penultimate points trial of the season, there was a lot at stake for dogs and handlers. The following week’s Canadian Open would wrap things up.

The judges were first class as well, bringing a wealth of experience at competing and judging both shooting and all-age dogs. Kevin Stuart came from Schenectady, N., Y., and Sean Derrig from Bannockburn, Ill. In speaking with the judges before the trial, they made clear what they were looking for in the winner. Their resolve, I thought, would leave no room for the high dudgeon of the disappointed.

The course was in good shape despite huge amounts of rain earlier in the year that left some areas boggy, but of little consequence to dogs or horses. It’s an immense challenge keeping a venue like this fit and proper for field trials. There is no farming on the property, so mowing hundreds of acres is essential. I marvel at the amount of time and sweat it takes the Association of Michigan Field Trial Clubs members, and other field trialers who are part of the Ionia Field Trial Grounds Association, to keep the courses field trial ready. There is also tree and brush removal as well as bridge and road maintenance. As we continue to lose adequate field trial grounds nationwide, it’s appropriate to appreciate what is being done here.

Experience for both handler and dog is a sine qua non of success in this trial. It would be rare for first-timers to claim victory. This is also a course full of dog distractions. The open fields and meadows lead down hills, into valleys and across small wooden bridges. It’s best for the handler to keep his dog close and move adroitly through these sections. Deer, turkey, coyotes and much more can sometimes take a dog completely out of the hunt. Once beyond harm’s way, you move up into open country where a dog’s muscle memory can kick in along tree and hedgerow edges.

Michigan field trial historian, and newly minted Hall-of-Famer Dave Fletcher, tells me that this trial became a championship in 1978. He added that without the leadership of Oliver De Luca of Livonia Mich., as president, no one is sure if it would have ever survived.

“There is no one more responsible for the present state of health of this trial than Oliver.” notes Fletcher. “His guiding hand made this a must stop on the calendar for most handlers and owners.” Oliver and his lovely wife Almerinda stopped by for dinner one night. They are rightly proud of the work, effort and success the present leadership has brought to this endeavor.

To maintain the quality, and to build on Oliver’s legacy, it’s important to attract the top shooting dogs and handlers. A tight knit and well organized cadre of volunteers are up to the challenge. Stake manager Jim Cipponeri and Joe Guzman work tirelessly all year around getting this Championship ready. Their punctilious attention to detail involves crossing a hundreds T’s and dotting a thousand I’s. They must, among other things, make arrangements with the state for the grounds, then contact the judges after the club members nominate their choices followed by contacting the reporter and The American Field on the trial advertisement. There is also the job of determining how many quail will be needed and find a reliable breeder. All quail aren’t born equally; some breeders have better fliers than others, and price is not unimportant. Also, every year there are fewer breeders in the Rolodex.

At this point Jim and Joe, with the help of their wives Connie and Tracey, conduct the drawing and make sure the judges’ books and running orders are printed. Then more hoop jumping with the paper parade; permits and other applications properly processed and motel arrangements made. All of that is followed by a big cleanup of the horse barn, the bird pens, the clubhouse, the parking lot. This is where that cadre of volunteers is indispensable. Ron Williams, Richard Lipski and Greg Hilla fill a number of roles vital to the running.

Ron, I would say, is the ramrod of the operation. If there is an itch, Ron is there with the scratch. He puts in long, hard hours operating the dog wagon and preparing the sumptuous meals each evening — that is no minor challenge.

His dog wagon expertise is especially appreciated by those without access to a horse. He does the best job possible keeping you close to the action, and provides a running commentary ranging from informative to insulting. It’s all done in good humor, and with the intent of making the experience enjoyable.

After arduous hours of hauling the dog wagon over, under and through the expanse of the Recreation Area, Ron dons his chef’s apron. He, Greg Hilla and Louis Dellamora put together some great dinners. Greg provides his specialty hors d’oeuvres of shrimp and a real palate pleaser — salmon spread. It’s all buffet style and worth the trip, even if field trials aren’t your avocation. On Thursday night the dinner was followed by a beautiful cake presentation honoring last year’s winner Backcountry Tornado and handler Mike Tracy. The cake featured, as it does ever year, a picture of the dog on point, courtesy of Kelsey Hajek.

The reality of habitat loss and, especially predation, make these verdant rolling hills almost barren of game birds, save for a few migrating woodcock. During the early morning of each day’s trial, volunteers scatter across the courses to ensure they’re properly seeded. Then, following behind each brace, comes Richard Lipski and Joe Guzman with quail for the subsequent braces. It makes for a long day for these fellas, but it’s essential for a quality championship trial.

I enjoyed the company of Louis Dellamora. He’s from Acton, Ontario, and has been in field trials most of his 69 years. He no longer campaigns dogs, but riding with him was a great learning experience.

I also was pleased to see my friend Dave Fletcher arrive one afternoon with his golf cart. He was convinced this would be a splendid opportunity to see the action up close and personal. The stellar effort was often sidetracked by swamp-like conditions that forced us off the course, and on to alternate routes. It seems old dobbin is still the best way to watch a field trial.


Chelsea’s Thunder Bolt and Cock’N’Fire Maggie were released at 8:06 a. m. on Friday under windy conditions. The pair broke like scalded dogs, booking it due west straight along the course line with tails crackin’ high and birds on their brains. Handlers were happy, and the judges were taking notice.

Bolt immediately took to the side of the treerows at Hires field and at 8 slammed into his first of six finds. The five-year-old looked perfect with tail at 12 o’clock; sinew and muscle tucked neatly in place. Kinkelaar flushed the quail and all was in order. Bolt then turned in Hires field and started back, running into what appeared to be the same bird, but in a different location along the identical treerow. Kinkelaar did the flushing honors, judges in full view. This was at 18 and things had started out well.

The next move, by happenstance, turned into a blessing for Kinkelaar. He called this point a “saving grace” because Shawn thought the dog went left on the old course and he couldn’t find him, so he gambled and came back to the front where he saw Cock’N’Fire Maggie in the middle of the field on a solid point. As Kinkelaar turned the edge he saw that Maggie was backing Bolt  — all was right with the world. “If he hadn’t been there, I don’t know where he would have been, because at that point there are so many options for a dog.”

Not long after Bolt hit pay dirt again with a find along the gravel pit and another perfect back from his bracemate. Then, after only three minutes, Bolt slammed into a point on a hedgerow adjacent to the bird watchers’ woods in a tangle of briars. Shawn rousted the quail and No. 5 was in the books. Then another convincing point at 47 turned out to be only feathers; but Bolt wasn’t finished. At  54, while charging through the apple orchard, Bolt spun on his sixth find of the morning. “You’re never sure,” Kinkelaar observed, “but this late in the trial I had a good feeling about Thunder Bolt’s chances.”

The final math showed Thunder Bolt with finds at 8, 18, 26, 32, 35, feathers at 47 and 54. The numbers alone attest to the steady, even race the pointer ran. The judges were impressed.

“When we came here we had a standard we wanted the winning dog,” said Judge Sean Derrig, “to go through the country independent of handler and scout, and we wanted the dog to hunt to the front and never to come from behind. Thunder Bolt fit the bill perfectly, and lived up to the high standards we set.”

Handler Jerry Raynor was quite pleased with the outstanding race his runner-up seven-year-old female Cock’N’Fire Maggie put down on Friday. “It started off well from the beginning,” he said. “She’s had a great year.”

Maggie broke into Hires field at about the same time as her bracemate and at 9 had her first point. Raynor flushed the bird after a smart relocation effort by the pointer. At 21 she nailed another quail in the horse staging area — things were going well. From here, Maggie broke out into some open country, and the pair seemed to put on the afterburners.

Maggie then produced two stylish backs. Within two minutes after the last back Maggie had a solid find at  37 among some downed tree limbs in a cluster of alders. The flush went well, and now with just under a half-hour to go Raynor was very enthused. For the third time in the hour she backed her bracemate at 47 and then finished the hour with a calendar-like find at 52. This pointer is classy on her game.

The numbers here show a dog hanging hard with the winner.

Maggie had finds at 9 and 21, backs at 26 and 32, a find at 37, a back at 47  and a find at 52.

“I liked the way she handled the terrain,” noted Raynor. “She was always to the front and never hit us in the face.”

The judges were duly impressed. “When Maggie had the opportunity she took to the front,” said Stuart. “She was impeccable on her game, and independent of the other dog.” Both winner and runner-up have had great years.

Other contenders deserving recognition at this trial include: Sugarknoll War Paint, handled by George Tracy; Palara, handled by Mike Tracy; Waybetter Rocky, also under the whistle of Mike Tracy.


There was a drop off in quantity, but not quality at this year’s trial. A large number of the entries won numerous championships, and the top points dogs managed to hold serve with excellent performances.

The weather was not a major factor, although rain, thunder and lightning did force a cancellation of all braces on Thursday. Also, excessive rain earlier in the year turned some sections into a quagmire; dogs and horses still had little trouble traversing the terrain.

It is also noteworthy, that for the second year in a row it was much harder for the dogs to produce birds in the afternoon. Heat may have been a factor, but the situation again was puzzling.

Tuesday: 8:05 a. m., 37° with temperatures rising under party cloudy skies — light southerly wind.

Cock’N’Fire Justice (Raynor) made a Derby dog mistake right at breakaway going hard to the right, while the course went straight. Within minutes he was on the back course and lost. The retrieval device was called and Justice was put on hold for another day. Joho’s Full Moon (Perkins) showed some real potential as a three-year-old with three finds in less than 20 minutes. The young pointer made youthful mistakes by not holding his edges, and he was history at that point.

Adjusted Attitude (M. Tracy) put down a nice hour. Within one minute after breakaway he had a picturesque find at the horse staging area. A second came moments later along a hedgerow off gobblers knob, and a third in a clump of scrub brush and brambles at the gravel pit. Denton (Perkins) backed perfectly as the flush was encumbered by the dense foliage. The setter picked up his fourth find on the back side of the pond and that concluded a credible effort. Denton had that back at the gravel pit, and a good looking find at the Christmas tree field at 30 with a back by Adjusted Attitude. Denton’s pace and performance were not pleasing his handler; he was picked up.

*Sugarknoll War Paint (G. Tracy) and True Choice (Kinkelaar). An eye-catching effort by the 12-time champion War Paint with six finds and a strong finish. The first came as the pointer crossed the apple orchard and nailed a quail only yards from the pond. Coming at the ten-minute mark that set the stage for the rest of the hour. Another find was marked at 18 in the Christmas tree field; then at 35 he locked up on a bird just off Hires field in the horse staging area. Seven minutes later Tracy found him again in the same area on point; that was followed by an unproductive at  50. He finished with a flurry, nailing a quail at 59, and then spun into a corkscrew point at 61. It is little wonder that dog has so many trophies in his case. True Choice is a first year dog and attractive on the ground. At 21 he had an unproductive followed by a back of War Paint at 30. From that time on he hunted hard but produced little, picked up at 55.

Attitude’s Iron Will (M. Tracy) is a former winner of this trial (2014) and had an impressive breakaway. That was the only good news for the setter. He never stopped running, and was soon out of pocket and picked up. Decoy Lakes Winning Harley (Raynor) was not about to win today. He, like his bracemate, broke like the proverbial bat out of hell and was last seen far out in front. Soon the collar was called for.

Both Cory’s Easy Holy Water (G. Tracy) and Motor City Rock Star (Grubb) hung close to one another and produced divided finds at 2 and 18. Holy Water then broke off to grab a solo find at 30, but problems ten minutes later with her bracemate encouraged the handler to pick her up. Rock Star had the divided finds just mentioned, and then moved out to nail birds at 21 and 42, and finished the hour.

Touch’s Mae Mobley (G. Tracy) has a lot of potential, having won the National Amateur Derby Championship last spring and now a shooting dog. The young pointer seemed to fall victim to the afternoon bird drought I mentioned earlier. She covered a lot of acreage with little success for a long period, but at  42 had a find. Then came a divided find at 50 and finished the hour. In Swami’s Shadow (Kinkelaar) is another strong competitor in Shawn’s string. She won the Alabama Open Shooting Dog Championship last year and is very athletic. On this day, however, she made a mistake early by breaking off her edges. Later in the hour she had a divided find, and was picked up when she got under a bird.

**Skyhawk (Kinkelaar) is a first year dog with a big appetite for acreage. He was out in a hurry only to be picked up at 20. Coosawhatchie Smooth Ride (M. Tracy) has been a runner-up champion, so the three-year-old knows the ropes. Today he started strong with an unproductive at 16 and finds at 22 and 26. The handler felt he was running low on fuel, perhaps because of the heat, and picked him up.

Wednesday: 8:10 a. m., 61°, overcast with light variable winds.

American Shadow (Grubb) is a stylish setter that started with a solid point and relocation at the horse barn and then went on to secure three more finds and finish the hour. High Drive Ranger (G. Tracy) is a five-year old dog that’s qualified for the National Championship every year. Today he ran a strong race with a finds at 8, then a back of his bracemate and two more finds.

Sugarknoll Sledgehammer (Kinkelaar) has had an excellent year, winning the Midwest Championship and runner-up at the Texas Open Shooting Dog Championship. On this morning both Sledgehammer and Waybetter Rocky (M. Tracy) went long and fast from the breakaway. Sledgehammer looked sharp when he nailed a bird and did a perfect relocation at 36 at the horse staging area. He had another point and flush at 58 and put on a powerful performance for his hour. Waybetter Rocky is having the kind of year any handler or owner would love; going into the trial he was second in the points race to the eventual winner Chelsea’s Thunder Bolt. In this brace he was quick out of the gate and never let up. His first find came within four minutes of breakaway at the dog leg coming off the lake. He then looked strong, putting together a sensational six minutes in and around the apple orchard with finds at 28, 30 and 33. He finished off this hour with a find at 52.

World Class Cliff (Perkins) is a pointer with a rich history, but he can be inconsistent. In his effort this day he started strong, and had a divided find at 6. He turned in a solid find at 19 and another divided find at 24. Perkins later determined Cliff was not getting it done to his satisfaction so he picked him up. Palara (M. Tracy) ran long and strong. He had a divided find at the gravel pit at 6, and from 24 forward he was on fire with finds at 24, 27, 42, 46 and 55. The judges were impressed with his hour.

A Tarheel Addiction (Raynor) is a fast moving setter and former shooting dog of the year in North Carolina. In this brace he had a back at 22 at the apple orchard, and then turned a nice find at 29 at the creek crossing. After that the handler noticed the dog’s pace was lacking and picked him up at 38. Backcountry Tornado (M. Tracy) put on a great show for everyone at this Championship last year, winning going away. Today was a different time and story. He started out well with a find at 22 and then beautifully backed his bracemate at 29. He had another find in the Christmas tree field at 32, but bumped the bird in a flushing attempt and was picked up.

Miller’s Vanilla Snow (G. Tracy) produced an unproductive at 12, but had a sharp looking back of her bracemate at 24 and a find at 33. A little later at 40 the handler had seen enough and picked up the pointer. Zorra (Kinkelaar) had a find at 29 and was picked up shortly thereafter; but this dog presented one of the most entertaining moments of the trial. The gallery in the dog wagon spotted Zorra on a beautiful point near the horse staging area some 11-minutes after breakaway. The dog wagon was a long way from the handlers and judges. Kinkelaar sang for this dog for over 15-minutes, but that little pointer never moved. He eventually spotted the dog on point, raised his cap and flushed the quail at 29; that’s 17 minutes after first being spotted by some of the gallery. It’s a testament to the tenacity of these dogs; no matter what, they will hold point.

Tangled Sheets (Kinkelaar) has had a successful year winning two championships. The pointer female broke strong hunting the country and had a find at 15 and then another just three minutes later. The heat and the lack of afternoon success was becoming a factor and after a third find at 27 handler decided to pick the dog up. Blackhawk’s Diana (Grubb) had no finds, and faced a similar fate going back into the dog wagon at 30.

The day’s seventh brace:  Bully Bragg (M. Tracy) and Kate’s Magic (Perkins). Bragg is a strong powerful looking pointer. Earlier this year he won the South Carolina Open Shooting Dog Championship. At 28 a picture point and then a slick relocation in a mass of underbrush. The flush was perfect, and then at 32 another good looking point in some downed trees, and again, a smart relocation. The dog soon after lost pace, which could have been heat related. The handler decided to pick him up. Kate’s Magic fell victim to the noticeable paucity of birds in the afternoon, and was getting nothing accomplished. Handler picked up at 32.

Thursday was cancelled due to weather.  The judges made a wise move. Lighting and thunder accompanied heavy downpours most of the day. There was little to do, but wait.

Friday: 8:06 a. m., 47°, overcast-chilly and windy.

Chelsea’s Thunder Bolt and Cock’N’Fire Maggie were previously covered.

Hale’s Southern Touch (Kinkelaar) has done well this year, winning the United States Shooting Dog Invitational Championship and two runners-up. Following in the shadow of the previous brace, however, the pressure was on to bring your “A” game. This did not happen. Southern Touch started slow and was picked up. Erin’s War Creek (G. Tracy) is a warrior; this pointer has seen the winners’ circle often. He won three national championships — the National Pheasant Shooting Dog Championship (twice) and the National Open Shooting Dog Championship. Despite the resume, this was not a good brace for War Creek. He had no bird work and was picked up after thirty minutes.

Thomas Adirondack Turbo (M. Tracy). Because of a dog scratch Turbo ran as a bye dog. The young pointer male is a first year dog and started off well with a find at 8 in the Christmas tree field hedgerow. Turbo was feeling his oats and was soon out of pocket and picked up.

Attitude’s Night Hawk (M. Tracy) and Shag Time Bo (Cagle). Night Hawk is a six-year-old multiple champion, but in this brace, as with most in the afternoon, neither dog could find game and they started to reach out. The pair was lost and eventually picked up. Night Hawk was found on point somewhere in Michigan.

R J’s Deicer (Kinkelaar) and Shag Time Scout (Cagle). Deicer has had a great year with wins in the Tennessee and Egyptian Open Shooting Dog Championships. But this was an afternoon of lost dogs. Handlers were asking for the retrieval units at 30.

North Country Girl (M. Tracy) sure has the genetics coming out of Hall-of-Famer Great River Ice. The pointer had trouble making game contact, but did have two backs and was picked up at 30. Sinbad’s Bear (Kinkelaar) won the Colorado and Montana Open Shooting Dog Championships this season and started strong. Fighting a heavy wind Bear produced two finds at 5 and 12. With what the handler had already seen in this trial, he thought it wise to pick up his pointer after 30-minutes.

Shadow Oak Doc (M. Tracy) as a bye. Within a short time went bye-bye; he was picked up.

[ * For the record. There are no longer Christmas trees in the Christmas tree field, but the dogs don’t seem to care.

** Someone should hold a dog naming seminar: “Coosawhatchie”, and similar appellations, could give scribes a disease known as writer’s cramp.]

Ionia, Mich., April 18

Judges: Sean Derrig and Kevin Stuart


CHAMPIONSHIP [One-Hour Heats] — 34 Pointers and 7 Setters

Winner—CHELSEA’S THUNDER BOLT, 1649213, pointer male, by Whippoorwill Wild Agin—Butler’s Jill. Dr. Tom Jackson & George Hickox, owners; Shawn Kinkelaar, handler.

Runner-Up—COCK’N’FIRE MAGGIE, 1627399, pointer female, by Blackhawk’s Jet—Gage’s Sweet Carla. Allen Johnson & Auddie Brown, owners; Jerry Raynor, handler.


Monday morning, 9:04 a. m., 50°, sunny and dry, no doubt the best weather day of the week. It seemed perfect for a thirty-minute Derby run, although months of rain had turned much of the course into slosh. Eight dogs were entered and which featured two that later ran in the Shooting Dog Championship.

Judges were Joe Guzman of Michigan and Dan Battistella of Ottawa, Ontario. Both have been in the field trial game for decades, and have judged numerous trials, walking and horseback.

Owner-handler Bob Leet  of Kalamazoo, Mich., had the class of the field with Leet’s Standard Protocol, a pointer male. The young dog made some bold moves early, staying to the front with intensity and style. He had two finds, and an unproductive, but what was impressive on the latter was his determination to hold steady through the interference of his bracemate. He handled Hires field like an old pro, nailing a bird in the hedgerow and then staying solid as his handler executed a difficult flush.

“The course conditions for a young dog were difficult,” a pleased Bob Leet observed. “The dog handled the challenge well; we’ve sure had a lot of rain.” The win by Bob Leet was followed by some depressing news. Shortly after the trial Bob went to the hospital, and was admitted into the ICU suffering pneumonia, and is now home recovering. We all look forward to his return to the field.

Judges: Dan Battistella and Joe Guzman

OPEN DERBY CLASSIC — 7 Pointers and 1 Setter

Winner—LEET’S STANDARD PROTOCOL, 1668178, pointer male, by Super Express Protocol—Hifive’s Syka. Bob Leet, owner and handler.

Runner-Up—BLACKHAWK’S DIANA, 1660546, pointer female, by Rock Acre Blackhawk—Coldwater Vixen. R. H. Wilson, owner; David Grubb, handler.


Growing old is like everything else,

To make a success of it,

You’ve got to start young.

Theodore Roosevelt

There is little question that that’s exactly what two Hall-of-Famers at this field trial did well over a half-century ago. George Tracy and David Grubb are the kind of people our 26th president had in mind when he penned those words some one hundred years ago. Both started very young, and continue to compete at the highest level. Make no mistake about it, other professional athletes have successfully pursued their sport into senior status, but field trial competition is not like golf, or any other sport, for that matter. The season itself is much longer than almost any other sport, and the physical demands often dwarf the others. Let’s just take traveling to a field trial. The handler rises in the dark, loads up two, maybe four horses, and numerous dogs, perhaps as many forty. In many cases, he must lift these 45- to 50-pound  high energy canines shoulder high to slide them into their crates. Imagine, repeating this time and time again for 50 or so years.

Now, the fun begins. They drive huge horse/dog trailers 12-hours or more to Michigan or Alabama or any of the other distant venues. Upon arrival they have to reverse the whole procedure, unloading all the animals for food and water. After feeding, the dogs must again be picked up and returned to their crates. When all this is finished, they now can consider dinner and sleep. The next morning, they’re up in the dark with dogs and horses again tended to.

Now, the most important battle begins as the competition commences. This can be four to five days on a horse trying to beat the best dogs and handlers in the country. When they’re not competing, they’re roading dogs. After the last brace of the day, it’s again time to feed the dogs and horses followed by another loading of the dogs. And then, after the final brace of the trial is run, and the winner announced, it’s time to feed all the animals and prepare to leave. Again, there’s more loading before leaving.

As the late great American philosopher Yogi Berra once opined, “This is déjà vu all over again.” Once the bills are paid, they’re off to another trial or even home. This, and more not mentioned, makes up just one week in their lives. That’s why, when this trial ended, I again had to doff my cap to a pair of septuagenarian shtarkers who refuse to sleep on their credentials.

Tom Word, one of our finest writers, while reporting on the Florida Open All-Age Championship this January past, inserted at the end of his coverage an addendum he called “The Brotherhood”.

It was, I thought, a excellent examination of the real challenges handlers face in making a living as a professional. That it’s an up-hill pull, there is little question. But as Tom explains, it’s one of the only sports you can think of demanding the competitors work together to survive. This can include any number of elements like scouting, or battling a severe storm.

I had a chance to see an example of the “Brotherhood” during Thursday’s storm when, as I mentioned, all braces were cancelled. At one point, when the rain arrived in a torrent accompanied by thunder and lightning, both Mike Tracy and Shawn Kinkelaar rushed to one another’s string to get them unchained and into their crates. It only took just a few minutes, but both pros were soaked when it was over. Now that’s brotherhood.

When the sky cleared on Friday the bromance ended at breakaway. Shawn and Mike went at it hard all week long, but still had time to help each other in an emergency.

And speaking of brotherhood, check out this story of how Shawn Kinkelaar ended up with champion Chelsea’s Thunder Bolt in his string. Shawn experienced a tragic accident a few years back, and lost many of his top dogs. Professional all-age handler Steve Hurdle heard of the incident, and was on the phone. He said he had a dog that would not cut it as an all-age prospect, but might make a good shooting dog. The dog was “Bolt” and the rest, as they say, is history.

“That speaks for the kind of guy Steve Hurdle is,” said Shawn. “There’s none better in our sport.”

It was great to see so many owners at the trial this year. Muriel Primm and Carl Bishop came over from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, respectively, to see their fine charges compete. Dr. Tom Jackson from Indiana was here to watch his champion Thunder Bolt, and Jerry Moisson from Wisconsin stopped by to check out R J’s Deicer.

All are people who put their money where their mouth is, and enjoy the beauty of bird dogs in competition.

A. M.


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