American Field

Part Three

Michigan's Field Trial Grounds

The Gladwin Field Trial Area
By David A. Fletcher | Sep 12, 2020
A host of field trialers attended the 100th Anniversary celebration of the Gladwin Refuge in 2016.

Field trialing began in England and other European centers in the early 1800s.

In the later years of that century, the owners of plantations of the southern United States began hosting quail shooting events, inviting their neighbors to come and bring their best dogs.

Competition among the dogs and their owners became the fashion of the day, developing into formalized field trial events.

The American Field magazine came on the scene in 1874 to publish and record the results of these field trials and other outdoor sporting activities (trap and skeet; fish and fishing, etc.).

In the early trials in the north, in areas such as Connecticut, Ruffed Grouse were at times the pointed gam birds by the competing dogs, but trials on Ruffed Grouse only had not yet arrived.

In the state of Michigan, the Detroit and Brooklyn Shooting Club sponsored trials over southern Michigan farmland terrain in 1895. Three years later, on farmland near Lakeview, Michigan, the Michigan Field Trial Association held a wild quail trial. This club continued its trials for a few years until severe winters drastically reduced the wild quail populations.

It fell to the State of Pennsylvania to begin trials on native, wild, Ruffed Grouse. The inaugural trial came in December of 1913 at Indian Creek, Pennsylvania.

It was initially thought that Ruffed Grouse could not be pointed readily by pointing dogs. They were too nervous, taking flight at the least hint of anything that might be a predator nearing them. They were abundant, but, especially on windy days could rarely be approached without hastily leaving the scene. For a pointing dog to hold them for handler and judges to arrive and make the flush, seemed impossible.

The 1913 trial was put together by stalwarts of the trial fraternity as a test of whether grouse trials could actually be held. The very successful event and the multitude of grouse trials that followed over the following hundred years are a testimony to the success of wild bird Ruffed Grouse events.

Settlers came to southern Michigan in the very early 1800s. My county, Shiawassee, was complete with county boundaries and townships in 1836. When the land was cleared, it was excellent farmland.

Native Ruffed Grouse, woodcock, and bobwhite quail were in residence. Shiawassee County is 150 miles north of the Ohio border while the Gladwin Field Trial Area is 300 miles to the north of the Ohio border.

Those northern Michigan environs were bountiful timber land.

The timber barons were there first, floating the cut logs to sawmills via the Cedar, Tittabawassee and Tobacco river systems to the eight or more sawmills at Saginaw, Michigan.

There was a great need for timber at the time . . . settlers’ construction, shipbuilding for the Great Lakes, and many markets in other states.

Michigan was the nation's leading lumber producer between 1869 and 1900. When the timber was gone and the timber barons moved farther north, the cutover land was open for settlement. Many took out claims but the land was not suitable for agriculture. It was hilly, with deep ravines for the streams of the area and offered very little acreage for planting crops or grazing of animals. The soil was very sandy.

After the cutover, the State of Michigan controlled much of the terrain, and more came into State ownership by tax reversion from settlers who just could not survive.

The Gladwin Field Trial Area is in the northwest corner of Gladwin County, consisting today of 4,940 acres, part of the Gladwin State Forest. The cutover left the land in a huge state of re-growth. First up was the "popple" or Quaking Aspen and by the cloning process prolific growth of shoots took life which often numbered 6,000 shoots to the acre. This was a great boon to the two bird species in the area, the North American Woodcock and the Ruffed Grouse.

“Popple cuttings" as they grow up are great and essential habitat for nesting, and rearing of broods from a standpoint of cover and food. Mature Aspen also help the Grouse feed in winter when heavy snows cover ground feeding opportunities. The aspen buds are readily available.

Woodcock migrate each fall to the Gulf of Mexico shores, but the nesting and brood rearing cover is here for them when they return each spring.

What was the future of this cutover land after the lumber companies moved out?

Many were vocal about it. "It's good for nothing . . . only a deer refuge . . . a game refuge!"

Today it is primarily managed for grouse and woodcock, and the "40-year" program of clear cutting initiated by some very knowledgeable people in the Michigan DNR, abetted by well informed timber management people now has a history of over fifty years and Gladwin has become the prime venue in America for grouse and woodcock trials. There is simply no question about it, the patchwork cutting of mature popple carried out when a section of the grounds boasts very mature timber has created perfect regrowth habit of all dimensions for grouse and woodcock and these bird populations have stood in goodly numbers for fifty years.

No hunting of grouse or woodcock is permitted on the area, but firearms deer hunting is allowed in November after the bird dog trials end for the season.

The State of Michigan in 1916 purchased in excess of 4,000 acres to establish the Gladwin Area as a Grouse Field Trial Area, then added 940 acres in 1922. It listed these acquisitions as 2,080 acres from tax reverted land and 2,850 purchased with Game and Fish funds.

In 1947, Act 82 officially dedicated the land as a Field Trial Area. In 1951 the Michigan Natural Resources Commission passed an order naming it the Gladwin Field Trial Area.

At the time the tax reverted land was coming back into the State's ownership the few settlers that were still in residence enjoyed and participated in the trials. When they gave up their land they insisted it be named as a field trial area. Some of the handlers came to Michigan by train and the settlers provided horse and buggy transportation including from course route to course route on the grounds.

With grouse trials underway in Pennsylvania in December of 1913, and in other New England venues, the Michigan Field Trial Club hosted the first grouse trial in Michigan in 1921 over grounds near Sanford, Michigan, with 27 starters. The club held forth again in 1922. Trainer and field trial handler George Fruchey placed two dogs at this initial event.

It would be remiss here not to mention the Fruchey family who has owned, trained and competed in the grouse woods since the sport began in Michigan.

George and Russell Fruchey were competing in the 1920s, followed by Arthur's son Wayne, and later Wayne's son Tom and his family. The Frucheys have worked and supported the Gladwin Area hugely from the very beginning.

With the availability of grounds in the early stages of the developing Gladwin area, Arnold Boutelle and Dr. E. G. Weeks formed the Saginaw Field and Stream Club and are credited with staging the first grouse field trial over the Gladwin grounds in 1923.

In the years that followed, many new grouse trial clubs sprang up, some running at Sanford and others at the Gladwin venue. The Sanford grounds were not used after 1945.

The Saginaw Field and Stream Club held trials at Gladwin for 24 years, and the All-America Grouse Championship for 12 years.

Other clubs of the era include the Wolverine Amateur Field Trial Club, the Michigan Field Trial Club, the Michigan Grouse Association, and the United States Grouse Championship Club.

The desire to hold grouse championships, and some trialers of the day said there were too many, came to a head in the summer of 1943 when W. Lee White of Connecticut, Sam Light of Pennsylvania and John Hadaway of Michigan gathered notables from the grouse world at a meeting in Cleveland, Ohio, where they gave birth to the Grand National Grouse Championship, hoping many of the smaller clubs holding Grouse Championships would embrace the Grand National as the “National Championship” of the grouse trial world.

In 1945, another consolidation of field trial clubs spawned the Lake States Grouse Championship, which recently celebrated its 75th year of running at the Gladwin refuge.

There are other clubs currently using the Gladwin courses for their events. They include: Michigan Amateur Club, Beaverton Grouse Dog Club, National Brittany Grouse Championship Association, Ruffed Grouse Club and the Lake States Club.

The rotation of the Grand National brings the Grand National Grouse Championship, the Grand National Grouse and Woodcock Invitational Championship, the Grouse Futurity and Puppy Classic to the Gladwin grounds every third year.

There has always been, since the start of Cover Dog field trials at the Gladwin Area, a large contingent of amateur and professional dog handlers as well as owners eager to compete. Those folks have surely abetted the Area. They have attended, supported and worked on the grounds to make new course routes virtually every year and co-operated with the DNR and Forestry in their superb management of the grounds.

It motivates scribe to name them, many of whom are now deceased who helped make the Area a significant place to compete grouse and woodcock dogs.

The list includes: Dell Todd, Lou Valley, Jack Stuart, Linden Evans, Ralph Thomas, Dr. C. F. DeVries, Al Brenneman, Dr. Beckmeyer, John and Jane Thompson, Jim Scripps, Ralph Warrington, Jim Norwood, Don Olson, Andy and Betty Eaton, Wayne and Marlene Fruchey, Tom and Kelli Fruchey, Tom Novak, Chuck Hoffman, Vic Christopherson, Wayne and Scott Kinne, Jim Logan, Jack Nicholson, Amos Greer, Russ Gingras, Dan Casteel, Dale Hernden, Dr. Jim Weirman, Scott and Tammy Chaffee, Chuck and Theda Langstaff, Roger and Norma Johnson, Billy Wendt, Joe and Sherry Shangle, Dave and Larry Dugan, Ken Wregglesworth, Michael Halley, and Rudy Lechner.

Apologies to any whom I may have not included.

At present new faces are stepping in, taking the reins of the clubs, running their dogs, making courses and keeping this wonderful set of grounds alive and well. The likes of the Hollisters, the Peters, the Wheelocks, Bob Barlow, and many more are new to scribe, but dedicated to carrying on the wonderful grouse and woodcock trials on WILD BIRDS ON STATE-OWNED PUBLIC LAND.

My hat is off to those who made it happen and who have maintained and bettered the hallowed grounds of the Gladwin Field Trial Area.


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