American Field

Field Trial Report

National Free-for-All Championship

By Ruthann Epp | May 17, 2018
Erin's Wild Justice Winner of the National Free-for-All Championship

Fitzpatrick, Ala. — Winner of the prestigious 2018 National Free-for-All Championship is Erin’s Wild Justice, owned by Allen Linder of Cookeville, Tenn., and handled by Luke Eisenhart. The seven-year-old white and liver pointer male emerged from a list of eight finalists.

Erin’s Wild Justice, aka Dan, ran the third brace of the “final four” and pumped excitement into the crowd with his fast-paced, strong, far-reaching race, and two spectacular limb finds at 28 and 39 (additional details are in the brace-by-brace account).

Handlers and spectators converged on beautiful Panther Creek Field Trial Grounds in Fitzpatrick, Ala. Headquartered at Colleen and Frank Rutland’s place, the grounds showcase big bottoms and edge country ideal for watching a running bird dog. If you were privileged to get to the grounds by 6:30 in the morning, the backdrop of a beautiful sunrise and the reflections of dogs and horses in the lake will fill you with gratitude to be a part of this sport.

Judges Tommy Mock and Erik Small did an outstanding job of watching the dogs. Tommy, a former coach from Blakely, Ga., currently manages a hunting outfit, goes north to work dogs every summer and is quite a silversmith as well. He has been in the bird dog game for many years and involved in all facets of the sport. We were privileged to have his experience.

Erik is from Tallahassee, Fla., and is employed at Horseshoe Plantation as a trainer and hunting guide. Erik started with the bird dog scene in his early teens and over the years has worked with several trainers, has gone north numerous years and scouted on the major circuit. He too knows what to look for as a judge. Besides being good judges for this prestigious stake, they also added to the social scene.

Frank and Colleen Rutland have been most gracious hosts for this event each year. They make all feel welcome, opening up their entertaining area and treating us royally. Colleen and Becke Blanton were outstanding hostesses; they had great lunches every day for the twenty to thirty riders and had the entertaining area open for cocktails in the evening. They served a spaghetti supper one night for the judges, reporter and officials and also organized and hosted the sponsored dinner from last year’s winner (mentioned in Sidelights).

Rick Stallings was the stake manager and kept everything running smoothly. He donated the use of the UTV for pulling the dog wagon and he and his daughter Taylor conducted  the drawing.

Frank Rutland was the front marshal assisted by Hunter McDuffie and Brian Peterson. There were at least twenty riders in the gallery every day and during the finals thirty plus.

Several owners were present to watch their dogs, Bob Craig, Junior Sims, Eddie Sholar, Ted Dennard, Will Dunn, and Rick Stallings (forgive me if I left out someone).

A big thank you is in order to the owners for supporting this trial and the sport as a whole. And thank you to Purina for being a sponsor of this endurance stake and for their research that benefits these canine athletes.

Qualifying Heats

Touch’s Red Rider (Eisenhart) and Skyfall (Hurdle) were loosed on a beautiful Tuesday morning after Club President Rick Stallings welcomed everyone and introduced the judges. Both dogs left the breakaway in turbo mode. As the gallery entered into the big hay field, Skyfall was taking the far edge across the front. That was the last dog spotting. At 23 Eisenhart asked for the retrieval unit. Hurdle followed soon afterward.

Touch’s Game Point (McLean) and Strut Nation (Davis) were loosed at the crossing entering the Martha Sanders field. Strut Nation immediately pointed on the treeline. Davis flushed, fired and was back on his horse in less than a minute. At 6 Game Point was  standing across the dam of Martha Sanders pond. Strut Nation came in for a back. Both dogs were stylish for the flush and shot. Each dog was pointed out on some big casts before an absence, then both appeared beyond the shooting house just before pickup was called.

Mega Blackhawk’s Progeny (Hurdle) and Miller’s Speed Dial (Lester) turned loose at Pine Thicket Hill. A dog was seen across the big expanse but unsure as to which dog it was. At 26 Speed Dial was reined in and made some pretty casts. Both dogs kept their distance but were birdless throughout the 45 minutes.

Smokin Joe’s Bandit (Bruner) and True Confidence (Eisenhart) broke away in the big sedgegrass field just beyond the catch pen. At 13 they went into Show Me Bottom but lacked the luster we were hoping for. As we twisted through the trees and fence toward the Merriweather place, Judge Mock spotted dogs standing on the far right under some cedars. Both handlers flushed in front of the two intense pointers for a divided find at 20. True Confidence took the line down toward the old barn that culminated in a find at 33. Bandit had two finds in two islands of trees at 24 and 28. Then, at 39, both were standing at another ring of trees for fifth covey find, before finishing near Panther Creek.

Touch’s Mega Mike (McLean) and Awsum in Motion (Eisenhart) broke away at 1:30 p. m. The setter Motion rimmed the east side of the field out of sight. At 21, just below three corners, Mega Mike carded a nice find. At 29 the call of point was heard a half-mile away. Mike was standing head high in the edge of the woods for a breathtaking find. At 33, just beyond Martha Sanders pond, birds were flushed for Mega Mike again with all in order. He kept a big running pace until pickup. Eisenhart asked for his retrieval unit at 29 for Motion.

House’s Buckwheat Hawk was “playing his own tune” and McLean picked up at 16. At 22 Stardust Chaz had bird contact and Hurdle fired. He was pointed out several times taking lines on the Reynolds place and at 45 the handsome setter had a find just below the old house site as time was called.

The Reveler (Rayl) and Dunn’s Tried’N True (Eisenhart). At 20 Eisenhart called point and flight of birds but judges did not see them so he did not attempt a flush. Reveler was backing. Soon after True checked out. Reveler made a nice cast around the lower end of the Merriweather place and swapped ends just before pickup for a stylish find.

Both Touch’s White Knight (McLean) and Coldwater Thunder (Hurdle) were strong and forward. Point was called for Thunder at 10 just before leaving the big hay field along the treeline. She had plenty of style, birds were flushed and all was in order. They made it onto the Bristol place, then both disappeared, ending the brace at 25.

Erin’s Rebel Rum (Eisenhart) and Sims Rambling Rex (Rayl) had no bird work and both handlers asked for their retrieval devices at 32.

Cassique’s Boss (Hurdle) had his running shoes on and his nose in gear. He had a find at 18 at the corner of Doc Sanders place and then at 22 down the next line, both with style and intensity. At 35 Hurdle called point and flight of birds but the judges did not see and at 42 an unproductive was carded. Boss took Show Me Bottom better than any dog in the stake finishing the 45 minutes strong. Sandhill Trig (Rayl) disappeared shortly after breakaway and did not return.

Erin’s Wild Justice (Eisenhart) and Lester’s Sunny Hill Jo (Lester) both left the breakaway with plenty of speed. At 3 Jo had a find in one of the islands of trees on the Merriweather place. He crossed the pond dam and then disappeared, not to be seen again. Justice made several nice casts and had a find at 25 on one of the fingers of woods, all in order. At 42 he pointed just below the headquarters with a big covey flushing and him standing at attention.

Dazzling (Hurdle) and Rocky Knoll Annie (Rayl) both went birdless. Dazzling checked out early. Annie finished the hour.

Lester’s Private Charter (McLean) and Quicksilver Gold Dust (Hurdle) were loosed at McGough’s corner at the southwest corner of the field trial grounds. Both were next pointed out at the end of the power line and then were not seen again. The brace ended at 30.

Erin’s Redrum (Derrig) and Spencer’s Rambling Lawman (Rayl) turned loose at Louie’s corner at 3:15. At 10 Redrum swung around to catch the wind and pointed just below the old home site for a good find. Both dogs were pointed out making some big casts but disappeared when they got to Show Me Bottom.

As the gallery was coming through the cedars to go up the hill, Hunter McDuffie spotted Redrum standing in the trees. Steve Hurdle got down and flushed and shot and time was called.

Championship Finals

True Confidence (Eisenhart) and Touch’s Game Point (McLean) left the breakaway in Colleen’s hay field and both headed southwest. The wind had laid down today after twenty mph winds yesterday. As we came into the big hay field, Confidence was rimming the other side and then as we entered turkey field, Game Point was on the far end of it and True Confidence showed as well. Both dogs made it through the Three Corners Gap. At 33 point was called for Game Point. We then saw that Confidence was in front and Game Point was backing. Confidence was tight and stylish as the birds were flushed down the fence and the gun was fired. At 38 he was pointed out at the far end of the next field. Game Point was pointed out taking a line at 41 beyond the swamp crossing and then at 56 both were pointed out at the far end of the power line. At Pine Thicket Hill both dogs were spotted going across the big open hills on the left and then were seen again on the north Reynolds line. Pickup was called in stob field just beyond the old home place.

Touch’s Mega Mike (McLean) and Cassique’s Boss (Hurdle) started their brace at 9:45. At 3 point was called at the top of Doc Sanders’ hill across the fence. Mega Mike was standing with his head high as McLean flushed and fired his gun. He was next seen going through the far gap of the big sedgegrass field. Boss was seen on the right at 15. Mike carved a line through Show Me Bottom and was then pointed out running the line past the old Merriweather barn at 35. Boss never made it through Show Me Bottom and Hurdle asked for the retrieval unit at 35. At 48 point was called for Mike. He was in the corner of the Merriweather place near Doc Sanders hill for his second find. When McLean went into the woods to flush, he spotted Boss deeper in the woods on point as well so Hurdle harnessed him. Birds were flushed, the gun was fired with all in order. Mike continued his bid around the seemingly endless edge of the Merriweather pasture showing in the distance at just the right times. With 17 minutes to go, the big pointer crossed over into the hay field behind the headquarters taking the north edge over the hill out of sight. As the gallery topped the hill, he went through a stand of trees and a few minutes later the call of point was heard. Everyone raced around the trees to see Mike standing near the fenceline still with plenty of style. McLean kicked up a covey and fired. Mike finished the hour and a half strong, going down the south line of the hay field. His owner Eddie Sholar was proud to have been present to watch that performance.

Erin’s Wild Justice (Eisenhart) and Erin’s Redrum (Derrig) were loosed at 1:30. Wild Justice took the left edge of Colleen’s hay field and then crossed the front. Rum wanted to check out the fence near the road first then headed across the front. After going into the big hay field, Rum’s scout called point up the hill at 6. Everyone cantered that way to see the high styled dog rewarded with his handler flushing and firing the gun. Eisenhart was pointing out Wild Justice at the far end of turkey field as the gallery entered. As we went through the Three Corners Gap at 23, Rum was pointed out going across the hill to the south. At 29 a distant call of point was heard for Justice south of Martha Sanders pond. A quarter of a mile ride to the find was worth it. Justice was like a sculpture posed in the trees; the birds were flushed right in front of him for his first find. As we were catching the front, another gunshot was heard. Rum had his second find at the end of the dam with all in order. Both dogs were pointed out making big casts as the course turned onto the Swearingen place. At 38 point was called for Justice — another fast exciting ride to a find in the woods. All was in order again with impeccable manners. As we topped the hill going under the power line, both were pointed out at the far end. Justice was still running at hyper-speed. At 68 Eisenhart called point around a clump of cedar trees for Justice, with Rum backing. He called flight of birds but the judges did not see  them, and he took the dog on. Justice never slowed his pace. He was pointed out near the end of Wild Flower Lane at an hour and 20 and when pickup was called scouts and handlers for both dogs brought them in.

Miller’s Speed Dial (Lester) and Strut Nation (Davis) started at 3:30 at the top of Doc Sanders hill. Neither dog was seen after turning the first corner so retrieval devices were handed out at 30 to end the stake.

Fitzpatrick, Ala., March 19

Judges: Tommy Mock and Erik Small


[Forty-Five Minute Qualifying Heats; Ninety-Minute Finals] — 25 Pointers and 3 Setters

Winner—ERIN’S WILD JUSTICE, 1643384, pointer male, by Whippoorwill Wild Agin—Sparrowhawk. Allen Linder, owner; Luke Eisenhart, handler.


Last year’s winner Lester’s Sunny Hill Jo, handler Gary Lester and owner David Thompson hosted an outstanding catered dinner on Thursday evening. There was a crowd of at least forty who joined in the festivities. With Union Springs being the neighborhood next door, there were numerous amateur field trialers who joined the group as well. An open bar and hors d’oeuvres got the party started followed by a delicious beef tenderloin meal with all the trimmings. Lots of stories were being shared along with the reminiscing of the old days.

Mark McLean entertained by telling the story of his dog either catching, running off or eating (we are not sure which) sixteen of one of the neighbors PET chickens. He went with hat in hand to pay or do whatever it would take to make peace. His retrieval devices were not working properly so retrieval of dogs was not happening easily and Mark seemed to get that course numerous times so he was on the ball being ready to stop dogs from going too deep into McGough’s corner.

On Wednesday, field trialer Jim Hughes stopped by on his way to Georgia to eat lunch with us. When we got back in that afternoon we were told shocking news. Jim was in a head on collision that caused his truck and horse trailer to roll three times. Pictures circulated and made all of us catch our breath when thinking how easy it can happen. The full extent of the horses’ and his injuries were not immediately known, but it resulted in two horses being killed but the mule surviving. Jim thought he was just bruised and sore but he has multiple broken vertebrae so his healing process is taking longer than he imagined. It reminds us to take stock of what we have and be grateful for every day.

R. E.

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