American Field

Field Trial Report

Ontario Grouse Dog Championship

By Kristian Partington | Jun 15, 2017
Championship Winners. From left: Dave Hughes, Mark Hughes with Dew Sweeper, Judges Al Partington and Neville Knowles, and Marc Forman with Blast Off.

Marienville, Pa. — Winter skies made one last push in early April to mark the beginning of the Ontario Grouse Dog Championship on the southern tip of Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest. Damp, heavy snow fell through Thursday night into the trial’s opening morning forcing judges, handlers and dogs to muscle through conditions that made it almost impossible to show dogs and find birds that were certainly tucked deep into sparse cover.

Judges Neville Knowles of London, Ont., and Al Partington of Norwood, Ont.,  commented later that this was perhaps the most difficult day for dogs, horses, handlers and judges they had ever experienced.

This is the challenge in any trial; no one can control the weather. The braces that ran the first day were beat by the conditions. Not one grouse was found, though a few woodcock were walked up in the damp of the miserable day.

Saturday dawned much clearer; however, snow still covered much of the ground but the late winter storm had moved on. The wind had died and sun brought melting warmth, making for pleasant conditions and more opportunities for dogs and handlers to present their finest efforts.

Early into the first brace, tracks in the snow led handler Lance Bressler to the site of the stake’s first solid point. Hunter’s Pale Face had broken wide to a brushy edge, showing the judges a solid and clean woodcock find. Prior to the trial’s opening, organizers announced that in accordance with the Championship’s rules, a clean woodcock find could be enough to name a winner, so every clean point and flush offered excitement.

Brace No. 2 ran as the sun continued to melt away the remnants of the late winter storm. Both Dew Sweeper (Mark Hughes) and Ponderosa Mac (Scott Chaffee) had solid woodcock finds. Dew Sweeper handled well forward demonstrating a solid application to the cover as the course presented, according to Judge Knowles. At 4 following a strong breakaway Dew Sweeper was located high on a knoll standing a bird. Hughes proceeded to flush, the shot was heard and a woodcock took flight, all in order. The sleek pointer was handled minimally, was always forward and seen impressively to be in all the right cover, reflecting both the experience and intelligence sought by the judges.

Though the day showed promise in the early hours, no other birds were found. A deer was scared up in brace No. 14 and a grouse flushed in two separate braces as the gallery trudged through the muddy trails, reminding everyone that though the cover was sparse in some areas, grouse were there for the finding. Though no other birds were produced on point, the judges took note of five other unproductive finds in three separate braces through the rest of day No. 2.

The weather continued to cooperate on Sunday bringing warm temperatures early and fine conditions for the final day of the Championship. The birds were scarce until late in the third brace when big running setter Chip’s A One Hundred (Scott Forman) had a beautiful grouse find under a thick wide fir tree on the edge of a tangled stand of young underbrush. The dog held solid on point, flush and shot while a large healthy bird made its way to other pockets. Regretfully One Hundred awoke that day with perhaps too much energy, resulting in such an extreme race he couldn’t be used in the final decision. One Hundred was only seen three or four times in the hour and was seldom heard.

In the early afternoon, the runner-up emerged. Blast Off, setter male handled by Marc Forman, ran the entire hour wide and fast enough to cover the entire grounds, consistently checking back at his handler’s bidding. “Marc handled the dog very well,” Partington said upon reflection. “He showed him when needed, only talking to him when necessary, and the dog showed exactly where he needed to be.” A clean woodcock find at 15 showed the judges both a sense for birds and beautiful style, and an unproductive in the last ten minutes gave them another look. Both judges agreed early on that one unproductive would not hinder a dog’s chances, considering the conditions, though a second or third would raise questions. Forman and Blast Off were an easy call for second.

Dew Sweeper, whose beautiful wide run and constant attention to the wishes of handler Mark Hughes the second day, still stuck in the judges’ memories, ranking him first among the championship entries, with one dog yet to see.

The final course presented the last of 43 dogs, setter female Single Shot Barley, owned by the late Larry Sutter, a true field trial gentleman who died in late 2016. In honor of Sutter’s dedication to sporting dog traditions in the grouse woods of North America, a trophy named in his honor will be offered in all future championships to the dog and handler that best exemplify the traditions Sutter cherished. His dog handled well, but only had an unproductive.

Dew Sweeper, running in his sixth championship guided by handler Mark Hughes, held onto the top spot. Marc Forman’s Blast Off was named runner-up.

A weekend that began with challenging conditions finished with the spirit and fellowship that has marked the Ontario Grouse Dog Championship since its beginnings nearly 40 years ago.

Marienville, Pa., April  7

Judges: Neville Knowles and Al Partington


16 Pointers and 27 Setters

Winner—DEW SWEEPER, 1620623, pointer male, by Thunderhills Zeus—Grouse Trek Gert. Richard Straub, owner; Mark Hughes, handler.

Runner-Up—BLAST OFF, 1657342, setter male, by Full Blast—Moss Meadow Rose. Justin Evans, owner; Marc Forman, handler.

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