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Wynot Atom Named Champion; Miss Penn Star is Runner-Up

Ontario Grouse Dog Championship

By David A. Fletcher | May 15, 2019
The Winners. From left front: John Stolgitis with Wynot Atom, Dr. Tim Perschke and  Robert Ecker with Miss Penn Star. Standing: Chris Catanzarite, judge; Tim Tufts, Joe Cammisa, David Fletcher and Pedrag Kazic, judge.

Marienville, Pa. — The Ontario Grouse Dog Championship, celebrating its 27th running, held forth April 3-6 over time honored grouse trial courses, Loleta and Lamonaville, part of the Allegheny National Forest near Marienville, Pa., hosted by the Venango Grouse Trial Club.

Weather was kinder than it was last season when a snowfall of six inches blanketed the courses the night before the running started. Weather this season was cool, a bit of rain at times, gusty winds, nothing severe enough to interrupt the running. Fifty-four dogs started, 28 pointers and 26 setters. The 2018 running featured 22 pointers and 19 setters. No tally of birds seen was kept but grouse and woodcock were pointed by the dogs, and wild flushed near the gallery and also along the roadsides.

It appears that the ruffed grouse on the site are in the low part of their population cycle with the “top of the hill” or peak a bit ahead timewise.

Historically, the Ontario Grouse Dog Championship started in Ontario, Canada as Ruffed Grouse Society events in the early 1980s, running on wild birds in several locations. A Grouse Championship was the goal, scribe meeting with William F. Brown, with documentation of the club history, and after the running of three classics the Championship came in 1992.

Secretary/Treasurer Tim Tufts was on board in the early years and when scribe was invited to judge the Classic, joined the directors in 1990. Over the following years grouse and woodcock populations declined on the Copeland Forest near Craighurst, Ontario as did the manpower to stage the event.

Tim Tufts carried on, not willing to throw in the towel, moving the Championship to New York State, then the Barrens at State College, Pa., and later to the Marienville grounds. He was supported by a crew of Pennsylvania grouse trialers and Joe Cammisa and Dr. Tim Perschke were added to the club Board of Directors. The late Matt Mentz was added to the directors’ roster also. Many Pennsylvania trialers attended the Championship and helped with the event.

Last season scribe was invited to serve as chairman of the Ontario Grouse Championship Board of Directors and after an absence of 31 years a meeting of that Board took place. This season scribe Fletcher was asked to serve as club president.

Tim Tufts has a very major role with this Championship as secretary-treasurer and stake manager. He pulls all the facets together. Sandwich lunches brought to the grounds and consumed at the tailgates was the order of the day prepared by Giancarlo, owner of Bettina’s Italian Restaurant in Marienville. Lunches were excellent.

Grand National President Dick Brenneman, Futurity Secretary Thor Kain and Invitational Secretary Joe Cammisa were all helpful and present, moving up vehicles, and many other tasks. Almost everyone present participated in moving vehicles, including the perennial George Tickerhoos of Curwensville, who comes each year specifically to move cars.

Horses were furnished by Nittany Valley Trail Rides of Lewistown, Pa., owned by R. B. Powell, his son David present to tend to the equines.

John Stolgitis cooked delicious evening delicacies for officials each evening in Sharon Perschke’s Horse Heaven “equestrian cabin”, a wonderfully refurbished portion of a large barn on the Perschke property, rooms beautifully paneled with knotty white pine from the forests of Michigan. Judges and scribe stayed at the nearby Perschke home with Dr. Tim present as much as he could from his podiatry practice in Butler, Pa.

A fish fry at the clubhouse took place on Friday evening cooked by Mark Hughes, John Stolgitis as the master chef and helpers were Joe Cammisa, Norm Meeder and Mike Husenits. The fish, mainly walleye and haddock, came courtesy of the owner of last year’s Champion Grouse Trails Pride, John McKellop. Again thanks to Nestlé Purina for product and financial help in advertising. A faithful supporter over many years.

Judges were Chris Catanzarite of Scenery Hill, Pa., and Pedrag Kazic of Greenlawn, N. Y. Both have great backgrounds in the sport, having bird hunted over pointing dogs since their teens as well as owning and campaigning dogs that have won many championships, and their judging backgrounds include several championship roles also.

Pedrag began with pointers, brittanys and setters in his native Italy. One of the Kazic winners of note is Islander in the string of Robert Ecker. Chris has a long list of championship winners, including Backcountry Ace, Rusty, Molly, and many more Backcountry dogs, to name just a few. Chris has competed as an amateur in countless walking and horseback shooting dog events, winning over 100 placements and additionally many championships.

THE WINNERS AND OTHERS

Wynot Atom, the new champion, is a six-year-old white and black pointer male owned by Al Robbins of Winterport, Me., handled skillfully by John Stolgitis. Atom hunted a memorable hour. Down on a very wet and muddy course, this unbelievably strong dog afoot ignored the hindrance of sloppy footing and put down an effort to find birds that was, to describe it properly, outstanding. His reward was a grouse find on a jittery bird that wanted to run and fly off when approached. Atom pointed, then relocated this grouse superbly, handling the situation with poise and skill.

To date Atom has one amateur Derby placement, two open Derby placements, and three open shooting dog placements, and now a grouse championship.

This is not the first time Wynot dogs have been part of the winner’s pedigree in grouse dog championships. In 2007 in New Hampshire, Wild Apple Jack, Atom’s sire, won the Grand National Grouse Championship, owned and handled by Craig Doherty. Atom’s ancestry goes back strongly to the Elhew line . . . memorable dogs like Elhew Fibber McGee and Elhew Snakefoot. John Stolgitis has handled, competed with, and worked the dog on many occasions.

Miss Penn Star, despite an early unproductive, was very close in performance to the champion. Her hunting and bird work on a woodcock was flawless, and her hunting effort was consistently to the best looking cover on her course. She was a pleasure to watch hunt, beautifully gaited and strong of pace. Marc Forman, scouting, found her pointing on a nice cast. Miss Penn Star has been a strong field trial competitor since her first placement, a Derby win in 2013. Her placements include 11 Derby wins, 15 shooting dog wins, two classic placements and a Futurity fourth, four runner-up championships and four championship titles, the most impressive of which was likely a championship title in the Northern Michigan Grouse Dog Championship in 2016.

Owner Dr. George Najor of Southfield, Mich., a dentist, saw the puppy run in South Carolina and became her owner and Robert Ecker has had the duty of training and field trial handling.

THE RUNNING

Wednesday was a very sunny day, in the mid-40s, but a gusty wind swirling from every direction severely hampered scenting. Grouse are very nervous on a windy day. They cannot hear the approach of anything they consider a predator, and they readily fly off, unheard, to deeper parts of the forest, well off the course routes. One wild flushing woodcock was the only bird moved Wednesday.

Game Winner (Hughes) and Maximum Resistance (Ecker). The former was a trifle moderate in range at the outset but gained momentum and scope as he went. The hunting was very forward and the finish strong and purposeful. Wide and very forward early, Resistance was strong afoot. A pair of unproductives  came in the final portion of Resistance’s hour.

Kendal Hills Dawson Creek (Hughes) was wide and strong from the breakaway, the retrieval unit coming into play at 47. Titanium’s Hammer (Minard) may not have been at full throttle the first half but made up for it with a strong latter half and a good finish, but no bird work.

A bit slow at the start,  Chasehill Baby Bella (Stolgitis) soon put it in high gear and ran and hunted very well. Texas Free Mason (Ecker) was strong and deep in the course, several absences witnessed, but finished the hour under judgment. No birds for either dog.

Bullet Proof (Forman)  hunted good looking cover with every cast. A commendable effort but birdless. No Limit (Kain) hunted the edges with a passion, her bell going silent early in the hour. Limit could not be located; finally the bell started up some distance out and the gallery went on. A quality birdless effort by No Limit.

Grouse Trails Sharptail (McKellop) and Bud of Piney Woods (Ecker). Brace No. 5 began on the Lamonaville side of the grounds after the tailgate luncheon. Twilight’s Echoed Promise was the scheduled starter, handled by Hughes, but the dog could not go and was withdrawn. Sharptail, moved up from a bye position in brace No. 28, put down a real nice hunting effort, looked good in motion and handled well but again a birdless effort. Bud hunted avidly, went to the good places but suffered an unproductive at 32, missed a back at 48 and was taken up.

Large of frame and powerful, Thorn- apple Cody (Minard) hunted furiously and came around well. He finished a touch less than he started but birds would have helped this dog. Springbrook Maximus (Stolgitis) delivered an outstanding hunting tour of the course. Little more could be desired from the race he put down . . . no birds.

The best efforts of the day without birds were Kain’s No Limit (brace No. 4) and John Solgitis’ charge Maximus (brace No. 7).

Thursday was again sunny at times with the thermometer in the mid-40s. Rain was forecast but never arrived. Overcast skies dominated the afternoon, and the gusting winds lessened.

Braggabull (Hughes) hunted a bit on the moderate side early but blossomed later when great looking grouse cover appeared on course. Great hunting graced the finish of the hour but no birds found.  All On (Kain)  hunted widely from the breakaway, making deep cast after deep cast. Somewhat AWOL late in the hour, the retrieval unit employed.

Wayward Flyin Tomato (Hughes) knew how to hunt grouse cover, remarkable in his wisdom of where and how to look for birds, possibly the wisest and best search we had seen thus far in the stake. Rock Solid Casey (Ecker) took off like a rocket from the breakaway, hunting deep into the course. Handler asked for the retrieval unit at 11.

Both A Distant Speck (Hughes) and Grouse Trails Firestorm (McKellop) were very similar in their approach to hunting the course. At times they attacked the cover like veterans, yet there were brief moments, likely immaturity, when they tried to decide where to look next. Neither dog found birds.

Shady Hills Whiskey Bonfire (Forman) hunted hard with speed and determination, a very good hunting effort. With a few minutes left on the clock, we reached the end of course. Judges offered to go on across the road on foot but handler elected to end the quest. Bonfire might have left his mark in the stake with bird contact. Blast Zone (Kain) left the breakaway on the tear, unseen for 15 minutes. He got back in touch, then was pointing at 23. Handler called flight of a bird but officials were not able to confirm this flight. Handler elected to discontinue at 40.

Boston (Ecker) made some deep casts somewhat to the side of course. Lots of drive and purpose to his hunting. Judge Kazic went in deep to keep touch with Boston and came back to the gallery reporting Boston had a woodcock find. Double Deuce Dexter (Hughes) made a good start to the hour and continued a clever hunting pattern to each side of the course but did not find a bird.

Titanium’s Jacksin (Minard) and Daddy’s Little Boy Butch (Stolgitis). Butch was scratched and Nic of Time, a bye from the 16th brace, was to be moved up but was not on the grounds. Jacksin went alone. The dog hunted hard and wisely, standing in good cover stylishly at 18. The dog was standing well into the side of course and both judges dismounted to walk in, leaving their horses to ground tie. Nothing was flushed. Jacksin stood again at 59, nothing produced; he was attempting a relocation when time expired. [A little sidelight evolved. The horses, expected to ground tie, had moved off and were not in view. Judge Catanzarite and Club Secretary Tufts resorted to 45 minutes of tracking to recover the horses.]

On Thursday the best birdless efforts came from Wayward Flyin Tomato, Shady Hills Whiskey Bonfire and Boston.

Friday was a rainy day, gentle precipitation that commenced overnight and continued until the lunch break with no letup. The thermometer was in the 40s.

La Sombra (Hughes)  showed us some great hunting the full hour despite the steady rain. La Sombra had a well mannered find on a lone quail at 58. Shady Hills Colt (Forman) hunted well, the cold rain coming down seemingly not hindering her early search for birds. Late in the hour Colt may have been chilled by the cold rain . . . no birds.

Sterlingworth Jack (Ecker) was not at the starting line and Warrior Zeke (Hughes) went the hour alone. Zeke had a moderate race for the hour, hunted good cover and came around in front every cast. Again a birdless hunt.

Pleasant Valley Cooper (Stiteler) and Leslie’s Cisco Kid (Forman). Owner Doc Stiteler, as we know him, handled. He showed us a hard hunting dog, always working the front of course and he ignored the rain for the hour. No birds. Scribe was at his side after the brace renewing old memories as he put his dog up. Cisco’s effort we could describe as a “real good race”. He was a fun dog to watch as he hunted the course.

Panola Bacon (Stolgitis) had speed and drive, light on his feet and stylish in motion. The dog hunted every good cover as he came to it . . . all without a bird. The effort of Bo of Piney Woods (Ecker) was not to be overlooked. He applied himself to the task of looking for birds and gave us a great hour of hunting. No birds.

Suemac’s Sashay (Hughes) hunted well, not on the rim of course but went to the cover nicely. She had a back of bracemate at 12 and an unproductive at 35. Miss Penn Star (Ecker) was wide, purposeful and very consistent in her hunting. At 37, deeper than where Sashay had stood for her unproductive, Marc Forman, scouting, found Penn Star pointing nicely. She stood regally while a woodcock was flushed right in front,  perfect manners as it flew. It was a great hour, Penn Star certainly putting her effort under consideration for the title.

One could not be unaware of the youth and enthusiasm of Grouse Trails Miss America (McKellop). Another obvious factor was the rapport between handler and dog. It was a huge plus. Miss did not find birds but after a short search was found standing after time. Her stature indicated she did not have birds, and the hour ended. I’ll Be Back (Hughes) was very strong afoot, reaching well into the forefront of course. The dog came around nicely most of the hour but was lost to judgment near time.

Wynot Atom (Stolgitis) was drawn with Sterlingworth Judge (Ecker). Judge was withdrawn. From the breakaway, Atom showed the strength of his running. His course was wet and sloppy with mud and rain but the dog surpassed this hindrance. At 47 he stood pointing. Handler approached, knew his dog and suspected the bird was not well located, sending Atom for the relocation immediately. Atom seemed to know where to look for this grouse and swapped ends when he had it. Style and manners were topnotch and the bird jumped before handler got in front of his charge. All perfect. Another strong contender for this championship title.

Friday’s top birdless effort was turned in by Leslie’s Cisco Kid.

Saturday, with five braces left to complete the stake, morning fog threatened to halt proceedings, but was not thick enough to delay the running. Temperatures got slightly into the 60s before the day ended.

Young Grouse Freddie moved well, got deep at times and Forman called for the retrieval unit well before the half. Wildcat Run (Ecker) logged an unproductive at 34. The bell went silent and the search went into the pole timber and found her standing. No birds were flushed, and handler elected to discontinue shortly after this.

Sunrise Star (Ecker) was withdrawn.  Single Shot Barley (Hughes) started fast and hard but by 10 was gone for the duration.

Duck Hook (Stolgitis) and Glassilaun War Paint (Tobiassen) dashed away with full power. War Paint stood pointing at 4 with Hook backing. Judge Kazic thought he saw a bird but was unsure, and nothing was seen officially. Handler shot and we went on. War Paint, hunting nicely the full hour, added an unproductive at 52. Hook made a good search the full hour but was birdless.

Blast Off (Forman), runner-up in last season’s Ontario Championship, worked very hard to find a bird, and this lasted the full hour, all without results. Phillips Half Moon (Hughes) was light on her feet, very fast and hunted extremely well. At 20 her bell went silent. We walked in, going past her in heavy cover. She left her point, came to handler Mark Hughes, got his attention, then went back and pointed. It is extremely rare to witness this but she was trying to show us where she had pointed. She went there and re-established her point. Nothing was flushed. Half Moon finished the hour still searching for birds.

Higby Rilo (Stolgitis) worked his course with a strong pace, had a classy way of going but was taken up birdless at 40.  Attitude’s True Grit (Ecker) hunted the likely places from the breakaway, shown on point at 22 but was moved up after a short flushing attempt and later at 42 was leashed.

The half-day of running Saturday gave us great birdless performances from Duck Hook, Blast Off and Phillips Half Moon.

Marienville, Pa., April 3

Judges: Chris Catanzarite and Pedrag Kazic

ONTARIO GROUSE DOG CHAMPIONSHIP [One-Hour Heats] —

28 Pointers and 26 Setters

Winner—WYNOT ATOM, 1651408, pointer male, by Wild Apple Jack—Wynot Belle. Allen Robbins, owner; John Stolgitis, handler.

Runner-Up—MISS PENN STAR, 1645604, setter female, by First Up—Smoke Rise Faye. Dr. George Najor, owner; Robert Ecker, handler.

 

CHAMPIONSHIP SIDELIGHTS

Last season Grouse Trails Pride won the Ontario Grouse Dog Championship with a sterling performance. Runner-up was Blast Zone, setter male owned by Dick Brenneman and Bob Watts, handled by Thor Kain.

This season Blast Zone had a nice point but his bird was not officially seen. Pride was not in the starting field this season and scribe asked amateur owner-handler John McKellop about the dog and learned she had suffered a torn and punctured ear drum. The cause was unknown, but a veterinary ear scope connected to a TV screen disclosed that 20 percent of the ear drum was not there. Shortly thereafter, entered in the Amateur Invitational, Pride ran the first day and won Dog of the Day. Turned loose the following day she was lost to judgment. Her hearing was only good in one ear and it made it impossible for her to tell where her handler was.

Pride was in her prime and had won several grouse championships and runner-up titles. This was a devastating blow to amateur owner/handler John McKellop. She surely would have won more laurels in the grouse woods but something good might be in the works.  Some of her progeny are now of Derby age and winning in field trials.

Attending the Championship on Friday were R. B. Powell of Nittany Valley Trail rides, and his son David, who was on hand all week to tend to the judges’ horses. On Friday evening, after a most delicious fish fry, the Powell family treated trialers to a musical trio performance, R. B. on the five string banjo, his wife Brigette on the acoustic guitar, and son David on the fiddle. Everyone joined in, and a huge singfest took place. Scribe even grabbed his ukelele and joined the musical trio, making it a quartet. Many songs were sung, even when the generators providing lighting stopped, the group carried on in the clubhouse by flashlight. Fun times at field trials.

After the running on Friday a large group walked a short distance into one of the Loleta courses to participate in a memorial service remembering the life of Matt Mentz who was a victim of cancer in 2017 residing near the Forman Brothers in Prattsburg, N. Y. Matt’s widow, Brenda, and her sister, Barb Smith, were in attendance for the ceremony. Tim Tufts scattered the ashes, as Matt had requested at Marienville, and also at Gladwin and Kilkenny. R. B. Powell with his harmonica and wife Brigette on guitar played and sang Beyond The Rain. It was a stirring moment.

Tim Tufts met Matt in 1994 at a Marienville Puppy Classic trial, and they became close associates . . . on the road together as professionals and making the tour of all the wild bird grouse and woodcock trials of the day.

Tim Tufts spoke of Matt and their companionship at field trials, running dogs, and judging assignments together. They judged the 2007 Grand National Grouse Championship (42 entries) over the Kilkenny courses,walking 21 one-hour braces, a very remarkable feat of physical endurance.

Matt won grouse championships with Seneca’s Autumn Reign and Erico, the latter perhaps considered the founder of Shady Hills Kennel bloodlines. In 1999, Seneca’s Autumn Reign won the Grand National Grouse Championship in which 99 dogs competed, the Championship’s largest starting field ever.     D. F.

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