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Field Trial Report

Region 19 Amateur Walking Shooting Dog Championship

By Chris Bye | Jun 04, 2019
Region 19 Walking Shooting Dog Championship. In foreground, Ryan Hough poses runner-up Outcast Cover Cruiser. They are joined by the judges Scott Jordan and Frank LaNasa standing behind and right, with participants and club officials.

Mora, Minn. — A few years ago I checked off one of my “bucket list” items with a trip to Alaska. The early September itinerary promised ten days of fishing on the Kenai Peninsula chasing salmon and trout, with a majority of our efforts floating the big waters of the famed Kenai River. With enough gear to kit out “ten men and an army,” I anticipated days of unraveling the mysteries of the river and its schools of wary fish.

My preparation involved packing, organizing, reading and practicing knots (which I knew by heart since childhood), to ensure I was prepared to handle the challenge of a truly wild Alaska.

With the first day on the water approaching, I felt the same anticipation and minor anxiety when hunting Oklahoma quail or Montana Huns for the first time, wondering when or if my dog would disappear, and if I had chosen the right cover.  With each new trip into wild country, it’s the things that can go wrong  (read: will go wrong) that create a sense of urgency and draw us in. In these situations — failure is always an option!

As we stepped foot on the boat for our first day fishing, Mr. Guide promptly took each of our fly rods and snipped off our carefully chosen and researched flies and attached his own. He then declared we would fish only two patterns that day, and then weighted the line ensuring the “fly” would drag sufficiently along the bottom.  Let the trolling begin . . .

By lunch, we had each boated over a dozen beautiful rainbows. However, a day that began with shared high fives, laughs and pictures to share, quickly diminished to complacency.

Gone was the anticipation, uncertainty and option of failure, and replaced with something more akin to resignation.   Our long awaited trip had been sanitized, and simplified to a guaranteed success; the old adage “fish in a barrel” took on a new and literal meaning, unfortunately.

I have heard complaints from others on similar “outdoors” excursions. In an Instagram focused world where the outcome takes precedent over the pursuit and technology/accessibility have allowed anyone with enough cash access to “parts unknown”, the number of authentic outdoor activities and their patrons are dwindling.

However, there remains a sect who treasure the purity of the chase for something truly wild and unpredictable.  Thankfully, many of those diehards showed up to the Minnesota Grouse Dog Association’s hosting of the Region 19 Amateur Walking Shooting Dog Championship in Mora, Minn., on a cold and wet April weekend.

At first light on the first day of the trial, Ben McKean (experienced trial impresario) looked out the window of his Super 8 room at a wet, muddy parking lot and exclaimed, “Looks like a perfect day to run dogs.”

With experience comes efficiency, and all those involved with the MGDA put their best foot forward to provide a truly fun and memorable event. Ben McKean coordinated all efforts and his quiet, effective leadership was evident throughout the event. His “Bison BBQ” lunch was excellent as well.

Club stalwarts Dave Moore, Greg Gress, Bert Benshoof and Scott Anderson made sure the stakes moved steadily forward on time and on course, while newcomers Ryan Hough and A. J. Kalupa brought renewed energy to the event. Not to be forgotten for his continued hospitality and special appreciation to host Duane Peterson for the sanctuary of his home during the lunch break.

Adding to the excitement of the region’s first trial of the season, Scott Jordan of Grant, Minn., and Frank LaNasa of Isanti, Minn., provided their experienced and critical eye as judges.  Redolent of the Georgia pines they inhabited only a few days prior, Scott and Frank represent the pinnacle of “amateur” trialers, and provided a level of professionalism, breadth of knowledge and even a bit of celebrity to the stakes.   More than one handler commented on their excitement to show their dogs to the judges.

Jack Frost’s belligerent exit limited ground time for many of the entrants, but expectations were still high for the 13 setters, one pointer and one Brittany.

In the lead up to the Region 19, countless phone calls, texts and emails were shared by club members as we continually monitored the condition of the trial grounds. The late winter weather held on longer than desired throughout March, but the grounds proved accessible and bountiful for all participants. Overall eleven grouse were flushed (some wild) along with four woodcock.

With frost still present, the walking was easier in the cool mornings, with “post holing” the norm as the days wore on. The club’s efforts of the previous year were rewarded with courses well marked and easily followed, with constant notes and evaluations for future courses and improvements. Thankfully, except for a few sore hips, knees and ankles, everyone survived the courses mostly intact. Of note, ibuprofen made an excellent pairing with the coffee on the second morning.

The Winners

Despite the challenges, two dogs set themselves apart, both in terms of search and productivity. Bill Frahm of Eleva, Wis., no stranger to success in grouse trials, earned the top placement with his setter male Woods R Callin Sammy in the fourth brace. Sam’s intelligence and productivity were the class of the field with three grouse finds midday Friday. Bill’s handling set the table for Sam, which did the rest and left the spectators thrilled with the performance.

Named runner-up and competing in the sixth brace, Minnesotan Ryan Hough’s setter female Outcast Cover Cruiser ran a different race than Sam, illustrating how dogs can play the same game and win with different strategies. “Aspen” provided dramatic moves to the front with a gait that defied gravity. Never underfoot, she literally pulled the gallery along, and her find in the final seconds added drama and excitement that rewarded the full gallery.

The Running

Beginning on southern course No. 4 at 8:00 a. m., handlers, judges and full gallery of eighteen spectators stepped away with a buoyant gait — excited for the first MGDA spring trial since 2017!

With the rain quickly ebbing, the woods were comfortable and fragrant with the scent of pine and loam.  A. J. Kalupa’s setter I’m Blue Who ran hard to the left front, with veteran trialer Bill Frahm’s setter  Woods R Calling Jazz searching the pine edge to the right. I’m Blue Who’s bell went silent at 10 deep to the left, prior to the hard right turn. With Dave Moore scouting, a search ensued for 15 minutes to no avail.  I’m Blue Who was picked up at 32.  Jazz stayed steadily ahead, and with a wild flush was not able to score a find.

Heading north to course No. 1 on Arctic Road found Paul Cook’s setter War Paint braced with Roger King’s Brittany Rib River Tough Enough Too. For the first 10 minutes, both dogs ran a very detailed ground game through the new cut on course No. 1, hitting the swamp edges and transition cover bordering lowland. Roger’s Brittany had an unproductive at 6 near a drumming log. At 35 both dogs stood firm surrounding a deadfall oak near the trail, a few yards from where the course transitioned to the more open piney cover on the north end. After a furtive search, no bird was found.  Heading west across Arctic Road, both bells went silent fifty yards to the right as we turned south. The Brittany’s head high and body were staunch at the base of a deadfall on a grassy swamp border. Roger was rewarded with a cleanly handled grouse flush. Thirty seconds later War Paint hit strong scent eighty yards down course from the grouse flush on the right side of the course. A woodcock took flight at Paul’s urging, his setter steady throughout the flush and shot.

With the day’s momentum fully in place, No. 3 had two bookend setters from experienced handlers: Ryan Bjerke’s female Cody’s Sadie Belle, with Tim Kaufman’s venerable Lake Effect Tilly.  With both dogs similar in size, gait and color, the different bells were invaluable for handlers and judges. Course No. 2 starts east of course No. 1 and challenges the handler with multiple turns, along with a swamp crossing and variety of cover. Both dogs hit the cover hard and stayed within their bells. Tilly had an unproductive at 25, despite Tim’s considerable efforts to flush the bird in the heart of a young birch stand. With the transition to high ground at 35, Sadie Belle found scent to the left of the course just as she hit the snowmobile trail. A common spot for a bird, Sadie Belle’s stylish point was unrewarded. Despite points at 43 and 48 by both dogs, no birds were flushed.

Much like Amen Corner at Augusta (perhaps a bit of creative license), course No. 3 offers risk/reward for dogs and handlers. With a few major redirects and off-course temptations early, a dog handled forward and with clear objectives set it up to succeed in the second half of the course.

Charged with this opportunity, Bill Holtan made a welcome return to the MGDA trials with his athletic red setter Revenant, paired with Bill Frahm’s veteran setter Woods R Calling Sammy. Both dogs broke away in control and stayed forward and to the left at their handlers’ discretion. After a hard left turn along the swamp edge, the dogs stretched their legs and went to cover among the lodge pole pines to the left and low edge cover to the right. “Sam” found his stride with a confident find at 40 twenty yards to the right of the course. Preceded by a wild flush 30 seconds prior, Sam’s diligence was rewarded with a steady/clean contact as the grouse flew right to left weaving its way through the tall pines. Sam pushed forward to the edge of his bell and found success with another productive (and clean) grouse find at 53 just off the trail as it looped back to the right. Not leaving things to chance, Sam put the proverbial cherry on his performance with a final productive/clean grouse find at 56 just before the course crossed the road.

With a full gallery, and fuller stomachs, the afternoon braces headed north to courses Nos. 5 and 6 with Tim’s Setter Clare, Tim Callahan’s veteran campaigner braced with Ed Graddy’s attractive setter female Northern Slope Star.  Both dogs showed their mettle early with strong forward searches, avoiding the swamp pitfall on the left and deep cover to the right that has swallowed multiple dogs in past stakes. Tim’s Setter Clare had a stop to flush at 15 a hundred yards before the swamp crossing. However, a second grouse launched and moved Clare off her mark and she was soon picked up. Still prior to the crossing, Northern Slope Star made an aggressive campaign hard to the right along the swamp edge and went off the bell at 20.  After a detailed search by the scout and judge, Star was up at 35.

With muscles tightening and joints beginning to founder, the last brace of the day was worth the wait — and wait we did until the very last second. Ryan Hough’s classy setter Outcast Cover Cruiser ran with Tim Callahan’s strong contender Tim’s Setter Gus in a race that would solidify the final placement of the stake. Gus was in the pocket the whole time, showing consistently and impressively, while Cover Cruiser found the border covers, always out front and showing a gear other entrants didn’t have, or weren’t able to use this early in the season. With the course almost used up, Cover Cruiser went off her bell at 58 at 2 o’clock to the course’s path. Veteran dog man Bert Benshoof took the scouting reins and headed deep into a young cut. Utilizing the extra time available to search, Bert eventually located Cover Cruiser standing tall in a copse of young seven-foot poplar. Invisible to anyone more than thirty feet away, Bert’s scouting, expertise, and knowledge of the cover paid dividends for handler Ryan Hough. With Ryan standing directly in front of his dog, a brown phase bird bolted upward, and was quickly followed by a second. Cover Cruiser stood firm and the clean find was registered.

Saturday morning welcomed everyone on the south course No. 4 with cloudy, if not pleasant weather. With plenty of moisture still in the air, scenting conditions were ideal as a light northwest-west breeze pushed through the cover.  Neal Anderson’s setter Rufus Del Fuego and Bert Benshoof’s pointer Go Peter B hit the cover with abandon, yet neither made the hard right turn heading north along the swamp. Both dogs were picked up at 20.

Steve Snyder’s fancy setter Snyder’s Full Rage ran solo on course No. 1. Delighting everyone with a point 20 seconds into the heat, Full Rage found scent to the right of the course along a tag alder edge that ran perpendicular to the path. Initially unproductive, she headed east/right along the lowland edge for 100 yards before doubling back and catching up to the gallery. With a steady move to the front, Full Rage stopped cold a few yards in front of Steve and eighty yards to the left of her original point along the same tag alder edge. Sensing the birds were close, experienced handler  took a direct route to flush and was rewarded with thunderous response, soon followed by a second.  Full Rage stood firm throughout. With drumming heard throughout her race,  Full Rage ran hard with a few unproductive points, despite Steve’s best efforts to flush a bird.

Mora, Minn., April 6

Judges: Scott A. Jordan and Frank LaNasa

REGION 19 AMATEUR WALKING SHOOTING DOG CHAMPIONSHIP [One-Hour Heats] — 1 Pointer, 13 Setters and 1 Brittany

Winner—WOODS R CALLIN SAMMY, 1626184, setter male, by Tom Jones—I’m Blue Gert. Hunter Frahm, owner; Bill Frahm, handler.

Runner-Up—OUTCAST COVER CRUISER, 1660133, setter female, by Northwoods Nirvana—Outcast Chantilly Lace. Ryan Hough, owner and handler.

OPEN DERBY

Never easy to judge but always full of uncertainty and fun, three dogs exemplified the excitement of the Derby class.  None more so than Rod Lein’s pointer female Over The Hill Merry which continued to build on her Derby of the Year campaign with multiple finds. Bert Benshoof’s plucky setter Jetset Crown Me earned a placement with a solid find, and Dan Olson’s striking white and black pointer female Pineridge Junebug filled out the podium. Look for Pineridge Junebug in the following years — she has the potential to turn a lot of heads!

I learned years ago that when things go well, credit is infinitely divisible.  However, special acknowledgement needs to be directed to Ben McKean for his tireless energy, organization and planning. Our club is lucky to have his expertise and passion.

Secondly, the participants made the Region 19 enjoyable, and provided a renewed sense of passion for why we all do this. Grouse trials are not easy, for anyone, and certainly not sanitized in a way that will make them the next fad like “glamping” (look it up).  Despite the conditions and no guarantees, everyone expressed a cooperative attitude and welcomed the challenge that set the stage for future stakes.

Judges: Paul Bukovich and Ben McKean

OPEN DERBY — 2 Pointers and 5 Setters

1st—OVER THE HILL MERRY, 1678045, pointer female, by Grouse Trails Cracker Jack—Diva Dot. Rod Lein, owner and handler.

2d—JETSET CROWN ME, 1681661, setter male, by Jetset Kid—Crockett’s Calico Crown. Bert Benshoof, owner and handler.

3d—PINERIDGE JUNEBUG, 1675968, pointer female, by Pineridge The Revenant—Elhew Hampshire Miss Kit. Daniel Olson, owner and handler.

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