American Field

Run Off?

By Tom Word | May 08, 2019

Once again Ben Reach had been drafted to fill in for a no-show field trial judge. This time it was in an invitational championship (not The Invitational Championship run every Thanksgiving weekend at Paducah but a copy-cat for another category).

The handlers were amateurs, and so were Ben’s judging partners. They were enthusiastic and for their years in the game quite successful as handlers in their home venues where trials were run on released birds.

This trial was on wild birds in South Texas on a venue unknown to his judging partners but, by luck, familiar to Ben because owned by a plumb-rich Texan who also owned a place near Ben’s home in Albany, Georgia, who occasionally had Ben and his pal Sam Nixon M.D. as guests in Texas in appreciation for help they had lent gladly to his adolescent son, caught in a youthful excess bind in their bailiwick (you know perhaps from experience the sort of bind I mean).

The Championship sponsors had imposed an unusual requirement on the judges for the stake. No dog could be placed without the concurrence of Ben Reach, the third and the senior judge.

The requirement was not announced publicly and neither Ben nor his fellow judges knew of it until five minutes before the first breakaway when the stake manager called in Ben and his fellow judges to explain. Ben reacted by asking that a specific marshal be assigned to each of his fellow judges. That proved a wise move, at least from Ben’s point-of-view.

To Ben’s great relief, they had a stand-out champion to name when the three days of scheduled running were completed. The rub was for runner-up.

As luck (or fate) would have it Ben, acting as lay-back judge, did not see the last find by either of the two dogs his fellow judges advocated for runner-up honors. Each judge was insistent the dog he was assigned for coverage its last half-hour had found and handled a covey magnificently. Each was insisting the dog he had covered be named runner-up.

Ben called in the two marshals, out of the presence of his fellow judges. He knew them both well because they worked for the trial venue’s owner and he had hunted with them as members of a hunt team (scout or horse holder).

Each in turn and in one another’s presence Ben asked the marshals for a description of the find he and his judge covered.

The first said, “Well, just as we come over a little rise Molly was two hundred yards dead ahead and a covey flew over her from the left. She was not involved with its flush and when she saw it she stopped to wing, pretty as you ever saw. I ain’t sure whether her handler or the judge riding just in front of me saw the birds fly over. The handler’s hat went up and we cantered up and he got off and flushed in front of her and she ticked and he axed her to relocate. She started hunting, not drawing on scent, but she was lucky and sixty yards on she stood and had a covey just right. Wasn’t the one flew over her.”

The second said, “I rode over a rise and Sam a hundred yards ahead had a stop to flush or a stop to bump depending on how you judged it. The breeze was coming right at Sam so I’d a called it a bump. I don’t think the judge saw the bird. And Sam was lucky ’cause there was more birds and when the handler flushed Sam was steady and stylish.”

“Oh, my,” Ben said, “this is going to be interesting, and tricky.”

Ben joined his fellow judges in the tack room of the ranch’s horse barn where they were waiting. “Tell me why you think your dog should get runner-up and why if not we should do a run-off between them,” Ben said.

In turn the judges described the last find of the dog he was covering. In each case the judge had not seen the fly-over covey or the bird that got up to create the stop to flush or bump. Each described his dog as having a clean find, albeit after relocation in the second case. Each insisted on a run-off between the two if Ben did not agree to name the dog he covered at the end runner-up.

When they finished, Ben pulled his cell phone from his pocket and played back the recorded voices of the marshals. Both fellow judges were silent after confirming they had not seen the covey fly-over or the flushed (or bumped) single bird described by the marshal, but neither called his marshal mistaken.

Ben let the silence sink in a few minutes. Then he said, “Boys, the rules do not require us to name a runner-up. We had a stand-out champion we agreed on. How about we name no runner-up.”

The junior judges nodded agreement.

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