American Field

Taking a Ride Down Memory Lane with Hall of Fame Handler Harold Ray

By Ed Liermann | Dec 03, 2019
Ed Liermann (left) and Harold Ray.

Returning to the Buena Vista Grasslands to judge the National Amateur Prairie Chicken Shooting Dog Championship coincided with Harold Ray’s 50th year anniversary of coming here for the first time.

After judging that stake, Harold stayed on a few extra days and that allowed time for me to ride with him and talk about his best memories of this venue.


E. L. So, Harold, we know that your first visit here was in 1969. What thoughts come to mind as you look back and revisit that time?

H. R. Well, I had been in Viet Nam in 1967 and 1968 and was just getting back to training dogs again. As I recall we were here for the Midwest Shooting Dog Championship and won it with Susan’s Lady Bird (note: Susan’s Lady Bird was a white, black and ticked setter female whelped March 11, 1964, owned by E. G. Smith). She was Tomoka’s mother. (note: Tomoka was a white, black and ticked setter male whelped July 1, 1970).

E. L. Anything about these grounds that really stand out as you think back?

H. R. This can be a very humbling place. I used to come out of Canada and think I could whip the world. This is probably the toughest place to run in the country.

E. L. What was your favorite dog to run here?

H. R. It’s always taken a big strong dog to win on these grounds. Cash Master (note: Cash Master was a white, orange and ticked setter male whelped March 27, 1968, owned by E. G. Smith) would be a favorite to run here. Righteous Dan (white, black and ticked setter male whelped March 4, 1968, owned by E. G. Smith) always looked good here.

E. L. What is the biggest change you see in the terrain?

H. R. There were more native grasses back then. I’d say there was about one-third goldenrod and about two-thirds native grasses. You could see more of the dog’s casts back then. Today it looks like there is more goldenrod.

E. L. Any other memorable performances you might recall?

H. R. I remember seeing Little Diamond (Little Diamond was a white and liver pointer female, whelped January 16, 1973, handled by Eddie Rayl and owned by Dr. L. G. Thompson of Vidalia, Ga.) run and win the Derby here on the course near King’s Ranch. (Note: The area around King’s Ranch would include the end of course No. 4 and the beginning of course No. 5 (the afternoon courses) in the Amateur Championship).

E. L. What comments have you heard from others about their experiences running at Buena Vista?

H. R. Joe McCarl said it’s the best test of a dog of any place he’s ever been.

E. L. Are there any light-hearted moments you recall?

H. R. There used to be meadowlarks everywhere. They had some fun with it and had an award for the most meadowlarks pointed.

E. L. Did you ever lay claim to this award?

H. R. One year I’m Oscar (white, tan and ticked setter male whelped January 5, 1969, owned by E. G. Smith) won the meadowlark trophy because of his exact location where I flushed a very few feet in front of him. I’m Oscar was very instrumental in the foundation of the dogs I ran.

(Note: Anaconi, whelped January 15, 1973, was a producer of winners for Elwin G. Smith, and Coppersmith, whelped March 11, 1966, when bred to I’m Oscar produced the foundation for the dogs that Harold trained and handled.)

E. L. As challenging and demanding as this place is why did you always come back?

H. R. The reason I would always come back because it was a wild bird trial and the good people.

E. L. Any thoughts on the changes you’ve seen in the overall field trial game through the years?

H. R.  Well, today it’s a different game. I’d say one of the biggest changes is that 99% of a performance is judged on any little infraction.

E. L. Thanks, Harold, I really enjoyed riding with you. It also was a pleasure visiting with you and the lovely Aimee Atkins. Would like to do it again sometime. Happy trials.

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