2014 National Bird Dog Championship Video ~ A Review by Tom Word
Once again Brad Harter has brought us an artful video presentation of the National Bird Dog Championship. The camera work and editing are excellent. The story told is bleak, save for the performances of three dogs of the thirty eight brought to the line. The reason, lack of birds.
We all know of the disappearance of wild quail in all but remnant numbers across its wide range. Only in the quail belt region — Albany to Tallahassee — on estates where millions are devoted to its survival do huntable or trialable populations survive in the east. Pre-release seemed a workable solution for the National for a few years. This year brutal weather doomed it for the National. For only three of the entries to be able to lay down a credible performance for lack of birds was sad, to say it most mildly.
If the National Field Trial Champion Association had unlimited funds at its disposal perhaps a satisfactory pre-release program could provide a workable solution. It does not have deep funding we are told. It has indicated intentions to be forthcoming about its finances — we shall see. It has imposed a tax on entries in qualifying trials.
The Hobart Ames Foundation, legally obligated to operate for the benefit of the University of Tennessee School of Agriculture, requires the NFTCA to carry its own weight in running the National. Since hunting has become a major source of farming income across the nation, developing huntable populations of pre-release quail on Ames Plantation would seem a fitting subject of research on Ames.
The National is the lynchpin of all-age competition. The bird problem at Ames must be solved for the sport to survive in its current structure, much less thrive.
But what of the Champion’s performance this year? Historic and remarkable, indeed astounding. Lucky of course — to catch a day when the few surviving birds would be out and about. But the searching qualities of Shadow Oak Bo were unequaled and faultless, and his bird work was superb, especially the relocation. The master stroke of this video was the ending interview with Robin Gates, in which he critiqued Bo’s performance from his point of view.
Robin’s face in that interview is unforgettable. Here is a man who for four decades has trained bird dogs and handled them in top competition, starting with shooting dogs in deference to brother John Rex who campaigned on the all-age circuit. Then moving to all-age when John Rex retired, achieving immediate success and almost losing his life to the demons of substance abuse. Then as Big George Moreland said, “Robin went overnight from alcoholic to workaholic.” To his great credit, he licked the substance abuse problem, and went on to unparalleled success as an all-age handler with the likes of Silverwood, Joe Shadow, Distant Shadow and many other great ones.
With Shadow Oak Bo he broke the 43 year drought on a setter winner of the National in partnership with his son Hunter as scout. Then for the first time since 1903 he and Bo repeated in consecutive years, and on grounds where only three dogs in three hours could point enough birds to warrant the three hour race. He scored seven finds faultlessly with flawless location. Yes, remarkable.
Quester under Ray Warren ran a race that could have won it many years, scoring six finds. Big Sky Pete would have been a worthy winner many years. For the rest the Ames Plantation might have been a parking lot.
What of the future? There is hope. Things often look darkest just before dawn.
After the first week of running in 2014 Ames Plantation management met with the handlers. Dr. Carlisle accepted responsibility for the apparent failure for the season of the bird program. Suggestions were made for seeking advice from South Georgia folk long experienced with successful pre-release programs on hunting plantations. Dr. Carlisle traveled to South Georgia and received advice. Some suggested changes were made at Ames. Early reports are encouraging for the 2015 National running.
At the Amateur Invitational in early December 2014 forty two strong flying coveys were pointed in fourteen hours of running and eighteen more ridden up. A knowledgeable disinterested observer reported conditions seemed better than at at any time since 2003. The mowing this season left considerably more edge cover.
All involved with bird dogs want to see success at Ames. It is a treasure field trialing cannot afford to lose and it holds precious traditions. All of us owe a duty to our forebears and successors in trialing, human, canine, equine and avian, to support the few precious grounds where major events can be staged, especially Ames and Dixie where owners have left the properties for public purpose use including trialing. It will take money and dedication and knowledge wisely applied.
For twenty-seven consecutive years Brad Harter has labored tirelessly to photograph, edit and produce the National Championship Video. Over the years it has improved steadily, artistically and technically. We all owe Brad our thanks for this invaluable effort, a treasure trove of our sport.