2009 Armstrong-Umbel Endurance Classic Report
Judges, Mazie Davis and Roger Hoover
A year and a half ago, Russ Richardson and Joe McCarl, core members of the Black Ash Grouse Trial Club, began to consider an endurance trial in the grouse woods. On March 28th, on the Marienville grounds nestled in the Allegheny National Forest in west-central Pennsylvania, their vision was realized. Nineteen contenders competed in the grueling two-hour format giving birth to the first Armstrong-Umbel Endurance Classic.
At the conclusion of the braces on Monday afternoon, the judges requested to see Texas Copper Top and Grouse River Ace for a second time with Stokely’s Ginger B held in reserve.
Wild bird trials are unpredictable by nature. In the spring, mature grouse can be even more elusive than in the fall and that held true over the three days of the trial. Texas Copper Top, six-year-old white and orange setter female, owned by Kevin Klein and handled on this occasion by Marc Forman delivered a performance that fulfilled the high benchmark sought by the creators of this Classic. With owner in attendance, Copper Top held the attention of all who witnessed her scorching two-hour race. Grouse River Ace, three-year-old mostly white pointer male, owned by Bryan Wood and handled by Scott Forman entered the winner’s circle as Runner-Up with a fast paced, exciting two hours, displaying all the qualities required of a true endurance dog. Stokely’s Ginger B, five year old white and orange female, owned by Tony Bly and handled by Marc Forman showed the strength and hard hunting effort that kept her on the judge’s list despite the two unproductives she chalked up near the end of her exciting two hour effort.
Judge Hoover watches as Marc Forman flushing for Texas Copper Top in the callback
At the judge’s discretion, Copper Top and Ace were brought back to a nearby field to be shown on quail. Handlers were asked to bring the dogs to a designated breakaway in succession. Each took full advantage of the opportunity to locate and show their style and manners on game.
Texas Copper Top’s center-stage performance in the seventh brace on Sunday afternoon was fast, fluid and powerful from beginning to end. Having just claimed the prestigious crown of the Grouse and Woodcock Invitational Championship run on the same grounds and concluding on Friday, she put down her slam-dunk performance at the Classic with only one day’s rest. Her effortless, efficient gait and lightness of foot were remarkably evident as she continued, through the two hours, to lay down a consistent race in every aspect — handling, range, style, and desire to find game. The rapport she showed with her handler was obvious as she sped through the country in and out of bell range, mostly showing to the front and holding the gallery spellbound. Each far-flung cast was completed and followed by another as she continued her reaching search. Just minutes before the conclusion of her two-hour stint we witnessed her fly over a fallen log clearing it by over a foot and finishing the brace with strength to spare. She was skillfully handled on this occasion by Marc Forman, whose brother Scott, her usual handler, was sick with the flu. Copper Top previously won Runner Up in the 2008 Pennsylvania Grouse Championship, the 2008 Region 13 Amateur Walking Shooting Dog Championship and the 2007 National Amateur Grouse Championship. She was bred by Steve Groy of Muncy, Pennsylvania. Both her dam, Sassy’s Topper and sire, Chip’s Super Chunk were exceptional grouse dog champions who have left another indelible mark of their quality with Copper Top’s impressive win.
Grouse River Ace showed strength and speed, touring the country with purpose and desire. Running in the second brace on Saturday during which the latter hour sunshine and warm temperatures added an additional element of difficulty, Ace maintained his fast, forward, and stylish race. He offered his handler no difficulty as he reached far and often out of bell range for likely objectives. Close to the thirty-minute mark, he stopped in a pine thicket far to the left of the course. When found, he had let down so was moved on to hunt the area thoroughly but no bird was produced. Ace took an opportunity to back his bracemate about fifteen minutes later. A very slight let down at about the hour and a half mark may have cost him. He recovered fully, however, and finished his exciting and intelligent race on a high note. No newcomer to the winner’s circle, Ace made a name for himself in 2007 winning the National Walking Shooting Dog Futurity, Michigan Coverdog Derby of the Year, and Pennsylvania Walking Shooting Dog Derby of the Year and last year, Runner-Up laurels in the Michigan Woodcock Championship. His owner, Michigander and long time grouse enthusiast, Bryan Wood, bred him. Ace is by Time Bandit out of Grouse River Amber.
Russ Richardson and Joe McCarl both spend a portion of their winters training and guiding wild quail hunts in west Texas. This experience has shown them the absolute necessity of endurance in our field trial dogs and hunting companions and led to their interest in putting on an endurance stake in the grouse woods. The twenty-year-old Armstrong-Umbel Classic (previously the Armstrong-Smith Grouse Dog Classic) was run for the many years as a one-hour stake in the Black Ash Forest located further to the northwest in Pennsylvania. Club members moved the Classic to the Marienville grounds when the grouse disappeared in the Black Ash due to the lack of cutting needed to provide second growth forest. Given that all suitable dates and venues for grouse trials both in the spring and fall were taken up with existing events, club members decided the only opportunity to run a two-hour classic was to utilize the Armstrong dates. A precedent for a two-hour stake on grouse was set in the early years of the Grand National Grouse Championship (1943-1959) and the Pennsylvania Grouse Championship. Both ran as hour qualifying stakes with two-hour callbacks. With many considerations, including financial ones, it was decided that the Classic would be run as a two-hour stake with no qualifier. After much deliberation, club members felt this format was most likely to achieve the ultimate goals of identifying true endurance performances and putting on a high quality stake — though not a championship, one that would be considered as prestigious and sought after a win. A prerequisite to that was to retain the most respected, knowledgeable and highly qualified judges. Two names immediately came to mind: Pennsylvania native, Roger Hoover and HOFer, Harold Ray who judged the Grand National Grouse Championship on the Marienville grounds in 2006. Harold began his long prestigious field trial career running dogs in the grouse woods for the fabled Elwin and Inez Smith who for years lived in nearby Bradford and competed their setters on the same grounds.
Roger Hoover has earned the respect of all coverdog competitors through his extraordinary knowledge of the wily grouse, grouse and woodcock dogs and for his integrity. We were ecstatic when both these esteemed gentlemen agreed to the assignment. Mazie Davis, longtime reporter for the American Field agreed to report. Mazie also has thirty years experience training and working dogs and scouting for husband, HOFer, Colvin Davis in this country’s premiere endurance championships. Early in March, Harold Ray, contacted Joe McCarl to inform him that regrettably, due to unavoidable circumstances, he would not be able to fulfill the judging assignment. We immediately realized that our scheduled reporter was highly qualified to judge the stake. Mazie agreed to the assignment with only the slightest concern about her unfamiliarity with the king of game birds. Her concern proved to be unfounded. Experience with other wild game birds, particularly sharptail grouse and Hungarian partridge found on the prairies provided her with the experience needed to quickly size up the ruffed grouse.
The Black Ash Grouse Trial Club sincerely thanks our two judges whose decisions were well met with. And we thank the owners and handlers who supported this Classic with their entries. Many people expressed their enthusiasm for this as an ongoing event. Those who competed and watched the braces had an opportunity to further their understanding of the qualities needed for a grouse dog to be competitive for two hours. For those who couldn’t be there, we hope to see you next spring. The club would also like to thank everyone who helped out including Tony Bly and Shelly Brandenburg for judging the accompanying amateur derby stake; Steve Chiappini for keeping it moving and collecting entry fees; Tim Perschke for hosting dinner (twice) at his beautiful farm; super chefs, Steve Groy and Larry Guild for their culinary skills and Larry for his champagne! Thanks also to our wrangler, Lizzy Allen, who had the horses tacked and ready to go each morning. My apologies to anyone I have left out.
Upon my return to Maine, I received an email from newcomer to American Field trials, Jeff Woods who ran his pointer in the Classic. He wrote: “Everyone was very encouraging, helpful and courteous. This was all so very new to me, however, everyone there had the same passion for bird dogs and everyone wanted the best for all. It was a sincere and genuine experience. A particular thanks to Marc Forman for lending me a .32 blank gun, all I had was a .22 and Mike Groy, who basically took me under his wing and patiently navigated me through the day we ran.”
Also in attendance were John R. Umbel, son of William R. Umbel for whom the Classic is named and his cousin, Dave McDonald. Dave informed me that his uncle, now deceased, trialed championship grouse dogs for many years. All agreed it was a successful trial despite the ravaging flu bug that handlers Steve Groy, Scott Forman and Joe McCarl suffered from. One additional important note: last September I asked the Forman boys if we could count on them for some entries. No, they didn’t think they could get their dogs ready for a two-hour event so early in the spring! How ‘bout that!?
Two handsome setter males, Montaro’s Rock (McCarl) and Chip’s Uncle Buzzy (S. Groy) broke away at 8:15 on Saturday morning under clear skies and seasonable temperatures. Rock took to the front making sweeping forward casts, Buzzy took a stretch of cover to the right of the course where he remained for some time. About fifteen minutes in, he was seen, still to the right running forward. But shortly after, scout, Richardson had him stopped behind. Handler and judge Hoover soon located him standing confidently in a strip of cover, grouse lifting as they neared the dog. No sooner was Buzzy released, than he stopped again in an adjacent piece of cover. After a short flushing attempt he was removed from the area. A second bird was not produced. Buzzy shot to the front. At the fifty-minute mark, he carded a stop to flush as a grouse was seen blasting from the edge of a cut close to the course. The party together again, both dogs remained strong, with Buzzy have the upper hand in speed and Rock continuing to impress with his mature ground application. At the hour, Rock was seen making game, then stopping on the far side of a group of pine trees, Buzzy came in from the opposite side where it would have been difficult for the dog to see his bracemate. Finally, having the opportunity, Buzzy stopped momentarily, then betrayed himself and was ordered up for a failure to back. After a short flushing attempt Rock was moved on. At eighty minutes, Rock’s bell stopped, a grouse was seen flushing from another clump of pines. After a long search, the dog was located styled up, some distance away in a cut and handler shot his gun. About ten minutes later, Rock began to tire somewhat and after his third incomplete cast, handler elected to pick up.
The second brace of the morning got under way with setter male, Blue Sky Moon Shiner (M. Groy) and Grouse River Ace (S. Forman). Ace was previously described. Shiner began his two-hour stint shorter than his bracemate’s but once settled in made a good show of himself with a forward and hard hunting race for a good hour often to the edge of the bell and beyond. He carded an unproductive at the forty-five minute mark in a likely piece of cover with bracemate backing. A grouse was seen ten minutes later flushing wild with no dogs involved. At the hour and a half mark, Shiner began to tire somewhat in the warmer temperatures approaching midday. He continued to gut it out and finished the two hours admirably, still hunting hard and pleasing his handler.
After lunch, strong built setter female, Chip’s Little Spark (S. Groy) hit the cover fast and furiously and was soon off the bell and not seen again until this scribe picked her up an hour and a half later. Her handler was severely under the weather with the flu and threw in the towel at forty-five minutes. Two Acres Hope (Richardson), diminutive but strong built pointer female showed plenty of eye appeal as she sought out likely objectives and hunted them thoroughly. Not extreme in range, she was fast and consistent in her application for most of her two hours. Tiring and shortening somewhat in the final quarter, she maintained her enthusiasm to find game. A grouse was seen early on but Hope was not in the vicinity.
Last brace of the day, handsome pointer male, Woodspoint Vrod (Woods) and setter male Mr. Ted Stokely (M. Forman) were put down at 3:40 pm and hunted the country thoroughly and purposefully, both at moderate range. Ted completed intelligent forward casts taking him to likely spots and Vrod made some good moves through the country. Just past the hour mark, in a great looking piece of grouse cover, the dogs began a duel indicating the presence of game in the area, alternately pointing and backing, unfortunately without producing a bird. Both were picked up after this incident. In attendance was longtime field trial participant and owner of Teddy, the ever popular, John Bilodeau!
Sunday morning‘s grey skies foretold of rain to come for bracemates, setter female, Stokely’s Ginger B (M. Forman) and setter male, Keystone’s Red Rage (Peters). Ginger began her hard hunting two hours a little rough and off the bell at times. Rage’s race was fast and furious from the start with his handler having to work hard to maintain contact. Midway, he was found looking magnificent on point, with Ginger backing nicely. This was the same cut where Chip’s Uncle Buzzy had a stop to flush the previous day so all were hopeful. Judge Davis accompanied the handler where, unfortunately, they discovered Rage pointing a large porcupine curled up at the base of a tree. Both dogs were escorted from the area to resume their search. Soon after, a heavy downpour made it difficult for handlers to hear bells and some time was spent locating both dogs and redirecting them to the front. Ginger, settling in for her handler, continued hunting the cover thoroughly and with maturity. At the hour and fifty-minute mark, Rage was picked up by his handler. Ginger, shortly after, was found pointing in a likely spot but come up empty. She was seen stopped again at time, with no success at the flush. She finished with strength to spare.
At 10:45 the sixth brace got under way with Hard Driving Bev (McCarl), ten and a half year old pointer female coming off her seventh championship win of the Ontario Grouse Championship braced with attractive pointer female, Sportsman’s Molly Brown (Stewart). Bev began her hard charging race with a cast that brought her in from behind, then making a far-flung cast to the right of the course where she remained for an extended period of time running to the limits. Handler had great difficulty hearing her bell, thus knowing her exact location particularly as she executed the always-difficult M & M portion of the course. Molly, in the meantime, was making a nice effort though her range was modest throughout. She was seen early on pointing on the left of the course in the open, grouse lifting as handler approached and shot. She stood again soon after in a likely pine thicket but her handler could not produce a bird from in front of her then or after a relocation. Molly resumed hunting and had another grouse find at the hour and forty-five minute mark pleasing her handler as she finished the two hours. Bev kept up the pace, tearing through the country till she was picked up at an hour and ten minutes, with McCarl remarking that she went on a grouse-hunting spree but did not take him along on this occasion. Two of Bev’s get also competed in this Classic.
Texas Copper Top was previously reported. Hard Driving Lucy, two-year-old white and orange pointer female started the two hours with a strong, forward, moderate race making purposeful casts. As time progressed, she reached out further and further hunting the country to the limits. By the end of the first hour, she had two short absences both bringing her back to the front. Her owner and scout, Shawn Thomas, was sent to search for her during the second absence then called back when she returned on her own. While he was out looking for the dog, he put up four grouse from one spot! Lucy continued laying down a hard hunting race then suddenly, coming in at an awkward angle, hit a fallen tree. In obvious discomfort, she was quickly leashed. All were relieved that she was fully recovered later in the day.
With a sudden drop in temperature on Sunday night came snow flurries and Monday morning’s first brace began under dreary skies on a blanket of white. Platinum Punk Star (S. Groy) and Wycoff Run Freestone (Bogle), two strong built setter males, applied themselves early with Punk slightly wider and coming in from behind at times. A good morning for grouse, both dogs dug in and hunted every piece of available cover. Punk’s bell was heard to stop in a thick bottom and owner/scout, Larry Guild, was sent to look for him. After several hopeful minutes of searching, the dog’s bell rang again as he resumed hunting. Freestone was laying down a mature race indicating great rapport with his handler. Given ample opportunity to show qualities that could better earlier performances, both dogs missed that mark and were ordered up at one hour and forty minutes.
Shadyhills Bean (S. Forman) and Keystone’s Red Ryder (S. Groy), pretty setter females, started their brace in perfect grouse finding weather. Bean with her fast, attractive gait dug into the cover making some very good moves but occasionally swinging to the rear. Her performance was not pleasing to her handler and he picked up well before time. Ryder, another veteran of the grouse woods, who like Hard Driving Bev, competed in this Classic against two of her get, made some impressive moves in her attempt to connect with a grouse. She showed good ground speed and range and was making a valiant attempt to better earlier performances. Handler picked up at ninety minutes when her gait appeared slightly off.
Still cold and damp, the last brace of the stake began after a lunch break needed to thaw out and resuscitate the judges. Hard Driving Louie, young pointer male, broke away as a bye making a big first cast taking him far and wide, barely in bell range. He settled in to the front at about twelve minutes. At the seventeen-minute mark, he was cautioned then moved on to stop again a few minutes later well hidden in a large clump of pines and thick brush. It took some time for handler and judge to locate him. After a short flushing attempt, McCarl tapped him on, no doubt suspecting the grouse had run off. Louie, in quick pursuit, shot forward and abruptly stopped again some forty yards ahead next to a small bush. The young dog’s demeanor said “grouse“ but another flushing attempt only proved that the wily bird had made his escape and the dog was soon after picked up and so ended the stake.
Joe McCarl, John Bilideau, Scott Forman, Dave Bogle, Marienville Clubhouse
As the cost of putting on field trials rises, so does our dependence on the generosity of our sponsors. The Black Ash Grouse Trial Club felt strongly that the Armstrong-Umbel Endurance Classic be a high quality event with a substantial purse awarded to its winner(s). We would like to thank those who made this event such a huge success through their donations and financial support. As always, Purina, for the American Field ad and the Pro Plan Performance and dog biscuits awarded to the winners, DOGS Unlimited for donating their terrific bird bags given to the derby judges and to Claremont Investment Partners (Industry Leaders Fund) for purchasing the Armstrong-Umbel caps all handlers, owners and supporters received. As many know, Mazie Davis and I started the online publication, Strideaway, set up as a non-profit with advertising monies going directly to help worthy field trial events. We are grateful to our advertisers: TechMix, Inc, Marshall Radio Telemetry, Tri-Tronics, DOGS Unlimited, Purina and others. Additional support came from the following: Davis Kennels, Earl DeCarli, Field Trial Magazine, Hard Driving Kennels, Bill Henke, Dale Hernden, Frank LaNasa, Northwoods Bird Dogs, Kim Sampson, Keystone Setters, Shawn Thomas and Shawn Wayment, DVM. Over $2,000 was donated to the Classic. We also thank the many generous people who have contributed articles, stories and photos to Strideaway, thereby indirectly supporting field trial events like the Classic.