2011 Armstrong-Umbel Endurance Classic ~ Report
Lake Country Rayden, seven-year-old setter male, put on a resolute performance to be named winner of the 2011 Armstrong-Umbel Endurance Classic, besting seventeen other dogs. The Classic, which began on March 25th, is now in its third running as a two-hour event. It is unique in its commitment to challenge high-caliber grouse dogs to demonstrate their ability to perform past the hour mark. The Classic was once again held on the historic Marienville grounds in the Allegheny National Forest of western Pennsylvania, hosting grouse trials for over 60 years. The Classic combines four one-hour courses on each side of the town making a total of four two-hour courses. Morning braces are run on the Loleta courses and afternoon braces on the Lamonaville side.
The tri-color setter is no stranger to the winner’s circle having recently won the Empire Walking Championship and runner-up laurels in Michigan’s Fruchey Grouse Classic. Rayden is owned by Jerry and Sherri Maier of Hamlin, NY, and handled by Marc Forman. He ran in the fourth brace on Friday laying down a strong, mostly forward race and scoring a beautiful double grouse find late in the first hour. It was a commendable performance under tough conditions. With morning temperatures in the teens and the afternoon braces ending in the mid-twenties with generally clear skies and light breezes, long-timers at Marienville expressed concern that birds would be difficult to find. Upper Cove Desert Devil, four-year-old tri-color setter male, owned by Bob Grassi, of Washington, PA, also handled by Marc Forman, was named Runner-Up after a powerful far-reaching race in the seventh brace. Both dogs share the same sire, 5 x Champion, 2 x R-U Champion Shady Hills Billy, as does last year’s winner, Texas Cherry Bomb.
Birds were seen on all four courses over the two plus days of running, with this reporter tallying thirteen grouse and one woodcock. Bird work was at a premium. Ground conditions ran the full gamut of frozen-hard, and in some places icy turf to soggy lichen marsh. The cold temperatures caused bells and setter coats and tails to freeze. For those unfamiliar with the Marienville courses, they provide a mixture of open hardwood covers, islands of conifers, cuttings, high bush blueberries, and some open fields. There was evidence of recent selective cutting by the US Forest Service — an encouraging site as both ruffed grouse and woodcock require second growth forest as habitat.
Inspired by the strenuous format of the Grand National and Pennsylvania Grouse Championships of the late 1940s and 1950s with their one-hour qualifying series and two-hour callbacks, the members of the Black Ash Grouse Trial Club once again came together to put on the Armstrong-Umbel Classic. The Club’s motivation for running a two-hour stake lies in the profound belief in the value of an extended endurance event to bring to the fore dogs that display the stamina and tests the mental and physical fortitude required to hunt for birds well past the hour mark.
To best assess its competitors’ mettle, the Classic recruited the services of judges with combined expertise in both grouse and endurance dogs. Hailing from Muncy, PA, Steve Groy has years of experience with grouse dogs — as a breeder, first amateur then professional trainer and handler, and as a hunter and field trial judge. His most recent assignment was last fall’s prestigious Lake States Grouse Championship. Kim Sampson, from Payson, UT, is a successful amateur trainer, trailer, and hunter, favoring the challenge of high rocky terrain in pursuit of wild chukar in her home state. Having two experienced wild bird judges ensured there was complete equanimity over the selection of winner and runner-up. Club members are grateful for their knowledge, commitment and diligence while spending long hours in the saddle in some very cold weather.
Black Ash Grouse Trial Club members, Russ Richardson (Secretary), and Joe McCarl, deserve a lion’s share of the credit for distilling the vision for the endurance Classic. Both men travelled many miles back and forth to Marienville from their hometowns further west to work on combining, marking and checking the courses. They worked diligently to secure sponsorships to ensure the long-term health of the event. The sidelights outlines the numerous gestures of corporate and individual support without which this event would not have been possible.
Lake Country Rayden ran in the fourth brace on the second of the two Lamonaville courses, quickly establishing a powerful, far-reaching race in search of birds. The course has a fair share of turns particularly around a section of freshly cut timber. Rayden required some guidance to maneuver him through these areas. Twice he demonstrated mannerly backs of his bracemate. The excitement came at 0:51 when point was called shortly after crossing a small field. The stylish setter stood on the downwind corner of a young beech strip, his composure perfect as his handler flushed two grouse ahead of him, the second erupting no more than five feet from the dog. While he clearly adjusted his pace around the 1:30 mark, he finished his two hours strong and casting decisively to the front.
Upper Cove Desert Devil ran in the seventh brace on the first of the two Lamonaville courses and laid down a scorching ground race that consistently reached the limits of his bell in search of likely objectives. He had the opportunity to back his bracemate at 0:36. With a good stride, showing plenty of stamina throughout the two hours, he claimed his entrance into the winner’s circle.
The first brace saw LB Horchen (M. Forman) and Texas Red Hot (Klein) come to the line with temperatures bordering on frigid. LB established a blistering forward and wide race in his first twenty minutes, in and out of bell range for minutes at a time. As he proceeded, however, his absences grew longer and he was picked up at 0:50. The petite, all-white setter female, Red Hot ran a kind handling race from the breakaway, a little lateral at times, but displaying an attractive degree of animation. Point was called at 0:58 near the old pump house, but flushing and a subsequent relocation proved unproductive. Handler elected to pick up at 1:07.
The second brace drew both the 2010 winner of the Classic, Texas Cherry Bomb (S. Forman) and the runner-up, Pal O’ Mine (McCarl). Cherry Bomb, now ten-years of age gave it her all again displaying an intelligent, forward, easy handling race. Handler elected to pick up at 1:20 when the tough
conditions began to take their toll on the dog. With a smooth efficient gait and her tail carried high, the strong-built, compact pointer, Pal, showed maturity through her selection of objectives and her ability to adjust her range according to the density of the cover she hunted. She dropped down into a hollow at 1:40 and the erratic sound of her bell caused the handler to send the scout out. It was discovered she had porcupine quills. Handler, with the aid of his scout, quickly attempted to remove them. After a final bold cast to the front as the course swung around, she was seen trying to remove the quills from her feet and the decision was made to pick her up at 1:55 to avoid any further injury.
With temperatures barely in the twenties and a thin layer of frozen snow on much of the Lamonaville courses, the third brace got under way with High Desert Dream (S. Forman) and Blue Sky Spot (M. Groy). Both dogs set to work in committed fashion. Point was initially called for Dream in a
high bush blueberry patch at 0:22, but a subsequent relocation proved unproductive. Showing great rapport with her handler, the attractive moving pointer held attention with her easy handling forward race. Unable to produce a bird after her second stand, handler elected to pick up at 1:48. Spot ran with an effortless, flowing gait that carried him through the two hours, leaving no birdy places unexplored. He was at times lateral requiring some handling, but to his credit, he finished strong, still pursuing all likely areas with a vengeance. Close to time, a grouse flushed wild near the path, with the dog not involved.
Lake Country Rayden (previously described) and Two Acre Mobster (Richardson) ran in the last brace of the first day. The strong-built, attractive
pointer, Mobster ran a purposeful, race with little effort required to keep him in a forward pattern. Point was simultaneously called for both dogs at 0:51, Mobster standing stylishly some 50 yards to the left of his bracemate in an open field pointing near a stand of large spruce trees. A brief flushing attempt could not produce a bird. Continuing to dig deep, twice more the dog stopped in likely areas but no birds could be produced. Mobster continued to lay down a mature, hard hunting race, completing the two hours going away strong.
The second day began even colder than the first, much to the chagrin of all assembled and the flasks of hot coffee and hot chocolate on Joe McCarl’s truck were especially appreciated. Back on the Loleta side, Rivers Edge Sadie (S. Forman) and Stars Southern Idol (M. Forman) were brought to the line. The handsome setter male, Idol, had a short stint as his breakaway cast took him out of judgment. Sadie began her race in purposeful fashion and as the course approached a frozen pond, her bell fell silent and a scout was sent out. Scott Forman located the setter deep in a thicket
close to a small copse of spruce, invisible but for the orange of her fluorescent collar. While there was evidence of fresh splash, a relocation attempt proved unsuccessful. With Sadie continuing to dive into likely covers, a grouse flushed from an area where she was making game and handler elected to pick up at 0:49.
The sixth brace brought Upper Cove Babe (S. Forman) and Bar P Doll (Ralph) to the line. Babe, white and black ticked setter demonstrated an even stride and good forward application until her handler picked up at 1:30. Doll, strong-built, compact pointer showed all the exuberance of a young dog,
making the occasional wide cast that required some work to keep her on the course. She displayed a smooth and tireless gait. Point was called at 1:11 and she was easily located pointing into a thick cluster of mature spruce trees. Her movement and the grouse flying ended herouting.
Over to the Lamonaville side after lunch, Upper Cove Desert Devil (previously described) and Hard Driving Lucy (McCarl), with her owner, Shawn Thomas scouting, broke away. Lucy was on a mission immediately exploring all likely areas of the course but responsive to her handler’s bidding. She briefly pointed in a cutting, and then continued with her search. Point was called at 0:36 with Lucy standing on a likely field edge but a bird could not be produced. A second point five minutes later also proved barren and handler elected to pick her up at 0:50.
The final brace of Saturday afternoon brought Chip’s Charlie Brown (S. Forman) and Dunn Roven Grousegetter (M. Forman), to the line. The dogs broke away smartly working their way through the beginning tight sections of the course. Their bells went silent at 0:08, and both dogs were located in a thick cutting. Charlie Brown was found pointing with Grousegetter backing in a mannerly fashion. No bird was produced and the relocation proved unsuccessful. Sent on, Grousegetter, reached for the front. Not pleasing his handler, he was picked up shortly before the hour was up. Charlie Brown continued with an enthusiastic, well-applied race. His bell went silent in a boggy section of the course at 1:11. After an extended search he was found behind a hummock, hock-deep in water and, as the handler and judge approached, a grouse boiled out, the dog’s manners perfect. The dog was picked up for the misdemeanor on a grouse at 1:49.
The ninth and final brace of the Classic was run on Sunday morning with Chip’s Uncle Buzzy (M. Forman) and 2009 Armstrong-Umbel Runner-Up, Grouse River Ace (S. Forman) coming to the line. Both dogs were reaching out for the very edge of the far hardwoods as the course came up the old railway grade around the 0:20 mark. The cold conditions again proved a hindrance as Uncle Buzzy was twice called in to free up the striker in his bell. Both bells went quiet at 0:54, with Ace’s heard shortly thereafter. Uncle Buzzy, was not seen or heard much after that and handler elected to pick him up. Ahead, Ace slammed on point by a spruce thicket at 0:57. The grouse flushed from the far side as handler was approaching. With beautiful
posture, the dog stood staunch for the flush and shot. At 1:05 Ace was pointing, convincingly, into an edge of mature spruce trees but a flushing attempt proved fruitless here and after the dog was sent on and stopped again. The powerfully built pointer continued his search, handling with ease and running with a smooth gait that betrayed no sign of fatigue. At 1:35 a single woodcock flushed wild just a few feet in front of the dog. Surprised by the bird, Ace failed to stop quickly enough thus ending his formidable bid.
The entry, as a whole, was a commendable group of dogs — strong and fearless, competing in very difficult conditions. Unfortunate mishaps prevented many of them from completing the two hours.