A Week On the Prairies
Around the second week of July in south Georgia you sense the migration of bird dog trainers headed to the prairies. Those on Facebook (Robin Gates, the most recent addition), now share with family, friends, and clients photos of their safe arrival at their destinations in South and North Dakota and Canada. Imagine what trainers 100 years ago would think of this! They made their lengthy journeys to the prairies on trains, or cars and trucks precariously rigged to accommodate their dogs and all the belongings they required for their long stay in places where weather varies from extremely hot to near winter-like conditions towards the end of the training season and beginning of the prairie trials.
My last trip to the prairies was in 2013 for a quick visit to Mazie and Colvin Davis’ camp in Broomhill and for the beginning of the Manitoba Championship. My last trip with dogs was sadly longer ago than that. For those who love the prairies, there is just so long you can stay away before they beckon you back. At the end of July I booked my flight.
I flew to Bismarck, ND and drove south the approximate 100 miles, most of it through the stunning vistas of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, to Jamie Daniels’ camp on the west side of the Missouri River a few miles from Mobridge, SD. There are many other trainers in that general area, within about a 100 mile radius.
Daniels Camp near Mobridge, SD
Arriving late on Saturday afternoon, I was greeted by Jamie, Tracy Haines, Betty Shearouse, Nick Berrong, and amateur trainer/trialers Brandon and Jennifer Blum from California. Jamie’s camp, inherited from Fred Dileo after his tragic death in 2007, is owned by cattle rancher Frank Hahne and his wife Sabra whose home is on the top of the hill above the camp. It took no time to discover that better people than Frank and Sabra and a more stunning site for a summer dog training camp could not be had.
After saying hello, I went to peruse the surroundings and began climbing the steep hill just to the west of the camp house and horse trailers. Jamie rode up on his 4-wheeler, I hopped on and we took a quick tour, riding up and down the hills and ravines flushing numerous chickens and pheasant. Instantly I knew what a fabulous, dramatic backdrop to photograph bird dogs this was going to provide.
Jamie flushing for derbies Hank, Chance and Press.
Midday on Sunday, we drove to the home of Frank’s brother-in-law Wally and sister Jackie Grage and their children, Blaine, Lauren and Wade in Selby, east of Mobridge, for a luncheon they prepared for family, friends and the area dog trainers. Betty contributed a delicious spinach salad she made. What a surprise when my neighbors from Pavo, GA…Tommy Rice and Squire Lee and from a few miles south in Boston, Lee Phillips walked in along with Trey Mills, Derrick Barnes, and Jason Loper. Frank and Jackie’s parents Bill and Lynn Hahne were also there. After lunch, Bill passed around some amazing homemade chokecherry juice while half the crowd was outside shooting hoops. Wally has an extensive collection of trophy antlers from Mule and Whitetail deer and Antelope on display in his home with great stories for each.
Reports were in well before the trainers departed in July that much of the southwestern prairies had received little to no rain for many weeks making the cover and birds sparse. The further west, the worse the conditions. The three prairie all-age championships in that vicinity, the US Chicken, the Southwestern and the All-America had to be canceled due to the poor conditions and a very strong probability that there would be too few birds on the trial grounds. The rain did finally come in places — 9 inches around the Mobridge area from the time Jamie arrived at his camp.
I woke up Monday morning to the faint sound of Jamie’s 4-wheeler. I looked out the window to see his headlights as he drove off roading dogs in the pitch dark. A dog trainer’s day is long on the prairies. Later in the morning, we ran three great looking derbies and some nice youngsters, including a little female pointer Jamie knew I would like, again from his 4-wheeler so I could get photographs. In the afternoon, Tracy and I ran pups from her last two breedings as well as some Reb sired puppies belonging to John Russell that Betty brought out to the prairies.
Davis Camp, Lorne (truck) and Scrappy
Early Tuesday morning I set out for the five hour journey north to the Davis Camp in Manitoba, arriving just after lunch. For the last couple of years, Colvin and Mazie have brought only their string of Davis Quail Hunts dogs for training and conditioning to Canada. That allows them a little time to enjoy a well-deserved break from their long season of quail hunting. All their young dogs are by Dutch Bend x their nice female Broomhill Bonnie. Dutch was the one pup we got from our breeding of Ch. White Powder Pete to my Pal’s Sea Pearl. In the afternoon, Mazie and Colvin yard worked some of the youngest of those dogs in the alfalfa field in front of the camp. Mazie showed me some of the changes she made to their camp since I was last there including the conversion of two non-working refrigerators to cupboards where prairie dust can’t settle on her dishes! President of the Manitoba Championship, “Big” Wayne Thompson came by to say hello, bringing fresh picked apples which Mazie used to make a pie. Later in the day, she and I drove the back way to Melita to pick up fried chicken from my favorite local dining spot The Chicken Chef. We laughed as we drove by at all the places I tried to get photographs of “road chickens” in past years with Mazie waist-high in canola fields trying, unsuccessfully, to flush the fleeing birds. Driving through Melita, we passed the “largest freestanding banana statue in the world”. The area is considered Manitoba’s “Banana Belt”, due to the warmer climate, though from the reports Mazie and Colvin receive from their neighbors in the winter, it seems more like wishful thinking. When the nine meter tall cartoon character banana was erected, the town held a contest to name him. Low and behold, I won when my entry of “Sunny” was selected. My prize choices — a lime green t-shirt with the banana statue embroidered on it or a miniature banana plant. With my luck, the US border officials would confiscate the banana plant, possibly holding me up for several hours as they did once upon discovering a spike horn shed in my luggage, so I opted for the t-shirt.
Wednesday morning after breakfast, Mazie pulled the old dogwagon with their 4-wheeler as Colvin worked some of the older dogs riding TD (Tommy Davis). Pete and Bess are littermates to Chris Carnahan’s talented Broomhill Betty. All three dogs won prairie derby stakes in 2014. Chris sent Betty with Robin Gates for the summer again this year. Pete and Bess are now solid, classy quail hunting dogs, much in demand by guests at Davis Quail Hunts.
Sadly the time went by too quickly and after lunch I hit the road again, drove past Robin’s camp, tooted my horn as there was no time to stop to say hello if I was to get back to the Daniels Camp before dark. Back across the border, heading south to Minot, I drove by the sign for Westhope, the turn to Randy Anderson and Tiffany Genre’s camp. The ten hour drive was well worth seeing my friends and spending even a very short time with them in one of my favorite places. Good luck to everyone at the Manitoba Championship and Broomhill Open All-Age starting September 6th.
I drove into to Jamie’s camp just in time for dinner. Kindly, they waited on me. I don’t think I’ve ever had a better tasting steak. Thursday morning greeted us with a gorgeous prairie sunrise, fog swirling over the Missouri River. We had previously planned for me to photograph the “big” dogs that day. Camera in hand, I got on the back of the 4-wheeler with Betty driving while Jamie handled the dogs from another machine. We started with Betty’s handsome first year All-Age setter, Shearjoy’s Unforgiven (Will) braced with Larron and Laura Copeland’s young pointer, Showtime’s Dominator (Boss). Spectacular light is always fleeting…especially on bright clear, sunny mornings, it dissipates as quickly as it appears. All photographers lament the fraction of time they have to capture their subjects in these stunning moments. If you can be at the right place at the right time, it’s magical. Next up, we ran: Jim Hamilton’s Dominator’s Rebel Heir (Reb), Mary Devos’ Just Irresistible (Stud) and littermate Tracy and Jack Haines’ Funseekn’ Hitman (Man). They put on a show, taking turns pointing and backing countless birds. More great opportunities. Wahoo!
Will and Boss
Thursday afternoon, too warm to work dogs, but perfect for a round of golf at the Oahe Hills Golf Course in Mobridge. Trey Mills picked up Jamie and they headed to town. Betty and I followed an hour or so later, rented a golf cart, with bloody Mary’s in hand, found Jamie and Trey who easily lured us into a betting game. I lost and owe Betty seven bucks.
5:00 am Friday morning, I packed my bag and camera gear in the electric blue Subaru by flashlight and drove 100 miles east to visit my friends Frank LaNasa and Bob Saari at Frank’s camp between Ashley and Forbes, ND. Frank’s is the first prairie camp I visited in 2004 when Bob and I drove out from Minneapolis. I first met Bob years ago at amateur field trialer Bill McFadden’s shared lease of the Patterson Ranch in Jayton, Texas. Bill flew back and forth from his home in Binghamton, New York most weekends while Bob stayed at the ranch, cared for and worked dogs and made his famous “Saari Bells” on the porch of the ranch house. The not-so-good ones became known as “Sorry Saari Bells” but most were good and in high demand by grouse trialers. Bill had some memorable dogs: Elhew Hustler, Howard Elhews and Doctor’s Kit, among them. I went to the prairies to see Frank’s dog Front ’N Center whose photograph in the American Field caught my eye. About a year later, I had my first Buddy pup from Rich Boumeester. Since then all my dogs, save one, have come from Front ’N Center, directly by him and by his sons and daughters. Watching him for just two days had an enormous impact on my education of wild bird dogs. Buddy was a tremendous wild bird champion who produced many champions and is at the core of Frank’s breeding program. Front ’N Center is the great grandsire of all Colvin and Mazie’s young dogs.
Front ’N Center (Buddy), 2004
Word of advice…don’t use Google Maps to navigate to prairie camps without first checking that they are the best routes. I should have known better. The last 16 miles of gravel roads got me to Frank’s camp a little later than planned. Grabbing my chaps, boots, and camera gear, I jumped into the truck and we drove off. Many times in the past, I have stayed behind at various places to photograph handlers and dogs as they left and returned to the horse trailer. Frank had his nice palomino, Hank, for me to ride and I could not convince myself to stay behind even once. It was just too much fun to ride and watch his and Bob’s dogs find and point chickens. Hank is one heck of a nice horse, I wish I had him in Georgia! We went out again in the afternoon and I took a few sunset photos of the dogs, then rode again on Saturday morning. After a tasty lunch of pork loin Frank made, goodbyes were said, I got back in the Subaru and drove the 2.5 hours to spend my last night in Bismarck to make a 5:00 am Sunday flight home. Bismarck has a pretty darn good burger joint called JL Beers.
A whirlwind trip to the prairies…there were many other trainers I wanted to visit but there just wasn’t enough time. Thanks to my good friends, Jamie Daniels, Mazie and Colvin Davis and Frank LaNasa for welcoming me to their camps, allowing me to stay for a few days and giving me the opportunities to watch and photograph their bird dogs. It was fun to spend time with Bob, Tracy, Betty, my GA bird dog friends and to make new friends…Nick, Brandon and Jennifer and Frank, Sabra, Wally, Jackie and their families. Betty, thanks for your great cooking (no one is going hungry at the Daniels Camp while Betty is there) and sharing your lovely bottle of Caymus Cabernet!
Field trials are ultimately the testing ground for the breeding, development and training of our bird dogs. The prairies, however, is where the stuff of life happens if you are so inclined…where great bird dogs are made and where lasting friendships are forged.
For photographs of my prairie trip: Chris Mathan Sporting Dogs & Outdoor Images
Reb, Man, Stud, Daniels Camp, SD
Mojo, Daniels Camp, SD
Kennel setup, Daniels Camp, SD
Betty Shearouse and Nick Berrong running Betty’s puppies, Daniels Camp, SD
Jamie Daniels, Stud and Reb backing, SD
Tracy Haines and Roy, SD
Brandon and Jennifer Blum, SD
Brandon and Jennifer Blum’s Lewey, SD
US Chicken Championship Grounds, Daniels Camp in the far background, SD
Betty Shearouse contemplating her next bet, Oahe Hills Golf Course, Mobridge, SD
Trey Mills, Oahe Hills Golf Course, Mobridge, SD
Jamie Daniels, Oahe Hills Golf Course, Mobridge, SD
Colvin Davis and Dot, Broomhill, MB
Strideaway cohort Mazie Davis, Broomhill, MB
Colvin Davis on TD (Tommy Davis), Broomhill, MB
Robin Gates driving by, Broomhill, MB
TD and Slim, Davis Camp, Broomhill, MB
Scrappy, Broomhill, MB
Davis Camp ingenuity! Broomhill, MB
Mazie Davis looking for chickens, Broomhill, MB, 2009
World’s largest freestanding banana “Sunny”, Melita, MB
Frank LaNasa, Bob Saari, ND
Kennel setup, Frank LaNasa’s camp, ND
Frank LaNasa and “Bob” looking on as Bob Saari attempts to figure out his Garmin Astro 320
Frank LaNasa’s Billy, road chickens, ND
True Confidence (Bob), ND