Bird Dog Odyssey IV
We left me in my usual state of quandary in those days, caught between Guy Stancil who was thoroughly convinced one could selectively breed a dog that would want to stay in front of a horse galley and Buddy Williamson, who believed that malleability could be selectively bred, but that his fine hand was necessary to “make” a class bird dog.
My next years, stretching from 1948 to 1976, never completely settled that argument in my mind, for I saw many dogs who would not cast behind a gallery. But in the nature/nurture argument of the ages, I never wandered far from the natural view.
Immediately following the above recorded colloquy, I followed these men and others, to the feet of folks who seemed to be sorcerers in disguise. Ches Harris was a giant from Alabama by way of Big Cabin, Oklahoma. Herman Smith was short of stature, huge of heart, a former market hunter from the Virginia Blue Ridge. John S. Gates, who kenneled at Philema, near Albany, Georgia, was originally an Alabamian, now embedded in the Plantation wonderland of southeast Georgia. George Crangle, a New Yorker and a grouse hunter, was now located in Burke County, Georgia, near Waynesboro. A Hoosier, E.A. “Red” Weddle, worked around Dublin, Georgia.
These men had dogs that literally hunted ahead, many times out of sight until they struck scent and located game. In a phrase of those days, they “ran off…but not QUITE!!!”
And yet, here they were battling one another on a one course, half hour field trial course with a dinky birdfield, and showing great class dogs, handling and hunting close. Green as I was, this impressed me. I asked a lot of questions.
And I learned that they “roaded” the dogs in harness for strategic purposes (to take the edge off”) as well as to condition them, especially the pads on their feet, and their respiration, to the environment of the trial in which they were competing.
All these men competed with dogs trained and conditioned on “the prairie” which in those days meant Manitoba and Saskatchewan, where the summers and early autumn were mostly cool, and though sometimes desert-like, always virtually treeless, with many objectives and a menu of prairie chicken, sharptail grouse and Hungarian partridge.
Original “Yaller legged” prairie chicken were rare, and the main quarry were sharptail.
This is where they “broke” their young dogs, widened their reach, schooled them to stay ahead of a horse, and bend to voice and whistle bidding.
They were preparing for the “circuit” of major continuous course field trials, they told me, and they urged me to attend some.
So, I went whole hog, bought a pretty derby from Buddy named Senor Cuspidor, (Bob) and an all age bitch named Arrowsmith’s Hoowah Willing, (Molly).
It was pretty well accepted at that time that no one expected Derbies to be “broke” in the fall trials, and could still win with a stop-at-flush in the winter. That was then.
Completely unaware that everyone was laughing at my derby’s name, and badmouthing my bitch’s level tail on point, I sallied forth. That year, I actually ran in a continuous course trial near Eufaula, Alabama….Bob was braced with a derby owned by Herbert Ingram of Cotton, Georgia named Warhoop Jake. Under Ed Mack Farrior, Jake became one of my favorite all age performers of all time.
There, at the old Bluff City Inn, I also learned that field trial partying is a potentially fatal ancillary. New friends, old timer trainers June Whelchel, Bert Black, a dogfood salesman named Zeke Sasser and I put a newspaper reporter in a bathtub that overflowed and he almost drowned.
“I’m afraid they’ll kill him, “Ches Harris moaned to George Crangle. “Bejayzuz, I’m afraid they won’t”, rasped George.
There, I got my first look at top flight pointer and setter competition, and, saw that scouts are a necessity. With these dogs, one could not just always ride up on one pointing, or “making game”. Sometimes, a very good dog would be found by a scout, laterally, or behind on a course turn. Handlers asked for help and the judge agreed.
But after that find, I learned it was not good form to linger with singles or point again on the way to the front of the gallery. Good judges just said “heel to the front” and rode off and left the handler, dog and scout. Within a year, I was to see Mr. Cecil Proctor do this more than once. It jelled in my memory.
For the next few years, at Waynesboro, I was to scout for Raymond Hoagland, the Cartersville, Georgia owner of Rumson Farm, whose dogs were trained by George Crangle’s son, Earl. Hoagland taught me field trial manners, and we won some. He urged me to go to the Continental Championship, at Dixie Plantation, owned by his friends, Gerald M. Livingston and Mrs. Eleanor Livingston.
There, between Quitman, Georgia and Monticello, Florida, I saw what a field trial was supposed to be. I think the first year I saw Brownie Doone and Sierra Joann handle, cleanly, 23 coveys of quail between them in an hour and 50 minutes. It was dry, dusty even after a January heavy frost, and though mowed and beaten down, the sand and sawbriar courses were demanding.
Here is where handler and dog rapport were the most important thing. Though the plantation had 33,000 acres, the courses wound through longleaf hammocks, cornfields and around a lake and many branch heads, a dog had to handle to voice, whistle and use footing wisely. I learned more about quail at Dixie than anywhere I ever saw a trial.
Before he died, Mr. Livingston went on a “varmit” rampage prompted when the champion only had five finds one year. All hawks, Buteos as well as Accipiters were wiped out. Foxes and mink and skunks were also more than just thinned out.
Then the bird count went even lower. Mr. Livingston passed away, and Mrs. Livingston’s son in law, Dillon Ripley (secretary of the Smithsonian and internationally renown ornithologist) prevailed on her to halt the slaughter. The next year, the winner had seven clean finds, and two years later, we moved 118 coveys of wild quail in less than eight hours. That was a highlight of the Odyssey.
Also at Dixie, I learned that dogs will point rattlesnakes, and that pointers as well as setters should be watered during a continuous trial in heavy wind conditions as well as in heat. It can be a reward for the dog as well as an avenue to the winner’s circle.
Of course, I was a believer in Henry Stoddard and the Tall Timbers Fire Resource Foundation. Their precepts had been proven in the “laboratories” of all the Thomasville and Albany area plantations for years. Only Forshalee plantation, run by Jimmy Fuller, rivaled Dixie’s George Evans husbanding wild quail.
I did absorb by way of experience, the Burke County, Georgia Field Trial pond country lore: “they are always at the pond edge”. And a life-saving scouting tip “Never get off your horse to call point.” (The nag will either kick you in the belly or run away!)
So, having mastered some continuous course field trial knowledge—at least a foundation, I moved on….