NBHA National Amateur Invitational Championship

NBHA National Amateur Invitational Championship Nov 30-Dec 1. Inola, Oklahoma.
By Shane Bevel, TBDA President

The weekend of the NBHA National Amateur Invitational began with a heavy fog laying over the prairie on the outskirts of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The temperatures were in the low 40s and the winds were calm. Twelve dogs and handlers had come to the prairie from all over the country and as amateurs, several from the east had never set dogs upon the open courses at the McFarlin-Ingersoll Ranch. As the sun rose the diffuse light fell upon the tall grass and the black jack oaks; they began to understand what they had been told, this course was truly unique on the NBHA circuit.

The first brace let off with Hidden Hollow Sammy, setter male and Briar in My Boot, Viszla male, reaching for the horizon in the first pasture and as the handlers, Greg Blair and Justin Hess topped the hill at the first gate the dogs could be seen pushing for the creek crossing below, having covered the open ground between the first gate and the first creek crossing. The wind had picked up slightly and the fog soon relinquished the sky to the low winter sun shining on the dewy ground.

At nine minutes Briar was found on point in the second pasture beyond the creek line. Justin Hess flushed for the dog and all was in order. At 22 minutes Sammy was found on point in the second pasture, but Blair failed to produce a bird and went on with an unproductive. As the dogs made their way down the hill from the second gate, the handlers watched from the highest point on the ranch. Sammy was found on point at 33 minutes along the creek line at the bottom of the hill. Blair flushed and all was in order. At the 48 minute mark, the gallery watched the dogs stretch out to the right along the pond behind the barn. As they dipped into the cover a hawk appeared to the front and flushed a wild covey of birds less than 40 yards in front of the gallery. Briar stopped on scent when they arrived at the place, no doubt still warm from a night’s rest by the birds, and Sammy backed. As the dogs were lead on, the gallery groaned and thought of what might have been. Near the end of the course, Briar had a nice find on a pair of birds to close out the first brace of the day.

At the start of the second brace, both Golden Country Sizzlin Sid, setter male, handled by Steve Donovan, and Jaguar Za Czeshka, setter male, handled by Magda Lear were wide-open, racing across the prairie and covering huge ground and hunting all the way through the first pasture, through the first gate covering objectives in the second pasture and moving on to the first creek. Instantly, the two showed the possibilities that the course holds for a dog who will stretch to the horizon. As the two descended the hill beyond the second crossing, Jaguar was found buried to the hilt in a dense briar patch at 40 minutes. A difficult flush for Lear, but all was in order and the dogs were sent on along the pond to the backside of the barn.

The third brace let off with Bevel’s Royal Bayou, Llewellin setter male, handled by Shane Bevel and BGK Red Hot Lead, Vizsla male, handled by Justin Hess. Both dogs had a good castaway. Red was found at nine minutes in the briar patch through the first gate. Hess flushed and the dog was picked up for a breech of manners. Bayou had a stop to flush at 20 minutes just beyond the first creek crossing, but was found in error when more birds flushed from the spot. Bevel picked up and the gallery returned to camp.

Again at the start of the fourth brace both Blair’s Witch Project, setter male, handled by Greg Blair and Vitali’s Grouseringer Tony, setter male, handled by Gary Vitali, were away big at the line, covering the open ground quickly. Tony was up at 19 minutes with a failure to back on an unproductive. At the 23 minute mark, Blair’s dog had a nice find along the creek line with all in order. As the gallery makes its way through the second pasture the sun came out and temperatures warmed considerably. Project had a nice stop to flush on the wrong side of the wind at 41 minutes just north of the barn along a fence line and finished out the rest of the hour without drama.

By the fifth brace the winds were high and the cloud cover had moved in on the ranch. Kenny Snow and Jim Duncan were on the line with Duncan’s War Chief and Crazy Train both pointer males. The two made a mad dash across the first pasture to the gate at the top of the hill. As the handlers passed through the gate, Chief could be seen making an impressive cast to the downwind side of the creek. The pointer worked the cover left and right and continued up and around to the second tree line as the handlers came to the first creek crossing. Along the backside of the course both Chief and Ozzy exchanged casts, both dogs topping the hill at the second gate and making the long cast across the open grassland to the second creek crossing. As the handlers crossed at the second creek and began the climb to the top of the steep hill before the barn, Kenny Snow was ahead of Jim Duncan. Duncan’s pace had slowed, but not his dog’s. Chief made a long cast along the edge of the cover and over the hill out of sight. As the gallery topped the hill with Duncan the dog could be seen at the backside of the pond, in front of the other handler, judge and scout. It was here, at the top of this hill in the cold wind that we lost Jim Duncan. Despite the efforts of the gallery and judges, many of whom were medical professionals and had administered CPR until first responders arrived, Duncan collapsed and apparently instantly passed as he was overcome by what appeared to be a sudden and massive heart attack. As the field trial chairman and the authorities made arrangements, the dogs were gathered and in the late light of a solemn winter day, the gallery rode back to camp for the evening.

It is here that we must pause and think of Jim Duncan and his family. We must also thank the many individuals that jumped off their horses and the gallery wagon to assist in his time of need. It appeared to this author that there was no extended pain or suffering for Duncan. It’s a horrible thing to lose anyone in the field trial community. A terrible thing to lose a family member. But if we must, this author would say that watching your own dog cast across the horizon and going without extended pain is certainly preferable to the alternative.

Many people remained flexible as the club and field trial chair contemplated how to proceed with the championship in the face of tragedy. After many phone calls and contemplating all options, the decision was made to stop for the day and resume with brace six in the morning. The handlers in the sixth brace agreed that they would be ok running twice in the same day if needed and it was decided to run the first few braces of the Region 8 Walking Championship to provide a bit of a recovery buffer before the callback.

At the start of the second day, the grounds were wet from an overnight rain and the wind remained high and cold. The cloud cover seemed to extend the mood from the previous day into the first light of day. We gathered on the line with a small gallery and quietly released the last two dogs in the championship. Brian French handled French’s Wizard of Oz, Setter male, and Mark Spurgeon handled Crimson’s Double Twenty Gauge, Vizsla male. The dogs set off with a big breakaway and a noted lack of chatter from the handlers, judges and gallery. At 19 minutes Gauge had a find in the second pasture near the first creek crossing. Spurgeon flushed and all was in order. Minutes later at the 22 mark Wizard answered with a find of his own. French flushed and all was in good order. At 24 minutes both dogs had finds before crossing the creek for the second time on the back half of the course. As the two moved on, French’s dog laid down a magnificent race across the second half of the course and had clean stop to flush on a gallery flushed bird. Gauge was found standing with just eight minutes left in the brace. Wizard backed well and all was in order.

After running several braces of the Region 8 Walking Championship, the callbacks were started. In the first brace of the call back was Crimson’s Double Twenty Gauge, Vizsla male, handled by Mark Spurgeon and Blair’s Witch Project, setter male, handled by Greg Blair. As the dogs approached the line the clouds began to break up and the sun shone golden on the blades of Little Bluestem that lay before them. As the dogs crossed the first gate they both made big casts to the front across the second pasture checking objectives with a light breeze in their faces. At 17 minutes both dogs were found standing to the left side of the course in a mott of trees with Project in front and Gauge backing. With both judges watching closely Blair entered the mott to flush, working meticulously through the brush, but a bird could not be found. After two relocations, Blair took the dog on. The dogs made the turn at the first water barrel together and began working the back creek line in the second pasture. At 30 minutes Project was found on point, solid and steady, just before the second gate. After relocating once, Blair took a second unproductive and moved on. Both dogs move along the course with grace and as they pass the barn at 48 minutes both dogs had separate unproductives in relatively high wind. Blair picked up. Spurgeon finished his dog.

At the start of the second brace of the callback, Brian French handled French’s Wizard of Oz, setter male with brace mate Jaguar Za Czeshka, setter male, handled by Magda Lear. Both dogs let out of the gate with power and grace; Wizard putting on his second show of the day. Through the first gate and at the first briar on the right, Wizard stood at 9 minutes. French flushes and shoots as the dog stood on the edge of the cover, high and tight on both ends. All is in order and the dog is lead on by French. Jaguar answered with a find of his own at 15 minutes near the creek. Lear flushes and all is in order. At 35 minutes Jaguar has an unproductive and both dogs work through the rest of the course without further bird work, but with a wide open race the likes of which serve a dog well on this course.

At the end of the second brace of the call back, the judges called for the standby dogs. Justin Hess’ Vizsla male Briar in My Boot was substituted for Kenny Snow’s Crazy Train, pointer male, since Snow had left the day before. Briar was braced with Steve Donovan’s Golden Country Sizzlin Sid, setter male, for the final brace of the callback. By the time the dogs had taken the line the cloud cover had broken and the the sun was shining. The temperatures had warmed slightly and the wind was still up. Both dogs had a nice breakaway up the hill to and beyond the first gate as the gallery topped the hill Briar made a cast to the right to check the briar patch objective he approached from the downwind side and locked up on birds at the 10 minute mark. All was in order and the dogs moved on through the creek crossing to the second pasture. Just shy of the second gate Sid had an open-prairie find with an easy flush. All was in order and the pair continued on to the second creek crossing. As the gallery came through the creek Briar was found standing on a an armadillo. The dogs both finished out the hour with more to give.

In the end, the judges awarded the championship to French’s Wizard of Oz, setter male, handled by Brian French and Briar in My Boot, Vizsla male was named runner-up. Both dogs did an excellent job on the course, running two one-hour braces with Wizard running them both in the same day. An outstanding job and a lot to ask from any dog. The Kentucky contingent was pleased that the championship was take back to Jim Duncan’s home state. A fitting ending to a difficult weekend.

The Tulsa Bird Dog Association would, of course, like to thank our judges Jeremy Gulick and Stan Wint. Both were attentive in the saddle and more than flexible when our schedule had to be adjusted. Our sponsors Purina, Garmin, Mule Clothing, Gun Dog Supply and Gun Dog Central are unfailing in their support of the NBHA. The land owner Winn Ingersoll is of course a stalwart in the world of field trialing and his continued support and availability of these grounds is imperative to the continued success of walking and horseback trials in Northeastern Oklahoma. Melanie Seaman was our bird planter for the weekend and did a great job keeping us in birds over the weekend. We’d also like to thank the various members and board of the Tulsa Bird Dog Association who helped us hold our first national championship in nearly two decades. Without the support of the board, we would not be able to bring high quality field trials to northeastern Oklahoma.

Caption: Front Row: Michelle Hess holds RU CH Briar in My Boot, Vizsla male and NBHA President Greg Blair holds French’s Wizard of Oz, setter male. Second Row: Handlers Justin Hess and Brian French. Back row: Judge Stan Wint, TBDA member Nick Carson, Dr. John Ruetschi and Judge Jeremy Gulick.

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