SI Vault
Duncan Barnes
January 31, 1966
The finest field-trial retriever in the country is National Champion Martens Little Smoky, the 6-year-old Labrador seen at right driving through a cornfield to retrieve a pheasant. In a demanding and expensive sport that grows more competitive every year, Smoky is only half of a championship team. The other team member, who trained and campaigned Smoky for Owner John Olin and guided the dog to victory in the National at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge near Smyrna, Del., is T. W. (Cotton) Pershall, who gives his champion a hand signal in the picture at left. The photographs on the following pages show Smoky in action as he—and Pershall—defeated 44 of the country's top field-trial retrievers in a dog-tiring, four-day competition.
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January 31, 1966

Cotton Fires Up Little Smoky

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"The tests in a retriever trial are the fairest of all field trials," says James B. Jackson, the president of the 1965 National. "The only variables are wind, light and the length of the fall of the bird, and it is this consistency that has kept retriever trials from becoming mere circuses for a type of performing freak that has no practical purpose or value." The judges at the 1965 National managed to set up most of the tests so that a dog had to take a fine initial line and hold it in tall corn or through a maze of thick tules, across stump-studded swamp ponds and through tangles of duck weed.

By the end of the seventh series Smoky was the dog to beat. In the eighth series, a tough, triple land blind—three planted birds hidden in a low-cut turnip field—Smoky virtually clinched the trial, getting all three birds with a minimum of handling, despite a confusing lateral ditch that threw several dogs entirely off course. In all 10 series Pershall had to handle Smoky only once on a mark. There was little doubt who the National winner would be.

Posing with his champion for pictures after the trial, Pershall explained that Smoky was automatically qualified to defend his championship in the 1966 National. "He should be a better dog then," Pershall said. "He'll be a year older and more settled." At that moment a car started up and headed down the dirt road, sending up a swirling cloud of dust. Pershall reacted instantly, grabbing Smoky's collar with one hand and covering his nose and eyes with the other. "Easy, Smoky dog," he mumbled. "You got to take care of me for at least one more year."

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