In the career of a field dog, by contrast to the show dog whose greatest challenge may come at Westminster (SI, Feb. 8), two notable tests stand out: the National Bird Dog Championship at Grand Junction, Tenn. and the National Shooting Dog Championship at Union Springs, Ala. The vast difference between the rolling, sedge-covered fields over which these events were run last month and the green-carpeted show rings of Madison Square Garden is matched only by the difference between the dogs which are tested in each. While the latter are judged primarily on the basis of appearance, the field dog, in contrast, is judged purely on the excellence of his work.
In the pointing dog world there is also a distinction, though subtle, between a trial bird dog and a shooting bird dog. Each is an expert at finding and pointing game, but the manner in which they do the job differs. The trial bird dog is an artistic performer, trained to polished perfection; and the National Bird Dog Championship is geared specifically to measure that. Stamina, skill, style and class in finding and pointing game are what count. Most of the handlers are professionals, and all of the dogs have won lesser trials.
The shooting bird dog, on the other hand, is a purely practical worker, concerned not only with the birds but also with the hunter for whom he is working. The National Shooting Dog Championship, an amateur stake, is thus designed to test the hunter's dog—the pointing dog who is not necessarily stylish but who knows how to produce birds.
At both Grand Junction and Union Springs, quail is the quarry. The birds are native; they are found in the sedge, lespedeza and pine patches of the South's best upland-game country. At each stake, the dogs are run in braces, two at a time, over a prescribed course, and the number of coveys they point and the way they find and point them determine the ultimate champions.
This year more than 300 owners, handlers and spectators turned out on horseback at Grand Junction to watch the 62nd running of the National Bird Dog Championship. In spite of snow, rain and weather that was generally most untypical of the South, they followed 35 pointers and setters through 10 days of three-hour heats over the 18,000-acre Hobart Ames Plantation. The final victory went to a 7-year-old white-and-liver pointer, Home Again Mike, owned by W. C. Jones of Franklin, Va. and handled by Paul Walker of Farmington, N.C.
In winning, Mike outran and outpointed the leading favorite, 1956 and 1959 national champion Palamonium, who was Handler Clyde Morton's big hope for an unprecedented 12th Grand Junction victory.
In three hours Mike found 19 coveys of quail and handled 18 of them like a champion. He made only one error in an otherwise spectacular race—an error which could have cost him the trial. Mike went on point in a cornfield, but the birds flushed wild and the dog chased after them, a breach of behavior which could have eliminated him. But the over-all quality of his previous work was so outstanding by comparison with that of the other dogs, none of whom completed the three-hour test cleanly, that he was unanimously declared the champion.
At Union Springs another defending champion and equally strong favorite, 1959 National Shooting Dog winner Paladin's Handyman, went down before 5-year-old Storm Harrigan, a white-and-liver pointer owned by Mrs. Donald P. Ross of Wilmington, Del. Harrigan, though still a youngster by field-trial standards, is already a veteran quail dog, with four seasons of actual bird-hunting experience behind him on Mrs. Ross's plantation near Hurtsboro, Ala. However, he had run in only two previous stakes, both at Union Springs, and failed even to qualify at last year's championship.
This time, under the handling of Leroy Upshaw, a Hurtsboro merchant, Harrigan pointed nine coveys of quail in 90 minutes, with the judgment, accuracy and enthusiasm of a first-class gun dog. More than 500 people watched him perform, and at times the mounted gallery stretched a full half mile.
Like the Grand Junction trial, the National Shooting Dog Championship is run on a private estate. L. B. Maytag, who founded the event in 1950, each year turns over the 14,000 acres of his Sedgefields Plantation (SI, Feb. 25, 1957) to its running—and also sees to it that the event is as festive as any similar occasion might have been in the South of ante-bellum days. What with a half ton of barbecued pork, steaming caldrons of Brunswick stew and countless receptions and cocktail parties, it is small wonder that the championship is attended year after year by nearly 1,000 people. "This," said Henry P. Davis, veteran judge of many trials, "is the end result of shooting dog stakes. Here a man brings his dog and runs it or comes to watch while a friend runs it for him. Everyone has a good time, everyone sees great bird work and everyone wants to come back next year."