Friday, April 27, 2012

Field Trial Magazine finds a new home

Pointing Dog Journal Announces New Field Trial Editorial

Field Trial Magazine finds a new home

TRAVERSE CITY, MI — April 26, 2012 — The Pointing Dog Journal, the leading sporting dog magazine in the world since its debut in 1993, is pleased to announce that they will now publish a special field trial section in the magazine.  This new editorial content is the result an agreement with Field Trial Magazine editor and publisher, Craig Doherty and is set to begin with the July/August issue of the magazine.
According to Steve Smith, editor of The Pointing Dog Journal, “I’ve always been impressed with the depth of knowledge that Craig brought to his magazine.  The addition of his section will give PDJ readers a chance to see what I mean by that in every issue.”
Started in 1997, Field Trial Magazine covered a variety of topics related to bird dog field trial competitions: breeding, training, habitat restoration, judging and results and was the enthusiasts go to source for information and entertainment.
That magazine’s founder, Craig Doherty says, “As much as I’m going to miss Field Trial Magazine as a stand-alone publication, I am equally excited about joining with The Pointing Dog Journal to make sure our readers continue to get quality coverage of field trialing and that we will get the opportunity to bring that same message to a wider audience of pointing dog people.”
Craig will provide the content for the new section in PDJ, so his expertise and industry knowledge will continue to be enjoyed by those who already know him and a new audience of pointing dog enthusiasts who will read his work for the first time.
Founded in 1993, The Pointing Dog Journal is devoted to upland hunting enthusiasts who hunt with and train the pointing breeds and is available six times per year by subscription and on newsstand.  It is a publication of Wildwood Press, which also publishes The Retriever Journal and Just Labs magazines.

For more information, please contact
John Roddy    (231) 946-3712 

(I will try to find a new home for Preacher John.  Barring that, I hope to complete the story and post it here and eventually in book form. MAF)

Monday, March 5, 2012


Losing Ground

He hardly stirred until he heard someone out in the kitchen and then smelled coffee brewing.  He looked at the clock to see that it was past eight.  He couldn’t remember the last time he had slept much beyond sunrise and while he’d been gone they’d been getting up in the dark to work dogs or be at a trial when the sun came up.  He looked down and Buster had already gotten up.
Out in the kitchen, he found Jillian, his oldest daughter and Mae’s grandmother, getting some bacon started on the stove.  “Mae wanted to come see Buster.  I hope it’s alright.  I let her take him out in the yard on a leash.  Bobby told me you fixed breakfast every morning at camp, so I thought I’d fix yours today.”  She had filled a coffee cup as she talked and handed it to him.
John started to protest and then accepted the fact that it would do him no good.  All the women in the family shared Etta Mae’s tenacity when they decided to do something, especially when it involved taking care of another member of the family.  “Thank you.”
Next to his place at the table was a small pile of mail, “Johnnie said he’d taken care of everything else and the regular bills were all on auto-pay while you were gone.”
His most recent bank statement was on top.  He opened it and was startled to see his balance.  He had sent some of his purse money to his account while he was gone and the only deductions were for the electric and then small amounts for the phone and cable which were all but turned off while he was gone.  Bobby had not let him pay for anything for the last four months while his Social Security and small pension from the owners of the plantation he had worked for a number of years had been deposited regularly to his account.  He and Etta Mae had lived comfortably but frugally over the years and had always been able to cover their end of Etta Mae’s medical bills.  The house was paid for as was the car in the garage and his pickup down at the kennel.  He’d go to the bank later in the day and transfer some of that to his savings as well as deposit some more of his purse money from Buster.  It still amazed him at the size of the purses that some of the stakes paid out.  Even when allowing for the cost of things nowadays a man with a hot dog could make some serious money.
Mae came in with Buster as Jillian handed him a plate of bacon and eggs with toast on the side.  Mae sat across from him and her grandmother put a plate with a single egg and a strip of bacon in front of her.  She looked at the food, “I already had my first breakfast at home, but Gram promised me bacon and eggs if I was quiet and didn’t wake you up.”
“Well, I just woke up. So you done well. And thank you for walking Buster, he’s not used to sleeping late.”
“Papa John, can I go to a field trial with you sometime and see Buster run?”
“Maybe.  Do you know how to ride?” 
“No. But Gram said you taught her and you might be willing to teach me.”
John looked at Jillian who had learned to ride on the prairies shortly after she learned to walk.  John thought about it.  “While maybe you can come over to Bobby’s with me and we’ll see how things go.”
“Not today.  Buster and I need a couple of days off, but soon.”
She got out of her chair and came around the table and gave John a big hug, “Thanks, Pap.”
The three of them made small talk as John and Mae finished breakfast.  A thought crossed John’s mind, “How come you’re not in school, Mae?”
      “Pap, I’m just in kindergarten and I just go in the afternoon.  My best friend Mary goes in the morning so we only get to play together on the weekends.  But next year when we’re in first grade we’ll be in the same class.”  Mae went on telling John all about kindergarten and how some of the kids in her class don’t even know their letters yet and that she can already print her name.  John half listened as Mae went on with the details of life in kindergarten.  She obviously shared the family propensity for talking about everyone in her life in full detail.
Breakfast finished, Jillian and Mae cleaned up and headed out.  John did an inventory of his refrigerator and cupboards and realized he didn’t need much in the way of food if anything.  He did need to buy some new clothes and a bag of dog food for Buster.  He sat and made a list of errands that included a stop at the coffee shop where all the local dog trainers dropped in at one time or another during the day when they were in town and their employers weren’t.  He took the keys to his truck from the rack by the door and turned to Buster, “Come on.”
They walked together to the kennel and John paused.  It had been his plan to put Buster in his run, but by the time he reached the kennel he decided to take the dog with him and waited with the truck door open for the dog to jump up and over to the passenger seat.  Some place in Alabama claims to be the bird dog capitol of the world, but in Albany, Georgia bird dogs, quail hunting, and field trialing are a part of the fabric of the community.  Many of the locals, as John had when he had left field trials to stay home and care for Etta Mae, work on the plantations of the region in any number of capacities.  The feed stores, tractor dealers, and other retailers all trade with the wealthy owners whose private jets are lined up at the airport during the winter quail season.
His first stop was the bank where John Jr. had worked his way up to become a vice-president.  While he stood in line the manager came out and ushered him into his office, “Mr. John, it’s nice to see you back in town.  Your son told me you’d probably be in this morning.  Is there anything I can do for you?”
“I just need to transfer some money and make a deposit.  I’m sure one of the girls would be happy to help me.”
“It’s no problem.  I can do it right from my terminal.”
John thanked him and handed over an envelope full of cash and a couple of checks, then asked him to transfer some of his money in his checking account to his savings account.  When the bank manager looked at the balance in his savings account his eyebrow raised involuntarily, “You know we’re not paying much in the way of interest right now.  You might want to put some of this where it can earn you a little better return.  I’m sure your son could advise you as to how to invest some of this.”
“I’ll give it some thought.  But I’ve always liked the idea of knowing my money was safe here in the bank.”
“Well, it’s definitely safe with us.”  He paused a moment, “John, says you’ve got yourself a hell of a young dog you’re winning with.”
The bank manager liked to quail hunt and had even had a dog or two with Bobby over the years.  “I’m just working him, a fellow up north owns him.”
“I’d like to see him some time.”
“He’s sitting out in the truck right now.”
The manager stood up, “Let me get you a receipt and then let’s take a look at him.” 
John followed him out to lobby where he handed the envelope to the head teller who handed him the receipt.  He then followed John out to the parking lot where his pickup was parked in the shade with the windows part way down.  When John hit the button to unlock the doors Buster’s head popped up in the passenger seat.  John opened the door and then reached across to the console for the lead he had grabbed at the kennel.  When he snapped it on Buster, the dog ample out onto the pavement and then walked over to the nearest bush.  Done with his business he stood motionless looking at the two men.
The banker looked him over, “I don’t know a dog like you and Bobby, but from what I’ve seen over the years all the really great ones have that inner calmness that you can see in this dog.  That is until you jump on your horse and cut them loose.  He looks a little like that dog you did all the winning with before you came home.”
“He’s bred up pretty close to old Sam if that’s who you mean.”
“Yep, that’s the one.  I can still remember riding his brace at the Masters the second time he won it.  What did he have, six or seven finds and just one hell of a race?”
“It was seven, and Buster here may be all the dog Sam was and then some.”
“If anyone could be fair judge of that it would be you.  While thank you for showing him to me.  I hope to see him run this winter.”
They shook hands and John thanked him for his help with his banking.  At Walmart the greeter was a man he had gone to high school with.  And he also wanted to know about Buster.  He couldn’t leave his post nor could John bring the dog in the store but he invited him to stop by any time.  He went to the clothing department and looked at the jeans.  The price was right for name brand jeans but the material was half the weight of the last jeans Etta Mae had gotten for him.  He left Walmart empty handed and headed for the feed store.
When he walked in the door, he remembered a conversation he’d had with Etta Mae about his jeans from the feed store.  Over in one corner were racks of Carhartt jeans, overalls, shirts, and jackets.  He went up and down the aisles until he found what looked like the same pants he had on.  He grabbed two pairs and then picked out a couple of snap front work shirts to go with them.  He asked the girl behind the counter for a bag of dog food for Buster.
“I’ll have someone bring it out to your truck, Mr. John.”  He looked at her but didn’t recognize her.  She helped him out, “I’m Mary Brown, I went to school with your granddaughter, Carla.  She told me you’d probably be in once you got back to town.”
“Thank you, Mary.”
“You’re welcome and I hope that dog of yours keeps winning.”
John just nodded and was reminded just how small a community he lived in.  He swung by the coffee shop and before he could sit down he was once again out in a parking lot showing off Buster.  The dog was apparently a celebrity in the making in Albany.  John thought it was all a little foolish, but at the same time he was proud of Buster and pleased that the dog was already building a reputation that could only help him in the future.  This revelation made John realize that he had already decide to go as far with Buster as he could.  He wouldn’t quit on the dog, or Bobby, or Buster’s owner, Trey Sutton.
When he put his truck back in the carport he once again looked at Buster’s run and then called the dog as he went up to the house.  Buster curled up on the rug in the living room that he had claimed as his spot while John fixed himself a sandwich.  John thought about taking a nap but he really wasn’t tired.  He turned the TV on and watched the news.  After five minutes of people yelling at each other about the President and the congress he shut it off.  He looked at Buster.  This was the first time since he left for the prairies that he didn’t have something to do and before that he had always had a doctor’s appointment or somewhere else to take Etta Mae. 
Finally he made a decision.  He stood up and looked at the dog, “Let’s go do something worthwhile.”
The dog followed him out the door and down to the kennel where they went into the building.  It took a few minutes but John found a serviceable roading harness and a checkcord.  He then went out to the shed and found the four-wheeler parked just where he’d left it behind the riding mower.  He checked the oil and the gas and then turned the key.  It started right up.  He then started the mower and took it out of the shed.  He pulled the four-wheeler out and then put the mower in the back of the shed.  Buster had watched all this with some interest.  He had been roaded many times by four-wheeler over the summer and began to get excited when John put the harness on him.  John hitched him up fairly close to the rig as the trail behind the house was not wide enough for the dog to do much but run down the middle. They started out slowly and Buster pulled hard.  When they got through the woods behind the house to the power line right-of-way John increased the speed so that Buster was barely pulling, just running in front of the machine.  About twenty minutes out they came to a creep crossing and John stopped to allow Buster to get in the water.  The dog was barely breathing hard, took a couple of sips and then tightened the line.  John went on another ten minutes and then turned around and did the thirty minute return trip.  It had been five days since Buster had run in the last trial but he was still hard and ready to run. 
It was always a balancing act with top field trial dogs.  Work them too much and they got stale, not enough and they lose their edge.  And it varied from dog to dog.  Buster was young and loved to work.  John wasn’t sure how far he could push the dog yet, but was quite sure he would have no trouble stepping it up to run in endurance stakes like the Continental and the National.  When he got back to the kennel, he hosed the mud off of Buster and finally put him in his run.  He wondered what he’d do next.
There were four box stalls attached to the back of the kennel building and he walked around and inspected them.  They had recently been swept out even though there hadn’t been a horse in them for over 20 years.  He had hung on to his horses for a few years after he quit trialing until he realized it was foolish to keep horses that never got ridden.  When he took the job at the plantation, it was just easier to ride one of the plantation horses when he rode with the owners and their guests during hunting season.  He thought about Mae and went into the house.
There were a few old horse trainers in the area that he trusted.  He called them all and told them what he wanted.  A horse that they’d put their own grandchildren on, and possibly a second horse that he could work up into a handler’s horse.  By the time he’d done all that it was early evening.  John fixed himself a plate of leftovers from the fridge and had just sat down at the table when the familiar sound of a diesel pick up rolled into the yard.  He stood and looked out to see Bobby getting out of the truck.
John opened the door, “Did you miss me already?”
“That’s part of it, but we’ve also got a problem?”
John motioned to the table, “You eat yet.”
“Yeah, I went through the drive through at Sonic on the way over.” 
They both sat down and John picked up his forked, “So what’s problem?”
“I’ve lost my training grounds.  The farmer I’ve been leasing from was foreclosed on while we were up North and the plantation next door to him gobbled up the place when it came to auction.  I spent most of the day call around and there’s nothing else nearby.”
“So what are you planning to do?”
“I talked to Trey, and we’re going to South Carolina next week.”
“What do you mean we?  I just got home.”
“Yeah . . . and what did you do today?”
“Ran a few errands, went to the coffee shop, and then I got out the four-wheeler and roaded Buster.”
A grin spread across Bobby’s face, “At least I took the day off. I’m not planning to road the dogs until first thing in the morning.  So, what are you going to do tomorrow?”
“I’m thinking about looking around for a horse for my great-granddaughter.”
“So what are you going to do about working Buster on birds?”
John thought about it and picked at his plate of food.  He had already decided to stick with running the dog for as long as he could.  “I guess were going to South Carolina.”

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Preacher John Part VIII-A

Losing Ground

As summer faded to fall, Bobby, John, and Mack worked their way southward hitting a number of trials along the way.  Buster and a couple of the other young dogs stayed hot in derby stakes.  However, Bobby’s adult dogs had hit a drought and with each passing trial Bobby became more anxious.  The dogs were running well but just not getting the breaks you need to win.  Sal (Rebel Girl), at the last trial, looked like she was finally going to get the first place placement she needed to qualify for the National, but they lost her on point at the 50 minute mark and finally called for the tracker when the judges had waited the obligatory time at the end of the brace.
      Buster continued to impress everyone who saw him.  He instinctively adjusted to the changing cover as they moved further away from the prairies where he had left behind a trail of victories.  Bobby convinced John to keep running him in the all age stakes at the qualifiers in hopes the young phenom would also join the elite ranks of the dogs qualified to run at Ames in February, but that needed first place remained elusive for Buster.  When they finally reached Georgia the three men, their dogs, and the horses all needed some time off.  They went to Bobby’s first where John helped them unload and get everyone settled in.
      They pulled into Bobby’s late one afternoon in early October and the three men immediately went to work cleaning out the kennels that had been vacant for going on four months.  The horses were turned out into a pasture with grass up to their bellies, and they rolled and cavorted before settling down to graze.  John had taught Bobby long ago that an all age handler is only as good as his horses and the three of them had made sure that the horses were as fit as the dogs.  They were fully fleshed out with rippling muscles and shining coats.  When they asked a horse to step up to find a dog, they never had to worry about their mounts.  But even the horses would benefit from a break.  By early evening all was squared away and John was ready for a ride to his house on the other side of town.
      John knew he had to go home.  He wanted to see his family and he was worried about the house that had been vacant since he had left in July for the prairies.  He felt guilt at leaving it behind without Etta Mae to take care of it.  He knew John Jr. and the girls probably never let a day go by without at least one of them stopping by.  But guilt was not that easy to assuage.   He felt Etta Mae looking over him even from the grave, and, as he had for his entire adult life, he didn’t want to do anything that would cause her to think less of him in any way.  He knew all this was irrational, and besides, Etta Mae would have loved to have made one more trip to their old summer camp as she had when the kids were little.  But it was time to go home.  He would still go to some trials with Bobby and continue to work Buster when they were at home. 
John threw his one bag into the back seat of the dually and opened the front passenger door.  Bobby got in the driver’s seat and turned to John before starting the engine, “Aren’t you forgetting something?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“What about Buster?”
John paused before answering, “I figured he’d stay here with the rest of the dogs.”
“How’s he going to sleep next to your bed if he’s in my kennel?”
“What’s he going to do at my place?”
“Whatever you want him to.  And you can bring him over to my grounds to work him.”
John thought about arguing with Bobby about the fact that he was too old for all this, but realized he felt as good as he’d felt in years.  The daily grind of working dogs and traveling to field trials didn’t exactly make him feel young again, but he had to admit that he was able to keep up, and he still loved the game.  He felt the same thrill when he rode over a rise and saw Buster standing in the distance, the call of point, the charge of the judges and gallery behind him as they cantered to the dog, the flush of the birds, and the shot of the gun.  Even the smell of the black powder from the blank cartridge added to the moment. 
Then there was the anticipation of the announcements when they thought Buster or one of the other dogs had done well enough to earn a placement.  It all still felt good and with Etta Mae gone he really didn’t have anything else to do.  He sure as heck wasn’t going down to Wally World and get a job as greeter as a couple of his old friends had done.  Besides, every time he had one of these debates with Bobby over the summer and early fall he had lost.  It was time to just accept the fact that for a while anyway he was going to be a dog trainer again even if he only had the one dog.  He got out of the truck and went over to the kennel they had put Buster in and opened the door.  Buster sauntered out, peed on the front wheel, and then waited for John to open the back door of the truck.  John obliged and the dog hopped up, used John’s bag for a pillow and was asleep before Bobby had the big diesel rumbling down the lane towards the highway that led to the other side of Albany.
It was almost eight o’clock when they pulled up in front of John’s house.  There were a number of cars in the yard and every light in the house was on.  He had told John Jr. he’d be home today, but he didn’t expect them all to be waiting for him.  As Bobby shut off the truck, a gaggle of the younger grandchildren and great-grandchildren came tumbling out of the kitchen door.  They were soon hugging him as tears welled up in his eyes.  One of the youngest girls, Mae, saw Buster in the back seat and recognized him from the pictures her mother had shown her in the The Field as the reports of the prairie trials had appearred.  She wanted to let him out.
John took a lead from the front seat and handed it to her.  With the help of one of her bigger male cousins they got the back door of the truck open and the lead snapped on Buster.  Buster took one look at the diminutive girl on the other end of his leash and carefully climbed out of the truck. 
“Mae, walk him around the yard for a minute before you bring him into the house.”   John looked at her cousin, Billy, and the boy nodded, knowing that it was his job to keep an eye on both Mae and Buster.  Buster, who could put a strain on a thousand pound horse when in his roading harness never let the slack out of the lead as Mae led him around the yard.
John grabbed his bag and another one of the boys offered to take it into the house for him.  John handed the bag to him and then with grandchildren and great-grandchildren fore and aft navigated his way into the kitchen where his children, their spouses, more grandchildren, and great-grandchildren were waiting for him.  Everyone wanted a hug except for a few of the older boys who were parked in front of the TV in the living room as they watched Monday Night Football.  All the adults and older children knew Bobby well and he was greeted as the honorary member of the family he had been since John had first taken him on as a helper on the prairies all those years ago. When Mae and Billy came in with Buster, he got a welcome that was almost as effusive as the one John had received. 
There were tons of food, as there always was in Etta Mae’s kitchen, and John caught himself looking to the stool she usually sat on to direct traffic as her daughters and daughters-in-law did the actual cooking that she was unable to do in the last few years of her life, but she was not there.  Her time here on earth had ended in March and he hoped she was in the heaven that she had so fervently believed in her entire life.  John had never been able to make that leap, but his doubts did not negate her faith. 
It was after 10 before the last of his family had hugged him and Buster and headed to their own homes scattered around town.  When the last car left the yard he let Buster out and wandered around the big backyard for a few minutes while the dog explored his new domain.  John went over to the kennel to see how much work he’d need to do in the morning to make a place for Buster.  When he flipped on the light, he was surprised to seen the kennel was spotless with fresh bedding in the barrel in the first run.  He looked in the carport next to the kennel and his pickup truck had been recently washed.  It made him feel good to be back in the bosom of his family whose love he felt and shared.
John’s usual bedtime while he had been at camp and on the road with Mack and Bobby had long passed when he and Buster finally made it to the bedroom.  Buster, as he had done at camp and in motels from Canada to Georgia, curled up on the rug next to the bed as the old man crawled under the fresh sheets and turned out the light.  As he did many nights he dreamed of the big liver and white dog as he ran across the prairies questing ever further to the front in search of birds.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Preacher John Part 7-B

Home Cooking
Part VII B
There was plenty to be unhappy about in the draw.  There were 30 dogs in the all-age and 20 in the derby.  The grounds had a continuous course that would barely accommodate four one hour braces and the first course was far and away the strongest as far as cover and the ability to show a dog.  The local pro had a dog in every brace of both stakes and from what Bobby remembered of his dogs his best two, which were decent bird dogs, had the first course in the morning on both days.  Of the eight dogs they had entered none of Bobby’s dogs drew course one with the exception of Buster who would have it in the afternoon of the second day in the thirteenth brace.  This was good for Buster, but he had also drawn the first brace of the derby and would have to return to the line a couple of hours later.
      As John looked over the draw sheet, Bobby asked, “What do you want to do about Buster?”
      John knew exactly what he meant and looked down at talked as he answered, “If we think this dog has what it takes to run in the endurance stakes, I guess it won’t hurt him any to go out for an extra half hour.”
      Bobby looked at Mack who nodded in agreement and posed the question, “What do you think about the draw?”
      “It is what it is, Bobby.  It’s like I told you long ago, all we can do is bring a dog to the line and do what we can to help it while it’s in judgment.  The rest is out of our control.  If you’re trying to say you don’t think you got a fair draw then all you can do is not support this trial next year. “
      “I know, I know, and I told myself last year I wouldn’t come back here.  But it’s almost directly on our route home and last year I qualified Tort Reform here.  I guess they’re doing their best to make sure I don’t qualify another dog this year.”
      John looked at him hard until Bobby looked away, “If they messed with the draw last year, and you came back again this year you only got what you deserved.”
      “Yeah, but that man makes some darn good chili.”
      “It was good, but we still may get more out of this than a free meal.  You got to believe in your dogs.”
      Bobby got up to head to his own room, “I believe in our dogs but that doesn’t save them from some serious home cooking.”
      In the morning, the three Georgians had hooded sweatshirts under their Carhartt jackets and gloves on their hands.  Although the temperature would climb near 70 in the afternoon it was in the low 40s as they got in the truck and headed to the grounds.  The routine of tending to the dogs and tacking up the horses required little talk between the three men as they each had specific tasks.  Mack quickly had three horses tied to the trailer, checked their feet, and then began brushing and saddling the horses.  Bobby took the two dogs that were drawn in the third and fourth braces of the first morning and put them on the dog truck.
      The morning was already warming now that the sun was fully up and Mack agreed to stay at the trailer and let the dogs stay out on the chains.  Bobby and John joined the gallery at the breakaway for the first brace.  The local pro was braced with an amateur with a dog that was straining at the lead to get away.  When they were turned loose the dog did just that and was not seen again until after the handler called for his tracking receiver 25 minutes later.   The pro’s dog lined out at a 45 degree angle from the course and went directly to a distant gully where he slowed and then disappeared into the brush.  The pro immediately raised his hat and headed for where the dog had last been seen.  The judge and most of the gallery peeled off and headed towards the spot.  When they were about halfway there the dog popped out of the gully a 100 yards from where it had disappeared. 
      The pro yelled and the dog broke towards them as they all headed back to the course.  The dog then went to the next birddy looking spot showing its familiarity with the grounds.  It was an uninspiring hour on the ground that was somewhat redeemed with four goods finds.  The next brace was even worse with both the pro’s and the amateur’s dog lost before the halfway point.  In the third brace Bobby put down one of his promising first year all-age dogs that was braced with another of the pro’s dogs.  Both dogs ran respectable races with Bobby’s dog getting the edge on the ground.  The only bird work was a divided find that both pros felt should have been theirs. 
      In the fourth brace both dogs went birdless.  After lunch they started out at the same spot, but in the heat of the day the pro’s dog came up with only one find.  The bracemate carded a back.  Birds continued to be scarce as the afternoon progressed.  Both of Bobby’s dogs were birdless in the second and third braces.  On the last brace of the day the pro’s dog had two finds.  Sal would have the fourth brace in the morning and Bobby felt he could show her well and she would have a chance at birds.  Buster would obviously have the best course but at a tough time of day.
      A steak fry was the activity at the clubhouse on Saturday night and those who had not ridden the afternoon braces had started into the beer and whisky early.  The pro’s dog in the first brace was named day dog to no one’s surprise, but Bobby saw it as a very beatable performance.  After the dogs and horses were fed, Mack, John, and Bobby joined the others for a steak.  The pro was holding court and the three outsiders were pretty much ignored.  Bobby still had three dogs to run plus Buster.  He was hopeful that one or more of them would get it right.  He was always optimistic, at least until the announcements were made.
      The first brace the next morning saw the pro’s dog mirror his other good dog from the morning before.  The only difference was she came up short one bird with three finds.  Bobby’s dog in the third brace torched the course but went birdless.  This brought them to Sal.  Bobby still had another first year dog in the afternoon but Sal was his best chance.  And she didn’t let him down.  In the previous 11 braces, no dog had put down what Bobby and John believed was a true all-age race and had any bird work.  Sal broke away like her tail was on fire and only stopped twice for two scouted finds.  There was a lot of scowling and mumbling in the gallery as the brace finished back at the clubhouse.  Bobby felt good. 
      After lunch it was Buster’s turn.  Some of the older men complimented Preacher John on his success with Buster over the summer.  The pro mounted his horse and never looked at John who had handed Buster to Bobby who would scout the dog.  When they let them go it was a race.  The pro’s dog stayed with Buster for about five minutes before he slowed a step and was left behind.  Buster drifted to the right side of the course and showed far to the front every few minutes.  This was what the all-age was supposed to be about — a thrilling dog on the ground questing independently to the front on that long thin string that would guide him to the front as the course swung one way or the other.  By the 20 minute mark Bobby had his horse in a full lather as he galloped to the far flung edges trying to help John keep track of the dog.
      At 22, Bobby popped on a small hill far to the right of the course and raised his hat.  The pro, one judge, and his loyalist customers in the gallery went forward, the rest followed John as he loped his horse towards Bobby.  When they reached the height of land, Bobby pointed and they could all see Buster standing high and tight on the edge of a patch of small wild sunflowers in a small wash.  John and Bobby were soon off their horses and they could see Buster’s loose upper lip fluttering as he inhaled and exhaled the intoxicating scent.  When John stepped into the sunflowers, a covey of wild quail rocketed out.  The dog hadn’t seen a wild quail since he’d been allowed to chase them in Georgia the previous winter.  John went back to the dog full of pride and admiration for his young charge.  He collared him and handed him off to Bobby.  Once John was back on his horse, Bobby let him go.  Buster’s innate desire to be in the front, that burning competitive drive, kicked in and he was off with afterburners in full burn.  John, the judge, Bobby, and a few members of the gallery galloped after him but couldn’t keep up.
      It would take them a few minutes to catch the forward party and Buster was already well past them.  As John slowed his horse to a walk he turned to the other judge, “My dog up here?”
      The judge hesitated and looked at the pro who was riding in front but turned for the answer, “He came through, but I’m watching the other dog and I’m not sure where he went.”
      John settled in next to the other handler as he said, “I’m sure he’ll show.”
      Mack had stayed with the forward gallery and pointed to the right side of the gallery.  He was the only friendly face in the crowd.  Bobby swung out to the right as everyone else went forward.  They rode forward into the second half of the hour with Buster’s bracemate showing every minute or two.  John was confident in his dog, that he was to the front, but as the time passed and Buster hadn’t shown he began to worry that they might have ridden by him on point.  He could see Bobby off to the right checking the brushy spots for the dog.
      Just before the 40 minute mark the pro raised his hat as his dog was crossing the front and then slowed into a point.  Everyone charged forward, although it was only a couple hundred yards.  When they got close, they could see Buster in the edge of the cover locked up regally.  John and the pro were quickly off their horses and John went in front of Buster.  He had to go 50 feet in front of him before a cock pheasant cackled out.  John fired his blank gun and to his surprise so did the pro.  John wasn’t sure if he was trying to mess with Buster or trying to claim a divided find — most likely both.  It didn’t matter to Buster as he stayed high and tight waiting for John to lead him away from the find.
      Buster was raring to go, but Bobby had taken the water jug from his saddle and made Buster stand while they attempted to get him to drink some water.  Bobby poured some on him.  It was more a reminder to Buster that they were there and in charge than any thought that the dog needed water as the temperature had barely reached 70 and the humidity was quite low — a beautiful day to be following bird dogs.  With less then 15 minutes left in the brace Buster once again was off with the same speed and enthusiasm he had shown at the breakaway.  He showed twice more well to the front and at time could be seen crossing from left to right.  John and Bobby went after him and soon had him in the harness and headed back to the dog truck.
      Once Buster was in a box John grabbed a bottle of water out of the cooler where the judge was sitting on the tailgate waiting for Bobby to get his final dog ready to go.  The judge hesitated and then spoke to John without looking him in the eye, “That’s a real nice young dog you got there, Mr. John.  It’s too bad he couldn’t dig out another bird or two.”
      John was dumbstruck and the only thing he could do was nod to the man.   He almost went over to Bobby who had told him as they rounded up Buster that he figured Buster was winning, Sal was second, and the dog the pro ran in the first brace a distant third.  John agreed but had reminded him that not everyone saw things the way they did and the judge was obviously using the bird count as his primary criteria.
      Bobby picked up at the 30 minute mark as his dog was birdless and wasn’t having a race to compare to Buster and Sal.  The pro did the same.  The last brace went the hour but it wasn’t pretty as both dogs faded hard in the second half and were watered frequently.  The handlers would have probably picked up had they not had a divided find on a brood of sharptails 10 minutes into the brace.  They would hold the announcements until they got back to the clubhouse.  The trial chairmen figured they had enough course and time left, due to the early pick up in the second afternoon brace to get three braces of derbies run.
      Buster was in the first brace and had not lost a step from having already run an hour.  For 26 minutes he flashed across the distant front ever farther as he hunted a course that had not produced a bird in three earlier braces.  At the 30 minute mark the call of point came from the far left side of the course as Bobby rode onto the top of a small hill with his hat held high.  It was a repeat of his other two finds with the dog posed perfectly next to a small bluff.  The only difference was this time a brood of sharptails blew out giving Buster the trifecta of the birds to be found on the grounds.  Bobby had dogs in the next two braces with the one in the last brace going beyond the clubhouse to point a pheasant on the beginning of the first course.  Their three derbies looked good with Buster giving the strongest performance.
      Once the dog truck was unloaded, the trial chairman gave three long blasts on his whistle and shouted, “Placements!”
      Soon everyone was gathered around the table that had been set up in front of the clubhouse with a dog food company banner, bags of dog food, ribbons, and a trophy.  The chairman went through the usual thanking of the judges, the dog truck driver, the handlers, the land owner, and finally got to the placements, “In third place, Buster with Mr. John.”
      John stepped forward and tried to put his best face on.  It would count as one of the two placements that Buster needed for the National, but he still needed a first.  He took the ribbon which he’d send to Trey Sutton, Buster’s owner, and the check which he’d use to pay some of his own expenses as they went down the road.  To the surprise of many the dog that had three finds in the first brace that morning was named second.  There was still hope for Sal, but John knew that the dog with four finds in the first brace the day before would be getting the placement as the judges were obviously using the number of finds to spice up their home cooking.
      The air went out of Bobby when they announced the dog with four finds as the winner.  As the pro walked back to the table he turned to Bobby, “See you in Grand Junction.”
      Bobby just turned and walked away.  He went back to the trailer and finished taking the saddle off his horse and wiping him down before hitching him to his stakeout and giving him his evening grain.  The three of them finished the chores and then went over to the clubhouse for fried chicken.  Many of the locals had gone home and it was a small group that gathered for dinner.  It was also a quiet group.  Bobby had already congratulated John when they made the announcement and didn’t say a word as the three of them ate in silence.  They talked of the derby on the way back to town and what they had left to run in the morning.
            There were a very few people on the grounds in the morning.  The derby turned out as they expected with Buster winning and two of Bobby’s derbies in second and third.  Shortly after lunch they were headed down the road to a championship that started on Wednesday.  John called Trey on Bobby’s cell phone to give him the derby results and as the field trial grounds faded away in the side mirrors of the truck Bobby turned to John and shook his head, “I hate home cooking.”

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Preacher John Part VII - A Home Cooking

The time came to leave the prairie camp behind.  It had been a great summer for Bobby Pickett and his string of dogs.  Rebel Yell, on his way to winning the Prairie Award, qualified for the National that summer.  His littermate Rebel Girl, who they called Sal, only needed a second qualifying placement as she had won the last championship they’d run.  Two other dogs on the string, Tort Reform, a dog that belonged to a lawyer from Chicago, and Sub Prime, owned by a developer from Atlanta who was almost underwater himself, had qualified in the spring.  There were other dogs in Bobby’s string that had the potential but just weren’t quite there yet.  Four dogs in the National would give him a good chance to hit that magical moment in February when the weather in West Tennessee cooperated and the birds at Ames were out on the edges feeding.  And then there was Buster.
      Bobby had brought his mentor, who had been called Preacher John back in the day when he’d been one of the top all-age trainers on the circuit, north for the summer.  John had quit field trialing when he was 50 to stay close to home after his wife had a stroke.  Now 25 years later his wife, Etta Mae, had passed and Bobby had convinced John to return to the prairies with him for the summer and had gotten him to work with Buster.  Under John’s tutelage, Buster had become the hottest derby on the prairie and had come very close to winning a championship.  Bobby tried to look at Buster objectively without the emotions he felt for John, for Buster, and for Trey Sutton who had saved Buster from going to another trainer.  When he stepped away from all that, he still came to the same conclusion.  Buster was the best young dog he’d ever had on his string — maybe the best prospect he’d ever seen.  He knew a lot could happen along the way — an injury, snakebite, a desire to hunt porcupines, a different owner, and many other things could cause Buster’s career to go awry — but with a few breaks Buster could be a great one.  As he analyzed it he knew that John was responsible for making all the right moves with Buster and would be critical to the dog’s future.  Some dogs didn’t care who blew the whistle on the horse behind them, but Buster was one of those dogs that feed off the bond felt with a trainer.  In Bobby’s mind the real hurdle for Buster was making sure that John stayed around long enough to help the dog realize his potential.
      Bobby really didn’t know what to expect from a 75 year old man: his own father had died young and in many ways John had been the father figure in his life when he had first brought him north all those years ago.  The return to the prairies and the success with Buster was just a down payment on what Bobby felt he owned John.  And now he was talking about going home.  They were packed up and ready to head out in the morning to go to a small qualifying stake to the south.  As John, Bobby, and Mack, John’s scout and full time assistant, sat around the dinner table in the old farmhouse that had originally been leased by John almost 50 years ago, John seemed distracted as he pushed the food around on his plate and half-heartedly ate a few bites. 
      “You feeling alright?”  Bobby asked with genuine concern.
      “I’m fine.” The old man said to his food.
      “Then what’s bugging you?”
      “I’m just wondering how I’m going to get home.”
      “We’ll get there. We just got some trials to go to along the way.”
      “I came for the summer on the prairies.  It seems like summer’s over and I should get back to Georgia.”
      “What’s your rush?”
      “Bobby, it was real special of you to bring me up here, but you don’t need to be taking care of me while you’re on the road.”
      “Seems like you pretty much took care of yourself this summer.  You pulled your weight and then some.”
      “Yeah but. . .”
      “But nothing, John. What are you going to do at home?  Besides, what happens to Buster if you leave?  Are you planning to take him with you?”
      “No.  I figured you’d take over from here on out.”
      “I don’t think he’ll do for me what he does for you.  Trey may own him, but he’s your dog and you know it.  You can’t just up and leave him.”
      “Bobby, I love you like you were one of my own children, but I’m 75 years old and I’m well beyond the time when I could live out of a suitcase and eat diner food every night.”
      “How do you know?”
      “What do you mean?”
      “Look, John, we can argue this all night, but we’ve got a long drive tomorrow to get to the next field trial grounds.  I’ll make a deal with you.  You come along on the road with us and if at anytime you’ve had enough I’ll drive you to the nearest airport and buy you a ticket to Albany.”
      John didn’t answer right away.  He thought about the summer.  The joy he had felt riding good horses and watching great dogs.  The camaraderie of working dogs with Bobby and Mack and the excitement of running Buster and seeing what he was becoming.  It really did come down to the dog.  Buster had given everything John had asked of him and now John had to make a commitment of his own.
      He looked at Bobby and held his stare for a long moment before he spoke, “You knew back on the first day we got here that it would come to this.” Bobby started to answer as he fought the grin on his face, “Don’t even bother to come up with some slick story.  I’ll ride along and see what comes of it.  But I’m holding you to your offer.  If I say enough, you put me on a plane home.”
      Bobby looked at Mack who had also grown fond of Preacher John and they grinned at each other, “Deal.” Bobby stuck out his hand and John shook it.
      John excused himself from the table and went out to the kennel as he did every night after dinner and let Buster out in the yard.  When the dog had done his business, the two of them headed back into the house where Buster went to his spot on the rug between the couch and the TV.  The three men talked a little about the upcoming trial and which dogs they were going to enter.  As this was not a championship, but still a qualifier for the National, Bobby planned to leave out the three dogs that were already qualified.  He would run Rebel Girl and some of the other all-age dogs on the string along with his derbies.  He convinced John to run Buster in both the derby and the all-age.  Bobby looked down at his list of entries and pulled out his cell phone.  John got up and headed to his room with Buster following.  As he got ready for bed, John looked down at the dog curled up on the rug in his room and before he turned out the light he said, “I’m going to stick with you a little longer, Buster, but if I can’t keep up on the road, Bobby’s going to have to take over for me.  I’ll give it my all if you will.”
      The dog had raised his head and listened attentively.  John felt the dog understood almost everything he said to him, but he was never sure if he was going to pay attention.  This was part of the thrill of running a big going all-age derby.  You never knew for sure when he went over the next hill if you’d find him standing his birds or long gone out on his own.  There was the time earlier in the summer when just before time Buster had disappeared to the front only to be found a few miles away chasing waterfowl out of the shallows of a lake.  There needs to be a long string between an all-age dog and its handler, it needs to be thinner than on a lot of the other circuits and it could break at any moment.  This was why those who understood it loved the all-age — being on the edge.  The margin between winning and gone-over-the-hill was always razor thin.
      In the morning they loaded up the dogs, horses, and their travel bags.  Everything else had been packed up the day before.  The four-wheeler had been stowed in one of the sheds.  Bobby made a final check of everything as Mack and John cleaned and washed the kennels for the last time until next summer.  They had come north with 32 dogs and 6 horses.  Over a dozen of the dogs had already been sent back.  Some were plantation dogs that Bobby had worked for the summer, others were field trial hopefuls that didn’t make the string.  They were left with 10 shooting dogs and 7 derbies to go on the road with.  Other pros carried more, but Bobby had learned long ago from John that quality beat quantity almost all of the time. 
      When they pulled out in the morning, Bobby was behind the wheel with John in the passenger seat.  Mack and Buster were in the back seat.  As the big dually ate up the miles, the three men talked of the grounds they were going to.  It was a good size ranch with some crop fields, CRP, and lots of range land.  It was pretty much a regional trial and according to the trial chairman, Bobby would be the only major circuit pro there.  It was in a transitional zone that was still far enough north for pheasants and sharptails, yet far enough south to provide a chance on a covey or two of quail.  The grounds weren’t as wide open as the northern prairie venues but there was plenty of room for a true all-age dog to run.  The only thing that worried Bobby was the judges for the all-age were both local guys and customers of the one pro in the region.  The local pro wouldn’t be running the judge’s dogs, but he had plenty of others that he’d put down for them to look at.  If that wasn’t enough home cooking, the grounds were leased by the pro who trained on them in the summer and guided hunters there during the bird season.
      Bobby hadn’t shared all this with John and Mack, but it was enough that he had seriously thought about skipping the trial.  He hoped that Buster, Sal, or one of the other dogs he had entered would shine enough that they could not be denied a placement.  He wasn’t as worried about the derby: the judges for that were men he’d run under in the past and above reproach, and besides all the derbies that were still with him had at least placed over the summer and were now qualified to run in most championships when they were ready.  It was Buster and Sal that he worried about.  The National was still months away but the time would fly by as they tried to get both dogs qualified.  Not many derbies have run at the National and few have shined in the three hour endurance stake, usually the victims of their own youthful exuberance, but he knew if they could get Buster there he just might be the exception.  It was the one trial that John had failed to win in the 30 years he had been on the circuit.  It would be a heck of an accomplishment for a 75 year old man to do it with a dog that wasn’t yet three.
      When they arrived at the grounds they ran out their chains and got the dogs out and watered them.  The horses were each led over to a water trough and then staked out in the field around the trailer.  All the animals were fed and left to relax while the three men walked over to the old bunkhouse that had been fixed up over the years to be used as a clubhouse.  The trial chairman shook their hands and invited them to have a bowl of chili that he had made for the evening meal. 
      This was the annual party for the locals and it had started well before Bobby, Mack, and John had arrived.  One of the revelers came over to the table as the three of them were finishing their chili.  He held a copy of the draw sheet in his hand and looked down at it and then at Bobby, “Aren’t we good enough for your ‘A’ team?”
      Bobby thought about not answering the man.  There was no right answer here.  It was obvious to everyone why he left out the dogs that were already qualified for the National and to wave the draw sheet in front of him and ask the question was just intentional belligerence fueled by too much alcohol.  He wanted to tell the man what to do with his attitude and his draw sheet.  In fact in his younger days he would have been happy to stuff the paper into the guy’s mouth, but that was then.  This time he just smiled up at the guy and said, “My customers decide which trials their dogs are entered in, I just run ‘em.”
      That left the guy speechless for a moment.  He had come for at least an argument.  He looked at Mack and Preacher John and couldn’t see any use in trying to provoke them.  He turned to leave, then stopped and looked back down at Bobby who was spooning up the last bite of his dinner, “Let me tell you, Mr. High and Mighty big time pro, we got some damn fine bird dogs around here and they’ll show yours how it’s done.”
      “If they do, it won’t be the first time I’ve been beat, and it will definitely not be the last.”  It was not what he really wanted to say, but that really didn’t matter.  It had taken Bobby a long time to reach the understanding that all that mattered was the time between “let ‘em go” and “pick ‘em up.”
      After the guy weaved back to his table full of drinkers, they finished their meals and went out to the trialer.  The horses and dogs were used to the routine.  The horses would be fine on the stakeouts for the night but the dogs always went back in the trailer and the doors to their kennels locked.  Buster was the exception; he would ride into town and sleep on the floor next to John’s bed.  There were enough stories of dead or sick dogs left out on the chains that most pros kept their dogs locked up at night.  It was after dark before they reached the motel in town and it would be very early when they headed back to the grounds to get ready for the day’s running.  Bobby followed Mack and John into their room with the draw sheet.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Preacher John Part VI-B

Part VI-B
      As they picked up the dogs, one of the judges rode over to the Kentuckian and said something.  The handler started cussing and everyone heard him tell the judge that the last find was clearly a divided find.  The judge wasn’t about to argue as he knew the man well.  He turned his horse and rode over to break away the next brace.  Three more braces ran before lunch with no more birds pointed.  The judges decided to take a long break in hopes that the heat of the day would dissipate.  This would put Buster in the last brace of the afternoon and the birds might be moving by the end of it.  As they stood around under the awnings of the trailers that had them, everyone talked about the “divided” find.  Many agreed they wouldn’t name a runner-up if the big, white dog was all they had for second at the end of the trial.  Bobby stayed out of it.  Judges rarely withheld placements and there were still lots of good dogs to run. 
      When the judges finally called for the next brace, there was little relief from this last blast of summer.  The only consolation was that a gentle breeze was rippling the short grass prairie.  Bobby and Luce rode at the back of the small gallery and talked.  Well, mostly Luce talked and Bobby listened which was fine by both of them.  She asked a lot of questions about the dogs and the different handlers’ styles.  Some were loud, others raced all over the place trying to keep track of their dogs.  Others just rode along and pointed out their dog from time to time which was the way Bobby had handled Girl in the first brace and the other two dogs he had in the morning.  He had one more in the second brace after lunch and then two tomorrow with Rebel Yell in the final brace.  The handlers picked up at the 40 minute mark with no birds and both dogs letting down a little in the heat.  Bobby hoped his brace would go the hour if for no other reason than to allow Buster to run later in the day.
      When his brace started the temperature had reached its highest point of the day and already the shadows were getting longer.  The ground was baked hard and the dogs were followed by a small cloud of dust that quickly blew away in the breeze.  He lasted until the 45 minute mark when his bracemate picked up.  He knew his dog wasn’t making any money.  If he didn’t pick up as well it would become obvious what he was trying to do which might count against Buster.  He signaled to Mack and his dog was soon in the harness.  The marshal radioed for the dog truck which arrived within a few minutes.  Just about everyone grabbed a bottle of water from the truck in hopes of staying hydrated.  John got Buster out and tried to get him to drink.  When he would have none of it John led him over to the water trough, threw him in and said whoa.  Buster just stood there until John called him out and led him to the line.  Bobby was torn between having Mack scout and riding in the gallery with Luce or scouting himself and helping John.  Luce saw the conflict on his face and told him she’d rather talk to Mack as Bobby wouldn’t be very good company if he was worrying about John and Buster.
      Bobby took Buster and led him to the line.  The Kentuckian he had been braced with in the morning was scouting this brace and, he avoided the usual courtesy of wishing John and Bobby good luck.  They broke them away and Buster took off like the temperature was below 50 instead of over 90.  He was soon a distant speck on the horizon.  It worried John that his old eyes wouldn’t be able to pick out the dog in this big country.  But he and Buster had a connection that was more than visual and he always seemed to be looking in the right spot when Buster would show on a distant hill or come out of the head of a draw.  Bobby soon had his horse in a full lather as he tried to stay in position to help the wide ranging pointer.  The other handler rode next to John and sang the whole time even though no one had seen his dog since about the five minute mark and his scout had gone MIA as well. 
      Buster never slowed: he just kept eating up the prairie as he ranged further and further in search of a bird.  The gallery was buzzing and the judges were sitting up in their saddles as they stayed close behind John.  Buster made a big move to the right side of the course and Bobby shadowed him.  John could see Bobby and let his dog hunt, He’d let him run back to North Dakota if he could find a bird there – it wasn’t all that far as the crow flew or the all age dog ran.  John saw him go over a distant hill and reined in his horse.  The course was starting to turn away from Buster.  The other handler started to ride away but neither judge followed him and he stopped.   A minute passed and then two.  John had faith in Bobby and in his dog.  They would show soon or Bobby would ride to the high ground and call point.
      Bobby finally spotted Buster standing in a distant draw and then he saw something that made him sick to his stomach as the other scout saw the dog and not Bobby and practically rode over the dog as he flushed the birds and went on.  Bobby yelled.  The man looked up, surprised, and then rode on.  Bobby went to Buster and reassured him that he had done nothing wrong.  He watered him, put him in heel, and loped back to the course.  When Buster saw John and the rest of the field trial party he kicked into overdrive and blew by them to the front as though the hour was just starting.   When time was called, Buster was crossing from right to left on a distant ridge line looking like he could run the rest of the day and into the night if they’d only let him.  When John got on his whistle and rode for him, Buster reluctantly came to him.  Most likely the dog was thinking how an hour stake was more than twice the fun of a half hour stake.  He was obviously a dog that would not have any problem with the endurance stakes if he was given the opportunity.
      When Buster was back on the dog truck, they all rode into the headquarters and the beer and cookout that was to be the Saturday night entertainment.  Bobby didn’t say anything to anyone about what had happened.  He figured this was between him and Mr. Big Shot Amateur.  There may have been a time when that sort of cutthroat practice was a part of the game but all the pros had too much riding on each and every performance to mess with another handler’s dog.  They were already feeding the dogs when Buster’s bracemate was finally rounded up and the handler and scout rode into camp. 
      Bobby excused himself from the chores and walked over to the big man on his big horse.  He planted himself squarely in front of his horse, “I would like to have a word with you.”
      “I got nothing to say to you, sonny.” The man spurred his horse and attempted to ride right over Bobby.
      Bobby grabbed the reins and spun the horse to his left.  At the same time he grabbed the man’s ankle and dumped him out of the saddle.  He landed with a thud and the air rushed out of him.
      Bobby let the horse go and leaned down in the man’s face and spoke in a low even tone, “If you ever interfere with a dog that comes off my truck again, you can expect more than just a humiliating fall off your horse.”  The man started to get up and Bobby put a boot on his chest and held him down. “Am I making my self clear to you?”
      “Fuck you.” The man gasped when he finally had enough air in his lungs to speak.
      “I wouldn’t expect you to say anything else.”  Bobby walked away feeling good about himself. 
      The man dusted himself off and looked around for a sympathetic face.  Everyone knew Bobby, and pretty much knew what the man would have had to do to get Bobby mad enough to accost him.  Many of them would have just waited to get even, but none of them would have let it slide.  The amateur had no allies in this crowd.  Even the man he was scouting for had been surprised when he had been told what had happened.  He told another handler what the man had done and soon everyone at the trial knew the story.  What they wanted most was to beat the man’s dog that was still in the second position.  Had Buster gotten credit for his find, Girl would most likely have moved to runner-up and the big white dog would be an also ran.
      Bobby was fine once he had confronted the man and said his piece.  The only awkward part of the rest of the evening was when it became apparent that Luce had more on her mind than a final glass of wine when she invited Bobby into her room again.  In the morning Mack and John were up at the usual time and started walking the dogs.  When Bobby and Lucinda still hadn’t shown up when they were finished they walked across the parking lot to the diner and ordered breakfast.  John took a table by the window where he could see the motel and smiled as he tapped Mack on the arm when Bobby came sneaking out of Lucinda’s room.  Bobby looked around and then at his watch.  He walked over to the diner and told John and Mack he’d meet them out at the grounds as Lucinda was going to bring her car out and leave from there late that afternoon.  Mack just nodded and John smiled quietly which made Bobby blush.
      By the time they had the dogs on the stakeouts and the horses saddled Lucinda’s Mercedes SUV came rolling into the grounds.  Nothing was said.  They were all adults, and John was glad to see Bobby with a woman as smart and as nice as Lucinda, which had not been his MO earlier in his career as he seemed to attract the bad girls who thought his shyness and “aw shucks” manners were just an act.  And there was a wild side there that they easily brought out in him.  He had missed more than one early brace back in the day, but had outgrown all that.  Lucinda appealed to the adult in Bobby.  He didn’t know where it would go once he headed south, but hoped there’d be a way for the relationship to continue.
      The first brace again produced bird work and both dogs pushed the big, white pointer from Saturday’s first brace.  Most seemed to think that Girl was still on top, and they argued over which one of the dogs from Sunday’s first brace would be carried as runner-up.  Everyone was also talking about Buster and the race he had laid down in the afternoon heat.  They all agreed that had he gotten credit for his find there were very few dogs in the country that could have beaten the race he had put down.  Some wondered if he’d have anything left for the derby if they got to him that day.
      Bobby got nothing done in the next two braces.  After lunch, all that was left was to run Rebel Yell’s brace to wrap up the championship.  Jack ran a race close to or maybe even equal to Buster’s, depending on who you talked to.  It was definitely an angels and pins kind of discussion.  But no birds were pointed and it was another also ran performance.  They all rode into the headquarters for the announcement.  One of the dog’s from the Sunday morning brace was announced runner-up and Girl was declared champion.  Everyone wanted to shake Bobby’s hand except the big shot who went into his trailer and turned on his air conditioner. 
      Buster ran in the last brace of the derby that afternoon and hadn’t lost a step from the day before.  This time Mack scouted and found him on point.  With a broke find and a true prairie race everyone expected he would at least have a piece of the derby.  Most admitted they didn’t have anything that could beat him.  Lucinda headed home and Bobby, John and Mack fed the dogs and went back to the motel.  They had a couple more derbies to run in the morning and then the trial would be over.  In the past Bobby always looked forward to moving on from the prairies to the Midwest and then eventually back to the South for the winter trials.  He knew he’d go: he only needed another first place finish for Girl and he’d have two in the National and he felt that somehow Buster would get there too, but for once he was reluctant to go south as he thought about Lucinda and how she had so quickly become an important part of his life.
      Buster won the derby and one of Bobby’s dogs took third based on a really strong ground race.  Buster had proven something that John had only suspected up to this point.  Buster was the type of dog that people would talk about and his reputation was already well on its way.  It was a little bit like the NBA where the stars always seem to get the calls in their favor.  When a dog had the right kind of reputation, the judges always seemed to see them in a positive light.  They got the close calls going their way.  Buster looked to be headed that way and as far as John was concerned he was earning his reputation honestly – without ads in The Field or home cooking at the trials or in the reports. He didn’t have a crystal ball and had been disappointed by more than one young phenom over the years, but Buster had the brains, endurance, and that intangible something that make judges sit up and watch him which could take him to the highest levels.  John would pick his places as the year went on but this would not be the last time in his derby career that Buster would run in a championship.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Field Trial Magazine Is In Need of Help

Four times a year for the last 15 years Field Trial Magazine has been sent out to a very supportive readership.   Many people have contributed to the success of the magazine with letters, articles, advertisements, and subscriptions and I want to thank all of you.  I have done everything I can to keep the magazine going through changing media conditions and tough economic times.  Ironically in the last issue we saw a first real up-tick in ad revenue since the recession began in 2008.  However, like many other companies and even countries, I have reached a point where I cannot go on without help.  So, at this point I am hoping to find a way forward for the magazine with or without me.  What we have to offer is an established brand with a loyal following that led by the right person or group of people could continue to provide an entertaining and informative magazine as well as take advantage of other opportunities that new technologies provide.  I am open to all inquiries from anyone who has an interest in seeing Field Trial Magazine continue.  We already have most of the editorial content ready for the next issue as well as commitments from our major advertisers.  Please email me or call if you would like to talk further about continuing the independent voice we have created for the field trial community.

Call: 800-615-8392
Craig Doherty, Editor
Field Trial Magazine

PS. One way you can all help is to feel free to forward this to others and/or post it on any message boards, websites, or blogs where you think other field trialers might see it.