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Group photo... the white marks are hail!

I had the pleasure of Judging three field trials in Nebraska on the Bunker Hills Hunting Resort by invitation of Kim and Shelly Wiley and the Platte River Spaniel Club. Although the first two trials were hotly contested open stakes, the one that I lost sleep over the night before was the first amateur stake held for cockers in the US. I had the pleasure of judging it with fellow professional trainer, Tony Roettger of Minnesota, who incidentally, won the Friday open stake in Nebraska with his young powerhouse dog Jazz (Dardnell Denby of Windmillwood) in fine style after a very difficult 3rd series in which he excelled.

Tony and I met early Sunday morning, March 12th, 2006, with our gun captain, Dave Williams, and we talked about expectations for the day between judges and gun team. Tony and I had a good discussion on dogs and judging styles but we neednít have worried; our books were identical at the end of the day. With the stage all set, a vicious hail storm descended upon us and put a halt to photos and a delay to the day. The tension in the air could be felt. I think most people present were as excited as I was and just wanted the day to start. The storm passed and we assembled outside for group photos.

With photos clicked, we made our way to the first series. The temperature was perfect for dog work; overnight we had some rain. It was just enough to dampen the ground with temperatures in the mid 30ís. Scenting was good and the top dogs made it look easy. The courses had been set in a cross wind but, as per usual, mother nature decided to put a spin on things and the wind varied throughout the day between a crossing into and crossing down wind. There were a couple of spots on the course in some small ravines where the wind swirled and made production very difficult, but overall some great runners were taken and some first class work was observed.

"Tony and I had a good discussion on dogs and judging styles but we neednít have worried; our books were identical at the end of the day."

The first course was fairly simple. It was waist high switch with little blue stem mixed in, but made difficult with a crossing down wind. A lot of the dogs punched out and needed some whistle to stay with the handler. The second course provided extra challenge as the handler had a six foot wide pathway in the center of the beat with waist high, thick bluestem to hunt on both sides. It required the dog to be in constant communication with the handler - and a good handler to make the dog thoroughly cover his beat. It certainly held birds, as anyone who has been to Bunker Hills will attest to; there were wild roosters everywhere. We shot numerous cock pheasants off the second course, as well as a handful of chukar, none of which had been planted. Elan Rosie and Bob Diehl even made a great find on a rabbit tucked into the cover. Needless to say, Bunker Hills is a first class venue for a trial, creating challenging conditions which is needed to sort out quality dogs.

First Series

I started the day with the odd numbered dogs running under me for the first series. First dog up was Windwhistle Baylor with handler Deb Strohl. Baylor had a good first find on a hen pheasant and a 40 yard retrieve followed by a nice moving bird off the course which hit a pathway and ran down the center of the course. I told Deb to call him off; we continued on our beat and produced another bird which was not shot at as it flew back. The first run in the amateur stake was concluded; I had settled my nerves a little and was ready for a new dog.

Dennis Joannides came to the line with Lizzy (Warrener's Green Kingfisher). She is a very stylish lemon and white bitch who is a pleasure to watch. She made good use of her nose and produced a shot retrieve that the previous dog had failed on. Lizzy hunted on and rooted out a moving pheasant in some clumpy cover and made a good retrieve on a dead bird 40 yards out. A solid high A run.

The next run of interest was Larry Dihel's young solid liver bitch Twigg (Phantomwoods Twigg). Her first cast had me up and paying attention as every part of her meant business. She hunted hard and in a perfect pattern, making her first find on a moving pheasant as good as it gets. She trailed the bird 40 yards through some light switch grass and as the cover ran out, two hen pheasants exploded in front of her. The first bird was missed, the second killed 40 yards out. Twigg had been looking at the other bird and had not seen the fall. I gave Larry a line on the downed bird (a bad one I admit - sorry Larry!) and Twigg made easy work of the handle, with two easy overs the bird had been picked. We made our way back onto the course and cast Twigg off again. She hunted for 100 yards and got hot on scent again. She flushed another two birds out of a thick patch of cover, both unseen apart from the line of flight. This time Bill Paftís gunning was true and he knocked down both birds. One was a cripple and running for sure - the other fell stone dead on the pathway, 40 yards ahead of us. I told Larry to pick the cripple first. With one cast, Twigg put the bird into Larryís hand. He gave Twigg the line of the second retrieve and she delivered that bird just as easily. Larry displayed a first class dog in hunting pattern, style and speed which was also fully trained to handle any situation. Twigg had certainly been tested and I told Larry "nice run". Larry left the line and I wrote down "A++".

Robin Putnam then came to the line with Twigg's sister - Shelby (Phantomwoods Sonrisa of Oahe). Shelby had won the Saturday open stake under Tim DeGroff and myself in which she displayed an uncanny bird sense coupled with a style and pattern that were a beauty to behold. Shelby is a truly talented animal and, when on her game, is going to be tough to beat. With Miss Robin at the helm, we set off with a blank page of notes and the wind at our back. Shelby had a good A+ run. We had a few problems on a long retrieve when interfered with by our brace mate, but her bird finding, style and downwind ground treatment knocked me out. She lacked any real opportunity to shine when she immediately found another bird that provided a 30 yard retrieve to complete her run.
Chris Dartt and Pepper

Field Champion Fallen Wings Whitney Morgan and Deb Strohl were number 17 and theycame into the line in a cross wind. Morgan is a consistent competitor that has beaten the author on numerous occasions; she is known to be solid in every aspect of her game and displayed it that morning. Her finds and retrieves were classically veteran; a couple of difficult situations arose on moving birds that Morgan handled well. Deb has complete faith in Morgan and it works well for them as I wrote down A+ in my book.

Pepper (Fallen Wings Sergeant Pepper) and handler Chris Dartt had a difficult run. Her first retrieve was stolen by the brace mate as Pepper made the fall area. Chris immediately whistled him back and we hunted on. Pepper pulled down course the next couple of casts after that incident but settled down well into a flowing pattern with a little assistance from Chris. He produced his next bird well in the downwind and made a good 40 yard retrieve: altogether a high A.

Elan Rosie and handler Bob Deihl put on a good display of hunting. Rosie is a solid black bitch that really hunts hard. Every part of her being is focused on finding game. She hunted the side of a small gulley, first producing a moving cock pheasant then bolting a rabbit. She finished her run with a 35 yard blind retrieve which she handled easily. Unfortunately, Bob and Rosie went out in the second series, but under me he scored a solid A+.

These were my top dogs coming out of the first series. We had elected to continue straight into the second series, so after a Lime Pepsi and a Snickers stowed safely in my pocket and half a pound of coffee cake stuffed down on the spot (terrific fare in 30 degree weather by the way: thank you Martha Miller, the cake was excellent). Tony and I switched dogs, with him having the odd numbers and me on even, for the second series.

Second series

The second series started with a bang and continued to produce quality dog after quality dog. First up was English National Champion - American National Field Champion Chyknell Megan with handler AR Ginn. Anyone who has competed against Megan knows the quality she brings to the line every time she runs. She has won two nationals, one in the UK and the other in the US. She also placed second in the 2005 Cocker Nationals in North Dakota. The national she won in the US was held at Bunker Hills, so obviously the ground is to her liking. Megan is a small liver bitch but every pound she has, she uses. She started out hunting the thickest part of the course with one thing in mind. It happened quickly and birds were in the air. Megan pinned a huge retrieve across course after center gunner Tim DeGroff made an outstanding shot. Her run was finished with another good hunt and find on a bird that flew back and could not be shot at. Her pattern was perfect and she never once pulled. Without question, an A++ run. Megan is certainly one to watch out for whether you are in the gallery or competing against her.

Field Champion Crayford Kennie of Kingcott (Frank) is a dog that is a particular favorite of mine - and one that I have watched for some time. I judged the first trial he entered in Southern California in which he did a fine job as a young dog. The time in between has been good to Frank and owner/handler Rumi Schroeder. Frank has won more open all age points than any other male cocker in trial history - and itís not difficult to see why. He runs hard, has a first class nose and is an unbelievable retriever. Frank's talent coupled with Rumiís skill handling him make them very difficult to beat. I have had the experience of coming second to Frank and Rumi on more than a few occasions.

Tony sent Frank over still needing a retrieve. I told Rumi we would go for three birds, if necessary, but I would not hold her down any longer than that. When I say that, here is what I mean. If the dog is skilled and shows ability but is just lacking a retrieve, I have no problem bringing them back to the third series to get a retrieve and award them a placement, even the win, if deserved. The flip side of the coin is that if the dog is not skilled or has problems in the run, I donít need to see a retrieve anyway!

Frank bust into the heavy bluestem and proceeded to produce three birds before our brace mate had their first contact. Hereís the thing with Rumi and Frank - they came to do a job and they donít mess around when they are on the line. The style, pattern and ability were all there: Frank had found two running pheasants on the right hand side of his beat and a pheasant in a tree on the left hand side of the beat sitting on a branch four feet off the ground. He ran hard, made great finds and his pattern was near automatic with minimal work for Rumi, apart from following. The birds were missed by center gunners and wing gunners and the tree bird flew back. I thanked Rumi and excused her, writing down notes such as "wow - what a bird finder - what a nose - what style!" Without question, another top score of A+.

"Monty is the type of dog that makes you want to see more. He never pulls, never needs to be told to cover missed ground, his pattern is flawless even in changing winds and he is beautiful to watch - you literally canít take your eyes off him."

Field Champion Chyknell Oak Cookie is the second of four arrows that AR Ginn has in his quiver. She is a daughter of FC/AFC Oak Alley Golden Plover and NFC/ENFC Chyknell Megan. As you would imagine, with that lineage, she is no slouch. Cookie started off hunting the thickest part of the course down into a gulley, where she lit up and produced a weak hen pheasant. The bird flew low over the waist high cover and was shot at 40 yards; I tapped AR immediately as the bird was rotating as it fell, a sure sign of a runner caused by the shot breaking a wing close to the body. As is often the case with weak birds, they know how to use their legs better than wings. Cookie spent a full three minutes working the bird out. It ran 50 yards down wind and Cookie stayed with it all the way - finishing by putting a sure 'lost' bird into the bag. Her second find was classy. She produced a bird that moved from clump to clump as we watched, another difficult piece of work, followed by an easy 35 yard retrieve. Deteriorating scenting conditions caused a lot of dogs problems in this piece of the course; Cookie made it look easy. A++

Bryor Oaks English Ivy handled and owned by Buzz Benson came to the line. Ivy just has that look of all business. Buzz put her to work and in no time she had a bird in the air. The wing gunner missed it. I told Buzz to hunt on and Ivy went back to work. She pulled down course in the down wind a couple of times; Buzz immediately corrected her with skillful handling and a little whistle. Her second bird had nowhere to go as Ivy drove it out past center gunner Mike Jew, who let it pass the planter wagon, then made a skillful 60 yard shot to provide Buzz and Ivy the opportunity they wanted. Ivy made the fall and tracked the bird a few yards before returning full speed and adding it to the bag. Overall a nice clean run and worthy of a high A.

I had been seeing a high percentage of really good dog work and was excited to see the next dog to the line, a consistent performer, Field Champion Oak Alley Golden Plover, call name "Monty". Montyís daughter had set the stage and it would take quite a run to equal it. Monty did better than that - he showed the kids why papa gets the pretty girls! From the first cast to the last, I donít think I heard AR blow a whistle. Monty is the type of dog that makes you want to see more. He never pulls, never needs to be told to cover missed ground, his pattern is flawless even in changing winds and he is beautiful to watch - you literally canít take your eyes off him. You get the impression that he is able to do and handle any situation - later he would get the opportunity. His groundwork set the stage for good clean finds, his retrieving was pinpoint and without wasted energy or time. He left me wanting more Ė and the thought of "wouldnít want to be the next dog down who has to equal this". Without doubt my best run of the day, and an easy A++ grade.

The next dog, following Monty, was Scrabble with Rumi Schroeder (Scrabble of Fallen Wings). Scrabble had placed second in the open stake on Saturday. Watch out for Scrabble and Rumi as they are here to stay... and what a team they are! Papa Frank put into Scrabble all his best qualities: pace, style, ability, a perfect mouth and a snappy quick retrieve. It makes Scrabble a fun dog to watch and judge. With a ticket to the open nationals already under her belt, she started making moves in the amateur stake in a big way. Her run was quick - in and out - two finds and two big retrieves, both of which were 70 plus yards. Her second retrieve was particularly tough as it fell just past the handler on the other course. This didnít phase Scrabble one bit as she swiftly collected and put in a solid A+ run.

Deb Strohl came to the line with Whauply No Trace. Trace displayed great style and ability in the down wind, producing his birds easily with minimal assistance from Deb. The wind switched part way through his run and he changed his pattern to match the now cross wind without a command from Deb. He is a truly good bird finder and displayed good retrieving skills throughout the trial earning an A+ grade.

Tony cleared me a space in his truck and we sat down to make our 3rd series call backs. Incidentally, if any of you are at trials and need items such as half an old cigar, an egg beater, map of Wisconsin, a pair of clogs, 9-volt battery, empty 20 gauge hulls or the million other things one could think of, just ask Tony. His truck looks like mine when I traveled all the time. (Sorry mate had to bustíem a little!!!)

Anyway, we started the day with 26 dogs - we had seen some excellent work, some good but not outstanding work and some not so good work. We carefully analyzed each others books and we were absolutely on the same page as Tonyís top dogs were mine and visa versa. We elected to call thirteen back to the third series - here they are in order:

  • 2. Megan - FC/NFC/ENFC Chyknell Megan - AR Ginn
  • 3. Dobie - Fallen Wings Grasshopper - John Dartt
  • 4. Frank - FC Crayford Kennie of Kingcott - Rumi Schroeder
  • 5. Lizzy - Warreners Green Kingfisher - Dennis Joannides
  • 7. Twigg - Phantomwoods Twigg - Lary Dihel
  • 8. Cookie - FC Chyknell Oak Cookie - AR Ginn
  • 11. Shelby - Phantomwoods Sonrisa of Oahe - Robin Putnam
  • 12. Maggie - Warreners Annaís Hummingbird - Tommy Jeffries
  • 16. Ivy - Bryor Oaks English Ivy - Buzz Benson
  • 18. Monty - FC/AFC Oak Alley Golden Plover - AR Ginn
  • 21. Pepper - Fallen Wings Sergeant Pepper - Christine Dartt
  • 22. Scrabble - Scrabble of Fallen Wings - Rumi Schroeder
  • 23. Trace - Whauply No Trace - Debra Strohl

Third Series

Kim Wiley gave us the choice of grounds for the third series. Tony and I chose a light piece of cover in between the bunkers. It was sheltered from the wind and there were a lot of birds already in the area. Planter Mike Schroeder did a first class job putting pheasants and chukar on the course, often as doubles which made the third series very interesting.

Tony and I had decided to cut no slack in the third as we had a lot of dogs to look at and it was getting late in the day. Any eliminating faults would be called immediately and the handler excused. The third turned out to be more difficult than it looked. With the mixture of chukar and pheasant and the dogs having run the past two series in really thick challenging cover, some dogs pulled out too big and overran their birds and some didn't pay enough attention to their handlers. Thatís trialing! It was the third day of trials and some dogs (and handlers!) were 'wound tight' when they came to the line - and it affected their production and ultimately the final score. Tony and I were relieved that our very top dogs came with their game faces on and gave us a display of dog work to remember.
Tommy Jeffries and Maggie after completing their
first trial

Megan and AR Ginn were in contention in both our books. She ran a flawless third series and set the pace early with solid finds and pin point retrieves, her second find produced a pair of chukar: unfortunately, both were missed. Her ground work was excellent and with little whistle, she cruised into a placement. Megan was one of our top dogs going in and a top dog coming out.

Frank and Rumi were our next top team. Frank put on his usual classy pattern and run, finding and retrieving a hen pheasant and a chukar. He had no opportunity to show off; his birds were killed in the open and he did what Frank does, a tradesmanís job every time out with little assistance needed. Frank had a slight glitch in the brace work on an honor, but that would not keep him out of a placement. Good job overall in a trial where he had no extra opportunities with which to shine.

Larry Dihelís young bitch Twigg unfortunately broke. She ran with the leaders until she moved ten steps on a shot pheasant. I excused Larry Ė I was as disappointed as he was. On the lighter side, though, Tom Ness won the next trial in Colorado with Twigg, proving she will be a force to be reckoned with in future trials.

Cookie and AR were next in. Cookie had an excellent 1st series under Tony and she was definitly in contention with me through her A++ 2nd series work. She laid on a brilliant piece of ground work and hunted it out thoroughly. A number of dogs had been passing the chukar, but Cookieís pattern didnít let this happen to her. She produced well and made a tough retrieve on a cripple chukar 45 yards out against a bunker.

Maggie and new handler, Tommy Jeffries, came in to the line to play. I welcomed and congratulated him and gave him the game plan. Maggie hunted well, producing game easily. Her second retrieve was quite spectacular. Maggie had produced a moving hen pheasant which was shot down the course on the side of a bunker. Maggie came up short on the initial line, came back into the flush area, re-lined herself and produced the retrieve: all in all, a very nice piece of work. Maggie and Tommy are here to stay. They are learning the game and getting competitive - watch out for this team in the future. They finished their first field trial together in fine style. Congratulations, Tommy and Maggie!

"Tony and I were relieved that our very top dogs came with their game faces on and gave us a display of dog work to remember."

Monty and AR came in on the new course. AR cast Monty to the right. He immediately hit scent and started to take a runner off the course. Monty had gone maybe 30 yards when he spun 180 degrees and blew a cock pheasant out of a tiny patch of sorghum. The bird was missed and I told AR to continue. Monty immediately flushed a hen pheasant from the same patch of sorghum which was missed by the wing gunner. We continued on for a retrieve. Monty took in a nice piece of ground, always in control with very little whistle needed. He accelerated into the next patch of cover where he flushed a perfect pair of chukar Ė one flew right, the other to the left. In unison the gunners downed both birds. I tapped AR and Monty picked the bird he had marked with no difficulty. I moved AR onto a pathway and gave him a line on the other downed bird 40 yards out. With one 'back', Monty had the bird in the bag in 20 seconds. Without doubt, he knew exactly where the bird was, having marked both retrieves. A thrilling run to close out a well executed trial by the oldest dog competing at 8 Ĺ years old.

Thanks go to many people:

  • Kim and Shelley Wiley for giving me the opportunity to judge the first Amateur stake and for being such good hosts in taking care of me.
  • The Gun team co- captained by Tim DeGroff and Dave Williams.
  • Golden BB award goes jointly to Tim DeGroff and Mike Jew both of whom made unbelievable shots on very long crossers.
  • Our hosts at Bunker Hills: a fantastic place to trial as it is set up for hunting. This place is loaded with birds; every morning we would drive past dozens of pheasants on the road. The cover was superb, tons of scratch birds mixed in so you know the cover we were trialing in holds game naturally.
  • Planter Mike Schroeder, who is unbelievable and without question made the third series spectacular all three days, Great job Mike!
  • Finally my co-judge and friend Tony Roettger. Tony and I always have fun competing against each other and we both love the after hours banter. We were on the same page throughout the day and our notes were carbon copies of the other; it was a pleasure to share the book with you.

OK... OK Placements!

Tony and I had no trouble coming up with placements. Our top dog remained our top dog and, in fact, elevated himself entirely from the rest of the field with a combination of trained abilities, teamwork with his handler and lots of opportunity - which he nailed every time. Truly a fantastic amateur dog and one which all who watched dream of owning. We had discussion between 2nd and 3rd place Ė it came down to a long retrieve matched up against a very difficult running cripple. Hereís how we saw it:
Winner FC AFC Oak Alley Golden Plover with standing
Tony Roettger, Martin Bell and owners seated Ollie Ginn and
AR Ginn, handling Monty to the win... congratulations!

1st Place: Monty - FC Oak Alley Golden Plover
sire: FC Wareners Mistle Thrush
dam: FC/NFC Darag Caol Shraid Marshen
breeder: Arthur Person
handler: AR Ginn

2nd Place: Cookie - FC Chyknell Oak Cookie
sire: FC/AFC Oak Alley Golden Plover
dam: ENFC/NFC/FC Chyknell Megan
breeder: AR & Ollie Ginn
handler: AR Ginn

3rd Place: Megan - FC/NFC/ENFC Chyknell Megan
sire: EFC Dandrew Druid
dam: EFC Chyknell Jessica
breeder: Joe Shotton
handler: AR Ginn

4th Place: Frank - FC Crayford Kennie of Kingcott
sire: EFC Parkbreck Jefferson
dam: Mallowdale Anna
breeder: M Daniel
handler: Rumi Schroeder

Gun's Award - the dog the gunners would most like to spend a day hunting over was awarded to FC Oak Alley Golden Plover - Monty - Handler AR Ginn

As a footnote: AR Ginn and Monty won the very next Amateur Stake in Colorado the following weekend, thus making Monty the first Amateur Field Champion Cocker in US history. Now thatís the way to get an AFC... go out and win the first two stakes! Congratulations to AR and Ollie Ginn on making Monty FC/AFC Oak Alley Golden Plover!

Shelly and Martin Bell

Martin Bell and his wife, Shelly, own and operate Shelmar Kennels in Katy Texas. Martin has been training dogs most of his 32 years, specializing in spaniels. He is an avid sportsman with a passion for blue marlin fishing and hunting.

Martin grew up in Cornwall, England, which gave him his foundation in spaniels. He regularly travels great distances each year attending cocker field trials, having championed fourteen dogs in the last seven years and achieving top professional handler in the U.S. for English cockers in 1999, 2002 and 2004.

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