by Laurel Boilerhouse
The Big Sky Shooting Dog Classic was once again contested over the Brown, Nolan and neighboring ranches north of Circle, Montana. Bird numbers were strong, following a long winter after what had been reported as one of the best sharptail grouse seasons in decades. The grounds were in excellent spring shape and the weather was seasonable.
The Big Sky Field Trial Club would once again like to thank the many landowners that make this trial possible. Without their gracious hospitality, there would be no trials. We would also like to thank Tuffy’s Pet Foods, who generously sponsor our trial by donating their top quality dog food, thus making it possible for us to give better prizes than would be possible from our entry fees.
We are also indebted to our judges for all the effort that they put in to render their decision. Karen Paugh, of Denton, MT, is the wife of longtime professional trainer Butch Nelson. Karen has been around dogs, competed in different venues, and helped Butch train for quite some time. John Todd, sire of professional trainer Ike Todd, hails from Willow Creek, MT. John started his get at a young age in birddogs. He trains and handles his own dogs, competing mostly in Region 14.
Contestants came from two Canadian Provinces, as well as from across Montana.
The first brace Friday morning was an uncle/nephew pair of setters. Against the Wind Joey (Kelly) got the action started with a find at 9 near the grain bin, judges reported a lot of movement from the exuberant derby. Lone Mountain Reliant (Mandell), fresh off his recent win of the National Amateur Chukar Shooting Dog Championship, had a stop to flush in this same area at the same time. After taking the Brown hedgerows, Reliant was found pointing before the first turn. A hen pheasant was produced and all was executed to perfection. Heading through the coulee before Sheriff hedgerows, Reliant had a second find, this time a rooster pheasant was flushed as Kelly rode by following his dog. Reliant was running a very good race, recorded an unproductive at 32, and was subsequently lost. Joey finished the hour.
Brace two paired Flatland’s By Design (Pearson) with Lone Mountain Tourist (Mandell). The pair started strong through the CRP. At 15, Design recorded an unproductive. Both dogs were picked up at 30, not pleasing their handlers.
Brace three gave us the pairing of Our Rowdy Friend (Noell), and Kootenay River Clay (Eunson). Noell likely came with high expectations, as Rowdy had rendered a formidable challenge over these courses last fall in the Montana Shooting Dog Championship. At 15 Rowdy got things started with a stop to flush. Both dogs then proceeded on to the Nolan tree rows, where the action more often than not heats up. Both dogs established separate stands at the 25 minute mark, both recording unproductives. At 30 Rowdy styled up again, Noell flushed one of the better wintered roosters one can encounter right over Rowdy, which turned out to be his undoing. At 35 Clay recorded a stop to flush, all in order. Clay went on to have a find at 43. At 45 Clay was involved in more bird action, resulting in a stop to flush. With fifteen minutes to go Clay headed uphill through the CRP, where fatigue had begun to set in.
After having enjoyed the western courses in the morning, the afternoon braces would be run over the eastern courses. Brace four gave us Black Crude Joe (Junilla) and Kootenay River Skeet (Eunson). After crossing the slough, and heading up the hill, Lone Mountain Reliant (first brace) decided to return from his reconnaissance mission. At this same time, Skeet was lateral, and giving Eunson problems. At 9 Joe was found standing at the top of the hill, silhouetted on the skyline. Junilla produced sharptail over a very nice find. Skeet returned briefly, only to miss the ensuing turn. Joe had a second find at 16, right in front of the gallery. The birds left wild and Joe moved to mark them. Heading towards the pond crossing, birds were seen in the air. Upon riding around a small knoll, Joe was found standing, going on record with what appeared to be a commendable stop to flush. Joe began to shorten, the heat of the day beginning to take its toll. Skeet had returned and, unfortunately, the heat of the day had not begun to take any toll on his application. At 35 point was called for Skeet, then waved off. At 38 Joe was on point in front of the gallery and Skeet came perilously close by continuing on, only to be under birds in the ensuing minutes. Joe continued on, regaining strength as time neared, finishing with several nice casts.
Brace five paired Magic City Sunrise (Noell) with Tin Soldier’s Nuvi (Shannon Nygard). Both dogs started out strong, Nuvi being the stronger. The first fifteen minutes gave us one nice cast after another by both dogs. Upon entering the mile long tree rows, Nygard directed Nuvi to the east tree row and Sunny took the west tree row of her own accord. Nuvi showed her age and had trouble maintaining an edge, although still doing a nice job. Sunny worked her tree row for the mile, to be found at the end of it on point at 28. Nuvi was there honoring her. Noell flushed diligently, upon beginning to release his dog, birds flushed from the tree row a ways up a hill. All was in order and we began the difficult task of crossing the end of this section of tree rows perpendicularly. At 37 birds flushed alongside Nuvi as she was running a tree row, she briefly stopped, and quickly continued on. After leaving the tree rows, Nuvi continued to impress in the CRP as the heavier cover began to slowdown Sunny. At 50 Sonny recorded an unproductive, both dogs finishing the hour. It should be noted that judges mentioned that Sunny pressed the winning dogs closely.
Brace six started out well, as Flatland’s Tuff E’nuff, call name Nick, (Pearson) was braced with High Noon Sport (S. Nygard). The two began strong and well directed. At 9, point was called for Nick, with Sport backing. No birds could be produced. Shortly thereafter Sport became lateral, with handler calling point and subsequently birds in a tree row. No birds were seen by the judges and the dog was brought on. Meanwhile, Nick had traversed the length of the tree row on course, soon to be found past the tree row on point at 18, another unproductive recorded. At this point the course continues on into a native pasture of rolling hills, Nick decided to try and redraw the course. Skipping the pasture and Nelson Pond, Nick decided to head toward more tree rows and run the course backwards toward Nelson Pond. Nick established point in the tree rows at 29, birds produced. Here the gallery, judges, and both handlers were able to reconcile and begin once again on course. At 40 Nick again located birds, all in order. At 45 birds were seen in the air, with Nick found standing buried up in the end of the tree rows. Turning towards camp, Sport became lateral again; and Nick was seldom seen, his handler firing the pistol at 56, neither dog, handler nor birds visible.
Saturday morning, brace seven gave us Railita (Turley) and Lone Mountain Magique (Kelly), recent winner of the Amateur Shooting Dog Setter Award, who had recently returned to the prairies after competing this past winter in the piney woods at the Amateur Shooting Dog Invitational. Both dogs went over the first hill at breakaway, with Railita, call name Vi, showing to the southwest and Meg being spotted directly ahead on point at 5, this proving to be an early unproductive. At 8 point was called for Vi well to the front, Meg coming in for an excellent back. After slight hesitation, Turley got off to flush, sharptail produced, all in order. Vi took the Brown hedgerows to the end and returned up the other side of them, Meg trying to establish point and then moving on. After the tree rows both dogs continued on thru the CRP and the coulee, Vi being spotted frequently out the front end. At 25, just before the Sheriff hedgerows, Meg went on point with Vi coming in to back. A rooster was produced, a very nice piece of birdwork. Both dogs took the Sheriff hedgerows, Meg visible and and Vi running quite strong but handling all the while. Upon turning east, Turley sent his dog across the fence, to avoid running a mowed hay field. This should be noted that this is the same place where Reliant was lost in the first brace. Just when it appeared that Vi might also disconnect, she had a clean stop to flight at 38. After handlers collecting their dogs and making the hairpin turn at 45, both handlers were having some trouble keeping their dogs lined out to the front. Heading up the big hill after crossing the runway, both dogs were again running well to the front, Vi making an impressive move past the windsock and continuing up the hill. At time, Meg had again become a bit lateral to the left, and Vi was seen running ridge directly on course.
Reba McEntire (Conover) had the eighth brace all to herself. She began well, running strong through the CRP. At 15 point was called for Reba, birds produced. At 20 Reba once again pointed, all clean again. Subsequently she went into hunting mode, and was up on unproductives by 30.
After running several companion stakes, the announcements were made before we were once again treated to the culinary excellence of our very own: Chef Earl Dean and his sidekick Shawn Dean. We enjoyed barbecued pig butts and barbecue ribs, not to mention a wonderful peach cobbler. Camaraderie was had by all as we were able to share this meal with several of the gracious landowners. I cannot help but ask myself how Shawn and Earl are able to prepare such fine meals with the appropriations they are given?