The NGSPA Prairie Chicken Championships returned again in 2019 to the picturesque Saner Ranch in Dunning, Nebraska. These championships are run exclusively on wild prairie grouse, consisting mostly of greater prairie chickens and some sharptailed grouse, in the rolling sandhills of Nebraska. This year’s trial included Open Shooting Dog Championship, Amateur All-Age Championship Amateur Shooting Dog Championship, Open Derby Classic, and Open All-Age Championship stakes, with 104 entries combined. The judges found worthy champions or winners in almost every stake, with the exception of the amateur all age and the runner-up placement in the open all-age, and witnessed numerous other impressive performances.
Bird finding came easily in some braces and harder in others. Not unlike any wild bird trial on the prairies, a good draw certainly helps a dog’s chances, but the cream will ultimately rise to the top no matter the conditions. This year’s running again included some days with unseasonably hot weather, a couple cooler days with cloud cover, and several days with high winds that made the elusive chickens difficult for dogs to locate. Fortunately, the trial did not experience any rain or lightning delays, but the trial committee adjusted the running times on a couple of the hottest days for the safety of horses as much as dogs. The heat, rugged terrain, omnipresent sand burrs, and soft footing of the sandhills create a championship crucible, making any champion here worthy of his title. An hour on the ground in the sandhills undoubtedly feels like two hours to the dogs.
In addition to the heat and terrain, a champion here must also prevail over unpredictable quarry. Well above-average moisture during nesting season and throughout the summer limited nesting and re-nesting success for prairie chickens in Nebraska this year. Moreover, the abnormally thick, verdant cover resulting from all this moisture considerably worsened scenting conditions. Dogs were observed running over prairie chickens while oblivious to their presence far more frequently than in prior years. Whether the result of a poor hatch, scenting conditions, or some combination of both, the dogs entered had fewer finds than last year. Nevertheless, the participants encountered more than enough opportunities for bird work for a fair wild bird trial. As they say, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. And the dogs in this year’s winner’s circle certainly proved their toughness and bird dog bona fides.
All who attended enjoyed riding the spectacular sandhills grounds of the Saner Ranch and a few neighboring ranches. The sandhills covering 19,300 square miles of northcentral Nebraska are truly a natural wonder. One cannot appreciate the beauty of this area without seeing it, preferably following some dogs on horseback. This year’s courses covered a large chunk of Blaine County, Nebraska. Braces did not run on the same courses more frequently than every few days, giving the competitors plenty of fresh ground to explore. The field trial gallery often trailered out twenty minutes or more for a half day of running in search of fresh ground.
Before describing the running, the Pield trial committee wishes to express its sincere thanks and gratitude to the multitude without whom this Pield trial would not happen. Troy Saner once again generously tolerated our large and rowdy crew on his ranch and put aside his busy schedule for over a week to help put on the field trial. Troy marshalled almost every day and coordinated with neighboring landowners to run on their grounds. Jim West and Rhonda Haukoos also have our sincere gratitude for lending us their training grounds and selflessly helping with December 2019 3 of 23 marshalling, dog wagon, breakfast, lunch and too many other duties to list in this space. They again took time from their busy training schedule to make this field trial happen. Thank you, Troy, Jim, and Rhonda.
We had a particularly well qualified judicial panel this year, who have our gratitude, including Joe Inderman (OSD), Chad Inderman (OSD and ASD), Tom Davis (AAA), Eldon Hongo (AAA and ASD), Ray Larrondo (OD), Rich Robertson (OD), Bruce Bryant (OAA), and Alan Davison (OAA). Joe and Chad are successful amateurs from Texas who have dozens of all age and shooting dog championship and national championship placements out of their Llano Estacado Kennel. Tom is also a very experienced and respected judge, successful amateur handler, and GSP Hall of Famer. Eldon’s reputation precedes him, having a very successful career as a professional on the shorthair circuit. Our Idaho judicial team of Ray and Rich generously agreed to judge the open derby stake. Ray has a long list of prestigious judging assignments under his belt and many wins as an amateur handler. Rich’s reputation as a very successful pointer professional and now shorthair professional also precedes him. We enjoy the benefit of having Rich’s wisdom and experience on our circuit. Bruce’s Keg Creek Kennel is well known among shorthair owners and has produced many all-age and shooting dog champions. Alan is an experienced judge who has successfully trialed shorthairs and, previously, weimaraners for decades. Many know Alan as the owner of Dogs Unlimited.
We were very fortunate to have many sponsors who again generously Pilled in the gaps with the support necessary to make this trial happen. Purina once again provided Pro Plan dog food to the winners and financial support. Thank you to Greg Blair, Terry Trzcinski, and everyone else at Purina. SportDOG Brand also donated e-collars to the winners. Thank you to Jim Morehouse and the folks at SportDOG. The amateur shooting dog winners received a Ruff Land kennel courtesy of Front Range Gun Dog and a Pro 209 starter pistol from Charter Arms. Many thanks to Charter Arms, Front Range Gun Dog, and Don Skinner—Front Range’s owner who attended the trial and ran his promising female derby. Another sponsor—Burris Optics of Greeley, Colorado— generously donated fantastic binoculars and gift certificates as gifts for landowners who allowed us to run on their grounds. The importance of donations such as these for the ongoing success of a field trial cannot be understated. The field trial committee extends its sincere appreciation to all of these sponsors.
Needless to say, the field trial committee could not host a successful trial without the attendance of distinguished professionals and amateurs. Thank you to the professionals who attended—Dan DiMambro, Chris Goegan, Rich Robertson, Josh Neiman, Eldon Hongo, John Rabidou, and Art Armbrust—and also the amateurs in attendance, including Mark and Chase Verdoorn, Ray Larrondo, Fred Ryan, Alan Davison, Tom Kosmack, Rick Heller, Peter Wilkin, and Keith Richardson. Many who attended drove across the country in their quest for a coveted wild bird championship. Thank you all for your support.Open Shooting Dog Championship
The 2019 NGSPA Prairie Chicken Championships kicked off with the Open Shooting Dog Championship. The father and son team of Joe and Chad Inderman sat in the saddle for this stake. The attendees could not have hoped for more competent and attentive judges. The thirty-seven dogs entered endured very hot and windy conditions during the three-day running. Bird work was at a premium. Nevertheless, the difficult running conditions helped separate the two winners from the pack.
The judges declared Hi-Tailyn’s Talented Texan (Keith Bryant) the Open Shooting Dog Champion. Tex’s championship run came in brace 11 in the heat of the afternoon on the second day of running. This liver-headed five-year old ran an inspiring power shooting dog race with handle and intelligence, but remained without bird work for his first fifty minutes. Tex, however, changed that outcome with the find of the stake at 54. He was observed making a powerful move up a sandhill. Tex’s move finished out of sight, with his handler later calling point. After the call of point, Tex remained standing with perfect style for another five minutes as his handler dismounted and crossed a fence to reach him. Tex kept his 12 o’clock style after the Plush as a large covey of prairie chickens lifted upwind. Tex’s powerful move at the end of his hour separated him from the competition. The judges also noted that Tex scored his bird work in the heat of the day during a stake when most bird work had occurred during the cooler morning braces.
Covey Up’s Controlled Burn (Nieman) received runner-up honors. Running in brace 16 late on the very windy third morning of the stake, Blaze pushed the Champion with an aggressive and powerful ground race. Blaze scored an impressive limb find at 10 on a covey of prairie chickens. Blaze also shrugged off an extreme headwind that slowed the other competitors. This flashy, liver roan female stayed to the front throughout her hour and finished strong. Blaze’s limb find and ability to cut the wind separated her from several other impressive performances that went unrewarded.
Several other dogs had noteworthy runs, but did not place. Riden High Rudy (DiMambro) ran a terrific race and carded a stop to Plush, but did not have adequate bird work to challenge the winners. Chicoree’s Glitter and Gold (DiMambro) also entertained the gallery. Glitz ran a snappy, medium shooting dog race with two finds. Finally, Dezasterous Jax the Ripper (DiMambro) gave the judges something to consider with two finds and a consistent shooting dog race, but Jax ultimately did not handle the conditions with the same aplomb as the winners.
Judges Hongo and Davis watched twelve shorthairs entered in the Amateur All-Age Championship. The stake had twelve top-notch entries with many champions among them. The weather had cooled slightly, giving the competitors a better opportunity to show their all-age wheels.
After each dog had run its allotted hour, the judges determined that two dogs had ground races worthy of an age all- champion, but did not have bird work. Consequently, the judges called back Llano’s Game On Dude (Chad Inderman) and No Sleep Til Brook Lynn (Mike Patrick) for a second chance at bird work early the next morning. Both dogs had bird contacts during the call back, but unfortunately did not have an acceptable find on a prairie chicken, as required by the NGSPA Guidelines for a species championship. Poor scenting conditions clearly got the better of these two excellent dogs.
Dude and Brook broke away nicely to the front in the cool morning air during the call back. Dude encountered birds first, carding a stylish stop to Plush at 8 while downwind of a nice covey of chickens. Brook’s handler later found her also stopped on the other side of the sandhill ridge at the Plight of the same covey of chickens. Dude recorded a second stop to Plush downwind of another covey of chickens at 35. After a lengthy flushing effort and relocation, Brook took an unproductive at 40 on a stylish and intense point. Birds lifted upwind of Brook at 45, with Brook taking another stop to Plush under questionable circumstances. After an hour of the second series and with the dogs down not having satisfied the stake’s standard for bird work despite opportunities, the judges conferred and withheld placements. Nevertheless, the participants appreciated the judges’ extra effort searching for their champion. The Montana Silversmith buckle awarded to the Amateur All- Age Champion will wait another year to meet its new owner.
Judges Inderman and Hongo returned to the saddle for the Amateur Shooting Dog Championship. This stake had twenty-one entries. The amateur shooting dog broke away immediately after the amateur all-age runoff on Saturday morning and concluded on Sunday evening. Sweltering heat again prevailed for all but the first couple hours of daylight. The amateur shooting dog mostly ran on some of the high sandhills courses closer to camp, which have more twists and turns and lend themselves better to a shooting dog stake.
The judges awarded the champion title to Snowy River’s White Out (Chase Verdoorn). Breaking away Sunday morning in brace 6, Willy slammed the door with a blistering race and one high quality find. Willy started and finished his hour the same way, with big moves to the right places. Every time an absence pushed the limits of the shooting standard, Willy would show himself again to the front, looking for direction from his handler. Although Willy’s race came close to all age in proportion, Willy stayed to the front and kept his scout idle.
The local prairie chicken population decided early on that they would not tolerate any dogs in their vicinity on this day. The gallery observed a couple groups of chickens taking Plight hundreds of yards in front of the dogs early in the brace. Willy persevered nonetheless. At 38, Willy’s handler found him standing on a five-bird covey in a bowl below a sandhill peak. The chickens lifted with Willy maintaining impeccable composure and style. Willy continued to hunt hard, making a big move to the front after passing a water tank. Willy finished his hour going forward in the neighboring pasture to the right, with his handler showing him shortly after time. Runner-up honors went to Liverhead’s Tip Topper (Wilkin). Topper ran in the first brace of the stake. Many did not think Topper would be beat before Willy ran. Topper hunted hard, consistently going to all the right places. At 18, Topper stopped just below a ridge, high on both ends. Chickens began taking Plight soon after Topper’s handler arrived. Topper scored a second find at 50, again on prairie chickens. Topper began and finished his hour at a consistent, medium shooting dog range with an intelligent ground pattern. As a younger dog, Topper lost an eye in an unfortunate hunting accident. His success overcoming this impairment to become a runner-up champion is impressive.
Although the judges witnessed other notable performances with bird work, the performances of the two winners clearly surpassed the competition. The amateur shooting dog placements were well received by all.Open Derby Classic
With the attending handlers having expressed some enthusiasm for a derby stake this year, the Pield trial committee decided to schedule an Open Derby Classic stake if time permitted. Everyone was pleased that the schedule allowed for a derby, as this stake turned out to be one of the highlights of the trial.
The derby kicked off on a cool, cloudy Monday morning, with twenty young dogs drawn. Cloud cover remained throughout the morning and into the early afternoon, creating ideal running conditions. The derby ran on several courses consisting of two large hay meadows and a section of high sandhills across the road from the hay meadows. Hot conditions leading up to the derby apparently made the local prairie chickens anxious to take advantage of the good weather, as they flocked to the hay meadows to drink and chase grasshoppers. So attached to the hay meadows were the chickens that the coveys would Plush from corner to corner a couple times before finally leaving, giving more opportunities for later braces. Consequently, most braces had bird contacts, with as many as four coveys lifting during one brace.
Judges Robertson and Larrondo commented that the consistency of the three winners for the duration of their heats separated them from the pack. Although a competitive stake, some of the derbies showed all-age potential but without polish or not for the duration of the heat, and sand burrs that proliferated during this very wet summer slowed others. Nevertheless, all who participated enjoyed watching these young dogs learn about the field trial game.
Snowy River’s Knuckles Up Newt (Verdoorn) took first place thanks to his big wheels laying down a race with all-age potential. Newt veered to the right after breakaway with the course going left, but quickly corrected his mistake without scouting assistance and charged back to the front up a distant fence row. Newt remained to the front, showing himself at appropriate intervals, until 20 when he missed another turn, but he again came looking for his handler and regained the front. Newt consistently showed a combination of all-age application and an innate willingness to go with his handler and scout that will have him knocking on the doors of all-age championships in the near future.
The judges awarded Charles Malloy Hubka (Armbrust) second place. Charlie scored a chicken Pind and hammered the front. Although he did not exhibit the extreme range of the winner, his consistent ground pattern separated him from those that did not place.
Finally, Front Range Sunny Sky High (Hongo) took third place. This snappy female scored a Pind on a single chicken at 10 and recorded more bird work at 20. Sunny hunted intelligently with a pleasing gait and displayed showstopping style on point. She ran a medium shooting dog race that has the potential to expand with experience. Incidentally, Sunny is owned by Don Skinner of trial sponsor Front Range Gun Dog. We appreciate Don’s support and enjoyed having him attend for a few days and enter his promising young female.
At the conclusion of an entertaining morning and early afternoon of running derbies, everyone trailered back to camp for a late lunch, cold beers, and placements.Open All-Age Championship
The Open All-Age Championship kicked off at 5:30 p.m. on Monday evening following the Open Derbv Classic, with fourteen dogs started. Judges Bryant and Davison presided. The field trial committee decided to run two braces Monday evening, three braces Tuesday morning, and the remaining braces Tuesday afternoon. This plan avoided extreme heat that persisted Monday afternoon after the clouds cleared. On Tuesday evening, the participants and gallery trailered out to some grounds southeast of camp where long hay fields coursed along the bottoms separating sandhills. On Monday morning, everyone trailered their horses and dogs out to grounds far to the east of camp with high sandhills that circled a large farmstead and hay meadows in a valley. The Tuesday afternoon braces ran through winter sandhills pastures closer to camp.
Bird work was at a premium during the open all-age stake, with all bird contacts occurring during the three braces on Tuesday morning. Hot, dry weather rising into the nineties mid- on Tuesday afternoon made scenting difficult for the dogs. Nevertheless, one dog rose to the challenge with an all-age race and acceptable bird work.
That dog, P W Bert’s Joke On Us (Robertson), ran in Brace 3 on Tuesday morning. The morning started with promise as a group of grouse lifted from near the parking area as the trucks and trailers pulled up. Bart and his bracemate broke away nicely along the edge of a hay Pield. Robertson called point at 5, but was unable to produce any birds. Bart continued to make nice moves as he crossed the road into the sandhills. A few minutes after the gallery rode up a covey of chickens below the crest of a sandhill, Bart scored a find at 30 below the crest of another high sandhill. Bart pointed intensely, high on both ends. Bart continued to make all-age moves throughout his hour with no letdown. Shortly before time, Bart made a big move up a valley, with his handler producing him for the judges at 1:09.
P W Dot on the Horizon (Robertson) also gave a performance worth mentioning. Running in the first brace on Monday afternoon, Dot ran perhaps the race of the stake in the heat of the day. Dot has that knack that all great dogs have for showing herself at the right times and places shortly before her absence becomes excessive. Dot finished strong on a distant sandhill at time, unfortunately without bird work.
At the conclusion of the stake, placements were quickly announced with the winning handler, scout, their wives, the judges, and the remaining field trial committee gathering for placements photos.
The field trial committee wishes to thank the many who attended, helped, judged, or sponsored. The committee hopes to see everyone again at the 2020 renewal.THE WINNERS