NATIONAL AMATEUR ALL-AGE INVITATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
By: Jim Atchison
The AFTCA sponsored the 41st running of their National Amateur All-Age Invitational Championship on the six National Championship courses of Ames Plantation December 5-8. AFTCA secretary, Piper Huffman, organized the championship and would be the first to admit she experienced some stress as some the qualified 12 dogs were scratched, due to injuries and other reasons, very late as the date for the drawing was upon her. However, she quickly moved through her roster of the most qualified and readily filled the field of 12 to ensure the two and a half days of competition were outstanding and enjoyable.
The Championship was won for the second consecutive year by Hendrix’s Touch Up, an outstanding four-year old male Pointer owned by Guy and Burke Hendrix of Hernando, Mississippi and handled by Burke. The Runner-Up was Mohawk Mill Image, a fine seven-year-old white and liver Pointer owned by Gary Winall of Powhatan, Virginia. Winall also owned and handled the Runner-up in 2020; that dog being Mohawk Mill Trail Warrior which competed again this year but was bested by his kennel mate.
Dr. Bob Rankin from Edmond, Oklahoma and Mr. Brandon Johnson from Guthrie, Oklahoma judged the Championship. Dr. Rankin is a retired gastroenterologist and Mr. Johnson is a financial planner. The pair live only about 15 miles apart, not too far from Stillwater, and were a genuine pleasure to be with while they fulfilled their judicial roles. While judging can certainly be stressful, this reporter’s opinion is that the judges may have enjoyed this assignment, as the performances of the dogs that earned the placements were so obviously worthy of the recognition they received. Bob Rankin’s and Brandon Johnson’s services were genuinely appreciated.
An unusual and much appreciated character of this championship was the youthfulness of the handlers who competed. The 12 dogs were handled by eight men. Five of the eight men were within the 30 to 40 age range and handled eight of the contenders. Most of us are now in our sunset years and enjoyed and were encouraged that field trialing is not a dying sport as we watched Burke Hendrix, Joey McAlexander, Bubba Spencer, Matt Pendergest, and Jonathan Burch compete. Of course, we certainly like and appreciate the other three, Gary Winall, Gary McKibben, and David Williams, too. (After all, they were field trialing many years before 33-year-old Matt Pendergest was even born).
Purina was again the primary sponsor for this 41st Championship. Their assistance with advertising expenses was greatly appreciated, as were the premium quality caps and dog food given to each handler, coupled with the additional bags of dog food given to the handlers of the Champion and Runner-Up. Also, Garmin again gave tracking collars to the owners of the winners and their generosity was acknowledged and very much appreciated.
The drawing and all the social gatherings were held at the Rhea Memorial Reception Center again this year, with the hope that Monday and Tuesday evening activities can return to the National Bird Dog Museum and the Ames Manor next year. Prior to the drawing on Sunday evening Piper hosted a social hour with fried chicken the accompanying sides for the meal. Also prior to the drawing she introduced and thanked Dr. Rick Carlisle and the Trustees of the Hobart Ames Foundation for continuing permit the use of the grounds and facilities of Ames Plantation for the Invitational. Mrs. Jodi Letham, who has come to Ames as the Assistant Center Director, was introduced and rode continuously throughout the following days. Ryan Braddock and Chris Weatherly were present and would marshal, while Ken Blackman would drive the dog wagon and Aubrey Green would ensure safety at road crossings.
Food for the lunches and evening meals on Monday and Tuesday was provided by Linda Stewart from Holly Springs. Piper brought sausage and biscuits each morning and were welcomed by those in the galleries.
THE CHAMPION AND RUNNER-UP
Hendrix’s Touch Up was easily declared Champion as he demonstrated that he possessed most every skill and ability that one would ever hope an outstanding dog to possess. He demonstrated superior bird finding ability as he achieved eight flawless finds during his three hours of hunting. He, Hank, found birds every time he was loosed, regardless of which course or what time of day he hunted. He was consistently strong, to the front, and stylish (both running and, on his game,). This superior champion, whelped in 2017, had birds once, at 8, while running the first course on Monday morning. He also had an unproductive, at 32, during that hour. Tuesday afternoon, on the last course, he produced game at 1, 6, and 18. Then in the first call-back brace Wednesday morning Hank had birds at 2 and 11, shared a divided find with his brace mate at 33, and located a fourth covey at 54. Overall, one could hardly ask for three better performances than Hank produced for Burke Hendrix, with Guy Hendrix enjoying watching from the gallery.
Mohawk Mill Image was declared Runner-Up based upon his excellent performances in the first brace on Monday, the fifth brace on Tuesday, and the first hour of call-backs on Wednesday. He, Bud, produced birds every time he was loosed, scoring two finds on Monday, two on Tuesday, and one on Wednesday. In addition to finding birds, Bud was strong and always to the front as he demonstrated a remarkable ability to show up at exactly the right times and places to enable those watching to really appreciate his strength and style. His intensity on game was impressive as evidenced by quivering muscles each time he stood waiting for the certain forthcoming flight of quail. On Monday Bud had birds at 32 and 48, followed by an unproductive at 58. He then had birds at 31 and 46 on Tuesday and shared a divided find with the champion at 33 on Wednesday. Those watching and appreciating Bud’s skills certainly had to also admire and appreciate the abilities of his handler, Gary Winall, and scout, Ellen Clements. The three were a great trio to watch and the chemistry and confidence each brought into the relationship were wonderful to watch.
ALSO CALLED BACK
Mohawk Mill Trail Warrior, last year’s Runner-Up and owned by Gary Winall, and Pendy’s Good Grace, owned and handled by Matt Pendergest, were the other two dogs called back for the Wednesday morning third challenge. The judges did not ask any other dogs to wait on standby.
Mohawk Mill Trail Warrior, called Buddy ran great races on each of the first two days. In the fifth brace on Monday afternoon, he had a find at 24, backed his brace mate at 28 and produced birds again at 43. His performance on Monday was superior and probably the best of the day. During the first minute of the third brace on Tuesday, he backed his bracemate and stood perfectly during the flush and shot. Buddy then found no birds during the call-back on Wednesday.
Pendy’s Good Grace produced an excellent hour in the fifth brace on Monday. Actually, her work on Monday was probably second best of the entire day. Braced with Mohawk Mill Trail Warrior she found birds in the bottom at 28, shortly before moving up into the west end of the Jack Harris field where she had an unproductive at 35. Continuing, she then backed her brace mate at 43 and ran powerfully and to the front to finish. On Tuesday, in the second brace, she had birds at 20 when back near the Buford Ellington Road and slightly north and west of the stalls and morning break away. During the call back she became lost and Matt Pendergest asked for and received his tracker at 37.
THE OTHER EIGHT
Superstition Jake, owned by Ric Peterson and handled by Bubba Spencer was the top dog drawn to run in the second brace. He finished the hour on Monday but was not seen much during that effort. On Tuesday, at 11, he found birds which Bubba managed to flush from extremely difficult cover and soon had an unproductive at 18. His scout, Amy Spencer, had serious problems with her horse during the hour but fortunately was not hurt.
Rebel Survivor finished both days for his owner, David Williams, but found no birds either day. He ran in brace two on Monday and brace six on Tuesday.
Coldwater Paradise was the top dog in the third brace and completed the hour with a divided find. She and her brace mate shared a divided find at the end of the hour while at the south end of the field in which the first brace break away is made each morning. She became lost on Tuesday and her owner, Gary McKibben, asked for his tracker at 32.
Cocklebur King Tut performed very well for Bubba Spencer, with Amy scouting during the third brace Monday morning. He produced birds at the southwest corner of the Morgan field of the Morgan field at 48 and then shared the divided find with Coldwater Paradise at 60. He produced no birds and became lost during the fifth brace on Tuesday.
Misty Morn Masked Man looked great and ran nice forward races for Joey McAlexander both days. He had one find on Monday afternoon, which was handled nicely at 33 at the west end of the Chute. He finished with no other bird work on Monday and then found no birds in the second brace on Tuesday morning.
Mohawk Mill Good Advice came to the championship following the trauma of a recent past experience of being lost at another trial and not found until a day later by Gary Winall and Ellen Clements. His performance the first afternoon reflected his recent experience but he was much more into his game the following morning and handled a covey nicely at 54 while competing in the first brace.
Storm’s End was handled by Matt Pendergest while her owner, Megan Henry, rode in the gallery and watched. She had one nice find in each of her hours in the field. Birds were found and smoothly flushed at 19 during the sixth brace on Monday and again at 9 during her first brace hour on Tuesday.
Burch’s Set Em Joe entered under the whistle of his owner, Jonathan Burch. By the way, Burch is one of the Mississippi Mafia and did a great job scouting the Champion for Burke Hendrix. Joe was gone a lot during the sixth brace on Monday but started the third brace on Tuesday morning with a great find within the first 60 seconds of the hour. Yet he was gone again early on Tuesday morning, prompting Burch to ask for his tracker at 23.
Despite the anxiety Piper Huffman experienced just hours before the Championship as she filled the vacancies created by late scratches and the virus-related illness which caused her to miss the closing hours of the Championship, the wonderful AFTCA Secretary organized a great Championship. The combination of decent weather, excellent judges, generous corporate sponsors, the hospitality and facilities of Ames Plantation, and the opportunity to watch 12 great dogs produced two and a half days great field trialing for all who were blessed to participate. All left with the hope of accumulating lots of qualifying points in the months ahead and being invited back in 2022.