By Darron Hendley
Conecuh Station Plantation in Union Springs, Alabama hosted the 2020 Region 16 Amateur Shooting Dog Championship. Known as the field trial capital of the world, Union Springs certainly lived up to its reputation during this trial. Handlers from Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida brought 40 winners to town to compete for this highly coveted championship.
Conecuh Station is owned by Field Trial Hall of Famer Tony Gibson and his beautiful wife Becky. Enough cannot be said about what they do for our beloved sport. They provide everything needed to put on a first-class event. Plentiful stables are available for horses. Full hookup camp sites are on site. A huge field house with plenty of dining space and a stocked commercial kitchen provide a comfortable place for gatherings. Their hard-working staff is on-hand throughout the trial to handle any needs that pop up. It is truly a blessing to be welcomed into this heaven on earth!
The field trial courses on Conecuh Station have never been better. No expense has been spared to create the perfect grounds for big running shooting dogs. Three continuous one-hour courses meander through the 4000+ acres of gently rolling hills and ancient coastal savannah. Towering loblolly pines spread as far as the eye can see. The Conecuh River which begins below the bluff in Union Springs cuts through the plantation as not much more than a sandy bottom creek fed by crystal clear spring water. Magnificent White, Blackjack, Willow and Pin Oaks are scattered about making for easy landmarks through the courses.
The Conecuh Station crew, led by Bo Brewer, spent the spring and summer thinning timber, mulching, raking, burning, plowing, and planting feed strips. Miles of brown-top millet and love grass rows provide excellent cover. Bobwhite quail were plentiful. Every dog had ample opportunities to show his stuff.
You cant have a great field trial without great judges. The Championship was privileged and honored to have two of the best up and coming young professional birddog trainers and handlers in the country adjudicate this contest. Michael Martino and Tommy Rice were perfect for this difficult job. Having bred, trained, hunted and trialed dogs for nearly their entire lives, they know what to look for in a champion. Not only were they serious in this endeavor, but they had a good time doing it together.
Tommy and Michael have competed with and against each other for years, but they forged a friendship that will last a lifetime two years ago in the National Open Shooting Dog Championship on Sedgefield Plantation. Tommy’s dog was called back for a two dog, winner take all, $20,000.00 brace to decide the national champion. Michael scouted for Tommy. Together they put on a show that will go down in history as one of the most exciting performances in field trial competition – and they WON! We were pleased that their families could join them for the trial. Stephanie Rice came all the way from Thomasville, GA to join us and brought her and Tommy’s precious children with her. Winnie Martino joined Michael and brought their two handsome young boys along. It was truly a family affair!
On Saturday night, the Alabama Field Trial Association held its annual awards ceremony at Conecuh Station. During the ceremony, the Region 16 Board of Directors, with the help of our gracious host Becky Gibson, presented the Sportsmanship Award to honor those that unselfishly give of their time and labor to further the great sport of bird dog field trials. This year’s award was given in appreciation of many years of work in putting on trials at Conecuh Station. Becky read out the names of those honored and announced that the award will proudly hang on the walls of the Conecuh Station Field House.
They include: The Conecuh Station Breakfast Crew of George Cole, Faye and Jimmy Duncan, Steven Hutto and Tommy Mote; The Conecuh Station Staff of Bo Brewer, Benny Chambless, Mario Hernandez, Don Lopez, Kenneth Newman and Darryl Smith; and of course the Social Sponsors “The Perote Ladies! “
Renee Peek, George Cole and Faye Duncan were in the kitchen every day before daylight preparing a delicious hot breakfast for everyone to enjoy. Ban and Allison Stewart served up some delicious lunches and a Saturday night seafood buffet that was superb. Jarrod Shirley played guitar and sang everyone’s country favorites Friday and Saturday night. Robbie Montgomery tended bar and put a smile on tired and sore riders.
Kenneth Newman was johnny-on-the spot with the dog wagon. Bo Brewer marshalled the entire trial. The weather cooperated to the most extent. The temperatures ranged from the low 60 to the high 70s. The first two days featured wall-to-wall sunshine. The last two days were overcast and a little breezy, which made it more comfortable. Unlike many Alabama fall mornings, fog was never a problem.
White’s Crossbow (D. White) made some nice moves. He had a nice find at the tool shed road turn but was lost near Lilly Pad Pond. Always Dreaming (K. Cantrell) is a real eye-catcher. She had a nice run with two finds in bird alley, one in the chopper field and another near the gap going to the Love Oak. She finished going to the front past the Love Oak.
Time Flies (M. Moses) hunted diligently and handled a big covey at the first ditch crossing. At the 40-minute mark handler wasn’t pleased with his charge and opted to put him on the wagon. Pride’s Smoking Gambler (M. Norris) Backed his bracemate at 4 but was picked up for a breach of manners.
Millers Big Iron (A. Linder) is a handsome male pointer, happy and tail cracking. He backed at 15. Handler requested the tracking device at the half. One Day Frost (L. Hodges) laid down an impressive ground race. He located a nice covey before Tear Drop Pond, handler flushed a rabbit at 15, and Frost nailed a single at 35. Unfortunately, two unproductives did him in.
Southern Sparkling Jewel (K. Cantrell) had a nice find in the property corner by a small greenfield. Jewel scored again by the Chicken House Road gate. Jewel continued with a pleasing pattern but suffered an unproductive at 44. Jewel finished going ahead at the Love Oak. Millers Just Plain Rowdy (A. Linder) went missing and handler asked for the electronic scout at the halfway mark.
White Knight (D. White) had a good run. He handled big coveys at 30, 40, 50 by the big lake and another at 57 on a pine ridge. Neeley’s Seal the Deal (J. Neeley) call name “Chip” is a beautiful almost solid white male pointer. He pointed with intense style near cabin drive. He was reaching to the front looking good but a regrettable mistake in Buster’s Bottom earned him a ride in on the dog wagon.
The 6th brace paired two dogs that are fun to watch, both big, tall liver and white male pointers. Both stunning on point. Panther Creek Merlin (F. Rutland) Had a back at 10 and a beauty of a find at 15. Merle was left behind at the tool shed, presumably on point. Lester’s Prime Poison Lane (B. Peterson) call name “Rip” pointed with his signature style and composure near Picket Bottom, backed Merle at 15, had a nice find on field edge and another far reaching find near pickup time in bird alley.
The first brace of the second day produced the runner-up champion, Miller’s Record Heat. She is owned by Allen Linder and was handled by Fran Miller. Allen’s granddaughter Madison McDonald scouted for Fran. Record Heat is a fast and bold 2-year-old, white and orange female pointer out of Just Irresistible by Miller’s Bring the Heat. She won the 2019 Pheasant Futurity, which is quite an achievement. She hunted intensely, far to the front her entire hour. She scored three perfectly executed picturesque finds along the way and finished big going just as strong as she started. Breeding, expert training, exceptional handling and experienced scouting all converged to produce a championship performance. Pineywood’s Jackpot (D. Hendley) ran a big out-front race but got hung up at Lilly Pad Pond and wasn’t returned to the front in time.
One Day Daddy Boy (l. Hodges) and Miller’s Cover Girl ( F. Miller) shared two split finds, first off the breakaway and the second at a plum bush near cabin drive. Daddy Boy had an unproductive but went on to rim Busters Bottom like it should be done. He finished out front near big lake. Cover Girl was diligent in her job and nailed a nice covey right at pick up.
The 9th brace featured two dogs with long graceful powerful strikes, but it wasn’t to be this day. Miller’s Special Edition (F. Miller) went MIA and handler asked for GPS assistance at 22. High Drive Whirlwind (A. Linder) suffered two unproductives and we headed in for lunch.
The Champion came out of the 10th brace. Dragonfly (J. Hughes), call name “Bud” is well known around these parts. He notched his fourth championship with a sterling 5 find performance. All that witnessed his brace knew that Bud was the dog to beat. Every find was far to the front, Bud standing like a statute, birds pinned directly in front of him for easy flush and shot. The first came at Youngblood’s Corner by a small green field. Bud could be seen standing from atop the hill that overlooks the green field, some 300 yards away. The second point was called by scout Hunter McDuffie on the right just before the Chicken House gate in a thick bramble. The next find was in bird alley. Bud could barely be seen 500 yards away. Just a speck in the distance.
As gallery cantered closer, the speck came into focus. Bud’s head held high and tail poker straight. Hughes confidently walked in front of Bud and a huge covey of Bobwhite boiled out. Shot fired and all was in perfect order. No let down by Bud. It was on. Bud repeated this scenario two more times.
Confident in his dog, Hughes hit the whistle with just one minute left in the brace. With seemingly unlimited endurance and stamina, Bud bolted to the front out of sight, kicking up dirt behind him. Time was called and Bud was no where to be found. Hughes went left and McDuffie went right. After 10 intense minutes, McDuffie could be heard in the distance screaming “POINT!, POINT OVER HERE!” Judges and gallery promptly dispatched to ride over the next hilltop to find the 2020 Region 16 Champion pointed yet again. What an exciting performance, by handler, dog, and scout! Sugarknoll Buzzsaw (A. Linder) didn’t make the gap in Youngblood’s Corner and handler requested the tracker at 22.
Southern Shadows T-Rex (L. Servais) hunted diligently and handled well but went birdless. Handler threw in the towel at 55 minutes. High Drive Fancy Pants (M. McDonald) had a perfectly executed find near the Bird Dog Cemetery and finished strong ahead.
Miller’s Heatwave (F. Miller) had a divided find, a back at 10 and finished with three good finds. Absolute Diva (J. Taylor) shared a find with her bracemate, had another to herself off Tool Shop Road and one more near the tool shop. Both dogs finished their hour back at the field house.
Lester’s Top Recruit (L. Servais) had a really good showing. He backed at 10, had perfectly executed finds at 15, 18, 24 at the Chicken Gate Road and another past the Chopper Field. He handled well throughout and showed up in all the right places. Jesse’s Cold Shoulder (J. Brown) had a limb find to the left at first big opening off the breakaway, backed at 15, 24 and 50 past the Chopper Field. A really good brace of big running hunting dogs.
Prime Passion Lane (H. McDuffie) call name “Dot” is a snappy speed demon. She handled well to the front and located a covey off to the left of the big hay field that had not been previously found. She went on to have another in Busters Bottom and one on Pine Ridge. An unproductive on graveyard hill did not distract from an otherwise good job. It appeared as though the birds had left her. Absolute Tornado (J. Taylor) was very responsive to his handler. He pointed a good covey behind the big lake but was taken up for an unfortunate breach of manners in Busters Bottom.
Millers Upgraded Version (F. Miller) call name “Dan” ran as a bye dog. It had become hot and humid, but Dan nevertheless had one find near Pickets Bottom and another just before pick-up. A credible performance despite bad weather.
Quail Roost Accolade (S. Wells) scorched through the countryside and finished with two polished finds, all in order. Barton’s gunfire (J. Brown) also ran a good shooting dog race. He finished with two solid finds and one unproductive.
Millers Packing Heat (F. Miller) turned up the heat. The speedy female pointer tallied 4 perfectly executed finds and handled like a dream, turning on a dime for handler. Bad Prairie Billboard (Q. Wiseman) could not find any birds, so handler decided to save him for another day.
Bad Prairie Valley Girl (Q. Wiseman) had an unproductive and was voluntarily taken up at the 40 mark with no bird work. Millers California Dreamer (F. Miller) had her running shoes on and was not brought back in after the breakaway.
Smoking Joe’s Rock (J. Bruner) is owned by Floridian Joe Bruner and was handled by George Brown. The hard hunting orange and white setter had a clean find at 8, but the tracker was requested at the 50 mark. Southern Ritz Lane (B. Peterson) had a dandy of a find on wood line at 5. She wasn’t pleasing her handler and was picked up in bird alley.
Electronic Warfare (B. Goodwyn) call name “Buddy” is a well-seasoned orange and white muscular male pointer. He had a beautiful limb find off the breakaway. Found another covey just past the big hayfield. Another on pine ridge and a split find on graveyard hill. Buddy backed his bracemate twice along the way. Neely’s Party Girl (J. Neely) is an attractive mostly white female pointer with a graceful stride and a poker straight tail on point She backed her bracemate off the breakaway, had a nice find in the hayfield, another in Busters Bottom and shared a find on graveyard hill. A nice brace of dogs to end the trial.
After another satisfying lunch, all in attendance gathered in the field house for the awards ceremony. Beautiful silver engraved bowls from Gibson’s Home Center in Union Springs were presented to Jim Hughes for Champion Dragonfly and Fran Miller for Runner-up Champion Miller’s Record Heat. Congratulations to the winners and a big thank you for everyone who helped and participated in this prestigious event!