By Kim Adams Graham
The National Amateur Free-For-All Championship was held on Sedgefields Plantation in Union Springs, Alabama, on its customary starting date of February 22. Fifty-one dogs were entered, and thirteen were called back to run in the final series along with last year’s champion, Dragonfly.
The property is owned by Raymond and Kathryn Harbert of Birmingham, Alabama. Their generosity allows the Field Trial participants to descend on Bullock County year after year.
Jason Howard and Bill Lee are property managers of Sedgefields and see that the trial is run smoothly each year.
Elton Bray of Mississippi and Kevin Stuart of New York were the judges of this championship.
Morgan Brewer of Union Springs was the reporter, and Chance Kelley headed the marshaling duties.
Named champion this year was Twin Willow Ice (Kat), owned by 13-year-old Addison McDuffie and handled by her father, Hunter McDuffie. Bobby Hartwig of Union Springs has done most of the training during her young career. Bobby’s kind hands played a significant role in the making of the new champion.
This derby-age pointer female ran on the first day of the qualifying series, 24 days past her second birthday. Kat's three-find performance earned her the first spot in the championship series.
McDuffie ran early in the qualifying series, so his dog was paired with last year’s champion, DragonFly, who happens to be the reigning United States Open Champion. DragonFly is owned and handled by Jim Hughes of Bessemer, AL, and McDuffie was thinking, “Oh no! Here I am with a Derby and braced with the US Open Champ.
I wasn’t sure I had enough dog, but Dragonfly was picked up early, and we prevailed. But then, we had to ride and watch to see who would beat us. Fortunately, things worked out. Jack and Fran Miller (husband and wife team from Pavo, GA) earned the runner-up spot with Miller’s Upgraded Version. Miss Fran is a dear friend and mentor to Addison McDuffie. They are buddies!”
Brian Sanderson from Cecil, Al. scouted for Hunter McDuffie. Brian Sanderson is married to the former April Graham of Union Springs. It was the first championship for both dog and scout.
During the brace, Brian was called upon three to four times and was “Johnny on the Spot” each time. He found Kat pointed at the 1:20 minute mark on Turkey Ridge for the first of her two finds. McDuffie rode up on her for her second find as “pick-up” was called at the 1:30 minute mark.
During the first hour, Kat was strong and forward but needed bird work. The two finds in the last ten minutes were a bit dramatic.
It was approaching 80 degrees when McDuffie harnessed Kat after a successful find. She gave McDuffie an intense, gritty, and bold effort. McDuffie said, “I have been mighty proud of some of my dogs over the years, but I’ll admit tears were in my eyes as we headed back to the dog wagon! I’ve never, ever been more proud of a dog! Period!”
Addison, Hunter, and Mindy McDuffie’s daughter cried and hugged Bobby Hartwig, trainer, after the winners were announced. It was a very unforgettable moment for The McDuffie family.
Other locals whose dogs made the callback series were Joe Varner, Tony Gibson, Bill Goodwin, and Rick Stallings.
Although Covid-19 restrictions might have limited the normal large entry, it was a competitive and successful trial. The birds were plentiful, and the grounds were in beautiful condition.