Thursday, January 2, 2014
Fitch Farms hosts field trial
By SUE WATSON
The 2013 National Qualifying Field Trial at Fitch Farms-Galena Plantation drew a field of 24 entries in the All-Age and 16 entries in the Derby.
First place winner of the All-Age was Quester, a pointer, owned by the Fornear family with Ray Warren as handler.
Second place winner was Touch’s Knight Rider, a pointer, owned by Keith Wright and handled by Ike Todd.
Third place winner was Mega Black Hawk Prodigy, a pointer, owned by Bob and Serania Craig and John Sayre. Handler was Steve Hurdle.
Derby winners were – first place, Touch’s Blackout, a pointer, owned by Keith Wright with Ike Todd as handler; second place, Touch’s White Knight, a pointer, owned by Keith Wright with Ike Todd as handler; and third place, Skyfall, a pointer, owned by Bob Walthall and Thorpe McKenzie, with Steve Hurdle as handler.
Special thanks went to Buddy Smith, who registered his first bird dog in 1958, and who is a charter board member of the Fitch Farms-Galena Plantation Annual Open All-Age Field Trial.
W.O. Fitch, who became interested in bird dogs and hunting as a young man living near Waterford, thanked Smith for his long-time friendship.
“He helped me start the Celebrity Hunt and the Field Trial,” Fitch said. “We go back to him delivering gas from Memphis to me.”
He also welcomed Clarice Smith, who the two joked about as being Smith’s second choice, when her sister refused his offer for a date.
“Her daddy is Mr. Dyer,” Smith said. “Her sister had a boyfriend, so I asked her. She’s always accused me of being second choice.”
Fitch said he was honored to recognize his friend and board member.
“Thank you and your wife for your support,” he said as he shook Smith’s hand and presented him with a silver tray.
Smith honored a number of people who were active in supporting the field trial over the years – Sonny Hawks, Guy Hendrix, and the late Tom Honecker.
“You don’t run across places like this very often,” Smith said, speaking of the commitment to the industry and the hospitality he has enjoyed at Fitch Farms.
“Thank you, I’ve enjoyed it,” Fitch said.
Smith entered the field trial world in 1962 and holds the all-time record of 70 wins in one season and with it the “Handler of the Year Award.”
He holds 850 wins in the National Bird Dog Hall of Fame, including NBHA champions, War Bond, Tanya Girl, Fatal Attraction and Jack’s Jetty Betty.
His national champions are Cedar Oak Kate, Warhoot Rogue, and Shadow Oak Bo (only the third setter to win the National in the last 100 years).
Eddie Malone, chef, has been with the trials since its inception. He said he has missed only one season.
Two local handlers, Steve and Karen Hurdle of Hickory Flat, have travelled over the U.S. and Canada, entering bird dogs in field trials. He had a dog that won last year. He handles five bird dogs for different owners. States he has competed in include Ark., Mass., Texas, Ala., Georgia, Tenn., and Mississippi. He trains in North Dakota and Canada in the summer and just won the Saskatchewan championship and the Dominion championship. He was runner-up in Border International All Canada trials.
Hurdle said he places several dogs in the Derbys in those trials. He also has won the William Sunflower Championship in Hill Creek and Blue Mountain.
“There are a lot of good dogs showing up,” Hurdle said. “If it were not for people like Mr. Fitch, we wouldn’t enjoy the success we have had.”
Hurdle owns Back Home Kennels in Hickory Flat.
Bob White Quail
As they sat in the warm clubhouse after enjoying a great meal, Fitch and his long-time friend John Rex Gates talked about quail and bird dogs.
Bob White Quail:
• always try to go back the next year to the same place where they hatched.
• have an average life-span of 18 months to two years.
• normally have one nesting a year.
• roosters raise the chicks after the eggs hatch. The hens leave the nests and look for new mates after the chicks hatch.
• hens raise one covey a year. If the nest is destroyed, she may prepare a late nest later in the year.
• eat wild seeds such as peas and seeds around barns.
• food plots are milo, Egyptian wheat, and millet. Wheat plots go to seed in March and the seed drop to the ground as the head of wheat falls over. The wheat straw makes good cover for quail.
• populations can be estimated in the spring. The number of Bob White whistles are marked when going to different areas on the land. The count is used to estimate populations.
Fitch said he started the first field trial in 1976 but always played with bird dogs when growing up. Then he got his bird dogs on the circuit.
Gates, who comes from a family of bird dog enthusiasts, hails from Hickory Valley, Tenn. He said his family is from southwest Georgia and has been training bird dogs for a hundred years. Gates has a brother, Robert Gates, and his father, John S. Gates, who trained bird dogs.
He trained dogs in Manitoba, Canada, and near Albany, Ga.
“My brother won the National last year with a setter,” Gates said. “It is the first time in 50 years that a setter has won the National.”
Fitch carried the story a little further.
“The first 50 years was won by setters,” he said. “Then pointers took over because of their stamina. Then the industry started breeding setters with pointers. They called them a “drop.”
“Mr. Avant, in Hickory Valley, Tenn., started crossbreeding. He crossbred pointers with the Walker Howard foxhound. The dominant breeds came out to be the Walker Howard and Pointer. That’s when pointers started winning until the last years.
“Pointers were little bitty dogs. I’ve got into trouble a couple of times telling stories. One time that story got in the New York Times. Then magazines from all over started calling me for an interview.”
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