Straight Forward, Dick and Bob’s 9-time cover dog championship title winner, has died. “Cracker” was an all-time favorite of ours and of her handler to all her championship wins, Dave Hughes.
“Cracker”, as all the dogs in Dick and Bob’s 40-year old partnership, started and spent the first year of her life with Bob (the minor league manager). It was clear from the start that “Cracker” was something special. Her dam Quixstar was from a niche that produced nine winners (Pennstar x Barnburner). Barnburner, a terrific bird dog and competitor, passed on her bird finding and attitude on point to Quixstar, multiple classic winner as a young dog. Quixstar, was given to my hunting pal, Jim Smythe, and we marveled at her beautiful running gate, drive and skill on game on many grouse hunts in PA and trips to Kansas and North Dakota. When Jim took her to breed to Craig Peter’s, athletic and thrilling Ch. Keystone Red Rage, I told Craig that this was the best dog her would ever breed to Rage. Maybe that is true or maybe not, but I meant it and the results proved that there was something going on.
A personal memory of “Cracker” comes to mind when I think of her. In the fall of 2004, “Cracker” was still a relatively young pup. She was so precocious in training for me that I entered her in the Open Derby at the Nittany Valley grouse trial. Dick was traveling and I didn’t mention that I’d entered her to him. He got home just before the trial and I’m sure he thought I was nuts putting a 9 month old pup in the derby stake against dogs who were twice her age. On the heavy cover dominating the course, I had a tough time keeping her to the front. Helen, Dick’s wife, was scouting for me. I was glad Dick was busy elsewhere at the trial as “Cracker” needed to get out front more. I knew he’d roast me for entering her at such a young age. On we went and I kept calling to her, “Cracker…get ahead, Crack….head, Crack….head” Later, Rob Boos who was judging, asked me if I knew what a “crackhead” was! In the final minutes the course came to a 40 acre open overgrown meadow. At this point, “Cracker” found energy enough to rim the field and finished out front, still running hard. She got third after a sharp find in the bird field. I was smiling like a Cheshire cat when they called the winners. Probably this was “Cracker’s” least significant win, but the memory sticks with me today.
At this point, Bob the minor league manager, passed responsibility for “Cracker’s” development over to Dick and almost immediately Helen was handling her in training. Dick and Helen went together to almost every training session and “Cracker” was such a natural that Helen loved being in charge of her. It was never a struggle. “Cracker” was Helen’s dog. When “Cracker” won the Seminatore for the first time, Dick was proud and made a special point of giving Helen credit for “Cracker’s” accomplishments. Remember, “Cracker” won the Seminatore (top cover dog setter award) 3 times!
“Cracker” traveled as an all-age with Dave Hughes to all the regions where cover dog championships were hosted. We ran her only in championships, as has been our policy with all-age dogs for decades. No matter where Dave put her down, she won. From Maine/NH (New England Grouse Ch.) to New York (3 times RU NY Grouse Championship), to PA (PA Grouse champion) to Michigan (RU CH. MI Woodcock Ch.) . In all these places “Cracker” found the elusive grouse. Somehow, she had the brains to figure out where they would be and the instincts to get them pointed. The old cliche was true with her, the trial wasn’t over until “Cracker” ran. Dave continued to win with her until she was 8 years old. At this point, our friendly competitors would, in jest, beg us to retire “Cracker” so that they could get some placements. ‘
Perhaps the most important recorded win of “Cracker’s” career was winning the Grand National Grouse and Woodcock Invitational in 2013. Not only was this her biggest recorded win but it was her finest performance. On the afternoon of Day 1 over the famed Gladwin, Michigan grounds, “Cracker” in her prime, hunted with speed, great eye appeal, determination and intelligence to rack up 4 well-spaced woodcock finds topped it off with a grouse find in the closing minutes of her hour. All the finds required scouting and each time there she stood, straight up style, intensity and mannerly as Dave flushed and shot. To this day it brings a chill to recall “Cracker’s” performance on that afternoon. The rest of the Invitational turned out to be mostly a formality as the judge later recounted that “Cracker” had won the three-day event on that special first afternoon.
“Cracker” managed to fit in 3 littters of pups along with her field trial career. She was first bred to our Grand National Grouse Ch. Full Blast, In that litter we got our currently campaigned bird finder, Full Breeze, winner of the Grand National Grouse Puppy Classic. In the second breeding we matched “Cracker” with 5x Ch. Pennstar using frozen semen. From that litter we got both multiple winners, Super Storm (Bob Watts’ and Thor Kain’s producer/winner of the Peter Ecker Amateur Shooting Dog Classic) and Deciding Point (Dick Brenneman’s and Bob Watts’ winning grouse dog competitor in Dave Hughes string). Incidentally, Deciding Point now has pups sired by Maximum Resisitance. The winning genes carry on. Finally, “Cracker” had a litter of just two pups when bred to our National Amateur Grouse Champion Blast Zone, handled by Thor Kain and now owned by Thor. From this we got an outstanding shooting dog winner, female Power Forward. Unfortunately, Power Forward died this fall.
Upon “Cracker’s” retirement we gave her to Evangelos Aposporis . He’s an avid hunter and she got a lot of opportunity to do what she did best–find birds, especially grouse. We enjoyed the field reports and photos of “Cracker” standing proudly with her latest quarry in the bag.
Since 1981, Dick and Bob’s partnership has been focused in a determined fashion on producing, developing and campaigning cover dogs for these 40 years. We bred to the best, no matter who owned the dog or where they were located. We both took our dogs afield for training three times a week without fail. We worked with the best trainer/handler, Dave Hughes. There were no pauses, no let ups in our efforts . In return, we were rewarded with dogs who had the goods to get the hunting job done with class and win consistently at the highest level. “Cracker” life and career epitomizes what we have sought to accomplish and we are humbly thankful to have had such a great dog.