Blast Zone did it again this fall. In late October, 2018 as Blast Zone stacked winning The Pennsylvania Grouse Championship on top of his September win of The New York State Grouse Championship. These are the two biggest championships run in the east and the entries in both championships were 57 and 54 respectively with dogs representing all the cover dog territory vying for the titles.
“Strike” gave a thrilling performance to top the field. While in New York it was “Strike’s” remarkable skill pinning a running grouse that gave him the edge, in the Pennsylvania it was his powerful, to-the-limits hunting effort that distinguished his performance. “Strike” kept his trainer and amateur handler Thor Kain and his scout, John Stolgitis on high alert as he reached as far a he needed to in checking out inviting covers. He was on the edge throughout. It is the bond between a a dog and his trainer, the bond between “Strike” and Thor, that made it possible to have such a strong, searching hunt go smoothly.
Near the halfway mark, Thor realized he no longer had “Strike’s” bell. He asked scout, John Stolgitis, to check in the area where his bell was last heard ringing. After a long search, “Strike” was found in a dense thicket. Were it not for the savvy of Stolgitis’ scouting Strike would likely not have been found in time. When Thor and the judge arrived at the scene Strike was still standing tall and looking like a bull with his head high and his tail straight up. He’d been there nearly 10 minutes and looked like he’s just hit scent. A thrilling find to go with a thrilling race was the combination it took to withstand the competition offered over the following days by the 53 other competitors and to then be named Pennsylvania Grouse Champion, 2018.
“Strike” has been with his original owners Bob Watts and Dick Brenneman at key times in his life. However, “Strike” has spent the vast majority of time living and training with Thor Kain of Carbondale, PA. Following “Strike’s” win of the New York State Grouse Ch. his ownership was transferred to Thor.
At the Setter Awards banquet held November 5, 2018, in the town social hall, Marienville, PA, our young setter, Game Winner, officially received recognition for being the top English Setter Cover
Dog Derby for 2017-2018. “Finn” earned this prestigious award named after the founder of Grouse Ridge Kennels, Dr. James Flanagan, by winning 1sts in a series of important cover dog open derby trials. These wins included the Nittany Valley Open Derby, the Venango Grouse Trial Club Open Derby, the Pennsylvania Grouse Trial Club Open Derby. The topper to “Finn’s” skein of wins was going to Michigan and grabbing 1st in the 73rd Grouse Futurity. In this event, “Finn” demonstrated again his remarkable speed, drive and hard cracking running style. He is breathtaking to watch hunt! Point was called and “Finn” had a grouse pointed with straight up style and his training held as he was steady-to-wing-and-shot on this find to clinch 1st.
The Flanagan Award recognition means a lot to us. We have been fortunate enough to win the Flanagan Award 4 times. Our setter winners in historical order are: Topseed, 2000-20001; Full Tilt, 2005-2006; Full Blast, 2011-2012; and now–Game Winner, 2017-2018.
Steve Madearos’s setter male, Ozzie’s Crazy Train, under the direction of pro Mark Forman earned 2nd in the 74th Grouse Futurity run over the Allegheny Forest, PA grounds, November 4-5, 2018. Steve was on hand to scout as Ozzie ran a strong race featuring a forward pattern in the 4th brace on Day 1. A quality field of 41 challengers from all over the cover dog world vied for honors and Ozzie was judged thetop setter in the field. The pointer, Chasehill I’m Oscar, won for John Stolgitis. The course Ozzie drew featured a variety of cover from heavy broom grass, open timber and thickets of brush and aspen. Ozzie adjusted to each of these conditions without missing a beat. Moving through the bogs and reaching out when opportunities at more distant objectives presented themselves, he demonstrated his intelligence and the training that the Forman team has put into him. Near the halfway mark of his 30 minute heat, Ozzie pointed a grouse solidly with a high straight tail. He had the bird accurately pinpointed and as it got up he was poised. Inspired by this find, Ozzie continued to drive and reach as needed going down the stretch of his heat. At the pickup, all who were on hand knew they had a performance that would be remembered.
Futurities are breeder’s stakes. Dams are nominated at the time they are bred. Those who pay the nomination fees are betting that their breeding will win nearly two years later at the Futurity event. Jim Chambers of Uniontown, PA, bet that his Walnut Hills Rocket On Point, producing littermate to our Grand National Grouse Champion Full Blast (he also produced by Jim) when bred to Ch. Blast Zone would bring home the ribbon and prize money to his kennel. Two years ago, Blast Zone was just a derby but Jim had gotten the text reports for months from Thor Kain who was developing “Strike” and Jim had seen the videos of “Strike” handling wild birds of every variety a multitude of times. He was sold on Blast Zone as a sire. The mating would be a close linebred affair. “Strike” is a son of Grand National Grouse Ch. Full Blast–so this amounted to breeding a son to his sire’s sister. We have had success with line breeding in general over the decades and we felt that we had two individuals of high quality and we advised Jim to go forward with this mating. Today that confidence paid off.
Power Forward, handled by owner Thor Kain, stepped up a level from her official puppy-age status and was rewarded with 2nd in the Open Derby, November 2, 2018. This open derby stake accompanied the PA Grouse Championship, thus the 28 derby-aged contenders came from across the cover dog geographic spectrum to compete. They represented the virtually all the best that cover dog country has to offer. “Abby” is sired by multiple Ch. Blast Zone (who a few days later won the 2018 PA Grouse Championship) ex Straight Forward, herself appearing 9 times in the championship circle. A royally bred female to be sure, Abby was part of just a two pup litter born in August, 2017. Although born late ion the year and conceding a lot of age to the other individual competitors, Abby verified our confidence in her and replicated what she has been doing in workouts all summer and fall….running hard, hunting hard and nailing her birds with style and intensity.
Power Forward, 13 month old female by champions Blast Zone ex Straight Forward, went to Michigan to start her competitive career and came back home after winning 1st at the Chuck Pagano Puppy Classic sponsored by the Michigan Amateur Grouse Trial Club. “Abby” is owned by Bob Watts and Thor Kain and Thor handled her. This puppy competition was run in conjunction with the National Amateur Grouse Championship in late September, 2018. “Abby” was born in August, 2017 in a litter of just two pups whelped from 9x championship winner Straight Forward and sired by 2x Ch. Blast Zone. While “Abby” showed that she can get out and go hunting at this stake, the thing we like best about her is her bird finding and bird handling ability. Throughout this summer, “Abby” was with Thor and by mid-summer she was pointing wild birds, handling with with steady-to-wing and shot manners the vast majority of the time. It’s not our intention to bring dogs along so far and fast this early in their life but “Abby” wanted, almost right from the start, to stand staunchly on her birds. In the spring while with Bob, she pointed many birds 100+ yards ahead and stayed their until Bob found her and then she’d invariably let Bob flush her birds. It was only natural for her to respond to Thor’s training to make her steady and she’s stayed that way while keeping her desire to go hard and fast and wherever need be to find ’em.
Owned by Justin Evans, Blast Off, son of our Grand National Grouse Champion Full Blast, scored a bigtime win in mid-October by claiming the Northern Michigan Coverdog Championship. Facing a high quality field of 54 of the best coverdogs in the country, Blast Off waited his turn until Day 2 in the 9th brace. It was worth the wait as “Sam”, under the whistle of Mark Forman and DunRoven’s Drifter handled by Rich Hollister attacked the hour hunting course. Drifter was eventually named the RU Ch. in this event so the judges had a one-on-one direct comparison of the two eventual winners. Blast Off scorched the course, running hard and going to not just the nearby objectives but reaching when needed to check out likely coverts. First “Sam” scored a beautiful grouse find with the quarry accurately located and Blast Off demonstrating his high and intense pointing posture. This was followed later with a sharp woodcock find. This is the second trip to the Championship circle for Blast Off as he earlier had earned a RU Championship.
As with all dogs, there is a back story to “Sam’s” outstanding win. Four years ago, Justin was just getting into competing grouse dogs. It’s challenging to get a dog who can compete against the best dogs, who are often campaigned by folks who’ve been dedicated to this sport for decades. They’ve got the lines and individuals who can produce winners and understandably they are keeping the best for themselves. As Dick Brenneman and I have each been trialing for more than 50 years, at this point we recognize we can’t keep doing this forever and that bringing young folks into the game is critical to its survival. When Michigander Ken Moss bred our Full Blast to a daughter of his Grand National Grouse Ch. Moss Meadow Traveler, we decided to offer Justin the pick-of-the-litter, stud fee pup. The dam’s side of the female was from our Ch. Pennstar and we were confident that there would be pups in the litter who could compete with the best. I recall Justin and his son driving out to get their pup. While on his way, we were texting about my similar drive to pick out our first English setter pup. I recall on the way home how my 8 year old son whispered, “Dad, look at his tail”. The pup was laid out, sleeping on the front seat between us. His tail was straight up, at 12 o’clock! That pup, Wire, became a Grouse Dog of the Year and a foundation dog for our kennel with his genes contributing today to bird dog performances across America.
September 5 was another scorcher in the southern New York State. 89 degree temperatures and high humidity faced the 5th brace cut loose at 3pm on Day 1 of the New York State Grouse Championship. Blast Zone, our 4-year old male setter, under the whistle of handler Thor Kain was more than up to the challenge. “Strike” fired around the course demonstrating his high at both ends carriage. Watered at 10, he didn’t stop for anything until 35 when his bell went dead in a thicket to the left of the course. Thor and scout John Stolgitis along with Judge Ann Naus went in to look for “Strike”. After 5 minutes they found him and handler elected immediately to send him on. On command “Strike” dashed forward 30 yards and pointed solidly. Thor got in front of the dog but couldn’t raise a bird. He again touched “Strike” on the shoulder and told him to go on. “Strike” went directly forward another 50 yards and slammed onto point. As Thor approached, “Strike” was a statue with his tail at 12 o’clock and his head nearly as high. The pinned grouse rose from immediately in front of where he stood, “Strike” composed through the shot. This display of bird dog intelligence, instinct and experience was the key to “Strike” win of this prestigious and high quality championship competition. From here he continued with strength, not water stops, determination and enthusiasm. Going strong at the end, the judges cautioned Thor “don’t lose him” as at this point all realized they’d seen what would be deemed a very special performance under any circumstances, but made especially memorable given the extreme conditions.
57 contenders towed the line with scores of fine contenders, many champions, over the next four days. The extreme weather conditions abated. Some of the days the temperature never got out of the 60s. 14 of the contenders finished their heat and had clean work on grouse which were not overly abundant, but more than sufficient to have a fair test of grouse dog hunting skill. The Partridge Run Field Trial Area, Berne, NY is perhaps the best area in the east for competing cover dogs who hunt mainly in the woods for grouse and woodcock.
Blast Zone, the current National Amateur Grouse Champion, is sired by our Grand National Grouse Champion Full Blast. The dam, multiple winner Hard Core, is by noted performer/producer Ch. Long Gone Boston ex 24-time winner Electra who is from generations of our winning individuals.
While “Strike” is the best dog we have owned at finding and pointing steady on wild birds, full credit goes to amateur Thor Kain who has presented “Strike” with numerous opportunities on wild birds in his northeast PA covers that few dogs would ever get. In many ways, “Strike” has become Thor’s dog and Thor treats him that way giving “Strike” the best of care and development. “Strike” took full advantage of his environment and proved to be a smart, easy-to-train dog that Thor had essentially finished on wild birds of every wild game species before he was 18 months old. Trips to Texas with co-owner Dick Brenneman also sharpened “Strike’s” skills. For the past two seasons “Strike” has been used on guided quail hunts on the Texas ranch where Dick trains and guides in the winter. If you are having trouble finding birds or getting them pointed due to the hot, windy, dry conditions, then its time to get “Strike” out and run him.
Game Winner, earlier Winner of the Grand National Grouse Futurity, continued his progression to the shooting dog level by winning 2nd at the DuBois-Beaver Meadows Open Shooting Dog, August 24, 2018. “Finn” was handled by Dave Hughes. “Finn” scored 4 eye-popping finds which he coupled with a searching, forward, well-handled hunting effort. Known for his drive, running style, speed and determination, “Finn” showed that he can dig up birds even in hot August conditions. His four finds were pointed in front where he said they were and his straight up pointing style and composure after the shot were exciting exclamations to his bird work. He’s a special dog who Dave Hughes is developing and bring out his best.
Off to a fast start in the early fall ’18 trial season, Deciding Point, our female daughter of Pennstar ex Straight Forward, won the Open Derby at the DuBois-Beaver Meadows Field Trial Club, August 24, 2018. “Bek” was guided to this win by amateur enthusiast Thor Kain who has been working with her over the summer. “Bek” took a short time to get her trial legs under her and then she laid out a big forward and hard driving hunting effort. It was another warm August day but “Bek” was oblivious to the heat. She drove through the open fields and swung through the woods. Her efforts were rewarded at the 26 minute mark as she slammed on point in front of the clubhouse. Thor was able to flush the bird and “Bek” stayed true to her training and was steady-to-wing and shot. Over the summer “Bek” has handled scores of woodcock as well a a good number of pheasants with adult manners. She along with our other young dogs from our generations of focused breeding are developing much earlier than previous generations in terms of finding, handling and being steady to wing and shot on game. We’re encouraged with “Bek’s” development and thankful for all the work Thor has put into her.
Grand National Grouse Ch. Full Blast was bred to 4X RU Ch. Herbie’s Asta LaVista and she whelped a litter in March. A few weeks ago we trekked to the beautiful countryside just outside Columbus, Ohio, to breeder Shannon Humphries’ home. We were there to choose our stud fee, pick-of-the-litter pup. Fortunately for us another pup buyer had just dropped out and we were able to buy a second pup from this excellent dam. While the pups are just 3-4 months old, we are excited to see excellent potential in both the male and female we chose. The male, “Spur” and the female, “Fern” have boldness, energy, calmness when handled and standing on the board, independence, quickness to point and high straight tails running and on point. These are the traits we look for in pups and these two both qualify. It will be fun to see them develop in the months ahead. We are going to pay extra close attention to these two as their dam, “Asta” died tragically just a week after we picked up the pups. “Asta’s” blood must carry forward as she has a lot to contribute to the English Setter bird dog breed and her pups show it.