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Event: Kilkenny White Mountains, the end of an era. The start of our second century.
Result: New England Open Grouse Championship

Location: Berlin, New Hampshire

Post Date: Nov 9, 2023

Submitted By: Jim Hathaway

new england open grouse chf23

New England Open Grouse Championship Winners (front, l-r): John Stolgitis with Boomer of Blackwater and Adam Dubriske with Super Storm Nell. (Behind): Tony Bly, John Olfson, Lloyd Murray, Jamie Nee, and Jim Hathaway.

Since the fall of 1924, the Setter Club of New England has held a fall trial. It started as a wild bird, grouse trial in Escoheag, Rhode Island, and went through various changes, running on any variety of wild and liberated birds. In 1995, the Setter Club of New England's fall event that had been running at Willowdale State Park in Ipswich, Massachusetts, as the one-course John N. Burnham Grouse Classic, was granted championship status and moved to the Kilkenny section of the White Mountain National Forest and renamed the New England Grouse Championship. Ever since then, for the last 28 years, Lloyd Murray, Tony Bly, Bob Lang, Craig Doherty, and others have organized, run, and done almost everything to keep this championship at the top of New England's wild bird trials. Life being as it is, it was inevitable that the management of this championship would someday pass into younger hands. Well, that time is here. But more on that later.

Day One

All the ride from our motel in Gorham to Kilkenny was fogged in. The turn onto York Pond Road, the entrance to Kilkenny, was like a whole new world. The fog was gone, and the sun was just starting to fill the Valley. If you haven't been to Kilkenny, the road in has small farms, some residences, and seasonal camps. A couple of miles from the turn, off Route 10, the first left is the start of Loop Road. Right there, at the intersection, is the meeting area. Here, we get everyone on the same page. Judges get their books, instructions, and recommendations. Vehicles are consolidated to bring as few as necessary into the trial grounds. Then, right at 7 a.m., as advertised, the caravan leaves.

Loop Road, of course, is dirt, rocks, and potholes the whole 12 or more miles. Brace one on the Moosehorn course is a 15-20-minute ride in at no more than 30 miles an hour in any stretch.

Before we get to the breakaway for the first brace, I need to let the reader know that most of the dogs running in this championship are owned by individuals and handled by professionals. Yet others are handler-owned, and their handlers are usually amateurs. Either way, in my writing of the happenings in each brace, I will write what I saw or heard. At no time should anyone consider what I write as a negative commentary on their dog. If you handled your dog here, you had an upfront, honest view of your dog's performance. If your dog was professionally handled, they should better assess his running for you.

To the breakaway of Moosehorn for the first brace

Championship Chairman Lloyd Murray performed the announcements for the opening of the New England Open Grouse Championship and the Setter Club of New England's 99th annual fall event. Cairds Cracklin Rosie and Mooselook Texas Star broke away at 7:25 a.m. Neither of these pointers is new to the grousewoods. Each applied themselves forward and to either side of the course from the breakaway. Just six minutes in, Rosie's bell either stopped or was lost to her handler, John Stolgitis. John sent his scout, Adam Dubriske, into the cover on the left. Star's bell was well forward now. Jack McNulty, Star's handler, pressed on with his dog. John slowed his pace a bit. Rosie's bell was heard to the front two minutes later. Both dogs hunted the course as best as possible for the muddy conditions. With 10 or so minutes left in the brace and after the brook crossing, Adam first, then John went into the cover looking for Rosie. Again, her bell was forward. Nothing changed for the last minutes of the brace. The only bird contact was a woodcock that flushed wild across the course not long after crossing the brook.
Getting the first brace done is always a feeling of accomplishment--a big sigh of relief. Then, with the direction of Tony Bly, the stakes manager, comes the push to get the entourage up the road for brace two at the Ammonoosuc course put-in.

Lloyd Murray and his setter, Long Gone DeQuan, are veterans of the Kilkenny courses. Likewise, John Stolgitis, regardless of the dog he is handling, is never at a disadvantage. This may be the muddiest course of the three used in this championship. The rains all summer in New England broke records and caused flooding where none had been reported for a century or more. Most of the course's downhill paths were moving water, but that never stops the running, and as the stakes manager would have it, after introductions, brace two left the line at 8:48 a.m. On the Ammonoosuc course, about 10 minutes in, on the left and up a bit from course level, a stretch of obvious grouse cover opens up. Neither the handlers nor their dogs miss their chance up there. Today, DeQuan's bell stopped there 12 minutes into the run. When found, DeQuan had to be relocated. A grouse was flushed, and the shot was taken. The first clean piece of birdwork on a grouse was in the judges' books. John Stolgitis and Sunkhaze Vera Masardis finished the hour strong and forward. DeQuan's was the only bird contact on Ammonoosuc this morning.

For brace three, Goldenrod, travel is a "You can't get there from here" kinda situation. So, we have to backtrack to the meeting area and around Loop Road in the other direction to avoid an extra five or so mile drive. Tony Bly was set up at the meeting area with his tailgate down and goodies out, waiting for us to come down and stop for a coffee break. Well, when the caravan came. Signals got confused, and everybody passed up Tony in a rush to get to Goldenrod. It took Tony a few minutes to pack up his goodies and meet us all at the put-in to Goldenrod for the coffee break and homemade cakes by Marie Bly.

Dogs on the line and introductions made, the breakaway for brace three went off at 10:37. The first 10 minutes of this course can make or break a dog or the whole brace. The cover is quite open with a fern carpet and is home to grouse and woodcock. Did I say woodcock? Only five minutes running, both bells were in the same area. The bells stopped and started. A woodcock did get up. But the bells were moving away from the flight, so it was chalked up as a nonevent. Three minutes later, Panola Bacon, John Stolgitis' pointer, seemingly stopped a bit more forward, and John went off course looking for him, but a few minutes later, Bacon's bell was heard to the front. To keep things cooking, David Theroux's setter Henry's Susieq Dot stopped deep in a wet bottom to the left of the course. His scout, then David, and a judge went down to help the search for Susieq. John had gone forward on the course to take Bacon with him, but Bacon circled back and scoured the cover just to the right of where David and the judges were searching for his setter. Bacon did get forward with John, relieving the confusion in the search for Susieq. David commanded Susieq to move or relocate. She did, but to the right, where bacon had been working. Susieq was unable to relocate any bird, so David got her back on course. The rest of the hour was uneventful up until the last minute. Here, Susieq stopped forward, downhill, and to the right of the course in full view of the handlers and the judges. With time up, David flushed and then relocated Susieq. No bird was found. Though no birds were pointed, I walked up a grouse from the back of the gallery while stopped writing notes. Also, there was the nonevent woodcock, and another one walked up later in the brace. So, by my count for the morning, that's two grouse and three woodcock.

The drive back to brace four on Moosehorn goes back through the meeting spot. This time, everyone did stop before moving up to the Moosehorn course. Nobody passes up lunch. Here, food only gets trucked in once, and when it's done, we gotta get up the road because daylight hours are getting shorter in the mountains in late September.

Almost 1 p.m. until brace four breaks away. Both dogs in this brace were female setters, and from the start, both were evenly matched on the ground. Adam Dubriske's dog, Super Storm Nell, was the first to stop 13 minutes in. She was found standing nicely on the right of the course. After a short flushing attempt, Adam touched Nell for the relocation. The relocation was short, simple, and perfect grouse work. Shot fired and all in order, Nell was taken on. Meanwhile, John Cullen was working Bandit's point a bit further up the course. Unfortunately, Bandit couldn't relocate what she stopped for. So, John took her on up the course. For the next 30-plus minutes, both dogs scoured the course until a bell stopped with 10 to 15 minutes left in the brace. Both dogs had stopped. John flushed up a woodcock for Bandit. Adam was on the left, too, with Nell on the same side of the course, not on the same bird. Adam relocated Nell after his initial flushing attempt, but Nell came up empty. The last 10 minutes played out on the ground between both these setters.

Moosehorn and Ammonoosuc courses break away from the same put-in, with one going right and the other left. Both finish close to the same takeout. So, back on the road, we go for brace five to the Ammonoosuc course. I had some hope that the afternoon sunlight would bring out the grouse to feed on this course. As Lloyd and DeQuan had one grouse find here in the morning, I was hoping for at least three this afternoon. I was braced with my setter Wizard's Cas Dubh and John Stolgitis with Ralphy's Chasehill Rip. Both dogs equaled each other on the ground for the first 40 minutes. However, at 45, with no birds, my dog slowed. Rip continued at a healthy pace, but not a bird was found by the dogs or seen by the judges or gallery. Sometimes it just is that way.

One more brace left to finish the day. The judges were bone tired. Judge Jamie Nee had driven from his home in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, to Exeter, Rhode Island, on Sunday for a field trial. He judged an 11-dog shooting dog stake there before making the five-hour drive to Gorham, New Hampshire, for this assignment. He rolled into the motel after 11 p.m. and only got a couple of three hours sleep before his 5 a.m. wakeup call.

The last brace of the day broke away on Goldenrod at 3:46 p.m. Adam was handling a young setter, North Country's Soda Pop. She only made it nine minutes into the brace. She was moving too fast and got too close to a woodcock. Chasehill Snoop Dog put down a great ground race for his handler, John Stolgitis, for 45 minutes before his bell stopped. A good flushing attempt and a relocation later, no bird could be flushed. Snoop finished his hour in style, but no birds.

Day Two

This morning was pretty much a repeat of yesterday. In Gorham, the fog was thicker, and its temps were a little cooler. But like yesterday, by the time we got to York Pond Road, it was clearing fast. Tony wasn't in such a rush to keep to his 7 a.m. caravan time. We had six braces today to finish the championship, and the three braces of derbies would wait until tomorrow morning.

After introductions, brace seven broke away right at 7:40 a.m. If you had walked this Moosehorn course yesterday, you could tell it was drying up quite a bit. However, if this was your first day on these courses, today's 4 inches of mud may have just as well been yesterday's 6 inches. At about the same time into the course and the same area as brace seven, where Super Storm Nell had her grouse find yesterday, Long Gone Juniper's Bell stopped. A grouse flushed wild but not in Juniper's area. When Lloyd Murray found Juniper standing, he tried but couldn't flush anything. With seven minutes left in the brace, Chasehill Wicked Wilma was found standing by her handler, John Stolgitis, with Juniper backing. John flushed a grouse. And with all in order, the brace ended shortly thereafter.

All three of the Kilkenny courses we used this year are on the inside of Loop Road, and all head downhill at the start. So, the mud starts there, and off we go on brace number eight at 9:07 a.m. Lloyd Murray was handling Tony Bly's setter, Stokely B's Ricky, and Tony was scouting. Just where the course levels off a bit, there is a nice stretch of sunny cover uphill on the left. About 10 minutes in, Lloyd sent his scout Tony to check for Ricky. His bell had gone silent up there. Then Boomer of Blackwater, John Stolgitis' pointer who had been more to the front, worked his way back along the same cover Ricky had been working. Boomer's bell stopped dead. Both John and Lloyd went in looking for their dogs. Stuff happens fast in the grousewoods. Well, the grouse got up. Shots were taken. Boomer stood. But it was more than Ricky could stand for, and he went with the bird after the shot. Boomer was credited with a divided find. Ricky came back to the course on a leash. Once back on the course and sent ahead, Boomer ran about 20 yards forward, then broke right, downhill a bit, and stopped again. Grouse number two for Boomer and John in less than five minutes. All in order, Boomer completed the next 43 minutes of his brace strong and going away.

Off to Goldenrod, brace nine. As always, before the breakaway for brace nine, it's coffee break time, and more of Marie's cakes to go with the coffee. This time, Tony was waiting for us at the Goldenrod put-in.

Two well-matched dogs for this brace--last year's champion, Neo, handled by Adam Dubriske, and the pointer Duck Hook, handled by John Stolgitis. As I said earlier, the first 10 minutes of this course can make or break the rest of the hour. Today, the entire run can be summarized by the first seven minutes. It all happened quite quickly, so I might have gotten the order scrambled a bit. Neo's bell stopped in the cover to the left. Duck Hook made a pass within sight of the course. A grouse flushed wild from a tree limb. John shouted an expletive; Adam shot for Neo's woodcock find. And that was it for the next 57 minutes. Both dogs pressed on. But were unable to put their noses to anything else.

Back to Moosehorn for the last go-round of the courses for the day and the championship. Two pointers on the line here--Partridge Hollow, Adam Dubriske handling, and Chasehills Wango Tango. About 10 minutes after the 1:05 breakaway, Tango was coming in from the left and let out a good yelp. He continued on strong, but a minute later, John called him in for a check. He must have looked okay because John sent him on. A minute later, Tango's bell stopped. John must have seen something in Tango's manner he didn't like. Possibly, Tango was injured. His run was over. Partridge Hollow hunted strong for his hour, with one nonevent. At 40, Adam's dog stopped. Adam sent Partridge Hollow to relocate before flushing. He locked up quickly again, but no bird was produced.

Brace No. 11 was the brace of the Kellys--Kelly Hays with her setter Lightning Flash Frank and Kellie Short with her setter Tucker. The first half hour was pretty much uneventful. Frank was handling easier for Kelly than Tucker was for Kellie. But that was pretty much it until three quarters into the brace. First, Frank stopped. A grouse got up before Kelly had gotten to Frank. Frank was found on point nearby, so he got the credit. Minutes later, Tucker stopped in the alders on the right for a nicely handled woodcock find. He repeated the process again hardly a minute later for two more woodcock. From there, both setters settled in and finished the hour in nice form.

The last brace of this championship couldn't be taken lightly if you thought your dog might be at the top of the judges' list. Chasehill Poison Ivy was running as a bye-dog in the twelfth brace. Ivy has been on the winners' podium with her handler, John Stolgitis, at the New England Open Grouse Championship twice in her last two runs. She was champion in 2021 and runner-up champion last year. Ivy was in fine form from the 4:16 breakaway. She wasted no time, only four minutes to her first solid point on a woodcock. Ten minutes later, she was on point again. However, this didn't work out as planned. No bird was produced, and John relocated Ivy. Things being what they are here. Ivy needed a grouse on this relocation to stay in the game. However, no bird was found. John must have figured out what was needed to place here today and knew Ivy couldn't pull it off with that unproductive point. So, Ivy was leashed, and the running of the 2023 New England Open Grouse Championship was done.

Back down at the meeting spot, everything was set up for the awards ceremony and naming the champion and runner-up. First, a thank you went out to the judges. As I mentioned earlier, Jamie Nee made a mad dash from Buzzards Bay to Exeter, judged 11 braces of shooting dogs, and then drove five-plus hours to Gorham to fulfill his commitment here, to judge. John Olfson had judged here for two years a while back, so he knew what he was in for. Judging the New England Open Grouse Championship in Kilkenny is no easy feat. Even if you are prepared for the tough terrain, the weather can make this assignment miserable. Fortunately for John and Jamie, the weather cooperated, without rain on both days. Also, a lower number of entries this year kept their feet out of the Kilkenny mud for a third day, which is usually the standard.

Now, the winners! Named the 2023 Champion of the New England Open Grouse Championship was Boomer of Blackwater, a pointer male owned by Cole Cullins of Masardis, Maine, and handled by John Stolgitis of Ashaway, Rhode Island. The runner-up was Super Storm Nell, a setter female owned by Thor Kain of Carbondale, Pennsylvania, and handled by Adam Dubriske.

Bill Kearns Memorial Derby

This morning was the crisp and clearest day of the three needed for this year's championship and derby. Entries were a bit light this year. I believe we are still recovering entry numbers that we lost during COVID. I remember puppy stakes around these parts last year were thin, and some stakes were canceled or run with just two or three puppies in the stakes. So, it holds that this year's derby stakes should be thin. However, get ready! The weekend before this championship, an Amateur Puppy stake in Arcadia, Rhode Island, drew eight braces and 15 puppies. So, derby entries will rebound next year.

There are three separate courses for our derby. The first is a shortened version of the championship Ammonoosuc course. Roy Hargreaves with his young setter, Leia, and Eric Rizza with his pointer, Basil broke away right at 8 a.m. Roy's setter got herself into woodcock in the first 10 minutes. Four minutes later, this is one of those "you had to be there stories," I was last in the gallery line. The judge, a couple in front of me, slipped and almost fell. She was helped back on the course. I came through the same slippery edge. Watching my foot spots carefully, I suddenly realized the spot I was going to step was right on a woodcock, right on the path, right where the judge had already nearly landed on the little guy. He flushed right up between my knees. How he stayed there through the previous commotion makes no sense. Both dogs applied themselves for the last half of the course, but no more birds were produced.
We use part of an old championship course, Beaver Hole, for our second derby brace. Two red setters were running in the derby this morning. The first is Andy Week's Ginny. Braced with them was Kellie Short's setter Roadie. Roadie got the better of Ginny today, having woodcock finds at 18 and 25 on the course. Ginny hit every likely cover on the course but came up empty. Roadie handled forward, strong, and effortlessly for Kellie.

The running of the final brace was on a shortened championship Goldenrod course, with an emphasis on running. Wild Apple Paskungameh Peat, Jamie Welch's pointer, and Red setter Braeval Rags 2 Riches, handled by Adam Dubriske, tore up every inch of this course. Whatever cover on the course one dog didn't hit, the other got to it in short order. Even though no birds were put to wing by either dog, their potential as top-notch shooting dogs was evident to both judges.

That's it for another year's running here in Kilkenny. We got back to the meeting area and made the derby announcements just as soon as everyone arrived. As always, before the placements, we need to thank the judges. Though only three braces, walking for an hour-and-a-half walk through the mud over rocky ground leaves an impression. Thank you again to Kelly Hays. This is at least her second go-round as a derby judge here. A special thank you to Lloyd Murray. He stepped in to fill the second judging spot when a cancellation of our advertised judge left us short.
Placing first in the 2023 Bill Kearns Open Derby was Paucek's Rocky Road, owned and handled by Kellie Short; second place was Braeval Rags 2 Riches, owned by Bradley Trotta and handled by Adam Dubriske; and third place, Wild Apple Paskungameh Peat, owned and handled by James Welch.
Thank you to Purina and Greg Blair for their continued support of field trials and our championship.
Lastly, as I alluded to in the opening paragraph, this is the end of an era. Since the beginning of the New England Open Grouse Championship in 1995, this championship has been managed by a notable handful of field trailers. Earliest, Tony Bly chaired. Craig Doherty, in addition to reporting this championship for five years, chaired it in 1996. Bob Lang aided the management for longer than I can remember, only retiring a couple of years ago. Top of the list has been Lloyd Murray. Since the beginning, he has been the one constant, holding the management of this championship together while others of us came, went, and came back again. And so it goes. Lloyd has decided it is time for younger hands and possibly new ideas. With Lloyd's retirement, Tony Bly has also decided to end his time on the front lines of the championship. As this era ends and a new one begins, the Setter Club of New England membership is prepared to fill the positions needed to move forward into our second century.

As secretary of the Setter Club of New England, I (we) wish to extend our gratitude to these four--Lloyd Murray, Tony Bly, Bob Lang, Craig Doherty--and others who, from the start of creating and cutting the first course, made the New England Open Grouse Championship what it is. Now, on the verge of the Setter Club's 100th Anniversary, 1924-2024, much more has yet to come.

See you all next year for the 100th annual running of the Setter Club of New England's fall field trial and the 30th New England Open Grouse Championship.

Berlin, N. H., September 25 - One Course
Judges: Jamie Nee and John Olfson
NEW ENGLAND OPEN GROUSE CHAMPIONSHIP [One-Hour Heats] - 12 Pointers and 11 Setters

Winner-BOOMER OF BLACKWATER, 1676576, pointer male, by The Guardian-Let's Roll Possum. Cole Cullins, owner; John Stolgitis, handler.
Runner-Up-SUPER STORM NELL, 1687466, setter female, by Blast Zone-Bridgewater Mt. Pemi. Thor Kain, owner; Adam Dubriske, handler.

Bill Kearns Memorial Open DerbyF23

Bill Kearns Memorial Open Derby Winners (front, l-r): Kellie Short with Paucek's Rocky Road, Adam Dubriske with Braeval Rags 2 Riches, and James Welch with Wild Apple Paskungameh Peat. (Behind): Kelly Hays, Tony Bly, and Lloyd Murray.

Judges: Kelly Hays and Lloyd Murray

1st-PAUCEK'S ROCKY ROAD, 1704261, setter female, by Long Gone Porky-Paucek's Mandy. Kellie Short, owner and handler.
2d-BRAEVAL RAGS 2 RICHES, 1703536, Irish setter male, by Braeval Ghillie-Braeval Skye. Bradley Trotta, owner; Adam Dubriske, handler.
3d-WILD APPLE PASKUNGAMEH PEAT, 1704941, pointer male, by Elhew Snakewood-Wild Apple Tiger Lily. James Welch, owner and handler.

Derby Breakaway on the Beaver Hole CourseF23

Derby breakaway on the Beaver Hole course.

Lloyd Murray and Bob LangF23

Lloyd Murray and Bob Lang.