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Event: Dun Rovens Midnite Ike Named Champion; Grouse Hill Rambo Runner-up
Result: Pennsylvania Grouse Championship

Location: Marienville, Pennsylvania

Post Date: Dec 6, 2023

Submitted By: Mike Husenits

pennsylvania grouse chf23

Championship Winners (l-r): Dun Rovens Midnite Ike with Robert Ecker and Grouse Hill Rambo with Rich Warters. (Standing): Dick Brenneman (stake manager), Norm Meeder, Joe Cammisa, Jeremy Estep (judge), and Andy Bogar (judge).

This year, 2023, marked the 77th anniversary of the Pennsylvania Grouse Championship, one of the oldest grouse dog championships in the nation. Prior to the initial running of the Pennsylvania in 1947, this same organization held the National Grouse Championship, which started in 1913 and eventually evolved into the Grand National Grouse Championship as we know it today. Thus, the Pennsylvania Club actually started grouse trials in 1913 at Indian Creek, Pennsylvania, remarkably amassing over 100 years of historic grouse dog competition.

Through the years, the running at Marienville has seen many ups and downs relating to wild grouse populations and their availability on the courses. As grouse trialers and hunters know, grouse populations are historically cyclic, usually up and down about every 10 years. However, in recent years, the cycle in Pennsylvania and other parts of the northeast has been trending downward. Wildlife experts claim this downward spiral can be traced to lack of proper habitat (old-growth forest) and the presence of West Nile Virus (WNV) disease due to warming trends and disease-carrying mosquitos. No matter the cause, it is a problem currently apparent at Marienville. We moved five grouse and three woodcock over two days. Two of the grouse flushed wild with no involvement by the dogs. These facts are hard facts to deal with by many but are not so bad when one reviews decades of grouse trials. History reveals there were many Pennsylvania Grouse championships held during the 1940s, '50s, '60s, and early '70s when second and even third-series callbacks were held to try and determine a winner. At least 13 times, no champion was named due to either a lack of birds or failure to handle them. The picture brightened sharply in the late '70s when grouse numbers exploded and held steady through the '80s, '90s, and into the new century, then we saw a sharp decline over the past 10 years. This reporter recalls judging in 2011 with Russ Richardson when we counted over 100 grouse moved with a near-record entry of 85 starters, which incidentally produced 19 clean dogs. Hopefully, the cycle will start to trend upward soon! Interestingly, and by comparison, I recall judging this championship in 1986 with an entry of 40 dogs; we had only five with bird work. Wild bird trials are and have always been either feast or famine!

We are hard-pressed to envision grouse trials ever ending at Marienville. Memories are etched in many participants' minds, and to abandon this venue would surely cause the founders to turn over twice in their graves. Men like Sam Light, Bob Wehle, Rich and Larry Tuttle, Bob Habgood, Art Haight, The Willis brothers, Tom Flanagan, and canines prefixed with Sam L's, Elhew, Orchard Valley, Pleasant Valley, Grouse Ridge, plus numerous others. Early legendary reporters were Marc J Deberti, Bill McCarty, Walter S. King, Bill Allen, Al Pilon, Ben Jones, and others, all of whom made Marienville famous.

The current Pennsylvania Grouse Club organization is comprised of a small group of men dedicated to the job at hand. Accolades are extended to those who contributed this year and in recent years. Joe Cammisa organized the pre-trial arrangements along with club secretary Dave Duell. They handled the advertising, secured judges, made motel and restaurant reservations, and handled the drawing. Dave Duell could not attend due to a family illness. Dick Brenneman managed the stake and made sure the schedule was maintained. Brian Ralph, George Tinkerhoff, Norm Meeder, Rich Warters, and your reporter handled the movement of vehicles from course to course. Joe Cammisa kept the party well-fed with various cookies, brownies, snacks, drinks, and delicious lunch sandwiches from Bettina's Italian Restaurant in Marienville, where the club sponsored a Tuesday evening banquet enjoyed by all. R. B. Powell of Nittany Valley Trail Rides provided sure-footed horses for the judges and anyone who desired to ride.

The club was fortunate to obtain the services of well-qualified and attentive judges. Andy Bogar of Berwick, Pennsylvania, and Jeremy Estep of Troy, Pennsylvania, oversaw the championship. Both are younger men who bird hunt and have experienced success with their own dogs in field trials. A pair of seasoned veterans, Gerry Mercatoris of Brookville, Pennsylvania, and Dr. Tim Perschke of Marienville, Pennsylvania, scrutinized the Blakeley Derby Classic.
Sincere appreciation is extended to our sponsors. Purina provided product for the winners and donated for the Tuesday dinner. Thank you, Greg Blair. Lion Country Supply for donating gift certificates for the judges and reporter, thanks to Eric Munden.

Championship Winners and Contenders

Dun Rovens Midnite Ike, a 5-year-old setter male owned by Dr. Peter Millett of Edwards, Colorado, and handled by professional trainer Robert Ecker, was crowned champion. Ike is no stranger to the grounds at Marienville, having been in the winners' circle at the Venango All-Age Classic on two occasions. Additionally, Ike has accumulated several placements in other wild and liberated bird trials. Ike rendered his winning performance on the first day on Lamonaville course 5, an all-wooded hour course that lays fairly flat and progresses from start to finish in a circular pattern parallel to Lamonaville Road. Ike covered his ground with a forward pattern and an eye-catching way of going, the whole time maintaining a nice rapport with handler. Just when it appeared this would be another brace sans bird contact, Ike slammed into intense point just off the trail with less than a minute to go. Ike maintained more than adequate style as handler went in front and flushed a grouse that must have run off as the bird took wing some 40 yards away, as these wild grouse are prone to do. Ike held steadfast for the shot, and the brace was over.

Grouse Hill Rambo, a liver-marked 2-year-old pointer male owned by John Capocci of Richfield, Connecticut, also handled by Robert Ecker, was a solid runner-up to the champion. This was young Rambo's first win in titular competition, having previously amassed several wins in both open and amateur competition. Rambo ran on the first day over Loleta course No. 2 in the 7th brace. This course has held grouse fairly consistently over the years, having several areas with wild blueberry thickets, second growth, and piney woods. The course does have at least three areas with 180-degree turns that require precise handling response by the dogs. Rambo's ground effort was mostly forward with plenty of class, going through the woods in speedy fashion, overall, a medium-range hard-hunting effort. At the 5-minute mark, Rambo slammed into solid point and looked positive, but nothing raised or relocated. Sent ahead, Rambo locked up solidly and stylishly again at 15 as the party neared the Laurel Run sharp left turn. As handler approached, a grouse took wing a short distance ahead, with a second grouse blowing out from directly in front of Rambo, who demonstrated polished manners for his young age. Rambo finished the hour hunting hard to the front--a well-deserved effort.

Beyond the winners, others of note and honorable mentions included Sterlingworth Jack, a male English setter handled by Robert Ecker in the last brace of the stake. Jack scored a mannerly find on a woodcock at 5 and was looking good until the last 15 minutes when the heat took its toll.

Had any of the following three had positive bird work, the outcome of this trial could have been very different, according to the judges. From the very first brace that featured a pair of champions in Bo of Piney Woods handled by Robert Ecker and A Distant Spec handled by Mark Hughes, the ground race and application bar was set high by both right off the bat. Unfortunately, a grouse was moved near the 45-minute mark, but neither dog had an opportunity. The other impressive performance on the ground was Full Breeze, a setter female handled by Hall of Famer Dave Hughes. Had her unproductive stand at time held a bird, results might have changed.

The Running
The first brace broke away at 7:59 on course 1 along Lamonaville Road with Bo of Piney Woods (Robert Ecker) and A Distant Spec (Mark Hughes). As noted, both earned honorable mentions for their efforts, but neither had bird work.

The second brace featured Wayward Flyin Tomato (Dave Hughes) with Ralphy's Hillbilly (Brian Ralph). Tomato flitted through the woods with style and speed at moderate range, occasionally looping back. Hillbilly ran big but got out of pocket a few times, returning to finish ahead.

The third brace had Redrum Rosie (Dave Hughes) with Ellie Mae (Mark Hughes). Rosie hunted the front at moderate range. Ellie was very classy on the ground but had a problem staying forward. She had an incident at 20 when a broken stick got lodged in her mouth, but she carried on boldly after removal, then pointed stylishly near time in heavy cover but moved on before handler got there; a woodcock flushed wild in the area.

The fourth brace had Warrior Zeke (Mark Hughes) with Ramapo Mountain Doc (Ecker). Both dogs hunted hard at moderate range but birdless.

The fifth brace featured Double Deuce Zeke (Mark Hughes) and Dun Rovens Midnite Ike (Robert Ecker). Zeke ran a solid, deep-reaching ground effort, but no birds. Ike's winning performance is noted above.

The sixth brace started at 3:28 on course 1 along Loleta Road with Kissamee Grousewoods Tea (Ecker) and Miller's Hopped Up Version (Mark Hughes). This course is a known woodcock hangout area. Tea pointed at 4 with nothing raised, then did a disappearing act; the tracker called for at 25. Version broke away strong, and her bell fell silent at 5 along the right side hedgerow, but handler and judge could not locate her, walking up a woodcock while searching but no dog. Handler went forward and then called for the tracker at 25; the dog found standing a woodcock near where her bell fell silent.

Brace seven had Miller's Special Upgrade (Mark Hughes) and Grouse Hill Rambo (Ecker). Upgrade turned in a well-directed wide-forward race but couldn't come up with birds. Rambo's runner-up performance described above brought an end to the first day's running.

Brace eight started at 7:55 on Lamonaville course 1 with Blue Ribbon's Harper Bella (Ecker) and Braggabull (Mark Hughes). Both turned in classy forward ground efforts, neither contacting birds.

The ninth brace had Deciding Point (Dave Hughes) and Mojo's Remington Steal (Mark Hughes). Both showed plenty of classy moves and were consistent in application, but no birds were contacted.

The tenth brace had Suemac's Sashay (Mark Hughes) with Full Breeze (Dave Hughes). Sass ran a medium-range classy ground race, pointed solidly at 50 with nothing produced. Full Breeze, mentioned above, was a contender.

Game Winner (Mark Hughes) and Bubba (Nick Mellon) comprised the eleventh brace. Both hunted forwardly with plenty of style, but with the dry and warming conditions, no birds were moved.

The twelfth brace featured Ralphy's Chasehill Rip (Brian Ralph) with Mulberry Fields Molly (Mark Hughes) away on Lamonaville course 5 at 1:21 under bright sunny skies and warm temperatures. Both hunted hard but failed to range out under the existing bluebird conditions.

The thirteenth and final brace had Backwoods Wild Fire Blaze (Mark Hughes) with Sterlingworth Jack (Ecker). Blaze turned in a strong effort with the warm conditions but was without bird contact. Jack had the woodcock early, as noted above, but the heat took its toll.

Marienville, Pa., October 23
Judges: Andy Bogar and Jeremy Estep
PENNSYLVANIA GROUSE CHAMPIONSHIP [One-Hour Heats] - 16 Pointers and 10 Setters

Winner-DUN ROVENS MIDNITE IKE, 1685001, setter male, by Ponderosa Mac-Moonshine Cherry. Dr. Pete Millett, owner; R. J. Ecker, handler.
Runner-Up-GROUSE HILL RAMBO, 1696375, pointer male, by Bo of Piney Woods-Grouse Hill Prima. John Capocci, owner; R. J. Ecker, handler.

David E. Blakley Derby Classic
David E. Blakley was a stalwart, loyal grouse trial participant for many years and held several important positions throughout his long tenure. This stake is dedicated to honor his many contributions. Both judges were men of integrity and "old school" knowledge, namely Gerry Mercatoris and Dr. Tim Perschke, both from Pennsylvania. The stake was run on a separate course with half-hour heats. Though short on number of entries, quality ground races were evident, with the judges deciding to determine the winners based on this most important quality in a derby versus bringing a few back-to-point box-released quail.
The judges determined the best overall performer was Rockland Ridge Rocky, an English setter male owned by Gary Chlapaty of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, and handled by Robert Ecker to a well-patterned forward ground race with plenty of classy moves from start to finish.
Second was awarded to Ironstone's Shenanigans, an orange-marked English setter male owned by Eli Richardson of Boston, Massachusetts, and also handled by Robert Ecker. Iron's effort was every bit as classy as the winner, just a bit shorter in overall range.
Third went to Grey Eagle Molly, a fleet-footed female English setter owned and handled by Bill Drawl. She hunted hard and handled with a forward effort but a bit shorter than the higher-placed winners.

Pa David E. Blakley DerbyF23

Derby Winners (l-r): Rockland Ridge Rocky with Robert Ecker, Ironstone's Shenanigans with John McKellop, and Grey Eagle Molly with Bill Drawl. (Standing): Dr. Tim Perschke (judge), Norm Meeder, and Joe Cammisa.

Judges: Gerry Mercatoris and Dr. Tim Perschke
DAVID E. BLAKLEY DERBY CLASSIC - 2 Pointers and 4 Setters

1st-ROCKLAND RIDGE ROCKY, 1700815, setter male, by Grouse Hill Bullet Proof-Spata Setters Sally. Gary Chlapaty, owner; R. J. Ecker, handler.
2d-IRONSTONE'S SHENANIGANS, 1702783, setter male, by Ponderosa Mac-Moonshine Sage. Eli Richardson, owner; R. J. Ecker, handler.
3d-GREY EAGLE MOLLY, 1700978, setter male, by End Game-Riverside's Honey Howard. William R. Drawl, owner and handler.

Pa Grouse Ch Fist BraceF23

The First Brace: Judges Andy Bogar (left) and Jeremy Estep ready to release a pair of champions. Mark Hughes (left) with A Distant Spec and Robert Ecker with Bo of Piney Woods./i]