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Event: Cedar Valley Open Shooting Dog Classic
Result: Derby Field Trial Club

Location: Hoffman, North Carolina

Post Date: May 8, 2024

Submitted By: Margaret C. Drew

Millers Heat SeekerS24

Miller's Heat Seeker First in the Open Shooting Dog Classic.

Spring arrived in North Carolina two days before the Cedar Valley Open Shooting Dog Classic was scheduled to start on the infamous Sandhill Wildlife Game Lands known as J Robert Gordon Field Trial grounds located off Derby Road just three miles from the center of Hoffman, North Carolina. Folks turn off State Highway 1 onto Caddell Road at the BP Gas station in the center of Hoffman. Keeping right onto York Avenue (which becomes Derby Road), you then travel three miles to a large brown state sign designating J Robert Gordon Field Trial Area. Turn left at the wooden state sign onto a dirt road. At the first intersection, bear left and continue until you reach the clubhouse, barn, and dog gathering area.

The Cedar Valley trial history is well documented as one of Georgia's earliest and most prestigious shooting dog events. Beginning in the early '50s, the Georgia event attracted great handlers and their top dogs. Among these handlers were Robin Gates, Captain Freddy Epp, Eddie Epp, Freddie Rayl, Mike Wrenn, George Tracy, Mike Tracy, Travis Gillhouse, Shawn Kinkelaar, Luke Eisenhart, Matt Basilone, and Jeanette Tracy.

The grounds in Georgia were graciously donated by JL Lester, who allowed his cattle farm to be transformed into the field trial venue. LeRoy Robinson and his sons, Marty and Danny Robinson, had the vision to work with Georgia Speaker of the House Tom Murphy, allowing the property to be purchased from Mr. Lester. The area then fell under the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and became an area for field trials hosted by bird dogs and rabbits.
Members of the bird dog family worked endlessly to see that the grounds were bird dog friendly, with the Cedar Valley Classic being a favorite January event. The club also hosted a big fall event in October. Members instrumental in keeping these grounds alive were Ray Jeffers, Bob Coile, and Bobby Fox, who annually planted feed patches, mowed courses, arranged thinning, and numerous other items needed to host a trial. This included pre-releasing quail in September each year. There was a barn and, later, a great clubhouse on the grounds. With the aging of several club-founding members, the task of continuing these two trials fell to Terry Anderson and Bruce Mercer; consequently, in 2020, Calvin Curnutte, with the help of the Southern Bird Hunters Association (SBHA), the Cedar Valley Shooting Dog Classic was relocated to Hoffman. It needs to be noted that SBHA has been instrumental in promoting walking and horseback trials in the southern states, as well as stretching its influence in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

In hopes of attracting a large entry, Calvin devised a new format where more dogs and handlers could be recognized. He instructed the judges to name a "Dog of the Day" for each of the five days. These dogs were awarded $300. He also included $500 for each of the two dogs in the "Best Brace of the Trial." Not stopping there, Calvin offered a "Best Setter of the Trial" in honor of The Terry Merritt Setters. This dog received an additional $400. Of course, the purse was split between three placements. The total of all these special recognitions was $10,000. In addition to the monetary units involved with this Cedar Valley Classic, there were engraved sterling silver items for the judges and etched glass decanter sets for the three placements.

As readers can see, the Sandhills Game Lands area (Robert Gordon Field Trial area) attracts several very prestigious events. In the 2023-24 calendar season, the fall began with four weeks of the All-Age Jamboree, which included pheasant and quail competitions. The North Carolina Open Shooting Dog Championship drew 54 December entries, with 30 derbies to follow. The U. S. Complete Shooting Dog group held its National Shooting Dog Championship here in February for the seventh year and the Southeastern Open Championship in early March. The U. S. Complete are walking events, unlike the horseback all-age and other shooting dog events held at Hoffman. These grounds have indeed begun to live up to the founding father's vision.

I will provide a brief history for readers who have never heard much about this environmental gem at the edge of Richmond and Moore County. In early 1968, the North Carolina Wildlife Commission proposed a 10-year development plan for 950 acres of this sandhill game land area. At the end of the initial proposed 10-year time frame, this 31-mile planted strip contained 782 acres of sericea lespedeza and 84 acres of rye and millet for a total of 950 cleared, thinned, and planted acres. Some native brooks on the land and a few man-made water holes were included. The work on what we now know as the J Robert Gordon Field Trial Grounds began in 1949; however, the first field trial was not held until 1954. In early 2000, an additional course loop was constructed behind the barn, bringing the total number of courses to six. These six courses are about six miles in length and are used only once daily. Each course has a start sign, which reads "Start of Course 1," etc. In 2023, the state added road signs for dirt roads and safety markers along the courses. These small color-coded square markers denote where you are on each course by mileage. EMS would be able to assist if necessary. The North Carolina Field Trial Association purchases, releases, and weekly feeds over 5,000 quail.

The first two releases take place in early October, with additional releases in February.

The grounds at Hoffman are among the best in the country. When the wildlife commissioners established the J Robert Gordon Field Trial Grounds, their objective was to have the best grounds and attract the best dogs to the area.

When folks come to Hoffman, they tell about how exciting it is to ride the braces and even more to release and guide a dog over the courses. When birds are flown over your dog at Hoffman, it feels like a celebration; after all, it is usually a covey of quail, not just singles.
There is a state-provided and maintained wagon for dogs and people at the Hoffman grounds. There are 16 kennels on the bottom of the wagon, with hay and safety-locking dog boxes. Above the dogs, there are benches on each side. There are cushions available for those who wish to use them. There is water for handlers to refill water jugs or wet a dog down when it is hot. The wagon is pulled by a truck owned by a "wagon driver." The wagon departs daily at 8 a.m. and again around 1:30 p.m. for the three-hour trips. The public is welcome.

Without the support of dog owners and their trainers/handlers, a trial cannot happen. For "top shelf" events, chairmen have to obtain monetary support from other sponsors. The Cedar Valley Open Shooting Dog Classic had a small booklet dedicated to military men and women who gave their lives protecting ours and those still fighting for us. Inside the book were sponsor ads, but even more special were three biographies of friends of Calvin who gave their lives so that we might continue to live in a free land where we can enjoy field trials. Sponsors were: Drowning Creek Bird Dogs, Godwin's Outdoors. Inc., Hog Slat, the operation foundation, Aberdeen Supply, Smoke Rise Kennels, American Timber & Wildlife, 75th Ranger Regiment of military working dogs, Fort Setters, Comfort Studio Furniture, Midnight Kennel, Haney Pointers, Sandland Setters, Merritt Setters, Pat Brooks, Nutrena, Bob and Barbara Young, Dr. Debbie Ozner, Suemac Kennels, Roger McPherson, Calvin Curnutte, Sr., George Hickox, Coach Allan Johnson, Doug Meyer, Hunter Prevette, Will Herring, and Ed Jesson. **If interested in supporting the 2025 Classic with a donation or taking an advertising ad in the booklet, please contact Calvin Curnutte at 910-995-7902 or e-mail

Judges for these six busy days were Jim Crayne, Centre, Alabama, and Kyle Whitfield, Seven Springs, North Carolina. This pair was attentive to each dog and handler, often seen conversing at the end of a brace. This had been a very hard trial to judge; the grounds were nearly perfect, stretching for miles with lots of cover and objectives to hunt. One judge noted that several dogs had races we would all like to see our dogs put down. On top of this, there were several dogs with quail contact, again, often handled with high standing style after exhibiting stamina and ground pattern intelligence. The judges remarked that this had been a pleasure to judge and they were thankful that chairman Curnutte had provided for the recognition of more than the traditional three placements. From the judges: "A job well done," chairman Curnutte.

Also assisting with the smooth-flowing operation of the trial were marshals every brace for announcing the dogs and making sure that handlers were on course. Sam Giddens, Bob Young, Chris Joyal, Calvin Curnutte, and Larry Cox served as marshals. As always, during the 2023-2024 season, Greg Robinson was on hand and in charge of the dog/people wagon. He picks up and returns dogs and even provides water for dogs and clean hay. His favorite role is greeting the trail guests, whether handlers or guests, to observe the dogs. He provides beverages and snacks, including some freshly roasted peanuts and fruit. A better wagon master one cannot find. Lunch was available every noon, prepared and served by Calvin Curnutte, Sr. On the last day, some construction was underway at the Drowning Creek Kennels at the Merritt Setter grounds; consequently, Donna Crayne laid out everything needed to make your sandwich.

While attending a trial at the Hoffman location, there is a short 16-mile jaunt to Aberdeen or Southern Pines, where every hotel chain and even more restaurants are available. Some "special effects" were in place during the Cedar Valley Classic. On Monday, a farrier was present for resets and shoeing. The local Aberdeen Supply offered to deliver any preorder for horse grain, dog food, or hay.

Dogs of the Day

At a trial, there is an amount of luck involved in earning a placement. Often, the day has a variety of weather, the time of day, and the course one is drawn to run on. To recognize dogs that could have and would have placed at a different time, Chairman Curnutte requested the judges to name a dog of the day for each of the five days. Judges considered style, range, ground application while hunting, and if birds were located, how the dogs looked, and how they handled the birds.

Friday's Dog of the Day went to Patrick Roach's pointer male, Smooth Talkin, with Doug Ray. He had a nice race and was very classy moving. He scored a nonproductive at 45, albeit a high and tight point at 55, which ended in a relocation attempt, putting birds in the air.
Saturday was sunny, with the promise of showers holding off until a few sprinkles during brace 12, the final brace of the day. This threatening weather is usually a good bird-finding day at Hoffman, and today did not disappoint. Miller's War Bonnet, a female pointer owned by Joe McHugh with Mike Tracy, was given the title. The judges said War Bonnet's race was flawless, perfect in every way, until she locked up tight with handler, failing to flush birds. When tapped to relocate, things quickly came to a screeching halt as birds lifted before War Bonnet could get stopped.

On Sunday, those riding knew we were probably watching a winner when Tom Brigman brought his pointer male, Harbor City Express, to the line on Course 2. Harbor City had a strong race, highlighted by two finds (more detail with the placements).

On Monday, Miller's Little Duce Coupe, a pointer female and 2023 Top Purina Derby winner owned by Allen Linder and granddaughter Madison McDonald with Mike Tracy, was tapped for the day's honors. She had a consistent range and a very active and forward race. She scored a find and then had a mishap when relocating on her second covey find.

Tuesday signaled the final day of six braces a day. Miller's Heat Seeker, a pointer male with Mike Tracy, ran in this 29th brace, which took place after lunch on Course 5. He is owned by Muriel and Bill Primm, Dennis Hood, and Fran and Jack Miller. The judges commented, "Another perfect race, the kind you think you will never see." Those of us riding knew he had to be knocking on the judges' favorite lists with his three exquisite covey finds.

The judges chose the sixth brace of Day One as the "Best Brace of the Classic." The honors went to Waybetter Rebel, a pointer male owned by Allen Linder and Bill and Muriel Primm. Rebel was under the whistle of Mike Tracy. The judges commented on how gleefully he breezed around the course, always to the front, head, and tail cracking: a thrill to watch. He and bracemate had points called at 58 minutes for individual finds. Both dogs handling their individual coveys with polished manners. Smoke'N'Mirrors required a relocation, which she handled to perfection. Smoke'N'Mirrors, a pointer female owned by Richard Gillis and Stacy Goodie, was with Matt Basilone. Smoke'N'Mirrors had the rain beginning to fall as she and bracemate began their hour. However, the weather was no distraction for these two. Her race was consistent from beginning to end, always hunting independently with an animated carriage and seldom in the path.

In honor of Terry Merritt Setters, the "Best Setter of the Stake" went to Hatteras Rip Tide, a 5-year-old white and tan setter male owned by Jett Ferebee, who was present to observe his performance. The handler was Doug Ray.

When all the braces had been run, the judges met briefly to write down their choices, which we had all been told would be announced at 6:30 in the clubhouse. As it was late, photos were planned to be taken at noon on Wednesday; however, heavy rain and thunderstorm threats canceled those plans.

Cedar Valley Classic winners were announced following the special recognitions listed above.
Gaining the blue was Miller's Heat Seeker, a pointer male out of Just Irresistible x Miller's Bring The Heat. Owners are Bill and Murel Primm, Dennis Hood, and Jack and Fran Miller. Mike Tracy was the handler for this almost 8-year-old pointer. Heat Seeker ran in the heat of the early afternoon, although he was vigorously fast as he consistently powered through the course in an always forward pattern. Always to the front, we kept getting glimpses of his cracking tail and snappy animation. His three intense finds were breathtaking.
Second went to orange and white pointer male Harbor City Express owned and handled by Tom Brigman of Ross Hill, North Carolina. Harbor City Express is almost 4 years old and out of Stoney Run's Buddy x Mohawk Mill Ziva. His race was strong, with one brief absence; however, when found standing, he was well to the side of the course in an area where no other dogs had gone. His reward was a very large covey flushed while he remained intense for wing and shot. "An awesome sight," remarked the judge. He handled well and orchestrated the course to perfection, scoring one additional covey in his hour. He was carried from Sunday morning in brace 14 until Tuesday afternoon's brace 29.
Third went to the best setter in this classic, English Setter male Hatteras Rip Tide with Doug Ray. As noted above, owner Jett Ferebee was mounted to watch. Doug Hinton had whelped this dog with Black Top x Jo Veeta in late 2019. Rip Tide ran on the final morning of the classic on Course 1. Breaking away below the clubhouse at 8 a.m., this brace was away and to the front before scouts were on their horses. He was powerful on the ground, motoring through every objective with one abbreviated absence. He was stylish on point with well-indicated and handled covey finds. He had two finds and a back during his hour.

Harbor City ExpressS24

Harbor City Express Second in the Open Shooting Dog Stake.

Hoffman, S. C., March 22
Judges: Jim Crayne and Kyle Whitfield
CEDAR VALLEY OPEN SHOOTING DOG CLASSIC [One-Hour Heats] - 51 Pointers and 9 Setters

1st-MILLER'S HEAT SEEKER, 1674886, pointer male, by Just Irresistible-Miller's Bring The Heat. Bill & Muriel Primm, Dennis Hood, Jack & Fran Miller, owners; Mike Tracy, handler.
2d-HARBOR CITY EXPRESS, 1695399, pointer male, by Stoney Run's Buddy-Mohawk Mill Zeva. Tom Brigman Jr., owner and handler.
3d-HATTERAS RIP TIDE, 1690467, setter male, by Black Top-Jo Veeta. Jett Ferebee, owner; Doug Ray, handler.

Hatteras Rip TideS24

Hatteras Rip Tide Third in the Open Shooting Dog Classic.