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Result: ABHA National Open Free-for-All Championship

Location: Lavergne, Tennessee

Post Date: Mar 27, 2023

Submitted By: Kenny DeLong


ABHA National Free-for-All Winners. From left: Aaron MacFee; Cliff Monroe with Champion Twiggy; Judge Chad Wheeler; Trial Chair Ronnie Rogers; Kenny DeLong with Runner-Up CH Faith's Maximum Justice; Tammi Savage; Judge Taylor Henley.

The 2023 renewal of the ABHA National Free-for-All unfolded over the course of four days in mid-January on the gorgeous grounds of Percy Priest Wildlife Area Southeast of Nashville. Mother Nature gave us just about everything January could offer in this part of the country--at times pausing the trial proceedings for an hour or two until she changed her mind. We all enjoyed rain, thunder, lightning, hail, wind, snow squalls, low, grey clouds, and even brisk, cool and clear mornings and late afternoons with bright sunshine. Captain (Ronnie) Rogers kept the field trial sailing smoothly, with help from Taylor and Courtney Henley, well-known professional Justin Crook, Clubhouse and Kitchen Kommanders Admiral Daphne Rogers, First Mate/granddaughter Kaitlyn, all-purpose helper Tammi Savage, Road Patrol & Dog Taxi Coordinator Gary Vitali, and Cliff Monroe at the wheel of Tony Bingham's rig (serving as a dog wagon), among many other volunteers who pitched in on the spot when asked. Sumptuous lunches (Saturday's pork roast, green beans, cole slaw, and homemade apple pie stick out in this reporter's mind) were served by the Admiral and First Mate at midday, and Captain Rogers always said Grace. The attentive eyes and experienced insight of Judges "Homegrown" Taylor Henley and Chad "The Virginian" Wheeler closely scrutinized the bird dogs in every stake. For their efforts and expertise, we are extremely grateful. We would also like to thank our sponsors, SportDOG (training equipment) and Valu-Pak (dog food) for helping make the winners even happier.

Tony Bingham, Aaron Macfee, Cliff Monroe, James Cleve, and the Ridings family all brought their strings of good dogs to this venue for either the first time ever, or in quite a while, anyway. Justin Crook, somewhat of a regular here, brought his string as well. We were happy to have a very respectable entry of 29 quality competitors for the Championship. Fourteen full braces ran Thursday and Friday in 45-minute heats. Judges called back dogs based on their performances in those preliminaries to run (after a day's rest) on Sunday morning in the one-hour Finals. The previous year's Champion automatically qualified for the Finals per rule and custom.

A good number of fine shooting dog performances were carded in the preliminary heats of the Free-for-All on Thursday and Friday in frequently tough weather conditions. Bird planting was exceptional, and bird work was plentiful across all stakes and all four days of competition, with many dogs having multiple finds. The dogs that stood out to the Judges and were named to the Finals were the Pointer females "Twiggy" (Monroe) and "Fast Money" (Crook), pointer males "Gone n' Done It" and "Chipster" (both Bingham), and the setter male "Gun's Pistol Pete" (Crook). These five were to be joined by Kenny DeLong's multiple Champion Pointer male "Faith's Maximum Justice" (the previous FFA Champion). Those three braces were scheduled to run Sunday morning, with "Mohawk Mill Warhawk" and "Shovel Creek Belle" (Bingham), and "Caird's Lefty" (Sam Ridings) in reserve. Anyone who had seen Twiggy and Fast Money each run in the last braces of both Thursday and Friday late afternoon was excited to learn that they were paired together in the second brace of the Finals. Having watched Twiggy excel and place on the previous weekend in Virginia, this reporter was looking forward to an exciting, very competitive hour of quality, classic birddawggin'!

Sunday morning dawned clear and a very cold 23 degrees. The decision was made to delay the breakaway of the Championship finals an hour to allow the sun to warm things up a bit. Early scenting conditions are notoriously difficult at Percy Priest, and it is often not until 10 am or so that scent begins to rise and carry some. The first brace of the finals broke away just before 9 a.m. After three braces were completed, judges were satisfied they had what they were looking for and no reserve dogs were called.

Craig Monroe's pointer female "Twiggy", running in the second brace, was named Champion with a truly deserving performance. She and her bracemate "Fast Money" (Molly), handled by Justin Crook, really put on a show, just as I had anticipated. Starting with a divided find at the 2-minute mark, Twiggy went on to pace herself smartly and evenly through the tighter first half of the course, adding crisp finds at 12, 17, 22, and a very nice honor of her bracemate at 26. She then settled into a pleasant, forward, moderate range for the rest of the hour, adding another divided find at 39---finishing to the front and slamming into a picturesque point on a pair of hen pheasants just after time was called. A Premium Hour! Animated and classy on the ground! Staunch and stylish on point! And one heck of a bird finding exhibition!! Bracemate Molly had added a small covey find at 17 that required relocation before she could pin it. She then stuck birds at 26 and 34 before the shared find with Twiggy at 39. At about the 42-minute mark, a then supercharged Molly decided to make a high voltage cast and a half, taking the rim of a big field in what was not the most favorable direction. Justin was unable to turn her, and the scout could not reel her in, so the tracker was reluctantly called for at 48, ending her impressive bid--to the dismay of all who were watching.

Kenny DeLong's 8-year-old pointer male, Faith's Maximum Justice was named runner-up Champion. Justice was the returning Champion and ran in the chilly first brace with Tony Bingham's "Gone N' Done It". Justice had undergone ACL surgery three weeks after last year's Free-for-All, and had spent all Spring and Summer intensively rehabbing, but came back to compete and win in the Fall. Another less severe rear leg injury in late October had Kenny doubling down on the rehab efforts in the hope that Justice might honorably defend his Title here at Percy Priest. Many thanks to God, Tammi, and Sammy (the Vet Tech/Rehab Specialist/ training partner). The Lord was truly with us all the way! Justice broke away strong and forward, maintaining contact and navigating the somewhat tighter first 30 minutes of the course with animation & intelligence. Intently searching for Bob with long strides stretching ever further out, he handled smoothly and kindly, occasionally turning his head from a few hundred yards out to touch base with Kenny. The course opens quite a bit in the second half, and Justice responded accordingly. It seemed each time he was out of sight for a few minutes Kenny would raise his arm and point out his fancy running charge several hundred yards ahead-- across a big field (or two!) - cracking his tail and taking the line like a seasoned competitor. After rimming a large field and showing to the front, Justice went through a break in the tree line at about the 50-minute mark and turned right. He did not show forward after that. His bracemate came from a different direction, went through the cut and hit the brakes. After some minutes, the handler and judges arrived on scene observing Gone and Dun It honoring Justice, who had been standing out of sight in the corner. Kenny spoke to the dog to move it up...Justice took one step and looked to the right -- locking up again tightly, eyes fixed. After a vigorous flushing attempt, Judge Wheeler pointed out the buried bird and handler got the quail airborne. The pointer stood motionless as Bob took a floppy, short flight and Kenny fired. Justice was taken on, released, and shot quickly ahead down the tree line searching for more birds. Reaching far forward as time was called, Justice responded promptly to Kenny's whistle and came to the leash.

Briefly challenging the winners was "Gun's Pistol Pete" Justin Crook's setter male who was putting down a very nice race through the early part of the course and was spotted on point, buried in the tree line across from the first lake. Justin flushed as first one, then three or four more bobs lifted from in front of the initially very staunch 8-year-old, who tried vainly to resist following the covey rise as Justin fired and was heard exclaiming, "Damn! .... Well, hell! ------ Go get 'em Pete!" His bracemate finished the hour in satisfactory fashion, with multiple bird contacts and two unproductives. Judges talked briefly while unsaddling horses and were quickly in agreement. Placements were well received a short time later in the clubhouse.
The horseback shooting dog drew a nice entry and was indeed competitive, with plenty of bird work for judges to appraise. Mr. Rogers was clearly comfortable and "in his neighborhood" running the veteran setter Thor. The eight-year-old had apparently visited the fountain of youth before breaking away---yours truly thought he was watching a dog half that age! Thor reached out big and forward, taking lines like the veteran he is, knowing the "neighborhood" as well or better than his owner. Three stylish finds at 3, 13, and 26 sealed the deal for the team and earned them the Blue Ribbon. Second place went to the pointer male "Lucky" (Bingham/MacFee), who also ran a very nice race and scored finds at 4, 10, and 28, but suffered a non-productive at 18. Justin Crook's setter male "Pete" rounded out the placements with an impressive honor at 7 and a buried line find at 15.

A dozen dogs competed in the Open Walking Derby Saturday in cool, breezy conditions under a partly cloudy sky. Again, birds were plentiful. Judges had more than a few quality performances to discuss and sort out by the time the stake was completed. Pointers swept this one, with Tony Bingham handling the hard-charging Mickey to three quality finds and the first-place spot. Aaron MacFee guided both the second and third place pointers around the course and to the winners' platform. Rebel took the red ribbon with finds at 6, 11, and 19 --- laying down a huge, boldly independent race that required every bit of the time available after the 30 minutes to reel him in. Judges liked this dog. As the scout announced he had the dog on the lead, one glanced at his watch, leaned over and smiled at his judging partner whispering, "now that's cutting it close!" The yellow went to Bern and her more moderate race that yielded a divided find at 5, a very nice honor at 10, and another find at 16. Bern finished in view, going well forward.

The companion stakes wrapped up Saturday late afternoon as judges paid close attention to three braces of young ones in the Open Walking Puppy. Gary Vitali handled his setter male "Brew", the most consistent and forward of the pups, to the top spot. While Gary may well have enjoyed the kind of Blue Ribbon that comes in a can after it was all over, this blue rosette is now on his wall in Kentucky. Terry Boatright brought his "Lucy" setter down from Kentucky as well and was able to sing (mostly on key) her around the course in fine fairly forward fashion---good enough for second place. Mr. Vitali, however, was apparently not content with just one ribbon. Must be those periodic trips to compete in Michigan have warmed him to the "maize & blue", as "Dazzle" showed enough stuff to earn the yellow for Gary to hang next to Brew's Blue Ribbon back home.

This was a great trial. We had a whole buncha good dogs. We had all kinda weather. We had good food and fellowship in the clubhouse and great gatherings at the Buffet in the evenings. We had fun! There was more laughing and guffawing at the breakaway, around the course, in the barn and parking lot than at most trials I have seen in the nearly 40 years I've been enjoying this game. We are blessed to have our dogs and each other, as well as beautiful grounds like these to enjoy and do what drives us---two and four-legged alike---what we love!
Once again, we thank everyone that came and participated and helped in whatever way.

Special thanks to The Rogers Family for all the work running the trial---so much of it before and after, and therefore unseen. I personally thank Ronnie for the fine and spirited horse and giving me the opportunity to ride every brace of a fine, healthy, competitive four days of field trialing. We emphatically thank our judges for their time and wisdom.

We thank our sponsors SportDOG and Valu-Pak. Most of all we thank the Lord for watching over us all, keeping us safe and in awe of His Amazing Grace. We are Truly Blessed!
See Y'all Next Year!
LaVergne, Tenn., January 12
Judges: Taylor Henley and Chad Wheeler
ABHA NATIONAL FREE-FOR-ALL CHAMPIONSHIP [Forty-Five Minute Qualifying Heats; One-Hour Callback] - 26 Pointers and 3 Setters

Winner-TWIGGY, 1690766, pointer female, by Mohawk Mill Trail Warrior-Sinbad's Little Lady. Cliff Monroe, owner and handler.
Runner-Up-FAITH'S MAXIMUM JUSTICE, 1662076, pointer male, by Nelson's Van Max-Wild Apple Faith. Kenric J. DeLong, owner and handler.


ABHA OPEN SHOOTING DOG - 10 Pointers and 2 Setters
1st-THOR FOR PRESIDENT, 1663680, setter male, by Agent J-Forstar Dirty Dancer. Daphne Rogers, owner; Ronnie Rogers, handler.
2d-HIROLLINS B K BUSHWACKER, 1696970, pointer male, by B K Pablo Escobar-B K Hirrollins Wild. Warren Parrott, owner; Warren Parrott, handler.
3d-GUN'S PISTOL PETE, 1667396, setter male, by Barker's Big Coon-Carpertenter's Daisy Duke. Colby Tackett, owner; Justin Cook, handler.


Open Horseback Shooting Dog Winners: Tony Bingham; Aaron MacFee with Hirollins B K Bushwacker, second, Ronnie and Daphne Rogers with Thor For President, first, Judge Taylor Henley. Back row: Kenny DeLong; Gary Vitali; Judge Chad Wheeler; Cliff Monroe.

ABHA OPEN DERBY - 8 Ponters and 4 Setters
1st-REDBUD'S HUNTING CATCHER, 1697098, pointer male, by Clayhill Bones-Stante River Ice Cream. Aaron McAfee, owner and handler.
2d-REDBUD'S SOUTHERN BOY, 1697099, pointer male, by Walker's Legacy-Redbud's Country Girl. Aaron McAfee, owner and handler.
3d-CROW CREEK REDBUD, 1697119, pointer female, by Walker's Legacy-Redbud's Country Girl. Ken Black, owner; Aaron McAfee, handler.

ABHA DerbyS23

Open Derby Winners. From left: Cliff Monroe with Redbud's Lightning Catcher, first, Aaron MacFee with Redbud's Southern Boy, second; J. D. Waters posing Crow Creek Redbud.

ABHA OPEN PUPPY - 2 Pointers and 4 Setters
1st-VITALI'S GROUSE RINGER BREW, 1700649, setter male, by Vitali's Grouseringer Stogey-Vitali's Grouseringer Razzle. Gary Vitali, owner and handler.
2d-BOATRIGHTS MORNING STAR, 1700324, setter female, by Woodville's Yukon Cornelius-Outcast Star Breeze. Terry W. Boatright, owner and handler.
3d-VITALI'S GROUSERINGER DAZZLE, 1700648, setter female, by Vitali's Grouseringer Stogey-Vitali's Grouseringer Razzle. Gary Vitali, owner and handler.

ABHA puppyS23

Open Walking Puppy Winners: Judge Chad Wheeler; Ronnie Rogers posing Vitali's Grouseringer Dazzle - 3rd; Judge Taylor Henley; Terry Boatright with Boatrights Morning Star, 2nd; Justin Crook; Gary Vitali with Vitali's Grouseringer Brew, first; Aaron MacFee; James Kleve.