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Result: Big Sky Open Shooting Dog Championship

Location: Winnett, Montana

Post Date: Jul 18, 2023

Submitted By: David Huffine

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Big Sky Open Shooting Dog Championship (l-r): Shannon Nygard, Brian Rickert, Alex Rickert, Brian Gingrich (judge), Darrell Curtis (judge), Austin Turley, Sophie Robbins, Lillian Favor, and Mike Robbins.

C K Guy's Light My Fire, a four-year-old Vizsla female owned by Cody Engebretson and handled by Brian Gingrich, won the 2023 Big Sky Open Shooting Dog Championship hosted by the Big Sky Field Trial Club and held at the Joe C. King and Sons Ranch near Winnett, Mont. The champion prevailed over a 25-dog field. The champion is out of C K Touchdown Guy and Ck Countryside Lizzy's On Fire.

Runner-up was awarded to Costas, a two-year-old English pointer male owned by Gordy Jones and handled by Mike Robbins. Costas is out of Dominator's Rebel Heir and Searchin For A Rainbow.

The King Ranch is a fifth-generation cattle operation located about 10 miles east of Winnett. It is strikingly scenic with approximately 11,000 rugged and undulating acres of sage, cactus, and native grasses, which supports pheasants, Hungarian partridge, and sharptail grouse and also presents the thrill of a sizeable population of sage grouse.

The Championship is run on six courses carved out of prairie, pasture, and creek bottoms.

Alex Rickert of Bozeman, Mont., and Darrell Curtis of High River, Alta., served as judges. Alex has judged many trials in Montana and other locales and is an important contributor to the Big Sky trials. Outside of Montana, Alex is known for his dogs that compete successfully at the all-age level, including Touch's Malcolm Story, who was the Purina Dog of the Year in 2021.

Darrell is a longtime field trialer and stepped in when another judge had horse issues that prevented him from judging. He is an expert horseman who trains and trials his own dogs.

Birds were surprisingly scarce this year. Reports from other parts of Montana indicated good holdover bird populations, but late April weather conditions were not conducive to significant bird work this year.

The Placements
The champion ran on Course 1 in Brace No. 9, braced with Edge's Hidden Canyon, a pointer male owned and handled by Mike Robbins. Mike's dog broke away hard to the north and was last seen at 5. Mike retrieved the tracker at 25. Brian's dog laid out at a perfect shooting dog distance, handling well without returning for instructions. She came through the gate at the beginning of Course 2 birdless but had a find on a pair of huns at 56 to secure her championship win.

Costas was in Brace No. 8 on Course 6 the preceding afternoon. He had a bigger race, as Gordy's dogs tend to properly push the prairie shooting dog boundaries but was a bit more erratic in his performance than the champion. Costas had a clean find at 30, which put him in the lead until the following morning. Costas had already placed first in the preceding Sharptail Open Shooting Dog Classic and returned to finish first in the Region 14 Amateur All-Age, completing a very impressive week of work. Costas' bracemate, Prometheus Fireball, a setter female owned and handled by Dave Noell, ran a good race but was not as big as Costas. She had no bird work.

The Running
Brace No. 1 featured Burr Oak's Tommy (VM-Gingrich) and Carbonado's Silver Sage (PF-Austin Turley) on Course 1. Both dogs had solid races, but neither had bird contact.

Mike Robbins had the top dog, Name Like Mike (PM), and Brian Gingrich had the bracemate with S T's Locked N Loaded (VF) in Brace No. 2. Mike ran an all-age race, breaking the front of Course 2. Mike (the handler) lost him at time and called for the tracker, only to find him standing in the hills to the south. Brian's dog had a more conventional shooting dog race, showing well and to the front but found no birds.

Brian and Mike were braced together again in Brace No. 3, with Brian handling Ramblin Rivers Natural (PM) and Mike running Edelman (PM), owned by Gordy Jones. Again, Brian's dog ran a good, solid race but found no birds. Edelman was standing at approximately 30 but moved during the flushing attempt.

Both dogs in Brace No. 4 were scratched, moving Brace No. 5 to run on Course 4. Burr Oak's Born Again (VMGingrich) was braced with Railhew's Ruby (PF), handled by Lillian Favor. Brian's dog was standing early but moved on the flushing attempt. Ruby was up for failure to back.

Brace No. 6 began in the afternoon heat on Course 5. It paired Sweet Grass Skeeter (ESM-Huffine) and Burr Oak's Barney (VM-Gingrich). Skeeter went wide early and had an erratic race. He was standing (along with Barney) at 38, but neither handler could produce a bird. He was picked up at 45 when the handler's blood pressure rose to unsafe levels. Barney ran an exceptionally solid and stylish race, showing well and to the front on the hills to the north. He had the unproductive at 38 but went on to finish his hour without bird work.

Course 6 hosted H B V's Lambeau Leap (GSPM-Favor) and Ramblin Rivers Fire Woman (VF-Gingrich) for the final brace of the day. Both dogs had modest races with a divided find at 20. They completed their hour.

Braces No. 8 and 9 are detailed in the placements.

Brace No. 10 broke away on Course 2. O T F's Good Time (GSPM- Gingrich) was braced with Sweet Grass Slim (ESM-Huffine). Both dogs broke away reasonably well, heading up the hill and turning east. Slim shortened significantly and had a UP at the fence crossing at 32. He was picked up by his handler at 40. Brian's dog continued with a good race, finishing his hour without birds.

Shannon Nygard loosed Redeemed (PM) with Gingrich's Ramblin Rivers Unplugged (PM) on Course 3 for Brace No. 11. Shannon's dog ran big but was wide on both sides of the course. Brian's dog had a solid race but was unable to find birds. Both dogs finished their hour.

Brace No. 12 matched Live Action Captain Gus McRae (VM-Gingrich) and Austin Turley's Carbonado's Rodeo (PM). Both dogs had modest races and were picked up by their handlers at 35.

The afternoon Brace No. 13 presented exceedingly warm temperatures and matched two old-timers and multiple champions, C K Post Route Scout (VMGingrich) and Touch's Katrina (PFTurley). Both dogs gave it all they had, but the handlers were concerned about their health, and both were brought to the dog wagon at 30, finishing the Championship.

Special Thanks
Field trials in remote locations take excessive work and effort by those in charge. Toilets have to be hauled to the camp and returned after the trial. There is no water for horses or dogs, so four huge water containers must be transported on a flatbed from Roundup, Mont., and must be replenished in Winnett. John McIltrot and Taylor Todd deserve special recognition for their ground efforts at this trial. Darrell Curtis and Austin Turley masterfully negotiated supplemental water supply with the proprietor of the Winnett Bar, the only restaurant in town, and then transported it to camp. The Big Sky Field Trial Club and the entrants appreciate their efforts.
Bryan Rickert and 16-year-old Sophie Roberts drove the dog truck. Communication with the judges and the truck was by radios that worked when they felt like it and then didn't. There are no marked courses, multi-directional two tracks to choose from, and no visible contact with the dogs, handlers, or gallery. Sophie intuitively picked up the nuances of the dog truck duties, which was not surprising as she has accompanied her father to Big Sky trials for at least six years.

We thank the judges named above for taking their time and using their expertise to ensure that all handlers and dogs were given a chance to show their talents. This trial would not be possible without the sharing spirit of the King family, who allow us to use their wonderful land. This reporter apologizes for any errors or omissions in the descriptions of the dogs and the braces. Horses were in short supply, and the reporter sometimes shared dog wagon responsibilities. Many of the dogs were only seen at 400 yards or more, and the reporting was based upon some visual observation but mostly from notes and comments from the judges. If an owner has a different report from the handler, believe the handler. And if a handler has a different recollection, they are likely correct.
Winnett, Mont., April 30
Judges: Darrell Curtis and Alex Rickert

Winner--C K GUY'S LIGHT MY FIRE, 1686285, Vizsla female, by C K Touchdown Guy-Ck Countryside Lizzy's On Fire. Cody Engebretson, owner; Brian Gingrich, handler.
Runner-Up--COSTAS, 1698042, pointer male, by Dominator's Rebel Heir-Searchin For A Rainbow. Gordon Jones, owner; Mike Robbins, handler.