The Temporary Solution
Charlie Falk often said he had judged too
many pointing-dog field trials. His experience had made him a
cynic, too aware of the tricks handlers and scouts used to make
performances appear better than they were in fact. In thirty
years of judging, Charlie had seen every trick in the book, or so he
Charlie particularly disliked the games played by handlers and scouts
out of sight, games like pitch and catch, by which a dog without a
natural front-hunting pattern would be sent by its handler on a cast to
a waiting scout, riding illegally forward and hidden by trees or
terrain. The scout would collect the dog and cast it back across
the front to the handler. Worst of all, he hated the tactic of
sending a dog lacking independence to a hidden scout to be “bird
hunted” by the scout at a KCL—known covey location. The scout
would get the dog pointed, wait for judges and gallery to ride past,
and then call “point.” This lead to the impression that the dog’s
work was an independent limb find when it was anything but.
Charlie knew that many a champion was only the
marionette of a puppeteer-scout. The worst offenses occurred at trials
held on grounds where terrain, cover and bird locations were well known
to the ground’s owner’s handler and scout (and sometimes extra illegal
mounted helpers) who used their knowledge to make it nigh-on impossible
for others to win.
At every trial where he presided as a judge, Charlie
made a little opening speech.
“Boys, we’re looking for a dog that does it on its own, without help
from the scout. If we catch you front scouting, your dog will pay
Of course, handlers and scouts knew Charlie
was fair and would not judge what he suspected, only what he saw.
So if they could pull off their tricks completely out of sight, they
could work their magic. Charlie once said he was conflicted in
field trial judging like a man married to a wife he was sure was
cheating, but was also a good cook. After a suspicious limb find,
Charlie would always look around for horse and dog tracks to see if he
could confirm his suspicions. He never accused a scout based on
such evidence, but he made them sweat.
Just before he was to judge the Deep South Championship, Charlie had an
epiphany. He was reading an ad in an airline magazine on a flight
home to Atlanta from a sales trip. When he rode to the opening
breakaway at Mossy Swamp Plantation, Charlie had in hand two small
leather holsters, each fitted with two combination locks, one to secure
a flap, one to attach the holster to a saddle ring. Inside was
the latest model of a GPS (global positioning system) device, designed
to record precisely the path and time of passage of its carrier.
Charlie had a third such device in a holster attached to his own saddle
that would record the judges’ route and time.
When the field-trial party reached the starting
place, Charlie called the two handlers and their scouts aside for a
parley. He explained the devices and gave one holster to each
scout, first activating the GPS device, then locking the flap and
attaching the holster to the scout’s saddle with the second lock.
“When we finish, we’re going to know where you rode and when, so if you
front scout, we will know just how and where you did it,” Charlie said.
The scouts and handlers were confounded. When the GPS devices
were checked against Charlie’s at the end of each heat, they revealed
no front scouting. But the performances of the dogs proved
lackluster, without the limb finds that usually excited gallery riders
at Mossy Swamp Plantation.
Other judges began to employ Charlie’s system, with similar
results. Scouts were not getting away with their time-honored
tricks. But when Charlie showed up at Mossy Swamp Plantation a
year later to again judge the Deep South Championship, resident scout
Booty Cummings thought he had a solution. He’d had a year to study the
Booty’s best dog was a quarter hour short of the
stamina needed to go a strong hour on Mossy Swamp Plantation’s hot,
sandy soil. To compensate, Booty and his boss, resident handler
Frank Eanes, employed a time-honored technique. Booty, riding out
of sight on the flank, would invite the dog, Mossy Swamp Missie, to
ride on his pommel for a mid-heat rest. Then he’d water Missie
from his detergent bottle and put her down rested at a KCL. This
technique had yielded three championships in Missie’s five years of
campaigning. The year before, when Charlie had come up with his
GPS solution, Booty, Frank and Missie had been stymied. But Booty
vowed they would not be stymied this year.
When Missie’s brace was called, the GPS holster was locked to Bootie’s
saddle and Charlie Falk said, “Let ‘em go!” But riding this year
out of sight was Bootie’s sixteen-year-old son, Sammy. Five
minutes after the breakaway, Booty and Sammy met in the woods and
exchanged saddles. Five minutes before Missie’s finish, they
swapped saddles again.
Missie won the Deep South Championship with three limb
finds, though she spent twenty of her sixty minutes on Booty’s pommel,
and Booty heeled her to each of her finds. Booty used a cell
phone to tell Frank where Missie was pointed. Frank had his cell
phone set on vibrate, of course. And Frank wore a wireless hearing
device for his phone that everyone assumed was a new hearing aid (like
all plantation hunt guides Frank was partially deaf from the effects of
thoughtless hunters’ muzzle blasts).
Sammy had ridden Missie’s heat on the flank just behind the judges and
just out of sight. “Sometimes, with a little study and teamwork,
a problem can be made into an opportunity,” Booty philosophized to
Frank Eanes as they washed down their mounts after the winner was