The more things change, the more they stay the
same. In the old days, there were always a few who shunned the
rules, would do anything to win. These days, it’s the same.
With the changing times have come changed tactics, but the goal, a win
at any cost, is still the goal for a few.
I was riding as marshal for the old Hackberry Club’s
weekend trial, substituting for a friend who was a club member (I
wasn’t). The Hackberry existed to get its members’ dogs qualified
for other events, amateur and open. Its drawings were always
conducted in its president’s kitchen. If a nonmember submitted an
entry, it got drawn in the midday heat on a course without birds.
Why did I agree to marshal? Just for the fun
of seeing what the Hackberry rascals were up to in this modern
age. In my youth, I’d seen (and been stung by) their
shenanigans. That plus I owed my friend, the member, a favor—he’d
run a derby of mine here last year and got it qualified for our
Region’s amateur shooting dog championship, thus, using up a chit he
held as a club member. I could hardly refuse him.
In the old days, the Hackberry Club had a
convention. If only members’ dogs were entered, the trial was run
the night of the drawing in the president’s kitchen. That’s
right, after the draw for running order the slips went back in the
hat—that is, the slips with the names of the dogs that needed
qualifying placements, and were drawn for first, second, and third in
the stake. The members then evaporated for the weekend to do
whatever besides field trial each member had in mind that required
cover. The president’s farm held a large barn, several paddocks,
and ample kennels. The members just left their dogs and stock
there, parked their horse trailers, and rode off to wherever—the
president took the entry fees as board. The judges were always
from the membership.
My friend the member assured me the Hackberry Club
was no longer in the phantom trial business. A trial would be
run, he promised. But somehow I knew things might not be all on
the up and up. The members were all sons and
grandsons of the members I’d known in the old days—and a few daughters
and granddaughters too. They seemed a happy lot as we drank
morning coffee and waited for the 7:30 breakaway.
In the first brace in the amateur all-age, we had
Big Rowdy, owned and handled by a member, and a setter named Gremlin,
owned and handled by a stranger, the shag an also unknown in these
parts. Rowdy was a notorious outlaw, a run-off dog stopped only
by birds. I wondered what tactics, surely illegal, Rowdy’s team
would use to keep up with him.
Riding as marshal, I could ride pretty much where I
pleased, so I did. I soon discovered the Rowdy team’s plan.
Riding a bit behind the gallery was a fellow who stopped
frequently. My binoculars revealed this rider carried a tracker
receiver—he was keeping up with Rowdy via his tracking collar. He
was using his cell phone to inform Rowdy’s scout of the runoff’s
whereabouts. Three times the scout led us to Rowdy on
point. But on each occasion, Rowdy was backing the setter!
And each time, the setter had his bird pinpointed with excellent style
and manners at shot. It seemed Rowdy was a trailer, as well as a
The rest of the stake was uneventful, with members
cheating in conventional ways—dropping birds from their saddlebags,
having non-members’ dogs ridden off—even kidnapped temporarily.
When the stake was over late in the afternoon, the first brace setter
was the clear winner—but he didn’t place. His owner was livid and
accosted the judges. They said his setter had flagged. I’d
seen all three finds, and the setter was rigid as rebar, didn’t even
wag his tail after flush. The setter man scratched his shooting
dog and derby entries and rode off in a huff—I didn’t blame him.
Yes, the more times change, the more they stay the
same with a certain sort of field trialer, always with us, always will
be, the kind that specialize in home cooking. Fortunately, they
are a small minority, then as now.