Chasing the UFTA National Championship

Chasing the UFTA National Championship

It was Feb. 2008 and 300 of the best birddogs in the country have descended on Town Creek Alabama for the UFTA Nationals. The host for this event is the prestigious Double Head Resort located on the banks of Lake Wheeler in North Alabama. These four legged competitors have come from as far away as Canada to compete in a week long battle, that when finished will crown National Champions in six separate divisions! In each event, (a man and his dog) will compete against the clock and the rest of the field to see who can earn the highest score, with the fewest amount of deductions. Simply put the teams with the highest combined overall score for their two fields; wins National Champion Status!

A call just came down for me to make my way to the field for my final run. "My turn again already", No matter how many times I compete, this top 20 run off always seems to make me a nervous reck! As I make my way up the hill, I pause for just a moment to gather my composure and reflect on the events of the past week. Just two days earlier I began this Open class event with 120 of the best birddogs dogs in the country. To make it into the top twenty, (from a group of 120 dogs) is an honor but to make the run-off with two separate dogs, is truly an amazing feat! Now everything has come down to this final run. All the long hard days in the field and the thousands of shells I have poured through my gun have all led me to where I stand right now! When I reached the field I was caught off guard by the crowd that had gathered to watch the final couple runs. It seemed as if the entire resort had turned out to watch the end of this event. I couldn't help but wonder how all the added distractions were affecting some of the players? Would I be able to rise and overcome my own nerves or would I do like others had done and make a bone head mistake, that would cost me a National Championship?

The field Marshal just instructed me to take my place in the holding blind. For the next few minutes I sat there and listen to the familiar sounds of an ATV, as my three bird sequence was being set. I quickly cleared my mind and decided on the direction I would take when I left the gate. The bird planter radioed the judge that my field was ready. He then instructed me to take my place at the starting line. As I made my way there, I could feel all eyes were on Rowdy an me. I’m not sure if anyone was watching us but pressure always tells you that you’re under a microscope even when you’re not. I took a deep breath and tried one last time to clear all the thoughts from my mind. Then I looked down and noticed my partner was shaking like a boy on his first date. Was he nervous too? I knelt down beside him, whispered easy boy and reach out to stroke his neck. To my surprise, when he felt my touch he immediately stopped shaking! At that very moment I realized that even though we were both shaking only one of us was actually nervous. Rowdy was only shaking from the pure excitement and the anticipation of the upcoming hunt!

The judge informed me that the clock would start at the sound of my whistle. I surveyed my 15 acre field one last time and slid 3 shells into the chamber of my Browning 12 gauge shotgun. As the bolt slammed shut a simultaneous blast sounded from my whistle, thus initiating the start time of my sequence. Rowdy left the line like a man on a mission and I kept to my original plan and stay to the right side of the field. Almost imediatly Rowdy slammed on a rock solid point! The judge then counted aloud one, two, three, good point, thus signifying to me that it was ok for me to move in and flush the bird. I located the quail and it flushed straight away. I raised my Browning Gold, fired a single shot and it dropped into the knee high broom sage. Rowdy made a good mark and immediately we were off looking for our second bird. At the opposite end of the field he went on point again but this time the bird was up walking. I hurried and just barley managed to get the quail into the air before it walked out of bounds. The bird flew well out of bounds but a well placed 40 yard shot brought it down before it could make the tree line. Rowdy was there when the quail hit the ground, setting us up for another flawless retrieve. Wow; for once everything was finally going as planned! We were only 3:00 minutes in and we already had 2 of our 3 birds tucked safely away inside my hunting vest. Now if I could only manage to find the last bird quick enough, we might actually have a chance of winning this whole shooting match. Since I pulled one bird up front and one bird in the back I knew there was a good chance my last bird was somewhere in the middle. I blew my whistle, to get Rowdy’s attention and then directed him to the center of the playing field. Suddenly he slammed on the brakes, swapped ends and was standing motionless on his third point. The judge counted one, two, three for the final time and I moved in and kicked my third bird into the air. The bird flew like a rocket and when it cleared the judges cart a shot rang out and my third and final bird dropped into a wide open cart path for an easy retrieve! I grabbed Rowdy’s collar and yelled time, thus stopping the time on the judges stop watch. The judge informed me that the 5:36 time we had just posted, was one of the fastest runs of the day. The million dollar question was would our time be good enough to win?

We loaded up into the judges cart and slowly made our way back up the field to the gallery area. I signed my card gathered my coat and gear and made my way back through the crowd. Everyone congratulated me and some even went as far as to tell me that they thought I had probably just won my first Nationals. I knew it would take an exceptional run to beat our score but growing up with a sporting background had taught me to never count my chickens before they have hatched. I told everyone it wasn't over yet and that there was still a couple of guys that could still better my time. Team after team ran but one by one they all fell victim to the clock. Now with only a few competitors remaining, I was feeling better about my chances of winning.

Sometimes the hardest part of any field trial is the waiting game you are forced to play when you have the highest score. I know I have a bulls-eye on my back now and unlike when I ran, everybody pretty much knows the high score they need to beat! There is nothing I can do to better my time, so I just decide to retire to the truck and wait out the rest of the trial there. I know when and if my time is beat someone will let me know!

About an hour has now passed and rumors are starting to circulate through the gallery that there is going to be a run off for the National title. Well as luck would have it the rumors where all true and I was just informed that I needed to prepare Rowdy for a one bird run off. This years Nationals had shaped up to be the type of finish that every sporting event hopes for, a head to head battle for the National Champions title! One bird will be placed in the same general location for both hunters and whoever finds the bird the fastest is declared the winner. I myself am not a big supporter of this type of runoff. To me this way of deciding a champion is to subjective to luck and (with only one bird in the field), more times than not it is usually the luckiest dog that wins.

Both teams are rounded up and stuck in a cargo trailer, so neither of us can hear or see the upcoming bird plant. I draw second, so I have to wait until the completion of the first run before I can take the field. I shuffle all the gear around in my vest in an attempt to free up some space. Suddenly, I hear a shot and immediately I think to myself “Wow that was fast”. I’m not sure of the time but it was pretty dang quick. A few minutes later I hear a knock at the door and I’m told it is my turn to take the field. I put Rowdy on whoa and loaded a single round into my Browning shotgun. If it takes me more than one shot I’m beat and (if I only load one shell), I’m not temped to shoot twice. I blow my whistle and decide to take my chance in the center of the field. After about 5 minutes I realize my chance for a National Title was quickly slipping away. A few minutes later the judge informed me that I had lost. I called Rowdy’s name, leased him up and headed out of the field. We didn’t win but we gave it our all and second place out of a field of 120 competitors was still a major accomplishment. If anything all this second place win did, was make me want a National Champions title that much more.

Maybe next year will be my year to win!!

Kenny Armstrong
GunRunner Gundogs

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