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Archive for October, 2012

One of the coolest outdoors events I’ve ever attended or photographed is the Super Retriever Series trials, which return to Huntsville this week for the SRS Crown Championship.

Bob Sorensen and his Lab, Shadow, prepare for a run. (Photo: SRS)

The trial is a test of a Lab’s skills finding decoys in a field trial. The water trials involve bounding through a marshy area to retrieve duck decoys placed – the “blind” retrieve – and also flung or fired from a launcher for the visible portion. The dog is scored on its training: holding until released by the handler, skills of following the handler’s direction and staying on track, locating the decoy, and then returning to the handler. The dog is timed and points may be docked for deviations.

The field portion is done in an open pasture, typically with rolling terrain, and decoys placed anywhere from about 50 to 400 yards. It’s pretty remarkable to see a dog get the direction from a handler and then haul ass several hundred yards on a track with maybe only one or two hiccups. Maybe none at all. It’s pretty neat to see a handler turn away with a satisfied expression, as if to say, “He’s on it, I’m done here.” and then watch his Lab hit the mark.

This year’s SRS event in Huntsville will be the fifth time the organization has visited Alabama for a trial and it’s the first for the Crown Championship. It’s a very cool event, something unique for Huntsville to claim among the feathers in its cap, and is fairly well-attended by local hunters and trial aficionados.

The retriever trial portion consists of a Pro/Am format with four series in each division. Qualifiers from the first three series advance to the finals. It’s an intense roller-coaster of emotions because of the interaction between humans and animals. The latter, of course, might decide “that way” is better than the handler’s direction and take off. The handler, of course, communicates only with a whistle, hand signals and voice.

I once watched a guy whose Lab not only couldn’t find the duck decoy on the water retrieve but also decided to take off. The dog ignored the loud – and I mean, commandingly loud – entreaties from the handler to stop. Then the dog hit the golf course and romped around one of the greens where a group was coming through.

To say the handler was mortified would be an understatement. Best I can tell, he went from urgently reserved to pissed off to, finally, an attitude of “What the hell, it’s a dog” and went to get his Lab. It was just one of those days.

I’ve seen some pretty dang fine retrievers, too. Watching them work in concert with their handler, who often is their owner, is a joy.

Here are the results from the 2011 SRS trial – click here

Here are the results from the 2011 SRS Amateur trial – click here

Alabama Duck Calling Championship

Additionally, the annual Alabama Duck Calling Championship will be held Saturday at Valley Bend at Jones Farm and will have some of the state’s top callers competing for prizes and qualification to the World’s Championship in Stuttgart.

This event has been held for about 50 years and never has had a huge field. The promotion for the event is poor and media coverage is even more poor. Although the callers’ faces and their routines would make for great video for television stations, I rarely saw any TV coverage in the years when I wrote about the calling championship. Between college football and young weekend anchors who don’t know anything, a duck calling contest wasn’t high on their list of priorities.

I’ve written about the contest since 1992 when it was held in the parking lot at Woods & Water in Northport, just up from Tuscaloosa. Best thing I can remember about that day is they had a big pot of gumbo or Brunswick stew and my wife was patient hanging out in the car while I listened to a handful of guys tootin’ on duck calls. Then we drove to Starkville for the MSU-Auburn game and almost got blown away by a tornado or wind shear that ripped off part of the hotel roof we were in. Wild weekend.

This year’s calling contest will feature the Alabama championship, which is open to Alabama residents only who are age 17 or older. The winner qualifies as the state representative in the World’s Championship in Stuttgart on Thanksgiving weekend. Mike Smith of Athens is the defending Alabama champion and has won the title six times.

Other calling contests include the Southeastern Open Intermediate Duck, Southeastern Junior Duck and Southeastern Two-Man Meat Duck events.

The competition is good, and I wish more callers competed. Callers have a 90-second routine to perform before a hidden panel of judges, who score for accuracy, tone and deduct for mistakes. One slip-up can be the difference in a point or two and, possibly, advancing to the next round or winning. I’ve seen a lot of close contests. Maybe this one will be good, too.

Friday night, Ducks Unlimited will have a fundraising banquet. It’s open to anyone and will have some of the SRS handlers along with local DU folks. They’re good people and it should be a fun event. I’ll try to have more on that later this week so check back on this blog.

Here’s a link to info on all four calling contests – quack here

Here’s the schedule of events for this week from SRS:

2012 SRS CROWN CHAMPIONSHIP

THURSDAY NOV. 1, 2012

7:00 a.m. – Retriever Trials – Series 1 –
Trial will start at approximately 8:00 a.m.
Hampton Cove, behind the youth baseball fields. Follow the signsFRIDAY NOV. 2, 2012
7:00 a.m. – Retriever Trials – Series 2 – TBA
Trial will start at approximately 8:00 a.m.
Hampton Cove, behind the youth baseball fields. Follow the signs
Ducks Unlimited Welcomes SRS Von Braun Center
6:00 Happy Hour
7:00 Dinner
SATURDAY NOV. 3, 2012
7:00 a. m. – Retriever Trials – Series 3 – Quarterfinals top 24
Trial will start at approximately 8:00 a.m.
Jones Farm at Jones Valley. Follow the signs for parking at the Mayfair Church of Christ and to access free shuttle buses running to the trial site. Spectator parking will not be permitted at the trial site. Visitors must use shuttle buses.
Duck Calling Competition
10:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. – Two-Man Team “Hunt Style” Competition (open to all ages)
1:30 p.m. – 3 p.m. Calling Competition- Alabama Adult State Championship – (17 years & Up)
4:30 p.m. – 6 p.m. – Calling Competition- Junior/Intermediate Division – (16 years & Under)
SUNDAY, NOV. 4, 2012
7:00 a. m. – Retriever Trials – Series 4 – Semi Finals top 12
Trial will start at approximately 8:00 a.m.
Jones Farm at Jones Valley. Follow the signs for parking at the Mayfair Church of Christ and to access free shuttle buses running to the trial site. Spectator parking will not be permitted at the trial site. Visitors must use shuttle buses.
2:00 a.m. – Retriever Trial – Final 4 – Winner Announced

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