Living Legends of Field Trials

By Nancy Brannon, Ph.D.

On May 6, 2017 the National Bird Dog Museum brought together 18 of some of the most renowned names in the sporting dog world to share their stories. The Living Legends Luncheon was an opportunity to meet and hear from these masters of bird dogs and field trials. All proceeds from the luncheon benefitted the National Bird Dog Museum.

The Master of Ceremonies was Director Tonya Brotherton’s husband Rex Brotherton, who introduced each of the legends. The dilemma was in what order they should speak. Alphabetical order? No. By age? No. So it was decided they would be chosen the same way the order of running for bird dogs at field trials are chosen: by a drawing.

The legends who attended were: Freddie Epp, Roy Jines, Hoyle Eaton, Peter Kainz, Gary Lockee, Billy Morton, Dave Fletcher, Jow Walker, Ferrel Miller, Bud Moore, Delmar Smith, Garland Priddy, Harold Ray, Collier Smith, Robert Milner, Bill Hunt, John Rex Gates, and Buddy Smith.

Freddie Epp, age 90, began hunting rabbits and squirrels with his brother at age six, and by the time he was 12, he had graduated to birds. He got his first pointer pup from his dad at age 18. He had funny stories to tell about his early days in field trialing, starting in 1953. But the main thing he has learned through his decades of experience is: “You can’t win without somebody helping you.”

Roy Jines served two years during the Korean War training German Shepherds for combat. He persuaded his commanding officer to give him a 30-day leave to go to Canada to train bird dogs. Jines confessed,” If I started telling stories, I’d be here all night.”

Dexter Hoyle Eaton won the National Championship at Ames four times, the National Free-For-All three times, the Continental Championship twice, and handled dogs to win the Purina Top Dog award six times. Eaton’s wisdom finds that “field trial people are a different breed of folks. They have common sense, patience, and the ability to communicate with animals, especially silent communication. That’s what it takes to be a bird dog trainer.”

Peter Kainz, age 78, is another who started hunting birds at an early age – 9. Through his friendship that developed with Mr. Elmer Timms, Peter’s learning experience to become a career bird dog handler grew and developed. His overall record of major wins includes six futurity winners and eight National Championships. He won his first National Championship at age 18 – the youngest to ever win that title. Mr. Kainz’ advice: “Let not a breath be wasted.” Life is precious; cherish it.

Capt. Gary Lockee is a founder of the National Bird Dog Museum and Bird Dog Foundation, who has worked consistently to promote the museum and Grand Junction as the “Bird Dog Capital of the World.” At 94 years young, Lockee is as enthusiastic about the sport as ever and still leads tours of the museum. He is also the founder of the Memorial Wall at the entrance to Grand Junction from Highway 18.

When Lockee’s wife Sally heard about his invitation to speak at the Living Legends Luncheon, she asked Gary, “What do you have to do to be a legend?” to which Gary replied,” It helps to be old and to still be alive.” Lockee had much to say about the conception, development, and expansion of the Bird Dog Museum. He had a story about a person involved with each of the breeds represented there. He told about how the museum came to acquire Count Noble, “our pride and joy.” Lockee concluded: “I’m one of the most blessed persons in the world and am grateful for the life I have led.”

Billy Morton, age 82, talked about training Riggins White Knight, when he was working at T Bar T Ranch in Canton, Mississippi. In 1961 Riggins White Knight won the National Championship, handled by Hoyle Eaton and scouted by Billy Morton. “I’ve got a lot of good memories,” Morton said. “You can learn a lot just by listening. …The easier you are with dogs, the better they are.” He had a funny story to tell about the time he tried to ride a bull after a round up. Turned out, he was on a big fat cow instead of a bull!

Morton has been around bird dogs all his life. “You talk to the dog like you talk to your girlfriend – real soft and easy” is the advice he passed along.

His last funny story was about a lady he knew, 100-year-old Miss Patty. He asked her one day, “Have you ever been bed-ridden?” She answered, “Oh, yes. And twice in a buggy!”

David Fletcher has been a field trial reporter since 1967, when William F. Brown gave him a start as a staff reporter for the American Field. Since then, he has written hundreds of field trial reports from major circuit all-age stakes to regional and local trials. With over 50 years’ involvement in the field trial world, Fletcher had several stories to tell. He was inducted into the Field Trial Hall of Fame this year.

Joe Walker, age 86, has served as a reporter for the American Field at many trials and has written most of the information about the Hall of Fame winners at the Bird Dog Museum. Joe headed a group of people to write biographies of all the persons and dogs in the BDM. He explained the order in which the BDM has arranged the dogs, trainers, and owners.
He was born in Ashland, Mississippi, “where nearly all the folks had bird dogs,” he said. Since 1968 he has never missed a year at the Memphis Amateur Field Trials. Then he got involved with the Ames Amateur in the 1970s, and since then, he’s never missed an Ames Amateur Field Trial. “Everybody wants to run where the pros run,” he said.

Walker was working for the weather service and told the story about the dog Tag Me, who came from Mexico. In doing so, he read from an article published in the old Memphis Press Scimitar.

The year 1946 was the first time he came to the National Championship and that year, a setter won – Mississippi Zev. Walker reported the National Championship from 1992-2002.

Ferrel Miller’s pointers have won six National Championships. Miller talked about all the lessons he has learned from other legends. He recalled the time he saw Riggins White Knight run as a derby at Ames (and later won the National Championship in 1968). From that point he wanted to get the $300 stud fee to breed to that dog! “It’s the best investment I ever made,” he said. At 84 years old, he says, “I’m a very fortunate person. I’ve had two good wives, one for over 50 years and the second for five years. I give thanks and I’m proud to be here.” Miller has had over 100 championship placements and over 1,000 total placements in his career – enjoying extraordinary success through a tremendous amount of hard work and commitment to bird dogs.

Mr. C.W. “Bud” Moore and his wife Patty drove all the way from Toronto, Kansas to be at the BDM luncheon. Bud has over 65 years experience running bird dogs. But in 1964, he was the Rodeo bucking horse champion and number one money winner. He rode bucking horses until he was 60 years old. His grandfather was Cherokee, who loved to bird hunt. To Moore, “bird dog people are family. Without the women, we wouldn’t be here!” Moore said because he’s dyslexic he had trouble in school. But “the bird dog world has been literally our lives.”

After Moore, it was time to break for a delicious lunch catered by Me and My Tea Room Catering. After lunch, the microphone went to Delmar Smith, Garland Priddy, Harold Ray, Collier Smith, Robert Milner, Bill Hunt, John Rex Gates, and Buddy Smith.
Photo by Tonya Brotherton: (front row, left to right): Robert Milner, Roy Jines, Bill Hunt, Billy Morton, Freddie Epp, John Rex Gates, Harold Ray, Dave Fletcher, Hoyle Eaton, and Delmar Smith
(second row, left to right): Garland Priddy, Buddy Smith, Peter Kainz, Gary Lockee, and Joe Walker
(back row, left to right): Collier Smith, Ferrel Miller, and Bud Moore.

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