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The 119th National Championship


By Tommy Brannon

For the second year in a row Gary Lester stood on the green steps of the Ames Manor House, with his Champion Lester’s Sunny Hill Jo, to accept the National Championship award. This was Lester’s fifth time winning a National Championship and the dog’s second win in two years. This year’s running started February 12th and finished on February 24, 2018 at Ames Plantation, Grand Junction, Tenn.

Gary Lester, the dog’s handler, and co-owner with David Thompson, was beside himself with praise for his dog and all of the people he calls “The Company,” who help him compete successfully in the sport of field trailing. Lester gives first credit to God, thanking the Almighty for all of the blessings bestowed on him. He is truly grateful for the opportunities he has received. Mark Hayes, who scouted last year and this year for Jo’s win, joined Gary, David, and “The Company” on the porch of the Ames manor house for the presentation by Dr. Rick Carlisle, Director of Ames Plantation and one of the 2018 field trial judges. Gary said that he loves to “get up on that horse and then get up on this porch.”

Gary described Jo as a” happy dog who is happy to do his job.” Jo definitely looks cut, fit, lean, and muscled. The five-year-old pointer male seems to always have his nose up checking for scent in the air. He was sired by Ransom, out of Miller’s White Wall, and was bred by Chris George. Gary had high praise for Derrick Bonner who whelped Jo’s litter and trains Gary’s dogs through puppyhood.

The 2018 edition of the National Championship might be called the “year of the water dog,” a year in which rain gear and water-proofing were absolute necessities, with rain coming nearly every day, creating lots of mud. Even the Saturday night drawing began on a rainy night (February 10). The first day of the field trail was very cold, at 28°F, and windy, but the rest of the competition took place in above freezing temperatures. Temperatures ranged from typical mid-south winter weather – 40 degrees and rain – to several spring-like days with temperatures in the 60s and 70s. But rain and flooding continued to dominate the weather pattern, and three braces had to be postponed because of pouring rain.

Gary’s strategy in field trails is to keep the dog looking for birds; and to do so, he needs to find birds. Gary spends a lot of time on the road and in the saddle to have his dogs at the top of their game. For this year’s National he was competing two dogs, Jo and Miller’s Dialing In (Spec), who was the 2015 National Champion.

Jo ran in the 12th brace on Monday afternoon February 19, Presidents Day, with partly sunny skies and a high of 71° F. Spec was in the 14th brace, the next afternoon, again with partly sunny skies and a high of 73° F. That gave Gary the opportunity to work the dogs in South Georgia and Florida, where there are plenty of wild birds, before competing in the National Championship. Jo had 42 finds in those outings before heading for Tennessee. Gary analogized his work, “There is a reason that baseball managers have their players pitching and in the batters cage while the game is going on.”

The warm winter holiday, shirtsleeve weather, brought many people out to ride on horseback in the gallery. Scent was apparently in the air because Jo had a find just 20 seconds after the breakaway.  He had eight more finds during the competition, plus a sidetrack on a rabbit. His performance was thus recorded: “A Find at 20 seconds in a feed patch at the breakaway. A Find at :31 in the Horseshoe on the west side. A Find at :44 on the east side of the Chute. A Find at :56 on the northeast corner of Tyler's Test. A Back at 1:14 at the entrance to the Lawrence Smith Barn Field. A Find at 1:44 on the south side of Tyler's Test east of the shed. An Unproductive at 1:56 in the cut over on the north side of the Jack Harris Cabin Field. A rabbit at 2:04 in the Jack Harris Cabin field. A Find at 2:16 on the east side of Cox's Ridge in bicolor. A Find at 2:18 on the west side of Cox's Ridge at the apex of hill. A Find at 2:22 on Cox's Ridge northeast of Carlisle Corner. A Find at 2:33 on Cox’s Ridge before descending into Fason bottom. Finished the three hours. “

Gary said that Jo is trained on wild birds and, thus, he will go on point further away from the birds than many dogs. “He has learned that if he gets too close to wild birds they will fly, unlike these released birds. I try to take him to where I think the birds will be. I want him deep. If he would go right, I would tell [scout] Mark [Hayes] to watch the right and I would go left.  He will not leave; he is never lost. If I call him, he will show up. He has such a super nose!”  

One of the finds was flushed by scout Mark Hayes, who knows the dog so well and has Gary’s complete confidence. When one of the judges had dismounted to answer nature’s call, Gary held back. But Mark was up front in the right place at the right time. Gary commented, “Mark flushes these dogs all the time.” By the time Gary arrived the flush was done.

Gary summarized, “God has blessed us so much. I am a farmer and I love the land. We have had a tremendous amount of fun with this dog!”

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