SRS Crown Championship Week In Review

It was an exciting week of competition at the Super Retriever Series Crown Championship in Shreveport, Louisiana. This year, 72 professional and amateur teams competed in a five-day event that hosted the best retriever/handler teams from around the country. The evening before the opening series, handlers, owners, and retrievers gathered to walk the “pink carpet” at the annual Big Hats and Bowties event. This year Big Hats and Bowties took place at the Margaritaville Resort and Casino in Shreveport, LA where the Shreveport Second Line Brass Band played and danced to kick off the opening ceremony.

Twenty-year SRS competitor Scott Greer was awarded the Nike Award, a peer-given honor awarded to competitors who embody the spirit of the SRS in their integrity and sportsmanship. 2021 Nike Award winner, Luke Cour presented the award to Greer amid cheers and applause from the other handler teams. After a competitive year of SRS events, the 2022 Eukanuba Teams of the Year were announced, with John Lamar/Smokie receiving first place in the amateur division and Stephen Durrence/Onyx taking first in the open division. Randy Price, Jerry Dar, and Shawn Sims, the 2022 Crown Series Championship judges, were also recognized and thanked by SRS organizer Shannon Nardi.

Series One

Series one was held at the WK Palmetto Event Center in Benton, Louisiana. With nerves running high, handlers were called to the judge’s tent, the course was explained, and Crown Series marshal Matt Emerson called the first dog to the line as the culminating event of the year got underway. The unique Super Retriever Series format is designed to simulate a true hunting scenario that tests each dog/handler team and pushes natural instinct and trainability to the limits.

Many amateur teams put on an impressive performance in the series one field trial course with eight amateur handlers holding scores under 60 by the afternoon. Amateur team Ray Caito/Traeger put their skills on display, scoring an early 33. Later in the day Caito/Frank had another solid performance, scoring a 58. Other notable amateur teams included Steven Guzman/Dre with a nearly flawless score of 8, John Lamar/Smokie who picked up birds quickly and scored an 18, and J. Wesley Hamm/Winston with a clean run of 41.

In the open division, three teams stood out in series one. Lee Howard/Shooter had the best score in either division with a remarkable 7 while Stephen Durrence/Nick came in only a few points behind at 12. Additionally, Lyle Steinman/Jordon earned an impressive score of ten, putting them in second place in the open division going into series two.

Series Two

After completing series one, 70 of the 72 dog/handler teams that began the competition remained. With the field of teams slated to be cut in half after series two, competitors knew they had to have a good showing in the second series.

Series two returned to the WK Palmetto Event Center just outside Shreveport, Louisiana. The series two course followed a master hunt test scenario, more realistically mimicking a hunt. The course and weather conditions also reflected the challenges of a real hunt. Overcast skies and strong gusts of wind caused event staff to fasten down tents, banners, and booths. The hunt test course consisted of two blind retrieves sandwiched between two marks. The two blinds were make or break for many teams, often being the difference between heading home or living to see another day of competition.

Series two saw Stephen Durrence take a commanding position on the open division leaderboard. After day two scores were tallied, Durrence and the dogs of Taylor Farm Kennels represented a third of the leaderboard with dogs in first, second, third, fourth, and sixth. At this point in the crown series many wondered if Durrence would have the consistency to run away with the competition or if other teams could make up enough ground to catch him.

In the amateur division, Ray Caito/Trager had another stellar performance in series two, scoring a 47 which brought their two day total to 80. On the other side of the amateur leaderboard, Mark Carter/Padre also had a good day, scoring a series two 97 and just sneaking in to make the series three cut. Filling in the rest of the leaderboard was Ron Anderson/Rip at 146 and Stewart Williams/Stormy at 167.

After the first two days, amateur and open scores were sprinkled throughout the leaderboard. Out of the top 24 teams going into the third series, ten were amateurs, but the series three course would present some serious challenges.

Series Three

Day three of the crown championship series was a hunt savy scenario hosted at Caspiana Land property just southeast of Shreveport. Series three involved lots of water in a beautiful real world hunting scenario. With a storm looming in the forecast, teams were anxious to run the course before it arrived.

The series three course began by simulating an incoming group of ducks to the far right of the course with the handler blowing a duck call to signal the first mark and then firing two poppers. As the first 105-yard mark hit the water, a second shot was fired, followed by a 150-yard mark left of the first bird. Handlers then had their dog sit while they moved to a separate station. Once in place, a second group of ducks was simulated with two shots coming from an adjacent blind situated across a narrow strip of water. With each shot, a 50-yard mark was thrown. The second of this pair was then picked up by a gunner in the adjacent blind with the other gunner yelling for the dog to pick up a long cripple replicated by a lengthy 215-yard blind. Further complicating the blind retrieve, the dog’s line took them past the remaining second mark, a poison bird until the blind was retrieved. After the blind, handlers had their choice of order on the remaining three marks. Dogs crossed water and marsh grass on every retrieve.

The third series saw open division scores pull away from amateur scores, but many amateur teams still had impressive runs. One amateur team with a notable performance was Steven Guzman/Dre who came out of the gate swinging with a quick retrieve on the opening blind that when combined with their marked retrieves, earned them a 106 that put them in second position. Stewart Williams/Stormy had a very focused, smooth run which advanced them to the next day. Keith Hall/Woody navigated the course adeptly, scoring a 95, the best score of all third series amateurs.

The blind that Guzman/Dre excelled on gave fits to many of the other teams throughout the day, with the majority of each team’s points accrued during the blind retrieve. Despite the difficult course, scores remained tight in both the amateur and open divisions. In the open division, first, second, and third were all within a 19-point spread, and things are were even tighter in the amateur division with the top three scores all within nine points of each other.

One standing that did not change was Stephen Durrence’s prominent position. While Durrence represented a third of the field in series three, when it was over, he made up half of the 12 teams going into series four.

Series Four

After a strong overnight storm, series four got underway in wet and muddy conditions with the remaining top 12 amateur and open division teams competing to advance to championship Sunday.

The top six amateur teams going into series four were John Lamar/Smokie (190), Steven Guzman/Dre (194), Ray Caito/Traeger (199), Dustin Hightower/Jeep (213), Ron Anderson/Rip (224), and Ron Anderson/Smoke (243), but with scores neck and neck within the entire field, no one was guaranteed a spot in the super six.

Competition was even tighter in the open division going into series four, with only 70 points separating the current front runner from twelfth. The top six open division teams going into series four were Stephen Durrence/Cooper (125), Lee Howard/Shooter (130), Stephen Durrence/Mason (145), Lyle Steinman/Jordon (149), Stephen Durrence/Abby (158), and Lyle Steinman/Zeus (160). Despite close team scores in the open division, Stephen Durrence represented half of the field going into series four, with teams such as Luke Cour/Goose (181) and Leo Joseph/Gus (195) giving it their all to edge past the bubble. With the series four course containing possibilities for three, 50-point penalties, major shifts in the leaderboard were possible going into the day.

The series four course was a field trial/hunt test hybrid that had teams covering over 650 yards to retrieve three marks and one blind. The first mark was a 280-yard middle bird across a stand of water that challenged teams throughout the day. The second mark was a right to left bird that fell among a stand of marsh grass in a long slough around 140 yards down the middle of the course. It was another retrieve that many teams struggled with. The third mark arched across water 100 yards to the far right of the course. Just beyond the third mark, a blind was positioned just over 150 yards away at the base of a tree. For the blind retrieve, handlers had to control their dogs through a 10-yard wide “keyhole” between a gunner and a stack of bird crates. Failing to do so represented a 50-point penalty as did entering or exiting the water too quickly on the second and third marks.

The majority of amateur teams ran in the morning, with Ron Anderson/Rip making quick work of the course, including an excellent retrieve of the lengthy first mark that earned them a series four score of 40, the best amateur score of the day. Anderson, a handler with plenty of SRS experience also advanced to the super six with his dog, Smoke, who posted a well-earned score of 72 with the judges’ pencils not touching paper on a couple retrieves.

Impressive performances in the open division included Leo Joseph/Gus who launched themselves from twelfth to second with a score of 14, securing their place in the open division super six. Luke Cour/Indy had a similarly impressive performance scoring a 63 which vaulted them from eleventh to fourth place and locked down their position in series five.

Stephen Durrence/Mason had the gallery cheering after finishing their run with a methodical retrieve of the final distant mark earning them a series four 40 and placing them at the top of the leaderboard. It was Mason’s seventh crown championship run and his experience shined through on the last retrieve of the day. After day four, Durrence and the dogs of Taylor Farm Kennels represented three of the six open division teams going into championship Sunday.

When the dust settled in the amateur division Ron Anderson/Rip led the pack with a 46-point cushion over the second position team, John Lamar/Smokie. Additionally, Steward Williams/Stormy just narrowly edged out Dustin Hightower/Jeep by five points to advance to the final day.

Series Five - Championship Sunday

As the sun rose on November 6, the eyes of the sporting dog world looked towards Shreveport, Louisiana as championship Sunday in the SRS Crown Series returned to the WK Palmetto Event Center. Going into the day the six remaining handler/dog teams from the amateur division included Ron Anderson/Rip (264), John Lamar/Smokie (310), Ron Anderson/Smoke (315), Ray Caito/Traeger (325), Steven Guzman/Dre (342), and Stewart Williams/Stormy (375). In the open division, the super six included Stephen Durrence/Mason (185), Leo Joseph/Gus (209), Stephen Durrence/Abby (225), Luke Cour/Indy (256), Lee Howard/Shooter (260), and Stephen Durrence/Cooper (261). With scores in both the amateur and open divisions neck and neck, it was anyone’s game going into the final series. Any team running on the final day had a chance at being crowned the SRS champion.

The day began with amateurs running the field trial/hunt test scenario, a course fitting of championship Sunday. The final series course was the longest of the entire event, with five marks and a blind retrieve taking dogs over 850 yards. The lengthy course tested each dog’s endurance and stamina throughout the day.

Bird one was a 247-yard field trial bird with many aspects of the course pushing dogs to the right and causing problems for many dogs throughout the day. Bird two was another field trial style bird going left-to-right and landing 157 yards down the middle of the course. After the first two birds, the course transitioned to a hunt test scenario, with handlers firing poppers for all three marks. Mark one came on the far right of the course, landing just over 100 yards away. Mark two was a short bird, which fell among snow goose decoys around 40 yards to the left. Mark three was a 125 yard right-to-left “go bird” with decoys strategically placed to push dogs off course. Lastly, the 250-yard blind was placed in a stand of pines that had many dogs pinballing from tree-to-tree while hunting for it. Handlers also had to control their dogs over a narrow obstacle of pine straw on their line to the blind. Failing to navigate the obstacle represented a major penalty of 50 points. Overall, the course was a testament to a handler’s ability and their retriever’s talent.

Series five amateur performances ranged in score by 147 points with all amateurs handling on at least one mark. Eukanuba Amateur Team of the Year, John Lamar/Smokie scored a 108 on series five, bringing their overall score to 423 and earning them third place. Ray Anderson/Smoke, no strangers to the crown championship, navigated the course well, scoring a 108 and simultaneously using the opportunity to gather information for Anderson’s later run with Rip. Rip, a young dog with enormous maturity, handled the first mark better than any other amateur team of the morning and had the crowd cheering from the stands as they finished the course with a score of 118 bringing their five series score to 382. Anderson’s handling of Smoke and Rip earned him second and first place respectively as well as a lifetime invitation to the SRS crown championship for Rip and a return trip to the crown series for Smoke in 2023.

“It’s been a fun week and Rip did really well,” said Anderson after the event. “He’s a three-year-old so everything is a first time for him, but he handled it well and performed very maturely for his age. Since he was a seven-week-old puppy I’ve groomed him for this moment. It’s very fulfilling and shocking that we are so ahead of schedule. Finishing first and second at the Crown is something I dreamed about, but never thought it would be a reality.”

Rounding out the rest of the amateur division finalists, Ray Caito/Traeger scored a 190 on the final series bringing their overall score to 515 and placing fourth. Steven Guzman/Dre had their highest score of any series at 179 which earned them fifth place with an overall score of 521. Finally, Steward Williams/Stormy rounded out the super six with a score of 255, putting them in sixth as Stormy made the last, emotional retrieve of his competitive career.

The open division saw the most intense competition of the day with only seven points separating first and second place and a five series tie for fourth. Stephen Durrence/Cooper took sixth place with a series five score of 209, bringing their five series event score to 470. While Lee Howard/Shooter and Stephen Durrence/Abby tied in their overall five series scores, fourth place came down to who had the lowest score of the day making Howard/Shooter the fourth place team.

Luke Cour/Indy came out swinging, taking a laser line to the blind, undoubtedly the best blind retrieve of the day that scored them an 87 with an overall event score of 343. With clean runs in both the fourth and fifth series, Cour/Indy took third place on the podium.

Leo Joseph/Gus, who made an incredible comeback in series four, also had a good showing with minimal handling on the marks scoring a series five 70, the lowest score of the day. While Joseph/Gus made up more ground on day five, they were just short of catching Stephen Durrence/Mason.

Stephen Durrence/Mason were the last to take the line and ran the blind retrieve second only to Cour/Indy. Mason showed his experience in his white muzzle, focus, and veteran performance. In the end, Durrence/Mason edged out Joseph/Gus by seven points, taking first place in the process and making them the 2022 Open Division SRS Crown Series Champions.

While it is Durrence’s fourth time winning the crown series championship, it was Mason’s first, despite multiple appearances.

“This is Mason’s first one,” said Durrence. “It’s his show and he’s the one who matters here.”

At 11-years-old Mason is the oldest dog Durrence brought to the crown series, and one of the oldest dogs in both divisions.

“At this point in his career we are just enjoying the ride,” said Durrence. “If he is up for it and healthy enough to do it, he’ll be back again next year. We will have to wait and see.”

The 2022 Super Retriever Crown Championship Series was an extremely competitive event that separated the good teams from the great ones and ended in an exciting finish with Leo Joseph/Gus nearly catching Durrence/Mason and Cour/Indy making up a tremendous amount of ground in two days and finishing third. You couldn’t ask for more theatrics as the series came to an end. The SRS championship series also proved that any dog, young or old, can win. In the amateur division, Anderson/Rip took first place as one of the youngest dogs in the event while the open division champion retriever, Mason, was one of the oldest dogs in either division. As the five day series came to an end, competitors shook hands and wished each other a safe drive and a good hunting season, displaying the sportsmanship and friendly competitiveness the SRS is known for.

Open Division — Super Six Finalists

Amateur Division — Super Six Finalists