Local sporting dogs look to shine on ESPN show in Missoula

Super Retriever Series will be filmed here as part of Outdoor Games

Some of western Montana’s top hunting dogs and their handlers will make their bid for television
stardom in October when ESPN’s Super Retriever Series is filmed in Missoula.

By DARYL GADBOW of the Missoulian

The program, which features canine field-trial competition that’s part of ESPN’s annual Great
Outdoor Games, will be staged Oct. 10-13 in Missoula, according to the show’s producers, J.M.
Associates of Little Rock, Ark.

The Missoula Chamber of Commerce’s unsuccessful bid to host the 2002 Great Outdoor Games
– a televised combination of target shooting, fishing, logging and dog-related sports – helped the
city land the Super Retriever Series, said Justin Tackett, one of the producers.

Tackett’s familiarity with the area also helped.

"To be honest," said Tackett, "I lived in Salmon, Idaho, for seven or eight years as an elk hunting
guide when I got out of college. And of course, being in Salmon, you pick up all your clients in
Missoula. I still have a lot of friends in the fly-fishing guiding business there. I just loved the place.
And I knew that Missoula made a great pitch to get the Great Outdoor Games. My bosses at
ESPN were impressed with the place and the personalities there. It boiled down to one of those
horrible business decisions where the population was not there for what they needed – about
150,000 people – to hold the games there."

Mike Dickey, director of the Missoula Chamber of Commerce Convention and Visitors Bureau,
also influenced the producers’ selection of Missoula, Tackett said.

"I called Mike Dickey and told him what we had to have," he said. "And Mike was able to make
it happen in about 15 minutes. Mainly, we needed support from the city, the ability to promote
the show and get the word out. We need lunches and hotel rooms, just help and support from
local business owners."

Tackett and Shannon Nardi, another producer from J.M. Associates, will be in Missoula next
week to look for venues for the Super Retriever Series competition.

"We’re going to try to have something in the city limits or very close," said Tackett, "so people in
town can get involved."

The competition in the Super Retriever Series, he said, is a made-for-television combination of
standard retriever trials sanctioned by the American Kennel Club, and hunt tests, sanctioned by
several organizations, that more closely simulate hunting situations.

"We try to find out who the best dog in the world is that can do it all," Tackett said.

In addition, the program includes the "Big Air Event," in which dogs leap into the water from the
end of a dock to make a retrieve. The distance they travel in the air is measured.

In a Super Retriever Series event earlier this year, Haley, a yellow Labrador handled by John
Kline from Bloomington, Minn., shattered the Big Air record with a leap of 23 feet, 4 inches.

The Missoula event will be the first in the Super Retriever Series qualifiers for the 2003 ESPN
Great Outdoor Games. The location for those games has not yet been determined, according to

The field trial competition here is open to the first 50 dogs that enter. So far, said Tackett, about
20 or 25 handlers have registered.

"We don’t have a lot of Montana entries yet," he said. "I hope we get some more local entries. In
the 2001 Great Outdoor Games we had a great dog from Charlo named Frequent Flier, owned
by Larry Calvert. So I know there are some great dogs in that part of the world."

Registration forms are available on the Web site The entry fee is $100 for the
retriever trial competition; $25 for the Big Air Event, which has no limit on entries. Entry deadline
is Sept. 20.

Prize money is offered for the top finishers: $1,500 for first place, $1,000 for second, $600 for
third, $500 for fourth, $400 for fifth, and $300 for sixth. In the Big Air Event, first place is worth
$500, second pays $175 and third takes $75.

The top two dogs in the retriever trial portion of the event will be invited to compete in the Great
Outdoor Games next year. The top finisher, and possibly other dogs that make impressive leaps
in the Big Air, also will be invited to the games.

In Missoula, the first two days of the field trial competition will determine the 12 semifinalists on
the third day, which will pare the field to six finalists for the championship that actually will be
filmed for TV on the last day, Nardi said.

The program won’t air on ESPN until next spring or summer before the Great Outdoor Games,
which will be held between mid-June and mid-July, 2003, she said.

This is the second year of the Super Retriever Series qualifying events, and 2003 will be the
fourth year for the Great Outdoor Games, Nardi said.

The nine retriever shows that have been produced for ESPN in the past three years have
attracted more than a million viewers per show, Tackett said.

"It’s been well received," added Nardi. "Our Web site has been bombarded, which surprised me
to death. The retriever trial’s been amazing to me. The first two years, I didn’t feel we covered it
that well, because we hadn’t done it before. You have to cut down what you can show so much
that I wasn’t sure it was real understandable. But we still had great ratings. For ESPN to ask to
hold and televise qualifying events, I think that’s a good sign that people are definitely interested in
this sport."

Tackett and Nardi said they were excited to be coming to Montana to produce a show.

"When people think of Montana," said Tackett, "they think of bugling elk and big brown trout, the
Blackfoot and Clark Fork rivers, and all that stuff. But you’ve got some super waterfowl hunting
up there, too. I also handle the fly-fishing for ESPN, so I hope we can have some fly-fishing
qualifying events up there, as well."

Reporter Daryl Gadbow can be reached at 523-5264 or at [email protected].

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