By Cheril Vernon

Messenger Copy Editor

PALESTINE – Dog and hunting enthusiasts from across the United States will descend upon the Palestine area for the next two weeks as the 7,500-acre BigWoods on the Trinity hunting retreat on the Trinity River bottoms of Tennessee Colony hosts the Master National Retriever Club’s 2017 Master National event.

Opening ceremonies and a banquet will kick off the Master National’s events today at Lakeview Methodist Conference Center in Palestine. Registration will continue on Friday, Oct. 13 with the Master National Retriever Club (MNRC) Licensed Hunting Test starting on Saturday, Oct. 14 and continuing through Sunday, Oct. 22.

Courtesy Photo

The MNRC’s mission, according to their website, “…is committed to testing hunting retrievers annually to a standard of excellence within the American Kennel Club (AKC) guidelines, celebrating the hunting tradition, and educating all those involved.”

“We are expecting about 500 to 1,000 people out there spread out on 3,000 acres of the property,” BigWoods on the Trinity owner and Palestine cardiologist Dr. Robert McFarlane, M.D. told The Messenger during a phone interview on Tuesday, Oct. 10. “We have about 830 or so dogs this year along with their handlers and owners. There’s about 250 handlers. A lot of people hire professionals and that one handler may handle about 15 dogs.”

According to community projections, the entire event is expected to bring about $12 million into the local economy.

“Palestine will look like it’s invested with fire ants but it will be big dog trainers,” McFarlane joked. “Our hotels will be full. Our restaurants will be full. Our gas stations, shops and liquor stores should do a booming business.”

Last year’s Master National event in 2016 was held in St. Louis, Mo. and brought in people from 48 states, according to Palestine Area Chamber of Commerce Director Marc Mitchell said.

“We are certainly looking forward to having a really positive affect on the economy here. We are anticipating a majority of our hotels to be full during the event,” Mitchell told the Messenger on Tuesday, Oct. 10. “We have people coming in from all over the country. We are excited about having visitors come into town, shopping in our stores, eating in our restaurants and purchasing gas.”

It’s also an opportunity for the visitors to see what the Palestine area has to offer.

“Palestine is a special community. As far as the event side of things, the president of the Master Nationals (Larry Kimble of Independence, Kan.) said the grounds at The Big Woods are among the best grounds in the country to host this event, which is quite a compliment. In addition, we have a lot of really rich cultural heritage here, wonderful shops, wonderful restaurants and great hospitality. We are excited to have the opportunity to share Palestine with them.”

The Hampton Inn in Palestine is one of the many hotels filling up with people from the Master Nationals.

“We have about 37 out of 80 rooms booked right now for that group and that doesn’t include the people that comes with them. Starting Oct. 18, we are completely booked,” Hampton Inn senior front desk representative Lindsey Moore told The Messenger on Tuesday, Oct. 10.

The Board of Directors of the MNRC plus members of the set-up committee started arriving in Palestine last week to begin setting up for this year’s event, according to McFarlane.

“The first contingency got here last Thursday (Oct. 5),” McFarlane said.

But it won’t be until this Saturday, Oct. 14 when the real fun begins.

“It’s all the best dogs in the country and the best trainers. If you are a hunter or enjoy having elegant hunting dogs that mark ducks that fall all at once, it’s fun to see the dogs perform. They throw out three birds and the dog has to remember where they are. The handler is not supposed to help them. What’s harder is for the dog to remember marks where they are in cover. It’s just amazing how intelligent these dogs are,” McFarlane said.

Ninety-five percent of the dogs featured in this year’s Master Nationals are Labrador Retrievers.

“We have about 50 or 60 Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, one poodle and one Duck Tolling Retriever. No flat coats this year,” McFarlane said. “They are all AKC-sanctioned, all registered dogs.”

In order to qualify for the Master Nationals, a dog must pass six MNRC Master Tests in its region in the hunting circuit in either the junior, senior or master division.

“I have one dog competing in this year’s Master Nationals,” McFarlane said.

However, that’s not the only connection McFarlane has to the Master Nationals. His former hunting dog, Spook, who passed away recently, sired puppies which also will be competing in this year’s event.

“I have more puppies in this event from one female than any other in the country – along with the one dog competing. I gave friends the puppies and they will be competing. When Spook was in her prime, she was great. She was a really sweet dog and very smart. Good memories,” McFarlane said. “Spook could remember where the ducks were better than I.”

Out of the 800-plus dogs that will compete in this year’s Master Nationals, McFarlane predicted only about 20 percent will pass.

“This is the pinnacle of the hunting test competition. It takes a whole year to get here. Some may go out on the first or second day, and they may have come all the way from California. On the other hand, they may pass and it’s gratifying and it’s all worthwhile,” McFarlane said. “The dogs are very highly trained and they get better and better every year.”

McFarlane said Labrador Retrievers not only make good hunting dogs, but excellent pets as well.

“The wonderful thing about Retrievers or Labrador Retrievers is not only are they hardworking dogs, but they make fabulous pets. They are affectionate and well mannered dogs that can stay in the house,” McFarlane said.

This is actually the second time The Big Woods on The Trinity has hosted the Master National competition. The first time was held in 2005.

“It’s much bigger this time. We have six different flights of dogs where there were two before. The infrastructure here at BigWoods has improved. We have more hard-surfaced roads and more technical ponds to train the dogs and work the dogs on,” McFarlane said.

For those interested in watching the dogs run trials, spectators are welcome to the events scheduled Oct. 14-21. The only events that are restricted to the handlers and guests are the dinners, according to the MNRC.

“Everyone is welcome to come out, but they do encourage you to not wear white shirts,” McFarlane said.

For more information about the Master Nationals, visit www.masternational.com. The BigWoods on The Trinity is located at 14809 W. FM 321 in Tennessee Colony. For more information about The BigWoods on The Trinity, call 903-391-1112 or e-mail thebigwoods@earthlink.net.