Dog Men & Field Trials
They’re called “dog men.” They eat, sleep and breathe bird dogs. Their game is field trials and they’re very serious about this game.
Field trials are held from the prairies of Saskatchewan to the pine trees of Florida…and all points between. All of the bird dog breeds have field trials. However, the oldest circuit is for pointing breeds…pointers and setters to be exact. In fact, the first field trial ever held in North America was held in 1874 just outside of Memphis, TN. Today, there are reportedly around 2000 clubs in the United States that hold and promote field trials.
That first trial in Tennessee planted a seed. That seed grew and a location just East of Memphis, Grand Junction, Tennessee, held its first trial in 1881. Today, Grand Junction is titled the Bird Dog and Field Trial Capital of the World. And, with good reason. Grand Junction is home to the Bird Dog Museum, Ames Plantation and the National Championship field trial for pointing dogs. There is one opportunity per year, in February, to visit Grand Junction and experience all three activities during the same visit.
Actually, the Bird Dog Museum is certainly a destination independent of the other two. It’s a large modern structure that houses both a museum and a hall of fame. Opened in 1991, the Museum contains numerous artifacts celebrating field trial history. There are paintings of famous dogs, shotguns, saddles and much more. Perhaps the center piece of the Museum is a true mount of Count Noble, a dog that many consider the foundation dog for the setter in the United States. Count Noble lived from 1879 to 1890. It was gifted to the Bird Dog Museum in May of 1991 by the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburg, PA. In an outdoor diorama setting, it’s a must see when visiting the Museum.
Also housed in the Museum is the Field Trial Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame contains either photos or paintings of all the dogs and handlers that have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. There are three categories: pointing, flushing and retrieving. Within each category are several breeds. Since your author is a German shorthaired pointer owner, I was thrilled to see wall after wall of shorthairs that have been inducted to the Hall of Fame. If you’re a dog man, you need to put the Bird Dog Museum on your bucket list.
About six miles from the Museum, and still in Grand Junction, is the historical Ames Plantation. The Ames Plantation began taking shape around 1820. There were early settlers and owners, at Ames, throughout the 1800s. The plantation eventually grew to 18,000 acres. In 1901, a Boston industrialist, Hobart Ames, bought that property to be used as his private retreat. The original home, kennels and horse barn still stand. The Ames family departed the property in 1950. Hobart Ames was a great pointing dog enthusiast. There is even a standard for dog work titled the Amesian Standard. It outlines the performance required of a pointing dog to excel in field trials.
And, nowhere in the world of field trials is that standard more applicable than at the National Championship Field Trial held every February at Ames Plantation since 1915. In total, this year’s National Championship is number 116. This is it…utopia for the field trialer. There is intense competition to qualify a dog for the National. If I have my facts correct, a newcomer to the trial must qualify by having two first place wins in the numerous qualifying trials held throughout the country. If the dog has qualified and run in a previous National, then it must gain a first, second or third in a qualifying trial to return.
The field usually consists of 40 to 50 dogs. The draw for braces takes place on Saturday evening. The trial begins on the following Monday morning. Two braces run per day with each brace a three hour heat. These dogs require stamina. I rode horse back to follow the first brace at this year’s trial. About sixty horses followed the brace. Leading are the handler and scout and then followed by three judges dressed in hunter orange.
The judges are looking for a hard driving dog, always running to the front and demonstrating a good work pattern. They must stand their birds with style and demonstrate good manners in the field.
Following the first brace was very enjoyable. The dogs had a couple of bird finds and showed nice style when pointing. However, over the two week run, the dog with the most bird finds, and done with excellent style, was Whippoorwill Justified. This three-year old pointer male had eight bird finds in the three hour heat. It was darn good dog work. Congratulations Whippoorwill Justified on being the 2016 National Champion.
That ends our exciting trip to Grand Junction, Tennessee. Make sure it’s on your bucket list!