Bird Dogs Afield host Paul Fuller is the gun dog columnist for Northwoods Sporting Journal. The Journal has granted permission to re-print Paul’s articles. Thank you Northwoods Sporting Journal.

Northwoods Sporting Journal

Better Field Trial Judging

Field trials play an important part in the bird dog world. They identify the best bird dogs and allow superior genetics to be passed along. However, your author feels there should be more consistency in judging. Let me provide an introduction to various thoughts regarding field trial performance and then I’ll provide an example of my concern.

In 2016, while visiting the National Championship in Grand Junction, Tennessee, I interviewed several well-known field trial trainers and handlers. Hall of Fame trainer Hoyle Eaton told me that the purpose of a bird dog is to be a good hunting companion. And, Hoyle was a big proponent of loving your dog. I interviewed one of the judges the day before the trial began. I asked him what he would be looking for in a dog while judging the National. He said I want a dog that I can take home and hunt with. While visiting the legendary and Hall of Fame trainer Ferrel Miller, I asked him what he looked for in a bird dog. One of the traits he wants is intelligence. He wants a dog to quickly identify cover holding birds and make that type of cover their objective. This means the dog runs to objectives. A very well-known trainer, handler and field trial judge from New Hampshire, told me several years ago that he would never reward a dog for running past birds. Finally, the dog that usually wins the National Bird Dog Championship is the dog with the most bird finds.

Now that I’ve set the stage, I want to tell my story about a field trial experience. And, why I feel there needs to be more consistency and reward for bird work in judging smaller trials.

When my little Cordie was derby age, I ran her in a derby field trial in Connecticut. She was braced with a very nice looking English setter. At the break away, both dogs ran hard and straight forward. The judges were on horseback so they had no problem keeping up with the dogs. The other trainer and I had to huff and puff to catchup. We soon arrived at a thicket of brush about 15 yards in diameter. Both dogs in my opinion were on point; I don’t believe there was an honor involved. In field trial language, it’s called a divided find. I went into the thicket and flushed two planted quail. Both dogs moved a bit but stayed fairly steady to the flush. For derby work, it was good.

After the flush, I never again saw Cordie’s brace-mate or the handler. Through intelligence, Cordie now knew her objectives…cover similar to where she pointed the birds. And, after the initial bird find, Cordie was always running ahead. Cordie had several more bird finds with a good point and steady to most of the flushes. I was very proud of her and was sure she would win a ribbon. At the end of the brace, I met up with the handler of Cordie’s brace-mate. The handler told me that her setter had one more find after the initial divided find. That means that dog ran past a large number of birds. The setter had not identified objectives as Cordie did.

One handler told me that he never saw his dog after the breakaway until a judge rode up to him and told him that his dog was on point way up in a far field. This was only with a few minutes remaining in the brace. The handler ran up to the far field and flushed the bird just under the buzzer. That was one find with only seconds remaining.

After all the braces finished, the judges discuss their findings and then announce the winners. Cordie’s brace-mate was awarded first place. The handler who had to run to a far field with only seconds remaining was awarded second place. I was stunned. In a polite manner, I asked my judge where my dog failed. His response: A field trial dog must run much bigger. There is no question your dog did great bird work…the best we saw all day.

In the second paragraph, I laid the ground work for my argument. Cordie met the standards set by all the Hall of Fame trainers, judges and handlers I nterviewed. Based on her first find, she immediately established objectives, ran to those objectives and located and pointed birds. She deserved a ribbon. There needs to be more consistency and reward for bird finds in field trial judging.

Copyright 2022 Paul Fuller

Susan and Paul Fuller host the Bird Dogs Afield TV show. Their website is Contact: