By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer
The nation’s best field trialing bird dogs begin today on a two-week march to crown the best of the best.
Hosted by Ames Plantation in Grand Junction, Tenn., the National Championship for Field Trialing Bird Dogs is set to begin its 112th running today and continue through Feb. 26, unless weather conditions force an extension.
The field includes a number of dogs owned or handled by Mississippians.
Handlers typically raise and train the dogs, then prepare them for and guide them through competition. They may or may not own or co-own the dogs, and many owners also involve themselves deeply in the training process as well.
This year’s competition includes dogs under the handling direction of Steve Hurdle, from Hickory Flat; Randy Downs, from Rienzi; Larry Huffman, from Michigan City; and Myres Gray, from Durant. Gray is the owner of the dog he’s handling in the championship.
Furthermore, three other dogs in the competition are owned by Mississippians. Dr. Fred Corder, of Corinth, Gary McKibben, of Hernando, and J.D. Huffman, of Michigan City each have dogs competing for the top prize. J.D. Huffman’s son Larry, is serving as handler for his father’s dog.
Started at West Point
The National Championship was first organized and run near West Point in 1896, and was later conducted near Rogers Springs, Tenn. It’s been permanently located at Ames Plantation since 1915 and is run over a series of specific courses that comprise 6,000 acres.
The order of running and the pairing are set by random draw. One pair of dogs runs each morning and another pair runs each afternoon. Each dog in the championship gets one three-hour run alongside a competing bracemate to demonstrate his or her abilities and style to the judges, an effort that requires excellent stamina since a 3-hour run covers roughly 18 miles. Judges, handlers and spectators follow the action on horseback.
To qualify for entry, dogs must place first in two different qualifying trials conducted throughout the United States and Canada during the 12 months prior to the National Championship event. To re-qualify for following years, dogs that have once qualified via the two-win route are re-qualified by placing first, second or third in one of the qualifying trials.
This year’s field includes 41 dogs.
Bird Dog coverage
– The Journal plans to offer updates on the running of the championship as events unfold, and will feature an insider’s look at how this most prestigious field trial works on this Friday’s outdoors page.