Field trials put focus on technique, results

By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer

The overall quality of the experience, rather than just the harvest, is a common theme in many outdoor pursuits, and experts say that holds true for awarding field trial championships.
Hosted by Ames Plantation in Grand Junction, Tenn., the National Championship for Field Trialing Bird Dogs began its 112th running on Monday and is scheduled to continue through Feb. 26, unless weather conditions or other factors require an extension.
Results are posted daily at www.amesplantation.org and read something like a box score, noting the times and results of the dogs’ efforts, along with weather conditions and other factors. At least as important as a dog’s results, however, is the manner and style in which they’re achieved.
“Ideally, you are looking at the number of finds and how they’re spaced,” D. Hoyle Eaton, of Booneville, says of the most obvious criteria.
Eaton is a nationally-acclaimed bird dog trainer and handler with more than 50 Open Championships, 36 endurance championships and four National Championships to his credit. He’s also judged events and, having ridden both sides of the field trial road, knows what kind of performance makes a winner.
“You need to have a find in every hour of the three-hour run. Some dogs may have multiple finds, but the number of finds is not to be the determining factor. It’s the ground race, how they negotiate the course subject to their handler, the overall speed of the dog, what kind of class the dog exhibits, how it looks on point. A winning dog should demonstrate lots of intensity all the time. He should be diligent in his efforts.
“He should have birds on his mind from the time he hits the ground until you pick him up, and he should be doing the job for the handler, not for himself.”
A dog’s intensity, then, should be coupled with his discipline. Errors that virtually disqualify a dog from the winner’s circle include things like chasing flushed birds, failing to back or simply outright stealing another dog’s point.
“A dog with four finds can beat a dog with 10 on other criteria,” Eaton says, “like speed, looks, response, intensity. A dog should distinguish himself on the ground.
“The National Championship is an all-age event, open to any dog that can get qualified (through certified events around the U.S. and Canada). An all-age dog is a glorified shooting dog, but one that does everything in a big way, and with intelligence. A good one will adjust to the terrain. On open prairie, he will go the distance, hunting horizon to horizon. In tight country, he will hunt close and get right in there with you.”
First organized and run near West Point in 1896, the National Championship has been permanently located at Ames Plantation since 1915 and is run over a series of specific courses that comprise 6,000 acres. Only one pair of dogs runs each morning and another pair runs each afternoon. Follow the results with periodic updates in the Daily Journal and online at www.amesplantation.org.