Bird dog field trials – yet another way to enjoy the outdoors

There are numerous ways to enjoy the outdoors. Last month, I was introduced to yet another one.

The Indiantown Gap Bird Dog Club hosted three field dog trials, April 8-13 at the Keystone Bird Dog Trust grounds near Petersburg. A total of 77 dogs – mostly English pointers and English setters – competed in the week-long field trials. Professional trainers and their dogs participated in two classes for most of the week. Friday afternoon and Saturday morning were reserved for the amateur class – just owners, with no professional trainers allowed.

Forty-two dogs competed in the Keystone Open Shooting Dog Classic, Monday through Thursday morning. According to club secretary Ernie Saniga, this is a major-circuit sporting dog field trial, much like a major golf tournament or a big NASCAR race. Dogs and trainers build their reputations by winning. The circuit is organized by the American Field Sporting Dog Association. The Indiantown Gap club and hundreds of other clubs — 20 in Pennsylvania — are affiliated with the American Field Sporting Dog Association.

Next up was the Indiantown Gap Open Derby Classic, where professional trainers working with 14 younger dogs competed – two at a time – during 30-minute time slots.

Friday and Saturday morning were reserved for the Region 2 Amateur All-Age Bird Dog Championships. Owners from all over the eastern half of the United States entered 21 dogs in this category.

The birds used in this field trial were pen-raised quail – about 250 were released during the week-long event. Strausbaugh was in charge of releasing the quail for this field trial.

As I later learned, Mike Tracy is the second-leading bird dog trainer in the United States for this type of field trial. His father, George Tracy, also of Glenville, Pa., is number one – with over 200 championships to his credit. It is some dog-training family. George’s daughter is an accomplished dog trainer, as well.

While I watched the trial, the younger Tracy was competing with White Knuckles, in the Derby Stakes. This is a class for younger dogs who are still learning – age 2 to 2-1/2 years old. White Knuckles is trained by Tracy, but owned by Roger McPhearson of Chesterfield, S.C. It is common for the well-known trainers to bring several dogs owned by others to a bird dog trial.

If you are thinking of hunting dogs that are trained to stay close to their master as they slowly hunt through a weedy field hoping to encounter a bird, that is not what happens at this type of field trial. These hunting dogs race along the edges of the fields and actually locate the scent of birds while they are moving rapidly. Dogs are scored in part on the number of birds that they can locate and point is a specified amount of time.

Professional dog trainer Mark Hughes from Grampian, Pa., and Mike Panaski of Ontario, Canada, were the judges for the first two field trials. Hughes was kind enough to explain the finer points of field trial judging to me. Scoring is subjective – with the judges looking for how a dog hunts the cover, how many birds it finds, its responsiveness to the handler, the quality of its point, honoring another dog’s point and other factors.

Mark Hughes is one of the younger professional dog handlers, but his father, Dave Hughes, is a Hall of Fame trainer with 115 championships to his credit.

Prize money is based on the number of entries. A Tennessee male pointer, Erin’s War Creek, trained by George Tracy won the Keystone Open Shooting Dog Classic. George Tracy chalked up yet another win and earned approximately $3,000. High Tailin’ Penny, from New York and trained by Mike Tracy, won the Indiantown Gap Open Derby Classic. The Region 2 Amateur All-Age Championship was won by another Tennessee dog, Miller Just Plain Rowdy.

“This is the best weather that we have had for a spring field trial in a long time. We had a beautiful six days and many of the participants commented about the nice weather. April in Petersburg is often quite different,” Saniga said.

“It is becoming more difficult to find a place to hold a field trial like this,” noted Indiantown Gap Bird Dog Club director Strausbaugh, of Mifflinburg. “We are fortunate to own this 225-acre Huntingdon County farm and be able to lease three neighboring farms for the field trials.

“It might be easier if people understood how this affects the local economy,” Strausbaugh continued. “Owners and trainers travel from all over the eastern United States. They buy food, gas, and stay in motels. It is a big boost to the area economy.”

In addition to the favorable weather, Saniga said, “We had many good performances from the competing dogs and excellent winners.”

The club will host another major field trial this fall.

Categories: Pennsylvania – Mark Nale

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