Posts Tagged ‘field trial’

The Difference between Field Trials and Hunt Tests

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

FieldTrial

Lots of hunting dog owners, especially newbies, aren’t sure what the difference is between a field trial and a hunt test. While both are great things to do in the offseason to keep us and our dogs in shape, training, and having fun, it can be confusing to figure out what’s right for you and your dog.

Basically, field trials are competitions and hunt tests are not competitive. In a field trial, one dog wins, or depending on the structure of the trial, one dog in each division wins. In a hunt test, each dog is judged individually, not in comparison to other dogs, and is awarded a score based on its performance. At the end of a hunt test, there may be several dogs with perfect scores, several not passing, and all possible combinations in between. The objective of a field trial is to pick a winner; the objective of a hunt test is to assess each dog independently.

Both field trials and hunt tests help breeders evaluate their lines. Both are fundamentally geared towards producing a better hunting dog by way of developing the dogs’ inherent abilities and fine-tuning their training. Both have events running on local, state and national levels, from puppy age to adult dogs.

Whatever level you’re at with your dog, there’s a program you can participate in. And hooking up with a group of bird dog owners training for trials or tests can be one of the best ways to enhance your dog’s training program and connect with people who share the passion.

There are many different organizations running field trials, and the format and style vary. One major difference is that some are walking trials and others are done with handlers, judges and galleries on horseback. Criteria for judging differ depending on whether it’s a pointing dog trial, retriever or spaniel trial. Some field trials use pen-raised birds; others conduct the search on wild birds. There are non-shooting stakes and shoot-to-retrieve stakes.

The American Kennel Club, American Field Sporting Dog Association, and National Retriever Club sponsor most of the national field trials, but other groups – such as the National Shoot to Retrieve Association and National Bird Hunters Association along with a variety of amateur field trial groups and breed clubs – also host trials.

As far as hunt tests go, the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (for pointing dogs), AKC, and United Kennel Club (for both pointers and retrievers), and North American Hunting Retriever Association (retrievers) developed hunt test programs with the initial goal of providing a non-competitive yet standardized method of evaluating breeding. Parent breed clubs and multiple breeds clubs like the German Jagdgebrauchshundverband (JGHV) also have developed their own testing systems. The wonderful byproduct of these programs is the training that’s offered for the tests provides handlers and their dog’s outstanding preparation for hunting in general whether or not participants ever end up taking the tests.

Depending on the trial or test, pointing dogs usually must demonstrate their ability to search for game; hold point; remain steady to wing, shot and drop; and retrieve downed game to hand. Versatile pointing dogs will also be expected to search in the water for game; mark and retrieve downed waterfowl; and track game on land. Retriever and spaniel events judge the dogs’ ability to hunt, ability to remain steady, mark downed birds or waterfowl; make blind retrieves; and deliver birds or ducks to hand.

Whereas in a field trial the dog usually just has one run in a day, in most hunt tests, the dog performs several times. For example, in a NAVHDA Utility Test, each dog does a 30-minute field hunt, a minimum 10-minute duck search in a large body of water, a heeling course, a long tracked field retrieve, and a combination of steadiness and retrieving tasks from a water’s edge blind. Both field trials and hunt tests have complex scoring criteria designed to make the judges’ evaluations as objective as possible.

One of the liveliest – okay, let’s be honest and say super-heated – discussions you can find in the gun dog world is whether field trials or hunt tests produce the better hunting dogs. Speed, style, practicality, hunting instinct, finish work and a bird bag full of other elements fuel the debates. What’s important to most of us, however, is what program appeals to us and what we want out of our dogs. The best advice is to attend a couple of field trials or hunt tests, ask your dogs’ breeder for recommendations, and do a little local research to find out what’s available. Then grab your dog and have some fun.

Nancy Anisfield, an outdoor photographer/writer, sporting dog enthusiast and bird hunter, serves on Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s National Board of Directors. She resides in Hinesburg, Vermont.

Don’t be intimidated by Breed Clubs, Hunt Tests and Field Trials

Monday, July 8th, 2013

John Zeman of the German Shorthaired Pointer Club of Minnesota.

John Zeman of the German Shorthaired Pointer Club of Minnesota.

I’ve previously written about the challenges in finding places to run a bird dog during the nesting season.  That post prompted John Zeman of the German Shorthaired Pointer Club of Minnesota to contact me and invite me to the group’s training day last month.  I’ve always been intimated about the prospect of attending a dog group’s event because my focus is on hunting my dogs not trialing or testing my dogs.  However, I attended a field trial put on by Ben & Scott Berg this spring that I enjoyed, so I decided to take Zeman up on his gracious invitation.

In talking with fellow Pheasants Forever members, hunting buddies and bird dog enthusiasts, I don’t think I’m alone in my intimidation of the hunt test and field trial scene.  I’m not a pro trainer, my dogs have largely been trained by me, and as such they display my mistakes and inadequacies for more expert eyes to witness and frown upon.  To my relief, I’ve found in Zeman and the Minnesota shorthair club the same welcoming friendliness I first experienced in the Berg group.  I also took away a few observations I wasn’t expecting.

Hunters Too.  For some reason, I always thought people who enjoy testing/trialing their dogs don’t really care about actually hunting much.  I’ve found that assumption to be completely inaccurate.  In general, trialers/testers care more about style than I do (I’ll shoot a bumped bird without hesitation because I want meat on the table more than a dog that’s steady to wing and shot), I can tell you without reservation all trialers/testers enjoy the hunt and care about habitat.  As is often the case in today’s society, we get hung up on semantics too often. Hunters, trialers, and testers share the same passions and concerns about habitat and the future of bird hunting.

Friends with Benefits.  I learned a ton about dog training during my two pups’ three runs over the trial course accompanied by Zeman.  In addition to training guidance, we also shared stories of hunts past and special hunting spots.  I also learned about different breeds of dogs, different reputable breeders and different ways of bird hunting (on horseback).

Horsing Around.  My dogs had never met a horse prior to Saturday.  The training day included horses, which I’m told are commonplace at field trials.  It was interesting to see my dogs scent the horse and struggle to focus on hunting with a horse walking the field with us.

Dan Voss and his Gordon setter.

Dan Voss and his Gordon setter.

Gordon Setters.  My expectation in attending a German Shorthaired Pointer Club event was that all the pups in attendance would be shorthairs.  To my pleasant surprise, there were a variety of breeds including two of my other favorites, German wirehairs and Gordon setters.  And in response to the ribbing I took for Pheasants Forever not publishing enough photos of Gordons, I’ve included Dan Voss’ good looking pup in this post.

When I met Zeman for the first time on Saturday, he was wearing his Pheasants Forever Rooster Booster hat.  In response to his support of Pheasants Forever and his gracious invitation to attend Saturday’s festivities, I’ve joined the German Shorthaired Pointer Club of Minnesota.  I encourage all the readers of this blog to join their local dog club representing their favorite breed.  You never know, you may meet a new friend who leads you to a new hunting spot or bird dog gem.

The Pointer is written by Bob St.Pierre, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever’s Vice President of Marketing.  Follow Bob on Twitter @BobStPierre and listen to Bob and Billy Hildebrand every Saturday morning on FAN Outdoors radio on KFAN FM100.3.

My First Bird Dog – Why Attend a Hunt Test or Field Trial?

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

As a few readers in my previous post correctly guessed, the Springer spaniel is a breed in consideration to become my first bird dog. And after having her heart melt for an English cocker spaniel at the most recent National Pheasant Fest (okay, ditto for me), Kaily – my partner and half financer in getting a pup – and I decided we should investigate these two breed avenues a litter further.

In addition to providing entertainment, attending Hunt Tests and Field Trials is a great way gain knowledge and resources during your dog search.

Having hunted behind a dozen or so breeds, I’ve witnessed a few exceptional springers, including Wolf, the late companion of longtime Pheasants Forever Journal Editor Mark Herwig. But I’ve never hunted behind a cocker, and Kaily’s only seen metro-walk-in-the-park springers, so we decided our best bet to get further acquainted with these breeds during the non-hunting season was to attend a Spaniel Hunt Test (just an FYI, Hunt Tests are open to all AKC registered Spaniels, including Boykin, Field, Clumber, etc.).

We barely made it home from the Hunt Test without this little guy.

My goals were simple: To watch dogs work, ask as many questions of participating dog handlers as humanly possible in a half day and not get sucked into buying a dog on the spot. I accomplished all three, though Kaily came dangerously close to caving on the third goal.

The biggest apprehension leading into the event was that I’d be imposing on this exclusive club of dog owners and they’d see me as an outsider – hey, confidence isn’t always in full supply. As you can probably guess, I couldn’t have been more wrong. We were greeted with smiles, questions were answered, references were made, dogs were watched and I got Kaily away from the litter of puppies that all-too-conveniently happened to be there just in time. A final decision has yet to be made, but we certainly feel more equipped to make the right pick for us having been active spectators at the Hunt Test.

Have any of your bird dog searches led you to check out a Hunt Test or Field Trial?

Previous “My First Bird Dog” posts

Anthony’s Antics Afield is written by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at AHauck@pheasantsforever.org and follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauck.