Field Trials for Pointers and Setters date back to 1865 in England. “It was a blustery morning on the first day of May 1866. Gathered at Cannock Chase, a beautiful country estate near Stafford, England, were a number of keen sportsmen, men who loved field shooting, pastimes in the open, and bird dogs. They met here on this early May day for the purpose of trying their Pointers and Setters in actual competition in order to ascertain their real qualities as compared with one another.” The early competitions in England stimulated interest and the desire to improve bird dogs. The first field trial (for Pointers and Setters) in America was held on October 8, 1874 near Memphis, Tennessee and elicited much enthusiasm among owners and breeders. From those early years on, field trials became increasingly popular with those devoted to field sports and eventually spread throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and as far off as Japan. Field trials are a means of enjoying the great outdoor sport of upland bird hunting, while promoting conservation of wild upland birds and their habitat. At the highest level, they provide competition that allows for the selection of the best pointing dogs for breeding and thereby the betterment of the various pointing dog breeds.
The definition of the ideal field trial bird dog is well defined, rational, and sound. It holds as true today is in the past. To measure up to these high standards, a bird dog must possess a great nose, speed, range, style and endurance. The dog must manifest an intelligent and forward pattern in negotiating terrain. They must exhibit character, animation, independence, and initiative. They must be incisive and merry and show intensity and steadiness on game as well as a willingness to handle. The ideal bird dog, in short, is polished and is perfectly mannered, exciting constant admiration by the excellence of their work.
Pointing dog field trials are held on every species of wild upland gamebird that is hunted and in most parts of the country where those birds are native. See Upland Birds for information. Trials are also held on pre-released or released raised birds where wild birds are not available. These include Bobwhite quail, pheasants, and chukar. Many species of upland gamebirds cannot be successfully bred or raised in captivity.
In American Field (Field Dog Stud Book – FDSB) sanctioned field trials, classes are Walking Shooting Dogs where dogs are handled off foot, Horseback Shooting Dogs and All-Age stakes where dogs are handled off horseback. There are stakes where only amateurs can handle dogs held under the auspicies of Amateur Field Trial Clubs of America (AFTCA) and Open stakes primarily for professional handlers but open to amateurs as well. Age groups for dogs are Puppy, Derby and Adult (Shooting Dog, All-Age). For a full understanding of how American Field/AFTCA field trials are conducted, please visit AFTCA. A printed version of “Standards to Field Trial Procedure, Judicial Practice, Handler and Bird Dog Performance” is available in the Strideaway online store.
Some recommended reading: “Field Trials: History, Management and Judging Standards”, “Fields of Glory”, and “Reflections on Bird Dogs and the Men Who Handled Them”.