Top dogs have nose for success

February 19, 2004|Emily Burton

Every bird dog has its day, and some hunters have theirs, but getting them to coincide when it counts is the tricky part.

At Wednesday's national bird dog competition near Cedar Creek Lake, hunting duos able to pull it together under pressure were awarded hefty scores, instant fans, and a better footing in the race for the title of top dog in the nation.

Cedar Creek Sportsman Club and the local chapter of Quail Unlimited are hosting the four-day event, which runs through Saturday, attracting bird hunters and their four-legged companions from 11 states.

"This is a wonderful chance for us to host something this important," said former Quail Unlimited president Brenda Himes.

The goal of the trials is simply to bag three quail in under 20 minutes, but the technique is anything but easy.


"You run each dog twice. They have three birds in a field. They have to find those three, point them, and retrieve the bird back to hand. They have 20 minutes to do this, and every minute they come in under this, they get an extra two points per minute," explained David Watts, secretary of United Field Trial Association.

Any registered pointing-breed dog is eligible for entry in singles or double competition.

But the competition is more than just point and shoot for those involved. It is a chance to hunt wild birds in their element without depleting the struggling population. It is a few days in the sun with their dogs doing what they love. Or it's a chance to experience the thrill of competition first hand. Each hunter had his or her reasons.

"It's just a great love of dogs and competition. And this set-up is the closest to really hunting as it can possibly be. That is why so many people are in it. Wild birds are just about gone," said UFTA president Stacey Hall.

"It does two things, it's going to help the local economy, because this brings in people from 11 states, and it brings recognition to this sportsman's club, gives them a chance to promote this area," said Watts.

"The wild bird population had diminished in so many states, this is an alternative, plus the field trial season is twice as long as bird season (in the wild). And everybody loves the competition," said Quail Unlimited president Ray Hammonds, of Lancaster. His 86 year-old father, still an avid huntsman, also attended the event.

More than 700 quail were farm-raised and purchased for the hunt from local and out-of-state sources. They were the season's last target for 112 dogs that had competed in four or more UFTA events this year and were invited to attend the nationals.

But while hunting was the scope of the event, the need for conservation and preservation of the wild population of game birds was the focus.

"That's something that had really hurt the quail population, lack of habitat and field. Look around, where's the bird going to survive in the surrounding area? ... Cattle and Bush Hogs have cleaned it up for them," said Hammonds.

Providing a scrub brush creek bottom or a wooded hillside is enough, said Hammonds. With cover and a food supply, Mother Nature will provide quail, wild turkey, deer, and rabbit, to name a few.

"They'll find it, and once they find that area, they'll stay there until the food runs out or predators move in," said Hammonds.

The top 10 dogs receive prize money. This week's top three, temporary, predators will go home after Saturday's finals with $8,000, $3,500 and $2,000, respectively. The prizes are funded through entry fees from preliminary competitions throughout the year.

The right to the winnings of the top dogs competing will be auctioned off before the final event. Called a Calcutta auction, a person may bid on a pointer, and the highest bidder will take the dog's purse, ranging from $8,000 for first to $400 for 10th. The dogs' owners can try to outbid their competition, but regardless of who calls first, both bidders have to pay their final bid amount. That pot is then added to the prize money.

The felled birds will be used at future events. Their lean white-meat will be frozen to feed members of Quail Unlimited and their families.

"We look at it (QU) as a family affair," said Hammonds. "We have picnics in the summer, and cookouts. We believe in running our dogs hard, eating well, and taking a lot of ribbing."

"We invite anybody to come out, and we're looking for new members, new clubs," said Hall about the UFTA. His brittany spaniel named Hawk lounged behind him by the truck, panting slightly after a rough field trial earlier. For any number of reasons that afternoon, Hawk had trouble catching the birds' scent in competition. But even those off their game Wednesday had another sniff coming, despite some needling off the field. Chances still abounded for every dog to have its day.

"There's a lot of luck involved," said Hall. "Any dog on this day can win the trial. Any dog."

Central Kentucky News Articles