National Geographic : 1937 Jan
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE the dog danced around me and barked, full of gratitude for her release. The question of how long a dog will hold a point is one which cannot be answered categorically. It depends on the dog. I myself have seen a setter hold its motion less pose for 15 minutes or more. One ac count tells of a pair of English Pointers which held a point for an hour and a quarter. Sometimes at field trials compet ing dogs are lost and are found afterward a long distance away, pointing game. The bird, too, often remains still, relying upon its protective coloration. A classic story in this connection is the yarn of the man who missed his pointer and found it on the moors months later, a skeleton dog pointing a skeleton bird! FIELD TRIALS HAVE WIDE APPEAL The field trials for pointers and setters supreme tests of bird-dog ability-appeal not only to the hunter and sportsman but to the lover of animals and student of Nature. Not a bird is shot. The only shooting is done with a pistol loaded with blank cartridges. This is fired after a bird has been flushed, to demonstrate that the dog is not gun-shy. Excitement and tension run high as these splendid animals compete against a back ground of brilliant autumn foliage. Any one of a dozen mistakes may disqualify a contestant, including the premature flush ing of the quarry by a highly strung dog, a sudden dash forward after the bird rather than a steady point. The excitement communicates itself to the dogs and sometimes they break under the strain. I remember one such episode during field trials at the Duke of Portland's estate in England. A fine Pointer, Champion Saddleback (so called because of the saddle-shaped, liver colored marking on his back) had been kept in an old-fashioned hansom cab all day awaiting his turn. For hours he had heard the men and the guns, and the air must have been full of scent. When at last Saddleback was "put down," a hare got up in front of him. Now in no case may a Pointer chase a hare, and the sight of one so far forgetting him self is enough to raise every eyebrow in the county. But as soon as Saddleback saw that hare, off he went as hard as he could run, disturbing game all over the place and finishing the trials for that day. The as- sembled sportsmen commiserated the owner as solemnly as if he had just had a death in the family. From September 19 to December 14, 1936-roughly three months-129 field trial meetings for pointers and setters alone were held in the United States and Canada, most of them in this country. Usually, at the big trials in the eastern United States, the quarry is quail, but there are other events at which the dogs are run on pheasants and ruffed grouse. In the West the game may include prairie chickens and the European, or Hungarian, partridge.* The gallery at a field trial is a gathering of sportsmen who delight in the fresh, crisp air of autumn, with its glories of crimson, russet, and gold against the dark green of the conifers. All or nearly all are not only dog lovers but dog owners. Now adays the assembled company usually in cludes a number of women and girls. In the woods and fields the young game birds have attained their full plumage. Throughout the summer they have feasted well, grown strong in body and power of wing. They are huntable game, wary, cun ning, able to look after themselves. With some formality the name of the stake is stated and the names of the dogs entered are drawn from a hat or box. Sup pose the first ticket reads "Mr. Jones's Ponto" and the second reads "Mr. Brown's Peter." Then they will be the first competi tors "put down" for that stake. If, on the other hand, the two dogs drawn are owned by the same person, one is "guarded" and another dog of different ownership is sub stituted. In Europe the judges and handlers walk after the dogs; in the United States, where the areas to be covered are comparatively large and game is often scarce, they are mounted. OFF LIKE A FLASH! When all is ready, the judges give the order for the first brace of dogs to be cast off, and each handler releases his charge. Off they go like a flash, the first ranging the field ahead on the left, the other on the right. Each dog keeps to his territory. Eventually, if game be there, it is found and pointed. If the birds are not "wild," * See "Game Birds of Prairie, Forest, and Tundra," by Alexander Wetmore, NATIONAL GEO GRAPHIC MAGAZINE, October, 1936.