To ensure that Friday, Sept. 23, doesn’t pass unnoticed as the first day of autumn, the Mid-Coast Maine Field Trial Club will celebrate the season’s arrival with the ringing of dogs’ bells throughout the weekend.
Specifically, the club’s annual New England Grouse and Woodcock Championship field trial will be held Sept. 24-25 in the Waldo County town of Frankfort. Posted signs will provide directions to the West Hill Road area where the “juried trial” will convene. Otherwise, if bird dogs are essential to your health and well-being, just follow the traffic of pickup trucks loaded with dog boxes.
According to club president, Jeff Mahaney, more than 30 pointing dogs have been registered in the prestigious event. “We’ll have dogs from as far away as Canada and Pennsylvania,” said Mahaney, “and many of them are multiple champions.” Starting at 7 a.m. each day, the choke-nosed contenders will be cast in pairs (brace mates) to compete in one-hour hunts called races. Judging focuses on range, speed, ground pattern, response to commands, posture and stanchness on point, backing and steadiness to wing and shot.
Though birds are not shot in wild-bird trials, a pistol is fired when a bird is flushed. Moreover, handlers cannot reprimand or correct their dogs while competing. In other words, if a dog “blinks” (leaves a bird after pointing) or “bumps” (flushes instead of pointing) it will be disqualified. Likewise, pottering and false pointing.
Of course, most of the MCMFTC’s members are bird hunters. Yet, many dedicated bird hunters never show their faces at field trials. Why? Simply because they’re averse to entering close-working gun dogs in races with far-ranging field trial dogs.
Hence the cynicism: field trials are won by dogs whose handlers run the fastest and yell the loudest. While that’s debatable, it can be said that wild-bird trials don’t attract many spectators because following the dogs through wooded cover is difficult. With that in mind, and because September foliage is summer-thick, Mahaney and crew have cut trails to facilitate access to the upland arena selected for the running of this year’s New England Grouse and Woodcock Championship.
Assuming, then, that your autumn attire features brush pants and shooting vests, plan to stop by the MCMFTC’s forthcoming field trial. Unless, of course, you know of a better way to welcome the season at hand than by admiring high-tailed setters, pointers and bob-tailed Brittany spaniels paralyzed by bird scent.