The Pointer & Setter Club of New Zealand was formed by a group of working gundog enthusiasts in Rotorua in 1983. The Club is based in the North Island and is dedicated to improving the standard of working pointer and setter breeds in New Zealand by running field trials and training days for these dogs.
Trials on wild game (pheasant and quail) are held in the North Island each year, In these, judges are looking for the best shooting dog performances; dogs must prove their hunting skills in the company of another dog, find birds, point staunchly, produce game for the gun, have good manners around birds and efficiently retrieve dead game to hand.
The natural game trials that are held involve a ‘brace’ of two dogs, two owners (or handlers) and an approved judge to follow each pair. The rules for the competition closely follow what could be expected in a hunting situation. Upon a dog locating a bird, the other dog in the brace would be expected to ‘back or honour’ the other dogs point, or will be brought under control by the other handler. The handler will then move forward to the dog on point and at the command of the judge, order his/her dog to flush the bird. A blank round is fired by the handler to ensure that the dog is steady to shot and flush. Dogs that in the opinion of the judges have performed creditably are brought forward into subsequent rounds to compete again. Issues such as deliberate flushing upwind, chasing fur or feather, missing birds on the beat, blinking a point, whining or barking to name a few, will ensure that the dog and handler will be eliminated from the trial.
When the judges have made their decisions as to which dogs deserve a placing these dogs will be brought forward to be tested with a ‘cold’ game bird retrieve. The judges then rank the dogs in order of placing for that trial. In championship trials if the judges consider that the winning dog has performed with merit they can award a Challenge Certificate or ‘CC’. Two wins and CC’s in natural game trials will ensure that the dog can claim a Field Champion title (FCh). This highly prized title is recognised by the NZ Kennel Club and will appear on the Dog’s pedigree certificate. Many prospective owners of these breeds rely on these titles to determine the ability of the working field lines before purchase.
Who competes in these trials? Most competitors are active hunters (both male & female) who spend a lot of hours chasing pheasants and quail with their dogs. There is an old and well-proven adage that “birds make a bird dog”. While field trialling cannot make an average dog into a great shooting dog, it will always make him a better hunting companion. He will learn discipline and self-control, and how to work with you as a team. He will be a pleasure to hunt with.
This all sounds wonderful and straight forward. However to achieve success in the sport it requires a great deal of dedication, training, travelling, time and luck, to be successful. Pointer and setter trials also require a great deal of land and birds to ensure a successful outcome. In fact in championship trials, the dogs must complete a minimum of 15 minutes running to qualify for a placing. It will be appreciated that a fast running dog can cover a lot of ground in 15 minutes. Multiply this time over say 10 dogs and it is easy to appreciate the area required. Naturally this involves having access to properties that have lots of hectares available that are suitable for fast running dogs, and a plentiful supply of birds.
With the ever evolving change in land use in New Zealand it has become harder and harder to find suitable grounds to hold the trials. Many of the grounds used in former years have become housing subdivisions, dairy farms and forests, which have limited appeal lack of wild birds and access. There is nothing more frustrating in this sport than running all day and going birdless!
This is why the club is heavily dependent on the hunting preserves for the continuation of the sport and the promotion of having good, well-trained dogs for hunting. The preserves provide exactly what is required to achieve success: plenty of birds, and space to observe the dogs in action including the blessing of the land owners, knowing that the trials are being conducted in a formal and orderly manner by a responsible organisation. The sport whole heartily supports the existence of the preserves and look forward to a suitable resolution in the very near future to enable a continuance of the sport we know and love.
By Tony Connor, Pointer Setter Club.