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Flush with the hunt

By Brandon Evans | Published Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Can your dog hup?

It’s a crucial command when bird hunting with English springer spaniels.

The brown and cream-colored dogs dive and vanish into high, thick grasses. As the dog zigs and zags in the brush, only the tail breaks the surface like some sort of furry shark fin.

Then, a sudden bound and a pheasant is flushed to flutter up and away above the treeline and into blue sky.

Eureka

EUREKA – An English springer spaniel flushes a pheasant from the brush during an A.K.C. Licensed Field Trial held last weekend in the LBJ National Grasslands. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

The dog hups – stops and sits – and a pair of hunters armed with shotguns, wearing leather belts holding an array of yellow shells, open fire. A whiff of smoke blows across the prairie, a flurry of feathers cascades from the blue and the pheasant crashes back into brush.

Last weekend scores of springer spaniels with names like Raggamuffin Splash and Badger’s Moon Barney Google dashed through an area of the LBJ National Grasslands as the North Texas Sporting Spaniel Club held the winter opening A.K.C. field trial. At a remote location near Alvord, professional and amateur competitors from across the country put their English springer spaniels through their paces.

“It’s supposed to simulate the hunt,” said Sophie Haglin, who came down from Minnesota for the trials. “It’s a quiet quest. Some hunting dogs can give voice, but not spaniels. It’s supposed to be a gentleman’s game. These dogs in these conditions are supposed to be in a more perfect manner than in hunting. The dog’s job is to smell, flush and retrieve.”

“The judges look for the control the handler has over the dog, how quickly the dog can find and flush the bird, his retrieval and just how he performs in the field,” said Kent McKeever, event chairman from Fort Worth.

The judges even look for how gingerly the dog returns the bird to the hand of the handlers, who command with subtle hand signals and whistles.

“They have to return the bird fit for the table,” Haglin said. “The dog can’t be hard-mouthed.”

Best Friend

BEST FRIEND – Mark Hairfield, professional trainer and owner of Southaven Kennels in Mississippi, scratches a spaniel while next to Rachel Hogan, a bird dog owner from Ardmore, Okla., at the LBJ National Grasslands last Saturday. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

The spaniel is a flushing dog, so you keep them within gun range – usually 35 to 40 yards. The dogs go out, find the bird that has been planted, flush the bird, then sit. Then the dog retrieves the bird and brings it back to the handler.

“Most everybody gets into this sport because they want the perfect hunting dog – I know that’s why we got into it,” Haglin said. “And we’re all competitive. We want to show that our dog is the best dog.”

The first competitions began in the 1930s. This is the fifth year they’ve held the trials in the LBJ Grasslands.

“These are very nice grounds,” Haglin said. “You’re looking for hunting grounds, and this is just what you want. You have good cover.”

Competitors also enjoy the calm, friendly disposition of the English springer spaniel.

“It’s a field-bred springer spaniel as opposed to a bench-bred or a show dog, which is the more common type of springer spaniel you see,” McKeever said. “These make ideal pets. They have a great disposition. They are smart and easy to train. These dogs spend more time inside than they do in a kennel.”

“I raised retrievers for 19 years,” said Jack Waggoner of Wise County. “I just got my first springer, Fancy, last year. These are the smartest dogs.”

The field trials ran last Saturday and Sunday with 30 dogs competing in the open, 27 in the amateur and four in the puppy trials. While many of the spaniels had their own personality, the one thing they all had in the common was an amazing ability to hup.

RANKINGS:

OPEN:

1st NFC FC Sunrise Seneca Scout, owner David Morse, handler Gary Wilson
2nd Dunnegan’s Zipper SH, owner David Sanford, handler Mark Hairfield
3rd Southhaven’s Calendar Girl, owner Tom Nabity, handler Mark Hairfield
4th Sunrise Gin Buckshot, owner Ted Lagala, handler Gary Wilson

AMATEUR:

1st AFC Kantagrees Master of Lightening, owner/handler Kent Rudolph
2nd The Mad Dutchman of Wise River, owner/handler Bob Iversen
3rd FC Wise River’s Bolt Action, owner/handler Bob Iversen
4th AFC Kisiwa’s High Resolution MH, owner/handler Steve Seltzer

PUPPY:

1st Strongs Arterius Isabella Rae, owner/handler Lisa Pyle
2nd Southhavens Pathfinder, owner Michael Pollack, handler Mark Hairfield
3rd Windrifts Magic Wanda, owner/handler Chad Betts
4th Pheasant Wings Misty May’s Sgt Major USMC, owner/handler John Halpin III

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