(The following appeared in the Fall 2003 Issue of Field Trial Magazine. NSTRA continues to thrive while THE FIELD has struggled without their support.)
At some point this summer, Wes Barr, president of the National Shoot-to-Retrieve Association received a letter from Bernie Matthys, editor of The American Field. In the letter, Mr. Matthys outlined a meeting he had attended with an insurance executive from the company that insures the AFTCA. He went on to express his concern about the position of extended liability that The Field might find itself in if there was ever an accident at a NSTRA event.
Matthys cites the new rule that the AFTCA passed which allows only solid barreled blank guns to be used at any event they sanction and by extension to any open event running as an American Field-sanctioned event. Although some take exception to the fact that they will either have to figure out a way to make their shotguns conform to the solid barrel rule or give them up for a “starter” pistol, there is a certain amount of logic behind a rule that will prevent someone from inadvertently putting a live round in a shotgun and discharging it in such a manner that it could injure a judge or someone in the gallery. In fact, just that scenario played out at an AFTCA event during last season with a load of shot passing very close to the head of a judge and several in the gallery.
Matthys also says that guns are “anathema in our society, connected in the minds of most with urban violence.” He goes on to imply that it is only a matter of time before the animal rights activists find out about NSTRA killing birds and that will only make matters worse. Matthys’s final paragraph says, “In light of the serious potential liability issue that has surfaced and the NSTRA requirement of shooting game and retrieving as an integral part of “point-earning” for placement, it is felt that recognition of National Shoot-to- Retrieve Associations by the AMERICAN FIELD (Field Dog Stud Book) should cease.”
To many, the end of the relationship between The Field and NSTRA came out of the blue. Although startled by its suddenness, Wes Barr said he had known for a long time that Matthys did not support the shoot and retrieve part of the Association. On a number of occasions, Matthys had counseled that NSTRA should conform to the standards of the American Field-sanctioned trials. Obviously, this was never seriously considered by the NSTRA leadership nor do they intend to consider it at this time.
Barr is confident that their 3200 member organization that sponsors 1,200 weekend trials, holds 30 regional elimination trials, and five National Championship events each year will survive without the sponsorship of The Field. NSTRA has an umbrella insurance policy that covers their use of live ammunition at all of the events they sanction and a number of clubs buy additional insurance to protect officers and trial officials. And the organization has already been contacted by a number of other registries to see if they are looking for a new sanctioning body. So it would seem that Mr. Matthys’s insurance concern might be a bit of a red herring, and that his concerns over bird dogs being involved in the shooting and retrieving of planted birds may in fact be the overriding concern.
At one point, NSTRA was spending over $50,000 a year on advertising in The Field, but they have always been treated like a misguided stepchild that no one really wanted around. Bird dogs and field trials, at least I always thought, have some inherent connection to bird hunting. The fact that NSTRA tried to incorporate more of the hunting aspects into their end of the sport attracted many participants who would not and will not ever run in an American Field style trial. We will never have the number of participants that follow other esoteric sports and we need to work together to ensure the future for all bird dog fanciers. Instead, we are faced with the situation where our primary sanctioning body has told 3,200 participants to go play in someone else’s yard. It makes me wonder what is going to happen with the National Bird Hunters Association and the American Bird Hunters Association. Are they going to be given an ultimatum to stop shooting and retrieving birds as an integral part of their evaluation of a dog’s performance or be cast out like NSTRA? As a long time subscriber to The American Field, I am extremely concerned that NSTRA has been cast out. I am also extremely concerned about who will be next and what this signals for the sport as a whole.