Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m a bird snob. How could I not be. I can hear woodcock singing and grouse drumming just by stepping out the door of the house. I’ve been working dogs on wild birds in this area for almost 30 years and have had some very accomplished grouse and woodcock dogs during that time. best among those is 5X CH, 1X RU/CH Wild Apple Jack who has declined substantially this winter and at 11 may have had his final grouse shot over him last fall. In addition to hunting the dogs in the fall, I also attend many cover dog field trials that run on wild birds. However here in northern New England there are very few opportunities to run on wild birds in the spring and one of those trials, the Kilkenny Classics runs an initial series on liberated quail. The story’s a little different in Pennsylvania although a number of their trials were canceled this year due to the stubbornness of Old Man Winter. On the other hand Michigan runs a series of wild bird trials for about a month starting in late March. So, when there are young dogs that need to get qualified as derbies and puppies that just need some trial experience it’s liberated quail trials or stay home. Many people disparage the concept of single course liberated quail trials and take the high ground about having cover dogs. Despite my aforementioned snobbery, I’m not one of them. In fact, I think a dog has been a lot more broke to succeed in liberated bird trials than they do in cover dog trials. It’s extremely rare to have to kick a group or woodcock out of a brush pile or have walk around unwilling to fly. Nor is it likely that a grouse or woodcock is going to flush and only fly a few feet as the dog watches. In the fall trials when the cover is still thick chances are the dog isn’t even going to see the bird flush (and sometimes even the judges miss it). In addition, a great performance in cover dog trial might only include a couple finds in an hour. Last weekend, Brandy had four finds on a very short “30” minute derby course and Spot had 2 in a sub-20 minute puppy stake.
Some people who run their dogs in these liberated quail trials do more harm than good especially with their young dogs. This winter when I was judging in Kentucky a guy showed up with his only dog and proceeded to run it in four or maybe five stakes. In all but one of those stakes the dog was bumping and chasing birds, got picked up in both adult stakes, and had one decent derby find in one of the two derby stakes he ran in. The dog was obviously not ready for that level of competition and I assume the handler thought of the weekend as an opportunity to give his dog lots of experience. He would have been better off in so many ways staying home and spending his money on training birds to get his dog right. You can’t expect a dog to perform in a trial better than it does at home in the bird field. You shouldn’t expect to get lucky and get the two quail in the stake that are going to flush strong and fly far enough that your dog won’t catch them.
I start little puppies with quail and then switch to pigeon in traps when they start getting to the point where catching a quail is a very real possibility. Then when it’s time to run them in derby stakes on liberated birds I switch back to quail. this usually after they have had a solid season of wild bird hunting and trialing (in the fall there is a whole series of wild bird derby stakes run in conjunction with the cover dog championships and classics). There is a certain amount of check cording involved with quail in traps until I’m pretty sure the dog will stay staunch even when the bird walks around instead of flushing. Finally when they seem ready I work them on released quail that will act just like the ones in a trial. Then they are ready to go trialing. The next spring if we’re going to run the dogs as adults in liberated bird trials they will need a refresher before being run in trials.
If you’re going to play the game, you have to train for it. If you don’t, I’m sure the club will thank you for your donation.