"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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The Future of Bird Dog Field Trialing in Indiana
Copyright © 2002 by Bill Scifres

It is a sad state of affairs, but representatives of the Indiana Field Trial Association are scheduled to meet with DNR brass sometime soon to discuss the future of field trialing. 

To many Hoosiers--even some outdoor types--it may all sound a tad inconsequential. But to dog lovers--not to mention those who do not like to waste wild game--it translates into life or death for a grand way of hunting. 

The problem stems from the fact that our Division of Fish and Wildlife (more specifically the Department of Natural Resources, DNR) does not really want to provide a place for bird-dog field trialers (not any others) to conduct trials. 

But this is not something new. It started as far back as the 1950s. I remember it well. I remember it because I was a part (unwittingly as it were) of the beginning of the end for field trials. 

I was a member (having been appointed by Governor Harold Handley, I think) of the Department of Conservation (now Department of Natural Resources) Advisory Council to the Department of Land, Forest and Wildlife Resources (now with another name). 

The Indiana Field Trial Association was a strong organization of  field trialers and bird (quail) hunters who trialed and hunted the pointing breeds, dominantly English pointers and setters. 

Indiana--including the Conservation Department--in those days boasted of having one of the best field trial grounds of the Midwest. It was at Versailles State Park, and it hosted some trials of regional and national scope. 

Somewhere along the line somebody thought Versailles State Park would be better without the dogs. So the Department of Conservation kicked them out. 

But it wasn't that simple. Before the expulsion occurred the matter was placed before the Advisory Council. The Department was not required to follow the panel's advice, but it was obvious that our blessings were being sought. 

We, the panel members, kicked the issue around pretty well. And one of the things we were told was that at least part of the land for the park was acquired  with the understanding that there would always be field trialing there. There was, however, no hard evidence of this condition. 

We, the panel members, gave the proposal our blessings, but only after somebody from the Division of Fish and Game assured us that the field trialers would always have a place to run trials on state fish and wildlife areas. 

The rest is more recent history. For several years the Division of Fish and Game, and its offspring (the present Division of Fish and Wildlife) lived up to that promise. But, in the years that followed, the field trialers have been shunted from pillar to post by the DFW and now they have no place to stage trials. 

The DNR,  the DFW, and their cronies at the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS, Region 3 office) will tell you the field trialers have been offered a 4,000-acre area in the strip-mine county to stage trials. But the field trialers say the spoil banks offer little potential as trial grounds. 

DNR and DFW people will tell you that they are only following the mandates of their federal counterparts who control purse strings for federal funds distributed to the states. 

One of the big evils of field trialing on state fish and wildlife areas, according to one of the FWS (federal) documents, lies in the fact that the trials involve as many as 300 horses. The field trialers say this statement hangs somewhere between a bald-face lie and innuendo, depending upon from whom this misinformation comes. 

The field trailers say there has not been a trial in Indiana that involved 300 horses in many, many years. Thirty to 50 horses would be a big trial today, they say. 

DFW people say horses involved in field trials are eroding stream banks, but they do not consider the fact that one strand of  No. 9 wire (commonly used to mark boundaries of state properties) and a few culverts or crude bridges could solve that problem . 

Who knows, the field trialers might even help the DFW with funding and labor for such projects. They have offered both in the past, only to be ignored. 

Then there is this other matter. After the federal boys decreed that field trialing was inconsistent with purposes of state fish and wildlife areas established with federal funding, the order was rescinded. Our DNR and DFW apparently prefer to be hard-nosed on field trialing and forget the changes announced by the feds. 

I have been told by DFW brass that the field trialers' horses are wrecking the properties and that the field trialing--and the business of breeding/training/running bird dogs is a business . . . not hunting . . . that the dogs are not used for hunting. 

That is unadulterated hogwash. When hunters start thinking of purchasing and training a bird dog--or any hunting dog, for that matter--they start looking at pedigrees of the parental stock. Most of the dogs that are hunted today can be traced to field trial champions, but few participate in trials.

From this catbird seat, it appears that the DNR's decision to talk with the field trialers is a good thing. But it should not stop there. This is a matter that should be addressed by the DNR Commission, with all parties being heard--from Versailles to the present. 


All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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