"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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Field Trialing Hunting Dogs On State Fish And Wildlife Properties
Copyright © 2003 by Bill Scifres

On the surface, the Department of Natural Resources' Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) reopened the gates to four state fish and wildlife areas to field trialing hunting dogs last week.

Take another look and you will see that, in realty, the DFW slipped pointing-dog field trialers another mickey.

Surely! The folks who place so much emphasis on retrieving downed game birds and animals have reopened Glendale, Pigeon River, Winamac, and Tri-County areas to field trialing . . . with conditions--conditions so stringent that water-dog trialers who run on Tri-County Area will be able to stage trials only because some adjacent private land will be available.

Nobody talks much about this, but DFW regulations provide that failing to try to retrieve downed game is a violation. It doesn't seem to matter that the best way to bag all you shoot is with a dog.

As per usual, horses are a no-no, and no trial will be permitted to use more than 100 of these hallowed acres, which are said to have been established with the immense help of our excise tax dollars on fishing and hunting equipment.

If you have ever been blessed by an opportunity to watch a good pointer or setter find quail, you will know that a dog worth his salt will cover 100 acres of good quail habitat almost before you can read the DFW rationale for looking down its collective noses at bird dogs while telling you how much they love them.

Incidentally, when the importance of bird dogs to the overall outdoor picture is considered, that rationale is so flimsy that it doesn't really deserve anyone's attention. However, we will repeat the part about fish and wildlife personnel having to spend so much time keeping field trial facilities in order that they have no time to create habitat, which apparently is their mandate.

In reality, state fish and wildlife areas rate a poor second to reservoir properties as wildlife producers. At least a part of this obvious truth rests in the fact that reservoir managers do less managing but produce better upland habitat and more game. Harvest figures are mute evidence to this thinking.

Be that as it is, this whole can of anti-field-trial worms was opened a few years back when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, caretaker and distributor of the billions that have been collected in excise taxes from sportsmen since 1937, audited our DFW, and determined that some federal funding had not been used the way we told them it would be used. How much we repaid is not known to us, but it is said to have been considerable. Maybe someone will tell us more about that.

Why the feds took their ensuing tack is anybody's guess, but they later determined that field-trialing on state fish and wildlife areas was not in accordance with the purpose of federal funding. From the start, there were rumors that the feds had outside guidance in their investigation--possibly from some of our DFW people who harbor more than their fair share of disdain for field trials.

At this point, I probably should say that I am telling you things that I have heard knowledgeable people say. I do not vouch for their veracity, but if such thinking exists--or has existed--I would think it would be well for the DFW to look into the matter . . . if only to clean its skirts.

It there are employees of the DFW who look with such disfavor on hunting dogs, and field trialing, they should get the proverbial sack-of-apples and road-map treatment.

In the final analysis, little white innuendoes planted to achieve a goal or purpose should be no more excusable than bald-faced lies. It pains me write about such situations. I have been a firm believer of the DFW for some 50 years, and I count a good number of its employees, past and present, as personal friends.

Couldn't happen here! Why not? Our DFW's counterpart in next-door-neighbor Illinois had the, selfsame problem with the Region 3 office of the FWS. It was no secret, a high FWS official confirmed for me Monday, that people within the Illinois wildlife agency were active in the proceedings.

In view of the fact that our DFW and DNR own notorious copycat propensities, there is reason to ponder the issue. From this catbird seat, walking papers would be much in order for any DFW employee who promoted this ugly mess.

How ugly is it?

Let's put it like this: Last September, at a meeting of the DNR's Legislative Study Committee (a panel of legislators who preview potential bills for the legislature) there was much discussion on the DFW ban of field trials on properties of that agency.

It was pointed out at that meeting that the Ohio wildlife agency, which runs field trials on at least three areas, had asked the feds (FWS) for a five year moratorium on the ban of field trials. It received that stay of execution, and trials still are being conducted on Killdeer Plains, Indian Creek, and Berlin areas.

Here is a paragraph from the minutes of that Clarksville meeting on September 18, 2002: "The committee recommended by a vote of 7-0 that DNR continue to work to find suitable land for field trials and that DNR vigorously apply to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the appropriate waiver necessary to allow the field trials to continue on public lands."

DNR Director John Goss and at least one other DNR representative were present at the meeting. We have been unable to contact Goss who is understandably busy with legislative matters.

But a high-ranking official of the DFW recently told me that the extension was not sought because his agency had already spent some five years studying the field trial matter.

The FWS representative we talked with Monday said an extension probably would not have been granted for the Hoosier agency because the audit (of the FWS) ". . . corrective-action plan had already been agreed to." However, political pressure of congressional delegations has ways of circumventing such decisions. 

A DFW official says the DNR has offered officials of the Indiana Field Trial Association a tract of land in the southwestern strip-mined county for trials, but that the field trialers persist in wanting to run their trials at Glendale Area.

Sources familiar with trial-course needs for pointing breeds say the spoil banks county is unsuitable.

So where does field trialing the pointing breeds go from here?

A group of beagle (rabbit dog) hunters solved their problem long before it became a problem. They purchased enough land to meet their needs and developed their own trial grounds without financial help from anyone.

This, of course, has been flitting through my crusty cerebellum since the field trial issue became an issue.

Why not look for an angel (an individual or company) who would like for a first-class field trial ground to perpetuate his/its name. Not a trial ground expressly for pointers and setters, but a pace to field trial all breeds of hunting dogs (even mangy old 'coon and fox hounds).

I see it as 500 or 1,000 acres on a hill overlooking White River's vast flood plain somewhere south of Indianapolis. This land would be acquired by fee simple (outright purchase) with clubhouse, barns for horses, kennels for dogs, perhaps a motel, certainly a dining room, and other necessary building being situated high above the high water mark. 

Another five to 10,000 acres could be rented for field trial purposes, which could help farmers turn a profit, not to mention encouraging farmers of the adjacent flood plain to be more mindful of the needs of wildlife.

One thing is certain in my mind. After associating with outdoor types of many persuasions for more than half a century, I find no group of men and women more gracious and genuine than bird dog enthusiasts. And I find no canine to be a better friend than the pointers and setters I have owned and hunted behind.

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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