Got Game?

by Kate Ahnstrom

   October rings in the season for just about every option for hunting. For bird dogs, the options in Virginia are still limited due to low populations. The woodcock migration always allows us to get into wild birds but not until November, but it is certainly worth the wait.

   For those that want to get their bird dogs onto more birds the answer is to either head out west, driving for two days and hundreds of miles OR visit your favorite preserve. There is another option though, field trials!

   Mike and I have a kennel with seven shorthairs and so it’s hard to decide who is going to go out and guide hunts and who must stay behind. In 2021, we jumped into the National Upland Classic Series (NUCS), a shoot to retrieve trial timed event. Now, everyone gets to run and often twice. There are several different types of games including AKC walking trials, AKC horseback trials, US Complete, American Field, NSTRA, UFTA and up north, chukar challenges are very popular.

  A timed shoot to retrieve trial incorporates the abilities of the dog combined with the abilities of the handler to work the field and shoot the bird. There is always a chance the best dog will have a bad day or the best handler will have trouble connecting with the shot. The one thing that is a constant, it’s always a great time and everyone loves seeing the scores hit the board.

     I’ve had several students come to me to hone their shooting skills for these such events and the lesson is usually the same as with any wing-shooter.    

   Slow down, see your bird and do what the bird ask at the trigger pull. All too often, the handler jerks the gun to the shoulder in an effort to drop the bird faster. This causes the muzzle to move erratically and out of control, blocking the bird and creating an obstruction with the end of the gun. The shooter will have no idea where or why they missed. They normally can recall feeling “rushed” though and this is the answer to the why.

   Going slower allows you to drop the birds faster. When a bird flushes, it is at its slowest and gains speed as it gets further out. The bird must establish a flight line and decide on a direction. It’s at this point, the shooter should be mounting into the gun, putting together the sight picture and pulling the trigger. The bird has stabilized and well within shooting distance. There have been numerous times that I feared the bird had gotten a bit too far out there, but the flight line was clearly established, and I pulled the trigger and watched it cartwheel to the ground.

   There’s always pressure to drop a bird for your dog. The clock adds an additional dynamic and in NUCS, we have 15min to find three birds (usually chukar) randomly planted in a 4-6ac field. A doubles run will have six birds in a 6-8ac field and dogs must back if running pointers. The dogs are divided into divisions. Any dog less than 2yo as of January 1st of that calendar year will be entered as an amateur dog then subdivided into either pointing or flushing. Any dog 2yo+ as of January 1st of that calendar year will be in open division and again subdivided into either pointing or flushing. A pointing lab will be placed into the flushing division as the breed dictates it is traditionally a flushing breed.

   NUCS offers opportunities to win neck ribbons, buckles, trophies, guns, dog boxes, trailers and money! The thrill of being able to work your dog and showcase their talents is second to none. The dog and the handler are allowed to do what they do best without having to worry about subjective judging or style. Although, we all love a great looking point or flush! 

   If you would love to try the NUCS game, Virginia Shooting Sports and Blue Kai Kennels is hosting an Open House format at Mid-Oak Farm in Cartersville. The doubles and amateur runs will be held on Friday with Open and Amateur again on Saturday and callbacks for top 10 open dogs and youth on Sunday. For more info and to register your dog(s), go to our website and click Upcoming Events. All entries must be emailed by October 1st. We welcome anyone that wants to try the game or even learn how to plant birds and judge! Make sure when you come out you bring a friend or family member and get ready for the excitement.

Kate Ahnstrom, owner of Virginia Shooting Sports is a certified, professional instructor of the Paragon School of Sporting, pro staff Syren/Caesar Guerini, resident pro Orapax Hunting Preserve, Artemis ambassador for Va, and field staff member of the Sisterhood of the Outdoors. Her tireless dedication to her students’ success is obvious in each and every lesson.

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