The clock starts and dogs bolt into the field with their masters close behind. It’s a perfect bluebird day here at the National Shoot to Retrieve Association (NSTRA) field trial, and the energy level is already sky-high. As Jim Wiitala, NSTRA Big Sky region chairman, takes to the field, he executes incredible coordination and precision between canine and man.
Jim’s dog goes on point, the judges take note, a bird flushes, Jim shoots true, he accepts the retrieve—and he’s quickly onto the next one. This military execution covering every inch of the field takes years to accomplish with this level of precision. The animals are impressive athletes.
The afternoon was filled with new friends, sunshine, and, of course, bird dogs. One of the attendees was a true legend: Terry Courtright. Former president of the NSTRA Northwest region, Terry knows his bird dogs. Discussing previous winners as well as the promising up-and-coming dogs at the event, Terry described the attributes of a champion. “You’re looking for a heat-seeking missile, with a world class nose, that can stop on a dime and give you change for a quarter,” Terry explained.
All the bird hunters stand fieldside with their companions, watching their competition. NSRTA has truly developed into a family of outdoorsmen and women who, needless to say, enjoy a little friendly competition. The air is filled with good-natured banter about setters being better than Brittanys, pointers being better than setters, and so on.
The hopes and dreams of every handler are for his best friend to be titled a field champion. Dogs achieve this elite status after winning 18 field-trial points. Half of these points must be awarded for first-place rankings, worthy of three points each. It may sound like it would take a lifetime to become a NSRTA field champion, and for some it does. For others, having a multiple-champion dog is not out of the question.
These guys are good at what they do, and their dogs are even better. The appreciation and commitment these hunters have for their dogs is unmatched. Winning the field trial is important, but working the dogs and enjoying the day’s events was what people really came out for.