Field Trials 101

Field trials were created to evaluate the performance of gundogs in competitive situations. These trials aim to replicate a real day of hunting as closely as possible.

Field trials are held for Retrievers, Spaniels, Pointers and Setters (British), Hunt, Point and Retrieve (Continental breeds).

British Breed Trials are run under the auspices of the NFTA. On the other hand, Continental Breeds are overseen by the KUSA and NFTA.

Gundog Clubs also present field and hunt tests such as the HPR Natural Ability Test, Versatile Hunting Tests, German Hunting Tests and Shooting Ratings. These tests are run under the auspices of the KUSA. 

Hunt, Point and Retrieve Trials (Continental Breeds)

The most common continental breeds in South Africa are the German Shorthaired Pointer / Deutsch Kurzhaar, the German Wirehaired Pointer, Deutsch Drahthaar, Weimaraner and Vizsla. Other Continental / HPR breeds currently recognised by the KUSA are the Bracco Italiano, Braque D’auvergne, Brittany, Cesky Fousek, German Longhaired Pointer, Large Munsterlander, Longhaired Weimaraner, Pudelpointer, Slovakian Wirehaired Pointer, Small Munsterlander, Spinoni and Wirehaired Pointing Griffon.

The main difference between the British and continental breeds of pointers is their backgrounds. The continental breeds, in addition to being able to point, are generally more robust and versatile. They are specifically bred and trained to hunt and point game, retrieve on both land and water and track wounded game on both land and water.

In South Africa, field trials are conducted on foot with wild birds. Everyone, including the judges, walks throughout the entire day or days until the stake is completed. The competitors and their dogs follow behind and are called the “gallery”.

HPR Field trials have six classes, called a stake: Puppy, Derby, Maiden, Open, Champion and Brace (See explanation of each below). Most stakes take about 1 ½ – 2 days to finish. The trials are held during the hunting season on farms with sufficient game birds. The farm owners make their farms available to the Field Trial Clubs. Good sportsmanship and courtesy towards the hosts are essential when participating in field trials. Our hosts generously provide us with the land and the birds for these trials. They allow us to showcase our dogs’ innate abilities and enjoy the company of like-minded individuals. Without their support, we would not be able to engage in this fulfilling activity.

You typically must submit your entry a week or two before the trial date to enter the trial. The Club will then create a trial catalogue listing the registered and call names of the dogs, their owners, and handlers competing. This booklet also provides trial information, judges’ and officials’ names, and space to write down each round draw. Please take a look at a sample of our trial booklet!

Each stake has a minimum of three judges, two gunners and a field trial manager/steward. During the trial, the dogs will run in pairs called braces, which are determined by a draw before the trial begins. The stake consists of several rounds, usually up to six. Each round has a time limit of 5-15 minutes. The judges, in consultation with the field steward, determine the duration of each round based on factors such as the number of braces, bird density, and available terrain. The time limit is announced before each round. A draw is conducted before each round to pair up different dogs. If the dog is not eliminated, it will continue to be drawn in subsequent rounds. The final round before the water retrieves is called “dogs required.” This round is up to the judges’ discretion and is usually dogs that showed potential and needed a point, back, or land retrieve. Dogs up for placement are invited to the water retrieve. The water retrieve is a marked retrieve of a duck or game bird. It is thrown about 40 meters into open water or with very light cover or vegetation. Two shots are fired on the first water retrieve while the duck is thrown into the water. After that, a single shot is fired for each duck thrown. Water retrieves are only performed in the Maiden, Open, and Championship Stakes.

In the HPR trials, birds are shot on “course” by the two appointed gunners. The dog on point is required to retrieve the downed bird. The backing dog may only retrieve once the pointing dog cannot do so and only when instructed by the judges. If a dog steals another dog’s retrieve, it will be eliminated regardless of the circumstances or other work done.

The trial’s end is traditionally announced by firing two shots in the air. 

PUPPY STAKE is open only to dogs not more than twelve (12) months of age on the date the trial is being run. The dogs remain a puppy candidate for that season, irrespective of the prizes won. In the Puppy stake, anything goes, and no faults would eliminate a participant, except for a lack of ability.

DERBY STAKE is open only to dogs not more than twenty-four (24) months of age on the date the trial is being run. The dog remains a Derby candidate for that season, irrespective of the prizes won. A Derby competitor is a young and inexperienced dog. They have the main abilities and manners but may not be perfected or completely reliable. The potential is important. The handler may give commands to support the dog’s work, but the dog should respond well. The dog should point staunchly but may not yet be entirely steady for flush or the shot and fall of the bird. Commands can be used sparingly to prevent the dog from chasing or breaking recklessly. It’s good if the dog spontaneously backs, but the main concern is that it doesn’t interfere with the pointing dog and can be controlled if needed. The dog should not steal the pointing dog’s bird or disrupt the retrieve. The dog should be able to retrieve from land and deliver to the handler from a reasonable distance.

MAIDEN STAKE is confined to dogs not placed first, second or third in a previous Maiden, Brace, Open or Championship Stake at a Field Trial for HPR breeds before the date of closing of entries. A Maiden dog is considered experienced and capable of producing well. They should exhibit all manners and be steady to wing and shot. They should also be back without command. In HPR trials, Maiden dogs have some leniency in being steady to shot. They are not automatically eliminated for this, but breaking or a controlled break will result in penalties. 

OPEN STAKE is open to all HPR breeds without restriction regarding age or previous performance. For an Open Stake to carry Championship (qualification) status, the minimum number of dogs to participate in the Stake shall be fourteen (14). In the Pointer (British Breed) trials, dogs must demonstrate a polished performance without significant faults. They must be steady to wing and shot, back on sight without commands, and display a pleasing hunting and finding performance. To be placed, the dog must have backed. If a dog hasn’t had the opportunity to back, the judges will give a Certificate in recognition of their performance. In the HPR trials, dogs must do all these things and be steady without command, only retrieve on command, and if honouring or backing, be steady to the other dog’s retrieve. They should retrieve gently to hand and show their ability to retrieve from water. 

CHAMPIONSHIP STAKE – KUSA shall not be held more than once per year within the area of jurisdiction of KUSA and may be hosted by member clubs on a rotational basis. The conditions, qualifications and organization governing this Stake shall be decided by the FTLC subject to approval by the Federal Council. Entries shall be limited to those dogs placed first, second or third or awarded a certificate of merit in an HPR Open Stake run at any time before the closing date for the Championship Stake. The minimum number of dogs to participate in the Stake shall be fourteen (14).

HPR CHAMPIONSHIP STAKE – NFTA is open to Dogs placed first, second, third, or awarded a Certificate of Merit in an HPR Open Stake or Brace Stake. Only one Championship Stake per annum can be held in South Africa and may be hosted by Member Clubs on a rotational basis. The judging panel will consist of at least two seniors. For the Stake to carry Championship Status, the minimum number of qualified Dogs participating in the Stake shall be 14.

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP STAKE is open only to HPR Breed Dogs which have been awarded a Place or a COM in the previous 4 (four) National Championship Stakes and in the Member Clubs’ Championship Standard Stakes, including KUSA Qualifying Field Trials of the current and previous 3 (three) Field Trial Seasons. Only one National Championship Stake per Field Trial Season can be held in South Africa and may be hosted by HPR Member Clubs on a rotational basis.

BRACE STAKE is open to two dogs of the same breed, handled by a single handler and registered with a single owner or partnership. At least one of the dogs must have been awarded a place or certificate in an HPR Maiden, Brace or Open Stake or have qualified for a British Breed Championship Stake. A dog may only be entered in one brace per Stake.

References: KUSA Schedule 5C(03), NFTA Field Trial Handbook July 2021 and blog post by Trudi Winter, January 2008, Gun Dog Forum

Field trials for HPR breeds can run concurrently under the license of both the NFTA and KUSA; it is recognised that the field trial rules of both organisations are similar. British breed trials are run under the auspices of the NFTA. 

KUSA requirements: Entries are open to purebred HPR Gundogs registered with KUSA. Owners must be members of KUSA. Other Gundog breeds may enter the above stakes but cannot be placed or receive points.

NFTA requirements: Only Dogs Certified in the Field Dog Record or the Appendix Field Dog Record shall qualify to participate in a field trial conducted by the Member Clubs. A Dog may not be entered or handled in a trial held by the Member Clubs, the NFTA National Field Trials, or other events unless the owner is a member in good standing with a Member Club of the NFTA.

General: Castrated dogs and spayed bitches are eligible for entry. Bitches in season within the precincts of the Trial are forbidden. Except in the Puppy Stake, a Dog younger than 4 (four) months of age may not be entered in a stake. Congenital cryptorchid, hypoplastic, and monorchid dogs are eligible for entry but will only qualify for a Certificate of Merit.

PLACE AND CERTIFICATES

  • 1st, 2nd and 3rd place:  The top three finishers in all the stakes will receive a certificate. Points are given based on the placement and contribute to the HPR Ranking System. In the Maiden, Open and Championship Stakes, no dog shall be placed first, second or third unless it has found, pointed and proven game, presented game to the gun, been shot over, backed and retrieved satisfactorily on land and in water. Competitors often refer to this as a “full house.” In the Derby Stake, a dog may only receive first place if it has a full house. In the Puppy Stake, the dog with the most potential is placed, and the dog does not need to point, back or be steady.
  • Certificate of Merit: A Certificate of Merit (C.O.M.) does not constitute a placing. In all stakes, except for Puppy Stake, the judges will award a C.O.M. certificate to the dog that has successfully found, pointed, and proven game, presented game to the gun, and been shot over but had no opportunity to back. Additionally, in the Maiden, Open and Championship Stakes, dogs are required to retrieve satisfactorily on land and from water.

FIELD TRIAL CHAMPION

  • A dog that wins an HPR Championship Stake with at least 14 qualified dogs competing can add the prefix Ch FT to its name. 
  • If a dog has won two HPR Open Stakes with at least 14 dogs competing in each stake, it can have the prefix Ch FT added to its name.

MASTER HUNTER (MH)

To be considered a Master Hunter, a dog needs to have earned at least three placements in Field Trials. These placements can be in Derby, Maiden, or Open Stakes. However, at least one of these awards must be a first or second place in an Open Stake. The dog must have achieved these awards in at least three Field Trials. The Master Hunter title (MH) is given to dogs that show exceptional performance in Field Trials. After earning the title, it can be added as an affix to the dog’s name.

SENIOR HUNTER (SH)

A Senior Hunter is a dog that has earned at least two placings and one Certificate of Merit in Field Trials. These placements can be in Derby, Maiden, or Open Stakes. The Senior Hunter title (SH) is given to dogs that show a high-performance standard in Field Trials. Once earned, the title can be added as an affix to the dog’s name.

JUNIOR HUNTER (JH)

A Junior Hunter is a dog that has earned at least two placings or Certificates of Merit in Derby, Maiden, or Open Stakes in Field Trials. To become a Junior Hunter, the dog must have earned these awards in at least two Field Trials. The Junior Hunter title (JH) is given to dogs with good performance standards in Field Trials. You can add the title as an affix to the dog’s name.

DOG OF THE YEAR

Every year, KUSA awards the “HPR Dog of the Year” prize to the dog with the most points in the current field trial season. The HPR ranking system determines the points. The winning dog receives a medal to commemorate their achievement.

DERBY DOG OF THE YEAR

Every year, KUSA awards the “HPR Derby Dog of the Year” prize to the dog with the most points during the current field trial season. This is based on the HPR ranking system; the dog must be under two years old. The winner of this prize will receive a certificate to commemorate their achievement.

HPR RANKING SYSTEM

Points are given to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners and Certificates of Merit for member clubs. Points are earned from all KUSA HPR and British Breed Stakes held during the current field trial season. The earned points are then multiplied by a weighting factor based on the stake’s standard.

  • You will need the following basic equipment during competitions (this is not exhaustive and may change according to your needs): slip lead, a whistle with a lanyard, water for you and your dog, a small water bowl for your dog, a backpack or hunting vest to carry the water, good walking shoes and neutral-coloured comfortable clothing.
  • To walk across rough terrain on some field trials, you and your dog must be fit and healthy. It’s important for both of you to be in good shape to handle the challenges you may encounter.
  • You should read the KUSA Regulations – Schedule 5C(03) and NFTA Field Trial Handbook. These documents completely explain the trials, including the rules and regulations. You can easily download a pdf version from this link.
  • To begin, contact the Clubs specialising in field trials for your gundog breed. They can provide valuable guidance and support.