The Purina Top Coverdog of the Year Award Award

and it's

Companion Derby Award

in honor of

William Harnden Foster

Awarded Annually to the Top Dog in Grouse and Woodcock Trials

Any Articles or Discussions on this Site are not the Views or Endorsed by Nestle - Purina

New Trialers Information

The First thing to remember is to not be afraid to ask Questions!


Field Trialing is a very enjoyable sport to get into. You will meet lots of people who all share basically the same thing - a love of dogs! It is a sport that you can get into for a small initial investment, or you can spend as much as you want. To get started in Cover Trials or Walking trials all you have to have is a Whistle, a Leash, a Bell, and a Blank Pistol and most will have all but the Blank Pistol. If you want to get into Horseback trials you can spend all you want on Horses, Trailers, Saddles, etc. This site deals with Cover Trials and so the information here will be given with that in mind.


Here are a couple of Links to places where you can get some good Information,


Field Trial Grounds


Guidelines for Field Trials


You can download this PDF document by right-clicking on this link and choosing the "Save Target As" option. This document details the guidelines most commonly used for evaluating field trials, for all field trial sanctioning bodies. AFTCA is a club affiliated with American Field. Most, but not all, field trials reported in the biweekly newspaper THE AMERICAN FIELD and counting in the win record printed on FDSB (Field Dog Stud Book) pedigrees are sponsored at least in part by dog clubs affiliated with AFTCA.


Minimum Requirements for Field Trials for all Pointing Dog Breeds

This document describes the structure of a field trial and defines the words used to describe some of the categories of competition in The American Field.

AFTCA By Laws and Running Rules

You can download this PDF document by right-clicking on this link and choosing the "Save Target As" option. This document describes in more detail the procedures and definitions used in most field trials conducted by The American Field and all field trials sanctioned by the Amateur Field Trial Clubs of America, Incorporated.

What Is A Field Trial Dog?


The dog under consideration must have and display great bird sense.

He must show perfect work on both coveys and singles.

He must quickly determine between foot and body scent.

He must use his brain eyes and nose to the fullest advantage and hunt the likely places on the course.

He must posses speed, range, style, character, courage and stamina, and good manners, always.

He must hunt the birds and not the handler hunt the dog. No line or path runner is acceptable.
He must be well broken, and the better his manners the more clearly he proves his sound training.
Should he loose a little in class, as expressed in extreme speed and range he can make up for this, under fair judgment, in a single piece of superior bird work, or in sustained demonstration of general behavior.

He must be bold, snappy and spirited. His range must be to the front or to either side, but never behind.

He must be regularly and habitually pleasingly
governable (tractable) and must keep uppermost in his mind the finding and pointing of birds for his handler.

Clarke Venable Nov. 20 1895
NNational Field Trial Champions…. William F Brown

At the mention of the words “field trial” some people swoon while others roll their eyes in disgust.   There is no doubt that some people love them and others hate them.  There are those who believe that trials are very essential to determining good breeding stock and others who feel that trials are irrelevant.

    The question, however, remains:  What is a field trial?  The simple answer is that a field trial is a method of determining superior dogs by comparing the performances of a number of dogs in the field, under working conditions, and having objective third parties name the best performances as winners.  Field trials are also public events, and so allow a number of people to view the dogs under fair circumstances.  The trials are also reported and the wins recorded onto pedigrees so that accurate breeding decisions can be made.

    A field trial dog, therefore, is a dog that competes in these events; a non-field trial dog is simply one who does not.  Sometimes there is not much difference.  In any litter of trial dogs, there might be some sold to trialers and some sold to non-trial hunters. If the best dog goes to the hunter, it will not be trialed though he may be more imbued with trial qualities than his littermates who ARE being campaigned.   No doubt there are hunting dogs that are just as good as most trial dogs and vice-versa.

    What constitutes a ‘superior performance’ is often a sticking point to new comers to the sport.  Does everyone really agree on what the best dog really is?  The fact is that there are a number of different circuits, each expecting something a bit different.  Someone new may want to check more than one to find the type a dog he or she likes.  In fact, if you do not like the type of dogs being placed in any of these circuits, you may, within certain guidelines from the American Field, establish and conduct the type of trial that you like with the standards that you think are important. 

     So the answer to the question “What Is A Field Trial Dog?” is a dog that competes in field trials.


What Is A Cover Trial? 

  A cover trial is an FDSB trial conducted on native Ruffed Grouse and/or North American Woodcock.  Such trials are called “cover” trials because the nature of the grouse and woodcock cover is such that a lot of the trial takes place in cover as opposed to open fields.  Quite simply, a cover trial is a grouse or woodcock field trial.


How Does A Cover Trial Work?

The best way to know what takes place at any field trial is to go to a few of them and, watch, listen, and talk to people. It is imperative for a person to keep an open mind.  Field trials, cover trials included, are not for everyone. Some people are smitten at their first trial, or are, as we say are “bitten by the bug.”  Others are quite tentative but grow to like them.  Still others are neither moved nor impressed, and so do not involve themselves in the sport.  Nevertheless, it is always best to see a few trials for yourself before deciding.


   Short of actually attending a trial, a distant second in terms of value would be to ‘see’ a trial by way of a written account of what takes place at a typical trial. So we offer the following fictional account:

     Arnie Bugwolter has a nice pointer that he wants to compete with.  The dog is pointing grouse very well and he has him steady.  In mid-March, he sees an ad in the American Field for an April cover trial in Michigan.  The ad has the phone number of the field trial chairman.  Arnie enters his dog Phyllis in the trial. 

   The American Field ad also told what day and time the entries would close and what time the drawing would be.  At 7 P.M. on a Thursday, the entries close. Phyllis is one of 33 dogs entered.    The drawing, also per the ad, takes place at 7:30 P.M.l All of the entries are drawn on slips of paper and mixed in a bowl.  Then the slips are drawn out and the dogs ‘braced,’ which means put together in pairs.  Phyllis is the 17th dog drawn and is the first dog in the 9th brace.  The 18th dog drawn is Nickless a setter dog, who is the second dog in the 9th brace.  Phyllis and Nickless are thus scheduled to run with one another in the trial.  One by one all of the other dogs are drawn and paired, until there is only one dog left.  Because ‘33’ is an odd number, the last dog will have to run alone, or as it is termed, a “bye.”

       The trial is scheduled to begin at 8:00 on Saturday morning.  About that time, the first two dogs drawn out of the bowl are led to the designated beginning of course #1.  Shortly after, two people on horses ride up to the area.  These are the judges.  When everyone is ready, the judges say, “turn ‘em loose” and both dogs are released.  The judges usually click on their stop watches.  While there are longer ‘heats’ in trials, these dogs will have ½ hour in this trial to perform. Arnie puts a bell on Phyllis and leads her up to the start of the ninth course.  Nickless is already there with his handler

      The judges give the go ahead and both dogs are turned loose.  For 30 minutes, the judges follow Arnie and his fellow handler and evaluate the dogs.  The dogs will be judged on a number of criteria: how they hunt, do they go to the right spots? are they showing drive and speed?,  do they range enough?,  handle? Exhibit style?  And bird work will be essential.  Did the dog find a bird… or did he just happen to run into one?  How did it point?  Was it stylish and intense?  Were the birds located right?  How was the dog’s style and manners?

     At the 25 minute mark, Phyllis is hunting along a stream when her bell falls silent. The judge gets off the horse and follows Arnie in.  “There she stands,” Arnie says to the judge.  “I see her,” the judge responds.  Arnie steps in front of Phyllis and a woodcock whistles away. He shoots and the dog remains where she stands.

   “Bring her back to the course,” the judges instruct. 

  Arnie collars her and then casts her back toward the trail.  There are only a few minutes remaining by this point and Phyllis finishes well. 

 Arnie knows that she has done well, not ‘perfect,’ but ‘well.’  It will depend upon how the other dogs did and the judges are seeing it.  Arnie is nervous as the rest of the dogs compete. 

     Finally the bye dog is finished, the stake is over, and everybody goes to the clubhouse for the announcement of the winners.  With everyone gathered around, the trial chairman thanks the judges and gives each judge a modest gift.  The other folks who helped with the trial are publicly thanked and then the winners are announced.   Arnie is nervous.

   “Third place goes to Rex’s Beasie Child, with Frank Tonic,” he says.  He waits as those gathered applaud.  Frank Tonic moves out of the crowd to collect his ribbon and purse check.  “Second place goes to Crankin Phyllis with Arnie Bugwolter.”  Arnie smiles and moves forward, shaking hands along the way, to collect his red ribbon and check.

  “And first place goes to Gezzer Mike, with Slim Duress.” 

     The dogs are gathered and posed for pictures.  All of the registration information is given to the trial officials so that the wins can be properly recorded and reported.

How Are The Courses Set Up?

   Because Grouse and Woodcock trials are conducted on wild game, it necessary that courses be set up in likely cover.  A course is nothing more than a cut and blazed trail in the cover.  Currently the Marienville grounds in Pennsylvania have 8 separate courses each an hour in length at a walking pace.    Gladwin, Michigan has 7, and Kilkenny, New Hampshire has 7.

      The courses are either named or numbered.  A lot goes into setting up a trial course. Courses often need to allow for a mounted judge, so areas that are very muddy or steep are avoided.  The courses need to have some ‘flow’ as we say, so that a dog hunting the cover properly shows well.  A course that is very twisty, or that turns away from   the cover will often result in a dog coming from behind.  A lot of thought and effort goes into a cover trial course.  Courses are laid out and maintained by hard work on the part of the club members.  As the cover changes, the courses are modified and altered.  When the course is no longer producing birds year after year, they are dropped and new courses set up to replace them.

    What Are Puppy And Derby Stakes?

   Puppy trials are stakes for youngsters usually around 6 months to 1.5 years old depending upon what time of the year a pup was whelped.  In cover trials, a puppy stake is a single course affair of 20 minutes to ½ hour per heat.  The entry process and drawing take place as described previous.  All of the pups are run on the same course, and there is usually no bird work.  Many people think that puppy stakes are the hardest to judge since the judges are dealing with a lot of maturity variations and no bird work to assist in the evaluation.

   Derby stakes are for dogs up to about 2.5 years old, again, depending upon the birthdates of the dog.  A pup whelped in January will be about 2 ½ years old when it ‘graduates’ from the ranks of the derby,  whereas a dog whelped in December will be 11 months younger when it ‘graduates.’

    There is some variation as to how these stakes are conducted.  Some run on a single course, like the puppy stakes, and then the top dogs are called back to point a bird - either a wild bird - or a planted bird in a bird field.  Other derby stakes run on multiple courses and try to make placements on dogs who have pointed wild birds.  In the absence of suitable bird work, these dogs placed will either be called back to show on game, or will be placed just on their ground work.  The manner in which the stake is to be run is usually advertised in the American Field.

    Derby dogs are expected to be more mature than puppies in how they hunt and handle the terrain, and for the most part, they must point birds to place though there are some derbies still placed on race alone.  Normally, in cover trials, a flash point is enough for a fall derby and a bit more expected in the spring.  Generally, steady to wing and shot is used by a judge only to separate similar performances.

   How Are Cover Trials Judged?

   This is another area where words, sentences and paragraphs pale to the task. A small book could be written on this and there is not always complete agreement. It is way better to go and watch a few trials.  While there are general guidelines and standards, individual judges see things and value things differently.

  Generally,  cover trailers are looking for a hard charging dog that hunts hard,  looks good moving and on point,   find birds independent of their handlers,   handle,   hunt forward,  point positively,  show plenty of drive and stamina,  and also display a high level of training.

Why Don’t They Shoot Birds In Cover Trials?

   There are a number of reasons foremost are that many of the trials doing not take place during the hunting season.  Even if it WERE hunting season, grouse trials are about the dogs and grouse hunting is about the birds.  To shoot birds for a competition is to do the birds an injustice.  There are also liability issues and fairness concerns being that shooting birds off a course leaves less opportunity for dogs on the course later in the trial.

All-age:  Advertised by some grouse clubs, this means for dog of any age per the American Field Minimum Requirements.
 American Field:  The Chicago based magazine and home of the Field Dog Stud Book.  This magazine is the sanctioning body for cover trials.  Trials must be advertised with the American Field and it the American Field that awards championships and tallies wins on the pedigrees.

 Amateur stake:  This is a type of stake that it restricted to amateur handlers under rules of the AFTCA (Amateur Field Trial Clubs Of America).  As opposed to “open” stakes

 Announcement:   Generally this is short for “announcement of the winners” which is
    made by trial officials sometime after the stake’s conclusion.

 Back:  A dog honoring another dog’s point.  The backing dog, ideally, looks as if it is also pointing the bird.

 Back Cast:  This refers to a dog making a loop rearward.

 Blink:  A dog that leaves or avoids a bird or a back.

 Bobble: This refers to a slight or minor error on birds, usually some movement by the dog.

 Brace:  Dogs run in pairs are called a “brace.” 

 Brace Sheet:  A paper printed and copied which shows the order of running,  which is basically the dogs and braces for the various stakes listed as they were drawn.  Brace sheets are almost always available at the trials.

 Break-away:  The start of heat where dogs are turned loose.

 Broke:  A term most often used to mean “Steady-To-Wing-And-Shot.”

  Bye:  The dog scheduled to run by itself, and last, because of an odd number of dogs entered.  A “bye dog,” may be moved up into a slot vacated by a dog that has been scratched or whose owner did not show up for the brace.

 Call Back:  Similar to second series,   a ‘call back’ is when a dog that has already run for the prescribed amount of time is called for again by the judges for further review.  Usually a call back is used so that judges can see and evaluate something that they did not see the first time around.  Usually,  but not always,  a dog is called back because it had performed very well in terms of ground race,  but has no opportunity to show on game. The call back is thus ordered to give the dog a chance to point a bird. Such a call back can be on wild birds or on planted birds in a birdfield.  Some trials have a call back built into the formula of the trial.

  Cast:  This one of several terms used to describe a dog’s groundwork.  Like a fisherman’s ‘cast’ where the tackle is pitched out and then brought back in, it refers to a dog going away from his handler, hunting some of the cover and then either checking in or crossing.    

 Championship:  These are stakes where dogs compete for the titles of “champion” or “runner-up champion.”   In cover trials there are some 12 open and two amateur championships.  All require that a dog have some type of qualifying win.

Class: Historically used to describe the a superior well rounded, overall performance. Nowadays, 'class' is often used interchangeably with 'style, and 'classy' often means the same as 'stylish.'

"Clean:" when a dog has does not move on a bird, and shows no lapses in manners, it is said to be "clean" on that bird. If a dog runs a race with bird work, no errors on game or unproductives, it said to be "clean" for that performance.

 “Collared back to the course”: means that the dog is taken by the collar and led back to the trail.  It is done to make sure that the group stays on course and so that the brace flows and that adjacent courses are not interfered with.

 “Correct,” As in the handler called point, but then the dog corrected and went on: This is often used to describe a dog that points and then moves on with no bird seen.

 Courses:  These are cut, maintained and marked trails upon which the trials take place.  Having set trails leads to more consistency and fairness.

 Day money:  Some trials offer a modest sum of money for the best dog of each day the trial is run.

 Drawing:  Refers to the event whereby the trial chairman and other officials/guests, draw the entries in random fashion and pair them into braces.

 Derby: Dogs up to about 2.5 years old, again, depending upon the birthdates of the dog.

 Drive:  Describes a dog that really pushes himself to run hard.

 Flagging:  When a dog is stopped and looks like it is pointing but its tail is still moving or wagging.

 Flash Point: When a dog establishes point, but only for a brief instant.

 Gallery:  A group of people, or spectators who have come to a stake or a brace to watch.

 Ground Race:  How a dog works the ground, handles, and finishes.  One of the two main points of judgment, the other being bird work.

 Hack, hacking, hacked: A dog whose handler is frequently yelling at, often to get the dog to do something the dog doesn’t seem inclined to do.  For example, some handler, knowing that a woodcock frequents a patch of cover, will “hack the dog in” to try to get him to find the bird.

 Handle:  This term describes how a dog responds to its handler’s commands in the field.

 Happy feet:  Refers to a dog that does not leave the spot where it is standing on point, but moves its feet nonetheless.  It is considered a slight breech of manners.

 Hook 1) A dog who casts back is said to “hook.”
         2)  SEE “Picked Up.”

 Lateral:  This refers to a dog that tends to hunt to the sides more than in the front.

 Loopy:  A dog who frequently circles to the rear.

 Low stationed:  Used to describe a dog that squats, sits, or lies down on point.

Manners:  Is a term that refers to a dog’s deportment during the flushing effort, the flush of the bird and the shot.  A dog that remains motionless throughout is said to have “good manners.”

“Mark a bird” 1):  When a dog turns, spins, or swaps ends to track the flight of a bird.
                          2): When a dog, which is completely steady-to-wing- and-shot, when released after the work, goes in the direction where the bird flushed to.

 Marshal:  This is a person assigned by the club conducting the trial who guides the handlers through the course,  alerts the handlers to course turns and direction, makes sure that the proper course is followed and,  when there is bird work off the trail,  guides the group back to the trail.

 Minimum Requirements:  These are basic rules of how to operate and conduct field trials. All cover trials must comply with these rules or risk having the placements nullified by the American Field.

 Multiple courses:  This is a trial where dogs in the same stake run over a sequence of several courses or trails.

 Off Game: Refers to other, non-game bird, animals that a dog might encounter and point.

 ‘One Course’:  See “Single Course.”

 Open stake:  An open stake is a trial where there are no restrictions on handlers.

 “Ordered up”:  When a dog does something that eliminates it from consideration, a judge can ‘order it up,’ which means that it is leashed and removed from the competition.

 Over-handle:  Refers to handler who speaks to or yells at the dog too much when such handling is not necessary.

 Pathy:  Used to describe a dog that likes to run trails.

 “Picked up”:  A dog that is removed from competition either by its handler or ordered up by the judge is said to be “picked up.”  A somewhat slangy term for the same thing is to say that the dog was “hooked,” or was “on the hook” after some infraction.

 Pointing Style:  Refers to a dog’s attitude while on point.  Preferred is a high head, straight 12: oclock tail, the dog standing tall, and lots of intensity.

 Puppy: Dogs up to 1.5 years old depending upon what time of the year a pup was whelped.

 Purse:  Prize winnings for dogs that win or place.

 Qualification:  Championships require that a dog have a prior placement in order to be able to run the championship, or in other words, to “qualify” the dog.  Most championships require a derby placement, but several require a shooting dog placement.  For ‘open’ championships, the placement needs to be in an open trial, for amateur championships, an amateur placement in a derby or shooting dog is necessary.

 Ribbon:  While some clubs give plaques and other prizes for winning dogs, most give a prize ribbon to the winning dog. The ribbon usually bears the name of the club, the name of the stake,   and the date. Normally the blue ribbon goes to first place, a red to second place and a yellow to third place.

 “Rough”: Usually is short for “rough-handling” meaning a dog that is not handling very well.

 Running Style:  Refers to a dog’s deportment while running.  The emphasis these days is placed on the preference for a high active tail, but running style also includes gait.

 “Ran over a bird”:  When a dog,   usually one that is running hard, moves the bird before he realizes it is there.

 “Scoop”:  A slang term for a dog that purposefully roots out a bird.

 Scout:  A person designated by the handler to go out and look for a dog that may be on point.

 Scratch:  When a handler calls AFTER the drawing and removes his dog from the competition, it is called a scratch.

 Second series: Similar to a ‘call-back’ it when the judges ask to see a dog or several dogs again after the first series has ended.

 Shooting Dog:  Refers to a finished mannered adult dog stake.

“Short”:   Used to describe a dog that does not range very much, meaning “short ranging.”

Stake:  At any field trial event, there may be several ‘stakes’ which are separate competitions within the context of the trial. A trial, for example, might run a shooting dog stake, a derby stake, and a puppy stake. 

Single Course:  Refers to a stake where all the competitors run on the same course. Also called “One Course.”

“Soft in the front.”:  Refers to a dog that points staunchly but lacks some intensity by looking around or sniffing the ground, etc. 

Stop-to-flush:  When a bird flushes and a dog stops to honor the flight.

 “Took a bird”:  See “root,”

Unproductive:  Refers to where a dog points, a handler flushes and no game is produced.

 “Wide”:  Usually an abbreviation for “wide ranging.” 

Yo-Yo:  A term used to describe a dog whose pattern frequently takes him straight out and straight back.