Getting started in NSTRA

Getting Started in NSTRA
Getting started in NSTRA – Handlers, dogs and judges at the start line.

Have you heard that NSTRA field trials are a ton of fun and easy to get started in? Getting started in NSTRA is easier than most people think. Now I know that most things that are unfamiliar can seem overwhelming at first, so I’d like to share some basic information to help you get started.

Topics I will cover

  • How to get a better understanding of how a field trial works
  • How to find a field trial
  • How to prepare your dog
  • How to prepare yourself

Getting Started in NSTRA: What is a field trial?

Seeing is understanding. The best way to really know how a field trial works is by coming to one. Spectators are welcome at any NSTRA trial and you can be sure that there will be a number of friendly people at the trial that will be happy to talk with you about the trial. Some trial grounds allow you to see some of the action up close from the gallery. If the judges have multi-seat UTVs you can ask to ride and observe a brace.

When you are observing, watch both the dog and the handler. Watching the dog will help you understand the level of training and the skill of the dog needed to compete. Watching the handler will help you understand how you need to work as a team, using strategies such as how to cover the field, how to position yourself with the other handler and how to handle the dog.

Getting Started in NSTRA: Where are NSTRA field trials held?

The Mo-Kan region covers central and eastern Kansas and the west half of Missouri. Mo-Kan region trials will be held in the boundaries of that geography. Private ground, game preserves or state/park land is utilized as it is available and suitable for trials. The location for each trial is the responsibility of the trial chairman and host club. Recent locations for trials have been Sterling, KS, Fort Scott, KS, Salina, KS and Lee’s Summit, MO. Visit the schedule page for the Mo-Kan region for details on upcoming trials.

How do I prepare my dog for a NSTRA field trial?

The minimum level of training for your dog should be that he will stay firmly on point until you, the handler, flush the bird. Once the bird has been “moved from its resting place”, the dog can break and chase. In some situations this may be as little as the bird running away from you, or “popping” a short distance and landing, if the birds are poorly performing in their ability to fly. The judge should announce to you that this is a “good bird” and you will likely be asked to collect the bird from your dog, and then throw it for your dog so that he can be scored for a proper retrieve. A non-comprehensive list of factors that will raise or lower your “find” score:

  • Upon good scent contact, immediately locks into a point (higher)
  • Stands steady through long flush attempt (higher)
  • Excessive “roading” into a bird after scent contact (lower)
  • Forward movement after establishing point, not due to handler relocation (lower)

The dog should retrieve the bird to hand, or within one step of your location when you shot the bird in order to be scored. If the dog fails to bring the bird all the way back you will receive no score. A non-comprehensive list of factors that will raise or lower your retrieve score:

  • Mouthing, tossing or dropping the bird (lower)
  • Slow return or indirect route of return to handler (lower)
  • Especially long retrieves, blind retrieves, water retrieves (higher)

In addition to the training your dog should be well conditioned. Your dog should be able to run and hunt for the full 30 minute duration of the brace. Weather during trial seasons can be warm. A dog that is not conditioned to run in warm weather can quickly tire and may become overheated.

How should I prepare myself for a NSTRA field trial?

There are a lot of factors that you will eventually learn as you gain experience, but there are some easy ones I can list out that can and should be done prior to your first field trial.

  • Practice your shooting! Half of the score comes from the retrieve and if you miss the bird there’s a good chance you will not get the retrieve.
  • Get on the treadmill! Handling in a trial can be a strenuous task. You will be following your dog around a field with inclines, ditches, uneven terrain, mud, etc. and in many cases in warm weather.
  • Remain calm! Even experienced field trialers can get excited in the field and this can lead to mistakes, or in the worse case, a safety situation. Remind yourself to slow down and always choose safety over all else.

I hope that this has been informative for a beginning NSTRA field trial participant. Look for new posts to come in the following weeks as we approach the Spring 2019 trial season. If you would like to talk with someone specifically about getting started in NSTRA trials in the Mo-Kan region, please fill out our contact form.

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