Field Trials: What's it all About?

Field Trials: What's it all about?

"The Basset Hound possesses in marked degree those characteristics which equip it admirably to follow a trail over and though difficult terrain."

--Basset Hound Breed Standard

Bassets, as a breed, were developed to hunt small game—to feed the hunter, not the hound! Bassets don't catch rabbits, they help the hunter bag them. Once you understand how the rabbit runs, all you need is a good basset and a heavy stick to fill the pot whenever you want.

The rabbits we hunt live, feed and raise their young above ground. Sometimes when they are run hard they will go down a groundhog hole, but they don't burrow. They are safest when they sit still in the cover of grass or bush. When they run, they leave a trail of scent which predators can follow. When forced to leave their cover, they run no further than they have to; then they squat, motionless, waiting to see what will happen. When they set off again, it will usually be in a different direction; but no matter how often they change direction as the predator trails them, they will tend to move in a circle and eventually get back to where they began.

The basset works entirely by scent. The trail left by the rabbit is rarely a continuous line of scent, since the rabbit leaps and changes direction. He moves through long grass which holds the scent and crosses open patches where the scent quickly disappears. When the rabbit crosses paths and roads, the scent disappears almost immediately, so the basset must work with precision and keep in constant contact with the trail. He mustn't lose the last place he was certain of the trail until he has found the next part, and to do this he must have a good idea of which way the rabbit is moving and have a search pattern which covers every inch of ground, moving progressively outward from the spot where he last had good contact with the trail. The basset doesn't chase the rabbit; in fact, the surest way to get the rabbit to go down a hole is to trail it too fast. The basset should steadily work the rabbit to keep it moving to where the hunter is waiting. The hunter can then see which way the rabbit is moving and can position himself for a shot or a quick blow with his stick.

At basset field trials we do not have rabbit for dinner! Hunting on field trial grounds is forbidden. We are concerned here with watching how the basset trails the rabbit and we want to ensure that there will be enough game for future trials. At the trials you may see Derbies, All Age Dogs, All Age Bitches and Champion Stakes. The Derby and Champion classes are "non-regular" and winners are not awarded points toward a field championship. Bassets under two years old are eligible for Derby classes. In other words, these are classes for the youngsters.

In order to become a field champion, a basset must have placed in Open All Age classes at eight or more trials, have placed 1st in at least two and have won a total of 60 championship points. Points are awarded as follows: 1 pt. for each starter (competitor) to the winner of 1st place; 1/2 pt. for each starter to 2nd place; 1/4 pt. for each starter to 3rd place; and 1/8 pt. for each starter to 4th place. The "next best qualified" hound, or N.B.Q., is not a 5th place, does not receive championship points and cannot be moved up in case of a disqualification of any of the placed hounds. For more information, "Field Trial Rules and Standard Procedures for Basset Hounds" may be obtained from the American Kennel Club.

An honor recently introduced is the title of Grand Champion, awarded by B.H.C.A. to bassets winning a total of 20 points from the Field Champion class (1st place, -4 pts.; 2nd place, 3 pts.; 3rd place, 2 pts.; 4th place, 1 pt.).

The title "Dual Champion" designates a basset which has fulfilled both A.K.C. requirements for a field champion and bench champion. To this date only eight bassets have attained this honor.

The closing time for entries for each class in the field trial is printed in the "Premium List" and entries are usually taken in the Clubhouse at the trial grounds. Closing time is usually 7 or 8 a.m. for the first class to be run on a given day. The hound must actually be on the grounds to be entered. After the entries are closed, the names of the hounds are drawn, by chance, in pairs (called braces). The excitement and suspense has already begun, as each handler or owner hopes for a lucky draw.

Each brace is then taken to the field to be put on rabbit in the order in which they were drawn. The GALLERY of spectators and handlers lines up as directed by the MARSHAL and walks slowly across a section of trial ground, beating the bushes until a rabbit is seen. Whoever sees the rabbit shouts "TALLY-HO" (it's poor form to say "There he goes") and marks the exact line of the trail. The Gallery now stands still as the judges (there will be two, either on foot or on horseback) and handlers of the two hounds come up and the handlers put the hounds down on the line, release them, and the judging begins. The hounds are judged on the basis of a Standard of Performance with desirable qualities and faulty actions described in "Basset Hound Field Trial Rules and Standard Procedures." The one word which best describes what is necessary on the part of the hound is "Accuracy" accuracy to the trail and in giving tongue. Nearly any dog of any breeding can get a long fast run on a straight line, but the deciding test is his accuracy in handling the "Checks" (the twists and direction changes of the rabbit). While he has the scent of the rabbit, the basset must always give tongue, but he must never do so when he does not have the trail.

When each brace has been run and judged, the FIRST SERIES is over. The judges select the best hounds (usually six or eight) and call them back in order of merit to run in a SECOND SERIES. Once again, the hounds are run and judged in braces. The Second Series can be followed by further series until the judges have decided the final placings. Sometimes the hounds "called back" in the high places fail to run as well in these later series as they had done earlier in the day, while others called back in the lower places run very well, so that the final order of placings is often different from the order in which the second series is called.

Of course, the most sought after ribbon is the blue one--the all important first place as without it, no basset can become a field champion. No matter how many other places he has won, without the necessary first place he cannot achieve the much coveted title.

(This chapter appears in BHCA's publication Field Trialing with the Basset Hound (available from the Country Store with the championship requirements revised)