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Revival aims to try and help rekindle energy, enthusiasm in bird dog trials

Posted: September 17, 2015 4:10 p.m.
Updated: September 18, 2015 1:00 a.m.

BIRD DOG TRIALS have been a staple in the Camden community for some 70 years and the sport will be featured in a revival in Ridgeway on Saturday.

It is a sport which is deeply ingrained in the fiber of Camden and South Carolina, for that matter. But the art of trial hunting with bird dogs is one which is losing some of its foothold in the Palmetto State.

Rather than sitting around and reminiscing about the good old days of bird dog events, Tom Hall is doing something about it in hopes of keeping the trials, the oldest continuous sport in the history of the state, vibrant.

On Saturday, Sept. 26, at Hall’s Magnolia Farm in Ridgeway, Hall and his fellow bird dog lovers will present the inaugural South Carolina Bird Dog Revival. The day of bird dogs, bluegrass and barbecue will run from noon to 6 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults with childen and dogs invited to come free of charge.

Proceeds from the day will benefit the Association of South Carolina Field Trial Clubs, which is nearly 70 years old.

“The Mid-Carolina Field Trial Club in Camden is the oldest field trial club in South Carolina,” said Hall of the organization which started in the mid-1950s. “There are still about 10 field trial clubs left in South Carolina; there used to be 30. There used to be one in almost every community in the state. For many reasons, that has all declined.”

What Hall, the secretary of the Assn. of Field Trial Clubs in South Carolina, is aiming to do is to kick-start the sport by not only bringing back those who were members of the clubs and who may still participate  or, want to participate again, in field trials, but also exposing the sport to those who may know little to nothing about it.

After all, Hall said, he came across a field trial event as an interested spectator along with his family. Soon after arriving on the grounds, he was welcomed by members of the sponsoring club and others. He began asking questions and received answers. It was a positive experience which he recalls fondly.

“The first thing you are going to hear is, ‘Welcome,’” he said. “I took my family to Mid-Carolina, found my way out there, about 15 years ago. I didn’t have dogs, didn’t have horses and was intimidated to drive out there; I didn’t know what to do. But everybody who saw me came and shook my hand, answered my questions and welcomed me to have a meal.

“When you drive up and see all these huge trailers and trucks and hombres at a trial, it can be a little intimidating. The message we want people to know is that we really want spectators to come out and watch these field trails. And, they may be interested in the sport; they may want to get a dog and get a horse or, join a field trial club. If you join a field trail club, you don’t have to have a horse or a dog; you just have to be willing to help put on field trials.”

At Saturday’s revival, Hall and others will try to ignite that same spark in guests who may not have any idea as to what the sport is about. During the course of the afternoon there will be bird dog trial demonstrations which involve horseback and bird dogs in pursuit of bobwhite quail. The birds, Hall was quick to point out, are not being shot but are being released and after the trial is over, the birds will be fed.

“It is a spectator sport,” Hall said, “and you can either ride a horse and if we had enough people to come out, we would get a tractor and wagon and tow everybody around because there is a road that goes around the whole course. You’re able to follow the action. It’s a lot of action and a lot of excitement.

“It’s a positive afternoon of outdoor enjoyment.”

The day will also feature the Hall-produced film, “Field Trial,” as well as a collection of more than 100 vintage field trial photos on display with all tack and gear necessary to get involved in the sport.

Additionally, professional handlers and dog trainers will be on hand to educate people on training puppies all the way to grown shooting dogs. Professional dog trainers Ross Callaway, Mark Fulmer and Steve Browder will offer clinics for bird dog training in all phases of the dog’s life and creating the best relationship with your pet. John Ray Kimbrell, a member of the National Bird Dog Hall of Fame, will be available for a question and answer session as well as renowned veterinarian Dr. Charlie Timmerman to discuss proper care for animals. Michael Houf, with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, will be on to discuss planting and maintenance of quail habitat and to discuss opportunities to hunt quail on state-owned lands.

The 81-year-old Kimbrell recently took Hall’s bird dogs to North Dakota for a month and trained them on horseback. It is, Hall said, a sport which knows no age restrictions. “This is a sport, I promise you,” he said, “where when you’re 40 years old in the field trail world, that means that you are 20. There are people in their 80s and even, in their 90s, who ride all day in field trials. It’s truly a sport where the older you get, the better you get at it.”

The day will not be just about the horses, dogs and their handlers. There will also be whole hog cooled in an open pit with all the traditional fixings being served with craft beer and wine available. Bluegrass music by the Mustache Brothers from Columbia will begin at 4 p.m. followed up with the Big Cotton bluegrass band in what Hall said will feel like a family reunion.

Hall made a point to say the afternoon is one geared for the entire family, something which he learned happened on a large-scale basis in Camden. While gathering photos to be placed in a Cabelas store in Pineville, N.C., Hall used pictures which he received from a collection which came from the Mid-Carolina Field Trial Club and longtime member Gary Bradley of Cassatt. “These photos show crowds of hundreds of people in Camden at these clubs picnicking, tailgating and socializing, like at the Carolina Cup but on a smaller scale watching bird dogs,” Hall said.

“Camden is such a sporting town and people here love everything that has to do with bird dogs, horses and the outdoors.”

The sport itself has deep roots in Camden and Sumter which, Hall said, was an area once referred to as the “Field Trailing Capital of the World.”

“Records show it starting in the 1870s,” Hall said of the sport’s origins in this country. “South Carolina is the nucleus of field trialing in America. It started in Tennessee with the first national championship but with the support it got in the Carolinas, specifically South Carolina and in Sumter and Camden, this is the bedrock of field trialing. The roots of field trialing in America are here in Camden and Sumter, South Carolina. We’re trying to expose it to people.”

That, in a nutshell, is the purpose of Saturday afternoon’s revival. The object is to bring a sport which never left back to people who may have left it or, know very little about it. It is, he said, a sport which is authentic and is the same today from the way in which is what set up in the mid-to-late 1800s.

“We’re trying to open the sport up and let people know that they are welcome to come to field trials and talk about what it’s like,” he said.

“It is a sport which is in need of new blood. We’re concerned about the lack of young people getting involved in the sport. What is perplexing to me is that we’re in a ‘garden and gun’ age where everybody loves everything Southern and the outdoors. This is the most authentic thing you are going to find in the south and in South Carolina and no one knows about it.”

(Magnolia Farm is located at 631 Longtown Road in Ridgeway. Call (803) 767-5305 for more information on Saturday’s revival.)


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