Minnesota Heartland English Springer Spaniel Club

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Ethics and good sportsmanship require that the hunter dispatch game as quickly and humanely as possible.  Sportsmanship also demands the retrieval of all shot game.  To that end these dogs are trained.

English Springer Spaniels are flushing dogs (as opposed to pointers).  It is their task to run the field in an orderly manner in order to find game, flush found game to flight, and retrieve shot birds to their handler.  Each dog and handler pairing acts as a two-member team.


This Field Trial is a competition.  It is a collection of the best-trained and best-bred dogs in the area.  The competition consists of three series that are run with the dogs.  The first two series are run in a brace, meaning that two dogs are running at the same time on parallel courses - one on each side of the center line flags.  The third series is run singly - one dog at a time. 


Some of the requirements in order to complete the stake and have a possibility of placing are:  Finding game by covering the course in an orderly manner.  This includes the dog’s use of the wind to its advantage in how it patterns (runs in an orderly manner to efficiently cover ground) on the course. 


It is the job of the dog to find planted birds on its side of the course and aggressively flush them into flight.  The dog is not allowed to poach (flush game on the other side of the course).   The dog must be steady to flush, meaning that when the dog forces the bird to fly, the dog sits and waits for the handler’s command to retrieve, or to continue on.  The dog must be steady to shot, so when a bracemate (the dog working on the other side of the course) flushes a bird, and it is shot at, that dog waits, allowing its bracemate to retrieve the bird.  Most importantly, the dog must retrieve to hand all shot game. Each time a dog fails to accomplish one of these tasks, it is dropped, and only the dogs that have successfully completed the above tasks move on to the next series.  The dogs in the third series are the best dogs of the day, and the top four will receive placements.


Some terms that you may hear at the trial refer to the actions that disqualify dogs from further competition. Breaking is a term meaning that a dog failed to remain steady after the flush or shot.  (“We are out of the trial because my dog broke.”)  A failed retrieve means that a dog was sent to retrieve a shot bird but was unable to complete the task.


As you can see, the field trial procedures and traditions are deeply rooted in hunting.  While watching a trial, you can see the important role that well-trained and well-bred dogs play in ensuring a quality and ethical hunting experience.


The group of spectators following the dogs in the field is called the gallery.   The Field Marshall is positioned at the front of the gallery where he or she announces the dogs as they come up to the line.  It is also the job of the Field Marshall to keep you and all other spectators in line.  Because live ammunition is used in spaniel field trials, it is imperative that you listen to the Field Marshall's instructions!


It is inappropriate to applaud or make any unnecessary noise while in the gallery, especially while the dogs are working the course.  All dogs entered in the trial must be on a leash when not running.  And absolutely no dogs are allowed on the grounds that are not entered in the competition.


For those wishing to find out more about English Springer Spaniels, or about ESS Field Trials, please contact a Minnesota Heartland ESS Club member.  They will be happy to answer your questions.


 Enjoy the trial!

 The MHESSC Field Trial Committee

Gun Captains and all Guns should use these rules as a guideline. Each field or course will have its own set of circumstances to review prior to setting rules for that Field Trial. The Gun Captain and Guns should walk or be familiar with the course and grounds prior to the Trial.

All Guns must constantly be aware of the position of Judges, handlers, shaggers, dogs, and the gallery.  If you have been asked to gun, you have been around dogs long enough to read them.  When a dog gets ‘hot’ clear your likely shooting area, set your feet, then confirm your clear shooting area on the flush.

Your gun must be broken open at all times that the dog is not under judgment.  Walk to line with gun broke and unloaded.  Always be prepared to Fall.  Carry gun at port arms whenever possible.  Do Not Shoot backward. Backward is a line perpendicular to the course.  Exceptions are stated under Wing Gun.

Shoot twice if the bird is not dead.  Shoot twice on a bird the dog did not see flush. (This may help the dog see the fall.)  Shoot birds moving in your direction.  Fire a back up shot only after the gun with initial priority has already fired. (Cross shooting disturbs the timing of other guns) However, If the other gun has not shot, or you are not sure of the other gun’s position relative to the shot, and you have a safe shot which may be cross shooting, shoot for the dog.  Listen for instructions from the Judge, there will be times when the Judge will say 'No' or 'No Shot'.

Stand still after shooting, and do not break your gun until the dog is under handler’s control. (Unnecessary movement or noise may cause the dog to break or loose its mark.)  Shoot to kill the birds for the dog, not for yourself, and certainly not to show off.  Know the mark of every bird you see fall. (The judge may ask you for information on the location of the fall.)
Do not look at a dog coming in from a retrieve. Turn your body away from a dog coming in.  (Looking at, or facing, a dog may hinder a retrieve, or cause the dog to come to you instead of the handler.)

Do not speak unless spoken to.  Speak only if invited to by the handler or Judge.  Make no comments on a dog. (You are not the Judge.)  Do not carry on a conservation with the bird shagger, other guns, handlers, gallery members, or the Judge. (You make break the concentration of a dog or handler.)  Comment only on the mark of bird to the Judge, and only if asked.   Do not comment on the sex of the bird, or whether you think it is alive or dead. (You are not the Judge.)  When not gunning, keep your own council.  It is not proper to comment on what you saw a dog or handler do while gunning.

Do not move from position during a change of dogs. (This may flush birds.)
Do not move when the Judge and or handler move closer to retrieve. (You need to keep your mark if it is needed – and you must avoid accidentally flushing birds, which could interfere with the retrieve.)

Center Gun is to shoot birds crossing in front, provided he/she has cleared the drop area of a dog. If a dog is in, or is very likely to run into, the possible drop area pass the shot on to the wing gun after giving a shot down the course to stop the dogs and alert the wing gun. The center gun should shoot on all shots going down the course.  The center gun WILL NOT shoot back, even on the “high window” shot.  When a dog and handler on one side moves down the course faster than the other, follow the faster side.  But be aware of the both sides at all times.  When you are a flag or more down the course the back wing gun cannot shoot at birds flying down and toward the center.  Those are your birds after they pass you.

Wing Gun On runners, move with the handler.  Do not move in front or lead.  If the dog or handler moves around you, keep your position relative to a safe shot.  Your gun is to be at port arms, muzzle straight up at all times on a runner.  Do not run.  Walk fast, and be prepared to fall and know how to control your gun if you do.  In shooting back, be aware of the allowable angle as indicated by the Gun Captain.  When shooting back, always turn out to shoot.  On passed birds from the center gun or other wing gun, be aware of other dog's position.  This is already a long retrieve for a dog on the far side of the course, so there is no need to ride it out to the limit.  Keep pace with the handler or stay one half step behind.  Do not move with the dog.  Walk the path which has been established by previous trips down the course.  If you see a bird on the ground, walk around it, keeping the correct pace with the handler. If your side is dismissed at the end of the course, or the end of the series, keep your position until the other dog is finished. (All other dogs have three guns.  Why shouldn’t the last dogs in a series have three guns?)

Gallery Guns are to have their guns unloaded and broken open at all times.  Be aware of what is happening.  Be prepared to fill in when one side moves too far ahead.  (What constitutes “too far” will be communicated by the Gun Captain.)  Generally, the gallery gun moves to fill in on a downwind course at 2 or 3 flags.  On an upwind course - 1 to 2 flags.  And in a crosswind, it depends upon whether the upwind, or downwind side is ahead, as well as how the birds are flying.  When filling in your gun is to be at port arms with the muzzle up at all times.  Shots to be taken will be outlined by the Gun Captain.  Generally only straight up, and straight to the side which is out front, and down the center of the course which is behind.

3rd Series Most gunning situations in the third series (not braced – single dog and handler) will be the same as wing gunning. On a runner, both guns move with handler, keep the wind in mind (where the bird is likely to fly) as well as the gallery position.

Gun Captain  Recruit guns before the Trial so that they can be prepared with food, water, footwear, and clothing.  List guns in the catalog to reflect that it is a privilege and an honor to be asked to gun.  Be available at all times during the Trial to deal with situations which may arise.  Have a second team of guns in the gallery before the last dog is run in the previous stake so there will be no waiting.  Review the rules of the day with all guns so that there are no questions about what to do.  Watch the guns so you can select guns for the third series based upon how they are shooting. Confer with the Judges regarding the rules of the day, so that they don't scowl at the guns when a shot is, or is not, taken, which may conflict with that person’s experience.

Overview  Be rested, and be in shape.  Eat small amounts of food during the day rather than large meals.  Have plenty of water, and drink it!  (A full stomach draws upon large amounts of blood for digestion - it decreases blood flow to your muscles and brain and will slow your reflexes. Plenty of water keeps your muscles hydrated, and keeps you from tightening up.)  If you miss two easy shoots, take yourself out.  Don't let misses cloud your concentration for the next shot.  (Nobody shoots 100%.)  Keep in mind at all times that you are shooting for the dog and handler.  You are not shooting for yourself.  Shoot in your comfort zone, do not get into a 'long shot' competition.

Running With a Gun: DO NOT RUN! Walk fast.  Carry your gun at port arms. If you need to cross a ditch, fence, or other obstacle - UNLOAD! Always remember SAFETY is the number one consideration.

Spaniel Field Trials are steeped in tradition, if you are asked to gun, you are part of this grand Gentle sport. Behave and Perform your job with the respect it deserves.

Addendum to the Above Heartland Club Guidelines, which came from Input from many experienced gunners from Minnesota and across the nation, and from other Gun Captains. Which were first published in 1995 by the Heartland Club


Drinking: It should go without saying that the responsible consumption of alcohol should be a standard procedure. There is NO WAY that one can ‘close down the bar’ on a Saturday night and be prepared to gun on a Sunday morning.

If you want to have a drink, do so only after ALL shooting is done for the day and all guns have been put away. If you are on any medication which has the possible side effects including ‘hyperactivity, or drowsiness’, DO NOT Gun.

Be discreet in your personal habits.  Remember, perception is often a more strongly perceived than fact.

You have been asked to carry the 'Bird Basket'. You are probably new at carrying the bird basket; this is why you have received this set of guidelines that reflect the importance of this position. Your charge is to provide a depository for dead or live birds that the Judge hands you. You will be provided with a basket which straps on like a backpack, and a 'bag' or gunnysack. This can be, at times, difficult work, but it is also very rewarding. Your 'reward' is having the second best seat in the Field Trial (second only to the Judge).

You will walk the course, behind the Judge, in the same footpath the Judge walks.  If you see a live bird on the ground, you will walk around it without drawing attention to it.  After the dog flushes the bird, and after the dog has been released to the retrieve, you may start walking to the Judge, (while the dog is moving away from you).  If you have not reached a position of about four to six (4-6) feet behind the Judge before the dog has reached the fall, stop.  Do not walk when the dog is coming toward you while returning from the retrieve.  Finish walking to the Judge after the Judge has the bird. (In a short while you will be able to time this out perfectly.)

If the bird falls behind the line, do not move until the Judge has the bird, turn away from the dog, but keep an eye on the Judge, he may ask you to move, although this is rare.

When you get to the Judge, turn around so that the basket faces the Judge, and he/she will drop the bird in the basket.  In the case of a trap, (dog trapping a live bird) hold open your 'bag' and the Judge will place the bird inside.  If a bird is wounded, most of the time the Judge will dispatch the bird and place it in the basket.  In the rare case that the Judge hands you a wounded bird you will humanely dispatch it and place it in the basket. (If this is the case, you will be provided with a tool, and instructions)  Do this turned away from the dog.

You need to be aware of the wind direction.  On a downwind course (wind at your back) you need to stay 3/4 to 1 flag behind the Judge.  (The smell from the birds in your basket, or even lingering odors on the basket itself, may confuse the dog into thinking that you are what it is questing for, thereby interfering with an efficient pattern). The same holds true of any kind of crossing downwind, where the smell of your basket could be carried down the course.  Better to be too far back, than too close.

On an upwind course, (wind in your face) you can be 1/4 of a flag behind the Judge.

When the handler, Judge, and gun leave the course on a 'runner', stay put. Your position will help the Judge know where they left the course, and will indicate where they are to return.  Keep an eye on the Judge - sometimes he/she will motion you to come out to pick up the bird.

Never let the bag carrying the live traps touch the ground on the course at any time.

At the end of the course, deposit your dead birds where told, and put your live traps in the designated cage.  Don't just dump the birds on a pile, place them neatly in a row.  (This helps cool the birds faster, and makes a more dignified presentation of the game.)

If you overhear any conversation between the Judge and Handler, keep it to yourself.  Do not speak unless spoken to.  Do not carry on a conversation with a gun, handler, Judge, or people in the gallery.

Enjoy the view!  Thank you for helping out the club by your valuable service of carrying the basket.

 The MHESSC started the following checklist in 1992. This checklist is based upon input of people representing multiple years of field trial chairing eperience.  The MHESSC has continually compiles this list of things to do, and it is passed on to each new chair.  Each Chair may ad to this list of things she/he has done.


Select a Trial Chairman

One year in advance, the chairman will delegate responsibility to subcommittees.  Make final decisions with input from the committee. The Chairman should not be doing things, Chair should delegate others to do, and in the event they do not do, then he/she must do. The Chair assigns jobs and checks to see that they are performed.  The Chair can assign as many jobs as he/she wants.   The FT Chair also selects a Puppy Trial Chair.

Select a Puppy Stake Chairman

The Puppy Stake Chair runs, and delegates duties for, the entire Puppy Stake.  They select the guns, select the course, stake the course, obtain the birds, find bird planters, transport birds, and serve as Game Steward. In other words, they either do, or delegate, everything requirted to put on a successful Puppy stake.  The MHESSC has found that this is a Excellent way to break in a new Field Trial Chair, as it gives that person an overview of what goes on, and what needs to be done, at a Field Trial. 

Select a Field Trial Committee

All field trial committee members must be present during the entire time that the trial is underway (AKC rule).  In addition to the {Pres., V.P., Sec., Treas..,} members may consist of heads of other committees. There needs to be a minimum of 5 members on the committee, including the Trial Chair. It is better to have 6 committee members.

Select All-Age Judges

All-age stakes judges should be selected at least one year in advance. All age judges MUST have judges 12 all age stakes between them.  If one judge is new, the other must have judged at least 12 stakes.  A new judge must have completed 4 apprentice assignments and one (1) judges’ seminar, and have passed a written test administered by the AKC.  Many judges have reputations for liking a certain style of dog.  Select judges who’s preferences are compatible with each other.  Consult with other members who run field trials for their opinions of judges.

Select Puppy Judges

Any new judges must fill out "new judge form". There is no six trial rule.

Select a Field Trial Secretary

If the field trial secretary is serving in this capacity for the first time, they must fill out an AKC new secretary form.  Call the AKC 'Special Events Division' and request a Spaniel Trial package 4 months prior to the trial.  Submit and application to hold trial 3 months prior.  Submit a Questionnaire for Premiums 2 months prior.  If "trial" and "Judges" approval forms are not received within one week after the Questionnaire for premiums is sent out call AKC, every 3 days, until you get the forms back.  Send copies of the Premium & Map (4) to AKC at the time that premiums are sent out to the public.  Premiums, with cover letter listing hotels, food, arrangements, etc., and the headquarters motel, (which will have catalogs, running orders, and maps on the check-in desk that Friday night before 4:00 PM) are to be sent out so that they reach trialers at least 3 weeks prior to the trial.  The entry closing date should be on the Wednesday of the week before the trial (9 days before trial).  Running orders should be sent out the day after the closing of entries.  It is strongly suggest that all forms be sent to the AKC by registered courier with return receipt, and accompanied by a check.  After the trial, copies of the Judges’ Book & Premiums should be returned within 7 days.  A check for $0.50 per all age dog run (not puppies) must also be submitted.

Assemble a field trial catalog.  Sell ads to pay for the catalog. If there are 30 to 40 entries (including puppies) print 75 catalogs. For 40 to 60 dogs print 100 catalogs.  For 60 to 80 dogs print 150 catalogs.  For 80 to 100 dogs print 200 catalogs. These catalog numbers are based on MHESSC experience, as well as the experiences of other trial secretaries.  After the trial, mail a marked catalog to S.I.T.F., and Roxane Poray, 1759 Buelah Road, Churchville NY 14428, and advertisers/patrons not at trial.  The day after trial, send out trial placements and a thank you letter.  Send running orders and trial placements to everyone, including the owners of dogs that the pros run who generally don't attend the trial.

Collect checks, making a list of checks and what they are for (Ads, Entries, Patrons, etc.).  Give a handout to sub-committee heads if they haven't done that job before, explaining what to do.

As dictated by AKC rules, the Field Trial Secretary cannot also serve as the Field Trial Chair.

When sending info to the AKC, retain copies, and get a DCR (Delivery Conformation Receipt).  It is cheap Insurance, to verify the AKC has received everything.  In fact it is a good policy to send EVERYTHING that goes to the AKC via DCR (as the AKC has been known to say they have lost things).


The premium shall contain information including the trial dates, location, directions, stakes, cost, schedule, prizes, officers, F.T. Committee, gun captain, guns, F.T. Secretary, closing date, time & place, bird information, listing of judges, headquarters, club name & License #.

Gun Captain

The gun captain selects the guns, and supplies their names to the FTS to include in the catalog.  The gun captain also instructs guns, has guns ready in gallery to make a smooth switch over of stakes, has extra gun(s) in the gallery for rotation.  Guns for the puppy stake should be experienced, as pigeons generally are harder to hit.  Guns cannot gun in stake they are entered in, even if they have been eliminated from that stake.  Guns should not gun for relatives, or for dogs that they own and have some one else run.  Fathers gunning for sons – and the reverse, is frowned upon.  Have enough guns so that they can rest, especially if courses are long.  Have only one new gun in at a time.  The center gun should be the most experienced.  Be aware of current gunning rules as per the parent club.  Arrange to have shot shells for the guns.

Steward of the Beat

The steward of the beat is responsible for course layout.  Select a steward of the beat that you trust, and back them up in their decisions.  Have flags on hand, and have courses ready to be staked.  The Field Trial Chair could assign a chair for this position.  In setting up the course, keep in mind the wind direction, and method of entree onto the course by participants and spectators.  Pay special attention to safety concerns at the ends of courses where cars are parked, and people may be watching or waiting to join the gallery.  The quality of cover on the course is the most common complaint.  Select a good course

Bird Planting for All-Age Stake

Arrange for a 4 wheeler and a trailer.  Bird planters need to wear all orange, not just hats - and safety glasses are a must.  At least one planter must have experience.  Having two bird planters is nice, to bring birds in and out from the field.

Bird Planting for Puppy Stake

Pigeons are used for the puppy stake.  They are carried in a puppy bird planting vest.  It is preferable that pigeons should be caught from flight pens the morning of use, in the dark, before they fill their craw.

Game Stewards

The game steward buys the birds, makes sure they are delivered or picked up, makes sure the count is correct, and only signs for birds when it is known that the count is correct.  The number of crates should be double checked to assure that lost crates do not need to be paid for at the end of the trial.  Have birds on the course ready for planter.  Have pick up crates (and have them clearly marked) to pick up dead birds (make sure dead birds are not just thrown in a pile.  Arrange them neatly, or hang).  Arrange for bird cleaning, sell cleaned birds, sell left over live birds, have gunny sacks for sale for those who want to buy left over birds.  Have garbage cans on hand at the entrance to the trial field.
Dead birds can be cleaned and sold, sold uncleaned, or given away.  Make preparations for dead bird handling well in advance.


Food may be offered on site, or have delivered to the site.  Local church, 4H clubs, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, etc. may use this as an opportunity for a fund raiser.  Whatever arrangements are made, make sure to announce this in the
catalog.  Include time(s) when food will be available (e.g., lunch only, 10 AM to 2 PM, etc., as well as a listing of what will be offered.

Field Marshalls

Have enough field marshals to rotate this task during the trial and allow for rest periods.  Have a 'white board' at central location, and have someone at the base to write notices on the board including scratches, and call backs.  Have plastic coated catalog pages and a water proof marker in case of rain.  Field marshals are in charge of seeing that radios are taken home and charged overnight.  Radios are required for the bird planter, at the base, one in field, and one for the Field Trial Chairman.  Tell people to turn off radios while in the gallery. Announce on radio: who is on the line, and when they have had a contact.  Patience is required – just after you announce who is on the line, someone will call back and ask who is up.


Bird Basket Carriers

Bird basket carriers (also known as shaggers) carry bird baskets (for dead birds) and gunny sacks (for pick ups).  Instruct shaggers on proper procedure.  Don't drag the bird bag or basket on the ground on the course.  Be careful when pulling the bag out of the basket to avoid leaving a hot spot of scent.  Walk in the same foot path as the judge.  Walk about 10 yards behind on an upwind or crosswind course.  Walk 30+ yards behind on a downwind course.  When a handler leaves the course on a runner, stay on the course where they left, do not follow.  Do not move until a dog is released for the retrieve, or until a dog is under its handler’s control.  If you see a live bird, walk around it (avoid it).  Keep your own council as to what you see or overhear while shagging.  Do not converse with guns, handlers or gallery members.  Speak to the judge only if the judge first speaks to you.


Confirm availability with the owner, sign a lease, and arrange insurance carrier coverage listing. Contact the DNR for a permit to hold the trial (at least 3 months in advance).

Room reservations

Reserve a block of rooms for judges and trialers.  About 30+ rooms for an 80 dog trial. Have catalogs, maps, and running orders available at the headquarters Motel on Friday before trial.  List other area hotels & numbers, inform hotels that trialers may be calling.

Judges’ Steward

The judges’ steward takes care of the judges needs, takes them out to dinner, has lunch available on the grounds for the judges.  Has pop, beer - whatever they wantCater to the Judges. Have gifts for the judges (both all-age & puppy). Arrange all transportation - to and from dinner, the trial grounds, and the banquet.  Have a vehicle available for the judges to confer in when determining call backs.

Pick Up Dog

If one is desired, find a VERY experienced dog AND Handler – and one NOT entered in the Field Trial.  The pick up dog follows for the entire trial, at the end of the gallery, and is walked out to the area of fall of missed retrieves, or retrieves not sent, to harvest the bird.  This person HAS to understand field trials, so as to NOT interfere with the trial in any way.  If you enlist the help of such a dog and handler team, list them in the catalog!

Portable Restroom Facilities

Restroom facilities must be provided.  If the trial will be moved, such as for the third Series, either provide multiple units – or get one on wheels.

Special Permits

Obtain required permits from the AKC, DNR, County, Township, etc.


Purchase 1-1/4 ounce, 3-3/4 Dram, copper/nickle plated 7-1/2, and 6 shot shells.


Order as per official AKC sizes, colors, and information supplied.  Buy trophies for first place dogs.  Order trophies and ribbons well in advance of the trial (at least 60 days prior).


Know your printer and be certain of costs, responsibilities, and deadlines.  The catalog should be available in the headquarters motel the night before the trial.  There is no room for mistakes.  If the catalog is to contain judges’ certification it must be between 5 & 5.5 X 8 & 8.5 inches.  If  the 'green sheet” is sent in to the AKC to indicate placements then the catalog can be any size.  The catalog should contain all information listed in the premium, list all people doing something, list all chairs, committees, and sub-committee members.  Names and address of trialers, owners and dogs should be listed in the order of running.  Normally this order is Open-Amateur-Puppy.  If possible provide a call back list in the center of the catalog.  A separate call back sheet can be provided, it is better if these are printed on card stock that can be folded to fit in a pocket.


Sell It !!!!!. If you don’t it’s just money wasted.  The hotel, the banquet place, the early morning restaurants that trialers visit, nearby gas stations and liquor stores…  These are ALL easy ads to sell.


Determine a place, time, tickets, provide cost(s), arrange reservations, provide directions.


Provide maps to training grounds, the 1st day grounds, the 2nd day grounds, the banquet, and hotels.


Arrange a place and time.  Provide costs of birds, and make bird arrangements.  Call ahead to have guns on hand to shoot for training.


Choose people who you can trust to be members of your field trial team.
This is a team effort. - (There is NO “ I “ in the word “ TEAM “) Let team members make decisions and stand behind them. Nothing can be done too far in advance, everything can be done too late! Read, know and have on hand the AKC books; "Field Trial Rules"; 'Blue Book'
interpretation of rules; and "Dealing with Misconduct".

ESSFTA Conduct & Judging FT (Blue Book Revised Nov2013)

ESSFTA FT Management (Green Book)