UKC Hunting Dog Field Trials

The United Kennel Club offers a variety of hunting dog contests that will help you and your four-legged companion prep for fall. They are also one of the best places to learn tips and secrets from some of today’s top hunting dog trainers.

Anthropologists tell us that hunters and domestic dogs have been working in tandem for 30,000 years, and the relationship has forever changed both species. Today we don’t rely on dogs to help us find food to survive, but the partnership is still critical. Now more and more hunters are pursuing small game, upland birds, and waterfowl—all with a good dog by their side.

Maybe you’re interested in seeing what it’s like to chase rabbits behind a pack of beagles but don’t know any hound hunters. Perhaps you have a retriever that’s a standout and you’d like to see how they rank in competition. Or, maybe, you’ve got some time during the off season and you’d like to attend your first competition hunt. Regardless of the motivation, the United Kennel Club, or UKC, offers one of the most extensive lineups of field trial competitions for sporting dogs and there’s probably a club near you. Be forewarned, though, a lot of hunters have attended these hunts and within a few months they had a hunting dog and were competing themselves. Field trialing can be addicting.

Mostly, however, it’s a great way to meet new people and spend time afield with your dog. Todd Kellam, Senior Vice President of the UKC, helps rundown some of the events that your dog can take part in during the off-season.

Hunting Retriever Program

The Labrador Retriever is the most popular breed of dog in the country, but they were not bred to chase tennis balls. No, this hardy and gregarious breed was born to retrieve waterfowl, and if you have a dog in your house that loves nothing more than fetching up downed birds the UKC Hunting Retriever Program might be perfect for both of you.

“In the 1980’s a dedicated group of waterfowling enthusiast teamed with United Kennel Club to develop a realistic program to evaluate hunting retrievers,” Kellam says.  “That successful partnership remains so today between UKC and the Hunting Retriever Club (HRC).  Dogs are evaluated on a pass / fail format and judged against a standard based on level of training.  At all levels, the tests are kept into perspective of true hunting situations which include a shotgun, camouflage, and ducks.  Conceived by hunters, for hunters, is the motto that sums up what the Hunting Retriever Club is all about.”

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Coonhound Nite Hunts

Some of my best memories as a child are of nights spent by a campfire deep in the woods waiting for the first bawl of a coonhound on the trail. Anyone who read Wilson Rawls’s classic book Where the Red Fern Grows remembers the passion Billy Coleman had for his two redbone hounds, but coon hunting has come a long way. DNA testing is used to confirm parentage, satellite collars are used to track running hounds, and top competition dogs fetch a high price. S

“Established in the 1950’s, United Kennel Club has led the way in competitive raccoon hunting with hounds.  It has grown into the largest of all hunting dog field trial programs.  Today UKC licenses approximately 4,500 coonhound nite hunts every year.  That astonishes most people who know very little about this sport as it takes place in rural America long after most have retired for the evening.  It is one of the few forms of true catch-and-release hunting where the dogs are scored for their accomplishments and the game is left unharmed to run another night.”

Hunting Beagle Program

Beagles have been bred to hunt rabbits for hundreds of years, and if you’ve never spent a winter day watching a pack of these rambunctious dogs jump and chase a cottontail then you’ve missed out on one of the most exciting forms of hunting. Contrary to what many believe, the dogs don’t actually “circle” a rabbit like herding dogs but rather follow the scent trail and rabbits, with relatively small home ranges, tend to run in around their home territory—usually, but not always, in a circularpattern. Hunting rabbits with beagles—and beagle field trials—are great fun for your whole family.

“The concept for the UKC Hunting Beagle Program was based on UKC’s well established and highly successful coonhound nite hunt program,” Kellam says.  “This format had never been tried in competitive beagling until released by UKC in 1990.  The format proved to be very successful in beagle field trialing as it took one of the complaints about the existing field trial formats out of the equation, that being subjective judging.  By adopting a black and white scoring system based strictly on productivity, the judge need only refer to the scorecard at the end of hunting time to determine a winner.”

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UKC Upland Program

The United States is home to some outstanding upland hunting, whether on a preserve, in agricultural fields, pine forests or on the hundreds of thousands of public hunting areas in the American West. No matter where you live there is probably good bird hunting somewhere around you—and there are UKC field trials where you can compete and share insight with fellow upland hunters.

“The UKC upland program began as a very creative blend between the European Field Trial format and the American Hunt Test format,” says Kellam. “A balance of different titles that are earned with field trial placements and without (in the form of credited passes).  It is quickly gaining popularity among those enthusiasts who hunt one of the many continental breeds. More recently, the UKC Upland Program has expanded to include affiliation with some of the fastest growing pointing dog programs in the country today.  United Field Trialers Association (UFTA), National Shoot To Retrieve Association (NSTRA) and the National Bird Dog Circuit (BDC) are all under the UKC umbrella of pedigree and title recognition.”

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Cur & Feist Program

Unlike beagles and labs, curs and feists aren’t well-known breeds outside of hunting circles. But these dogs make excellent companions, bred for generations in this country to serve multiple roles on farms in rural areas. And these intelligent breeds are some of the most versatile hunting dogs you can own.

“Another successful program based on the original UKC nite hunt program for coonounds is the Cur & Feist program which is targeted towards these smaller in stature yet highly specialized group of dogs that excel at treeing squirrels in the daytime and raccoons at night,” says Kellam. “Their typically closer hunting range make them ideal for hunting smaller parcels of ground.  Their smaller size and the fact that they are more often hunted during the daytime hours make them an ideal family hunting dog for men and women of all ages and the kids.”

UKC Elite Shed Dog Series

One of the newest and most exciting forms of canine competition is shed hunting. Deer hunters spend hours in the late winter and fall searching for shed antlers, and, as it turns out, our four-legged friends are exceptionally good and finding sheds.

“An event centered around hunting for shed deer antlers is United Kennel Club’s newest field event program.  The structure of the Elite Shed Dog Series is specifically devised to aid in the identification, selection and classification of dogs that hunt in an appropriate style effective for the recovery of shed deer antlers.  This program reaches well beyond typical hunting breeds to include a wide range of breeds that excel at this sport.  It also, in theory, reaches a new audience the majority of which were not previously active in hunting dog field trials, that being devout whitetail deer hunters.”

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For more information or to attend a trial near you visit the United Kennel Club website at

By Brad Fitzpatrick | Contributor

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