Bird-hunting opportunities are much scarcer than they used to be, but a new outlet is developing for area residents who appreciate a good bird dog.
The East Tennessee Pointing Dog Association is being formed to provide chances for purebred pointers of all types and their owners to get together to improve and display their abilities. Two information sessions are being held Saturday to promote the club and its purposes: 12:30-2 p.m. at the Gander Mountain store off Interstate 40 in West Knoxville and 4-5:30 p.m. at Sportsman's Warehouse at Highway 153 and Lee Highway in Chattanooga.
Bill Barber of Spring City is spearheading the effort, and he will be at both sessions along with another Spring City resident, professional dog trainer Hunter Payne, and Gary Sadler, an American Kennel Club field manager from Nashville. Anyone with even a passing interest in bird-dogging is urged to attend one of the meetings or to contact Barber at 423-365-6652 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
"The purpose of our organization," Barber explained, "is to provide an opportunity for East Tennessee pointing dog owners to participate in AKC-sanctioned hunt tests, field trials and training seminars. ... The organization and its events will be open to all pointing breeds and owners or handlers of all ages."
As far as Barber knows, the closest AKC field-oriented clubs are in Nashville, Atlanta and Louisville. His club is too new to have AKC sanctioning, but earning that is a priority, he said, so participants can score points toward national recognition.
The other prominent U.S. organization for pointing dogs is American Field, but its competition is geared toward the long-tailed traditional English Pointer and English Setter breeds. Those are welcome in the AKC trials but don't participate that much, Barber noted, with "Continental" breeds such as German Shorthaired Pointers, Vizslas and Weimaraners widely seen.
"American Field trials are usually hourlong horseback events. The dogs run far ahead, and you eventually catch up to them to see what they've found," Barber said. "Our desire in AKC events is to have a dog you can see. The dogs don't run as big as the English Pointers and English Setters, and you get to watch them in action."
Further, Barber pointed out, in the AKC trials even beginners and amateurs like him can compete and win placements and titles with their canine companions.
He and his fellow organizers envision holding "five or six" events a year, all on weekends.
Now 66 and retired from the Caterpillar company -- he settled in the Watts Bar Lake area because of his fondness for fishing vacations his family started taking there more than 50 years ago -- Barber has had a longtime interest in Weimaraners.
"There is nothing that compares to going afield with your own bird dog in pursuit of wild birds -- quail, woodcock or grouse," Barber said. "Watching him crash through the fields and down edges seeking the game he was bred to hunt -- finding and pointing with such incredible intensity, then joyfully retrieving the bird -- is an incredible joy to watch."
But places to hunt like that are few and far between now, and trips out West or even to regional shooting preserves can be very expensive. So the idea of holding events simulating the hunter-dog experience "within an hour or so from Chattanooga or Knoxville" was born.
"At this point we really want to make sure there are enough people in this area who want to do this," Barber said.