Jason Williams rides out with two English Pointers at the breakaway (when the dogs are released at the start of a one hour heat.)

Seabring Davis

Other Contributions

Beyond the Cabin A Fine Balance Good Country Authentically Western A Home for the Ages Where the Living is Easy Music in the Mountains The Flight of the Hummingbird Living the Dream Integrating Nature Mountain Exposure Eclectic Parkitecture Uniting Color Historic Symmetry The Year Of The Horse A Yellowstone Club Retreat Hearth and Soul Building a Timeless Legacy An Uncommon Cabin in the Woods Timeless Fusion Mountain Tradition A Modern Vision Summer Camp Perfect Harmony Winter Getaway: Red Lodge, Montana Western Design: Refined Rustic Letter from the Editor: Winter Wave Letter from the Editor: Blending Seasons Western Design: A New Mountain Lodge Western Design: Historic Haven Western Design: In the Studio with the Viers Western Focus: Classic Connection: Miller Architects Western Design: Reviving the Barn From the Editor: Seasons of Simplicity Dining Out: Innovation Meets Tradition at Bisl Letter from the Editor: What is art? Dining Out: Holland Lake Lodge, Rustic Wonderful Letter from the Editor: The Secret Weapon Letter from the Editor: Fly Fishing for the Greater Good Western Design: Mountain Zen Western Design: Creekside Contemporary Living Big Sky on HGTV The Spirit of the West in Jackson, Wyoming Letter from the Editor: First Snow Dining Out: The Old Hotel Letter from the Editor: Signs of Summer Letter from the Editor: The Angler’s Sojourn Dining Out: Simply Good Food From the Editor: Hit the Road Making a Statement: Miller Architects Letter from the Editor: Winter’s Toll Letter from the Editor: Evolving Home Dining Out: Comfort Food Western Design: Cowboy Modern Western Design: The Idaho Club Letter from the Editor: Talking Art Dining Out: Conserving Montana One Table at a Time Dining Out: Cosmopolitan Cuisine at TEN Dining Out: Ranch to Restaurant Letter from the Editor: Waiting for Summer Letter from the Editor: Arts Economy Letter from the Editor: First Frost Letter from the Editor: Why Art? Letter from the Editor: Up Close and Personal Letter from the Editor: A Tradition of Talent Letter from the Editor: Winter Reflection Dining Out: The Taste of Whitefish Letter from the Editor: How Big is Your Bucket Letter from the Editor: Falling Short Western Design: Rustic Allure Dining Out: Fish Food Western Design: In the Studio with Painter Hugh Wilson Western Design: Home Base From the Editor Dining Out: Tradition, with a Twist Letter from the Editor: I Know Where the Fish Are Letter from the Editor: Big Sky Country Letter from the Editor: Forging Ahead Dining Out: Barn Dance Letter from the Editor: Like an Open Road Letter from the Editor: The Language of Fishing Letter from the Editor: Cast Again Editor’s Letter: The Passing Season Dining Out: Saffron Table Dining Out: Lone Mountain Ranch Serves Up a Sense of Place Western Design: Uniquely Rustic Western Design: JLF & Associates Letter from the Editor: Season of Possibility Dining Out: A Montana Tradition, Chico Hot Springs Letter from the Editor: Design Trends Dining Out: The Ranch at Rock Creek Redefines Montana Cuisine Dining Out: Seasonal Bliss Letter from the Editor: Staying Power

When the sun comes up on the rolling hills near Circle, Montana, the shadows are long and dew hangs on the prairie grass. The morning is cool and windless. Camp comes to life as hushed voices greet each other while saddling horses and warming up the dogs for the day’s running at the Montana Open Shooting Dog Championship (MTSDCHAMP).

Each year in late August, MTSDCHAMP, hosted by the Big Sky Field Trial Club, draws people from all over the country. The three-day event for professional and amateur field trials covers roughly 13,000 acres. Landowners grant access to upwards of 18 consecutive sections of property in the Buffalo Creek Drainage, some of the North Country’s best upland bird habitat. In 2010, the nationally sanctioned event saw 63 dogs entered and more than 50 sportsmen in attendance.

Field trialing is more than a century old and steeped in tradition. There’s talk of breeding lines, of training technique and the intricacies of handling. It’s a wild bird hunt and a dog on dog challenge. The premise is simple: Take the dog out to find the birds.

Professional trainer and handler Travis Gelhaus has a moment with liver and white English Pointer Zumbro Ace.

Left: Multiple time champion English Pointer Zumbro Ace breaks from the line during the third heat of the morning striving for another win. • Center: the "chain gang" of English Pointers and English Setters howl with delight while chained up in camp. • Right: Point! English Pointer Badger of Circle Kennels stand on point exhibiting the intensity and instinct of selective field trial breeding. Owned and handled by Tom Nygard.

In field trialing the thrill is not in the kill, but in the hunt. At the MTSDCHAMP, trials start by 6:30 a.m. to beat the summer heat; they break during the middle of the day and start a second round of braces in the evening. To begin the day, two dogs are set to run a one-hour course. Competing against each other to find wild sharptails, Hungarian partridge and pheasant, the dogs are judged on their running style, as well as hunting technique and pointing style. The goal is to point birds, be steady to flush and shot. Speed is a factor, but ultimately finesse is the skill that distinguishes a winning dog. Handlers, judges, reporters and the gallery of spectators trail the dogs on horseback.

The anticipation at the line of each brace is heady. The dogs quiver, awaiting their handlers’ signal. Once they are off, they rush ahead, all senses engaged and on the run. Each heat covers three to five miles; the dogs search the grassy wickets, riders following.  Handlers, judges, reporters, and the gallery of spectators trail the dogs on horseback.

Tom Nygard brings English Pointer registered name I B Anxious, call name Badger, 2010 National Amateur Chicken Champion, to the line for the first heat of the first brace of the morning.

"The field" of handlers, owners, judges, and spectators upon gaited horses rides to the lines for the first brace of the morning.

The birds hunker down. The grass bends in a breeze. The day warms. Suspense transfers to the air on each turn within the brace until a perfect serendipitous rhythm emerges between dog and man, man and nature.

At its core, field trials are about the synergy and simplicity of the dog and his handler. There's more to winning than just finding birds. There’s breeding, there’s style, there’s control. In the field, all of that comes together, all the hours of training coalesce into one moment.

The dogs — sleek, muscular and keen — weave through the country, noses to the breeze. There is the feeling that in this moment every ounce of dog is doing what it was made to do. The dog’s instinct is in play, every sense is engaged. Seek. Find. Point.

"Hopefuls in the making" seek attention at the kennel fence. English Pointer pups bred specifically for field trials by Tom and Shannon Nygard of Circle Kennels in Bozeman, Montana.

Moonrise over the prairie in eastern Montana. Dogs are fed and kenneled; horses are watered, fed and staked out; and handlers, owners, spectators and judges will soon enjoy a cocktail after a great day of field trialing.