After spending the previous two winters sitting on the bench as Creston assistant boys basketball coach, Kristopher “Kritter” Hayes spent the majority of this winter traveling to different Pheasant Hunters Unlimited hunting competitions.
In the circuit-style competition, Hayes entered last weekend’s national event in Hamilton, Ill., with a chance to win the PHU National Championship for High Point Dog with his Brittany Rizzo.
Things seemed to be going well, until a stroke of bad luck fell upon Hayes in one of his final runs with Rizzo.
“We had a great run going the second time, but my first time out had some bad luck,” Hayes said. “We found all our birds, but on one of them, she had a trap.”
Rizzo pointed the bird, but ran up on top of the bird, so when the pheasant flushed, Rizzo grabbed the bird, causing Hayes to lose points for the dog pointing the bird.
Hayes and Rizzo ended up finishing second in the season-long High Point Dog competition.
The High Point Dog competition is a season-long event that is based on points scored at the different stops on the circuit.
Scores from last weekend’s Nationals were included in the final scores. In total, there were four stops on the circuit after one event was cancelled because of the weather.
Dogs and hunters are scored based on a hunting situation in the field, in which the dog must point all three birds and the hunter must shoot all three birds, with the dog retrieving each bird.
The hunter is given six shells to use in the field to shoot the three birds. Each run lasts 20 minutes, and hunters and dogs are also awarded points based on speed.
“A clean run would be three pointed birds, three shots, three full retrieves and three bagged birds,” Hayes said. “If you get those three birds with the three shots and the dog will point them and hold point, then fully retrieve it to your hand, you’ve got a clean run. If I have a five-minute clean run, I’m going to score pretty good.”
Hayes ran three dogs in each event throughout the year. Along with finishing second in the High Point Dog competition with Rizzo, he also finished third in that event with his dog Chip. Hayes placed fourth overall at Nationals with Chip.
With the number of wild birds dwindling in the state of Iowa, Hayes said participating in these competitions not only gets his dogs out into the field in a hunting situation, but also places dog and hunter in a pressure situation.
“If you know you’ve got a clean run going and you’ve got that first bird within a minute or so, the heartbeat starts pumping,” he said. “Because you know if you get that second bird clean, there’s a lot of pressure and you get nervous. Even professional trainers that are out there, they’ll have bad luck every now and then. You get to that third bird and the pressure’s on because there’s money on the line and the prestige.”
Last weekend’s Nationals wasn’t the first time Hayes has found himself in a pressure situation at a hunting competition.
He started competing in hunting events in 2005 with his first Brittany Daisy. In 2009, Hayes and Rizzo won the Bird Dog Challenge Top Gun Amateur Pointing national championship, competing against 30 other dogs and hunters from around the nation.
Hayes said he enjoys these competitions, because unlike other events like American Kennel Club, these competitions require teamwork between dog and hunter.
“That’s where it separates from AKC, where you’re on horseback without a gun and you’re watching the dog work,” he said. “The hunter is involved, too. It’s a mixture of handling the dog, but the dog is the one with the nose and you have to trust your bird dog. My shooting is involved in more of an actual real hunting situation.”
Hayes said the idea behind these competitions is simple — getting people out into the field.
“It’s a family-oriented deal,” he said. “There’s kids out in the field. Fathers and daughters and mothers and daughters and sons. It’s a neat family event that people can get involved with. You’re involved with your dog. It’s not just your dog out there.”
Competing in these events is a great way to get your dog out in the field and have fun competing at the same time.
“If you’re competitive and you’ve invested money into your bird dogs, it’s a way to get out there and have fun training your dog,” Hayes said. “Especially in Iowa, where there aren’t many wild birds to hunt anymore.”
Hayes said he hopes to see more people get involved in the hunting competitions in the future.
“Hopefully people can be aware that there are events out there for the hunter,” he said. “If you have bird dogs and you’re frustrated there aren’t a lot of birds, get to hunt clubs and see if there are trials you can go to and get your kids involved. These events are very family friendly and they have different divisions. It’s a fun deal.”