One of the things about field trials that escape the minds of many folks is that the vast majority of the credit from a win rests squarely on the withers of the dog and not the shoulders of the owner. A wise man owns a good dog and feels blessed for the experience, and a fool owns a great one and thinks, “Everybody will know me now!” I do not mean to imply that there is no training that goes into the formation of a hunting dog. Indeed there is plenty of training. There is also lots of conditioning. This is especially true for beagles. Many times a beagle trial ends in the afternoon heat and the best conditioned dog will rise to the top.
That being said, we all know that the dogs are competing. It is their heightened sense of smell, their ability to find game, and their desire that results in the stamina necessary to succeed. Genetics plays a big part in this, and even the best trainers can’t make a champion out of a mediocre or substandard dog. I feel that the bulk of a beagler’s job is being a taxi that takes the beasts to the briars. Throughout the summer months the taxi service at my home leaves every morning, an hour before daybreak. I set the alarm every night, which is to say that I leave the door to the bedroom open. Sure enough, an hour before dawn, without failure, the hounds will abandon the living room couch, walk into the bedroom, and sound the alarm clock. The alarm is a chaotic mix of excited whimpers and a flopping on the bed that looks as if they have taken a fit of some sort, rolling over me and my wife, Renee, in a series of gyrations that are intense and designed to end our slumber. We have a Tempurpedic bed too—the brand with the commercial has the woman jumping on the mattress and the wine glass won’t spill. Three beagles waking me to chase rabbits can roll across the bed and spill a wine glass that is setting on the kitchen table downstairs.
It is worth noting that this alarm clock has no snooze bar. It can’t be turned off. On a rainy morning I can hear the sound of a steady drizzle pounding upon the air conditioner that is stuffed into our window and I will try to pull the blankets over my head and weather the storm of canine paws upon my head. Protecting my head from paws is no use, as my wife will turn her body perpendicular to mine and use her feet to push me out of bed, knowing that if I walk downstairs the beagles will follow. I load my passengers into the dog taxi and head to the beagle club. That’s the bulk of what we can do—get the dogs in shape.
The breeder, however, deserves more credit. They have decided what hounds might produce the best combination of genes in a litter. Andy Purnell bred his own champions, and he was good at the process of determining the best potential mates. When he passed away he had a couple female beagles that looked like very promising candidates for the title of Field Champion—Pearl, who needed one win; and Gem who had plenty of places in trials but no wins. There are a bunch of guys that served our job as taxis for these two hounds. Gem got two wins in a hurry at the start of this year’s field trial season. Lisa Purnell, Andy’s widow, finished Pearl with a win at the Northeast Beagle Gundog Federation this past spring on May 31st. Gem placed second that day because her kennel mate beat her, but she finished as a champion on Oct 11th at West Mayfield Beagle Club, handled by Cody Mathis. Gems and pearls are precious stones, and Gem and Pearl are precious hounds to those of us that knew Andy. The field trial season is over, for the most part, and certainly would be for Andy. The Pennsylvania rabbit season opens this Saturday. Hunting is in the air now, and the hours of conditioning will soon pay off, as hound song echoes through the vibrantly colored hills while the rabbits are circled to the gun I will quote Andy here, “Dude, it’s time to stop chasing ribbons and start shooting rabbits.” That is true enough, but the season will have its best days on those few occasions when I get the chance to hunt over the field champions that he masterfully raised from the day they were born.
In memory of Andy Purnell.
For other great articles from Bob Ford, check out his Beagle Tales series!