Beagle Field Trials: History of the Sport
Beagle field trials, a sport found only in the United States and Canada, started with this announcement in the Sunday Boston Herald on October 26, 1890: "A group of Beagle Owners would hold a Beagle field trial in Hyannis, Massachusetts, in a fortnight." This Group called themselves the National Beagle Club of America, and the advertised trial was held on November 4, 1890, with eighteen entries-fifteen dogs and three bitches.
Shortly thereafter, this group applied for membership in The American Kennel Club, which was then just six years old. They were denied because a group of show enthusiasts, known initially as the American English Beagle Club, already held membership.
The men in the National Beagle Club refused to give up. Finally, in May 1891, the American Beagle Club (formerly the American English Beagle Club) merged with the National Beagle Club. The new group called itself The National Beagle Club and it became the parent club for the breed. At that time, the AKC was completely show oriented, and an interesting sidelight on the club's admission to AKC membership was the AKC's strong objections to the parent club's involvement in both field trials and shows. H. F. Schellhass, then president and AKC delegate of the National, told the AKC:"This club was formed for improvement in the field and on the bench of the Beagle hound in America, and will enter the AKC with its constitution unchanged, if it enters at all. "The AKC dutifully backed off.
Three Formal Packs were entered at the National Beagle Club's meet in 1896. The traditional Forman Packs that were either privately opened or supported by subscription
from local Beagle devotees. The packs were foot handled, with the Huntsman and his (or her) assistants, called Whippers-in, all resplendent in green jackets, white pants, knickerbockers or skirts, and black velvet caps. Packs were identified by the uniquely colored piping on the Huntsman's jacket. As late a 1983 twenty-eight such packs were registered with that club. They were hunted as three-couple (6), four-couple (8), and eight --couple (16) packs. At a Formal Pack field trial, each pack was judged as a unit or team, and its performance was measured against that of other packs entered in the trial.
Participation in the sport of Formal Pack Beagling has always been limited to people with means. With the popularity of the Beagle, a new concept emerged in the early 1900s. Americans became interested in the development of an individual hound that could trail the hare or rabbit effectively and efficiently without the assistance of variously endowed pack mates. Beagles, selectively bred with this concept in mind, were referred to by the pack men as "singles." To this day, it is not unusual to hear this term on the running grounds of the National Beagle Club when reference is made to Beagle run in Braces.
In a sense the merits of a Formal Pack were to be discovered by testing, the traditional method of evaluating the abilities of working dogs, sporting dogs, and hounds. But rather
than putting them to tests, most Americans always preferred to put dogs in competition on a head-to-head basis. In fact, the AKC Beagle Field Trial Rules and Standard Procedures state it this way in the foreword: "The holding of field trials at which pure-bred dogs may be run in competition.... Has been found to be the best method by which the progress which has been made in breeding a be shown."
Early beaglers became aware that industrialization and development for business and housing were reducing the availability of hunting and training grounds. The purchase of land by Beagle clubs was encouraged and even mandated by the AKC. In contrast to field trials for breeds in which domestically raised game can be released for the trial, the Beagle field trial is limited to the pursuit of a quarry that must be acclimated to the terrain. Beaglers became ardent conservationists. Natural food and cover programs on the Beagle Club grounds became necessary to maintain a natural supply of rabbits for training and trialing. In many instances, clubs reclaimed marginal land; soil fertility was measured and improved; and the term "rabbit farming" became the byword at any progressive Beagle Club. Today more than 529 Beagle Clubs either own or lease land in excess of 150 acres each.
The building boom that followed World War II introduced hazards to Beagles intent on the chase. Too often the rabbit could take them across a new road or superhighway. Most clubs were forced to fence their land for the safety of the hounds. This, of course, also enclosed the rabbits, which then developed running traits quite unlike their "wild" cousins outside the enclosures.
In order to get hounds that could effectively trail the "enclosure" rabbit, houndsmen bred for a slower, more precise working dog. Gradually, the old, one-on-one competition was replaced by an appreciation of the "style" in which the field-trial Beagle tracked a rabbit. This was significant in light of the fact that nearly 90 percent of four hundred clubs holding AKC licensed trials in the '80s were running Brace events. At these trials the hounds whose "style" most impressed the judges were given the ribbons. Through selective breeding, the Beagles used at field trials and run in Braces became slow and meticulous tracking specialists.
However, the rabbit hunter, still the most numerous of all who take wild game in the United States, found that the slow "stylish" field-trial Beagle was totally undesirable as a hunting dog. By the early 1970s, the need developed for a real gundog, or hunting Beagle. This movement gathered momentum, and its breeding programs reflected the trend to hark back early days.
Meanwhile the situation was somewhat different for those northern clubs that ran their Hounds in Large Packs on hares. They continued to pride themselves justifiably on producing hunting Beagles and believed that their trials showed the Beagle to such an advantage.
The promoters of the "gundog" or "hunting Beagle," however, did not believe that the Large Pack was the most acceptable method to pursue the cottontail rabbit. Instead, they chose to use a running standard that was already in the AKC Rules. This was the Small Pack in which hounds are run on rabbits in packs of from three to seven hounds, with the judges selecting the outstanding performers to be run in a second series and then finally in a Winners Pack. To prove beyond a doubt that they were competing with "hunting Beagles, " the AKC in the late 1970s permitted the additional testing of their hounds for gun-shyness and searching ability in what became known as the Small Pack Option, the fifth type of competition for Beagles. By the end of 2001, 46% percent of all Beagle clubs were conducting licensed and sanctioned trials in this manner.
The beaglers desire to recognize Brace beagles that were actual hunting dogs vs. those beagles that had been breed to participate only in Brace trials led to the creation of another type of beagle field trial, the Gun Dog Brace. These dogs are cast to search and tested for gun dog brace.
Currently AKC offers four methods of beagle field trials:
Brace on Wild Rabbit or Hare (Gun Dog Brace)
Small Pack Option on Wild Rabbit or Hare
Large Pack on Wild Rabbit or Hare.
It is interesting to note that the members of the Beagle Advisory Committee have been working to develop a new trial method, that of the Two-coupled Pack. As with many other things, history is repeating itself in the Beagle world.
With the sport Beagle field trials so diversified, and with traditions dating back almost one hundred years, how could the AKC cope with its administration of the five distinctive competitive standards for Beagle trials, recognizing that pure-bred Beagles are the objects of competition in all four standards? It took a unique mechanism.
In order to understand this administrative evolution, the reader must know that an AKC Member parent club for any breed, such as the venerable National Beagle Club of America, has not only the responsibility to approve the dates of the events held by local clubs for its breed but also to propose the standards by which its breed is judged in conformation and performance.
In 1936 the National Beagle Club voted to abrogate part of its responsibilities as a parent club and ceased granting consent for field-trial dates. Instead they recommended that the AKC appoint a ten-member Advisory Committee from among the delegates of the Beagle AKC member clubs whose purpose would be to advise the AKC's Board of Directors on the matter of granting licenses for Beagle field trials. A member of the AKC's executive staff was to chair this Advisory Committee.
And so for 70 years a Beagle Advisory Committee (BAC) has been responsible for advising the AKC's Board of Directors on meeting the challenge of the administration of the sport of Beagle field trials. Evolution has played its part, and there have bben some significant changes in the BAC's structure. For instance, the committee consists of thirteen members, twelve of whom each represent some forty Beagle clubs from across the nation. The thirteenth committee member belongs to the National Beagle Club of America. An AKC executive still chairs the meeting. The system has worked well.
First AKC Brace Trials for Beagles
November 4, 1890 *National Beagle Club (18 starters)
November 1, 1893 Northwestern Beagle Club (10 starters)
November 6, 1893 **New England Beagle Club (21 starters)
November 6, 1896 **Central Beagle Club (15 starters)
*Current AKC member parent club
**Current AKC member club
Today the sport of Beagle field trials has something to offer any Beagle owner who can compete with his hound in any one of four different kinds of trials. One of the oldest types of trials is the Brace, in which the hounds compete by sex in pairs, or Braces, in pursuit of the cottontail rabbit. During the spring of 1999 the Beagle Advisory Committee added Gun Dog Brace where beagles are cast to search and tested for gun shyness. Hounds can also compete in Small pack or Small Pack Option. At these trials the Beagle are run in packs of 4 to 7 hounds, in the later the Beagles are tested for gun-shyness. In the northern tier of states, where the varying, or "snowshoe," hare is found, Beagles may be trialed in Large Packs, where a pack of thirty to sixty hounds or more in a single class is not uncommon.