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Darin Larvik had no choice.
William Densmore and Georgia Larvik received awards for their 4-H field trial performances. Standing behind them are judges Teddi Montes-Botham and Vic Retherford. - Submitted photo
The 4-H leader had to make history if he wanted to achieve his objective.
Larvik wanted to enter the members of his Sagebrush Pointers club in a 4-H dog field trial competition.
He could not find one so he organized what may be the first 4-H club dog field trial anywhere in Oregon.
The field trial was recently conducted just south of the La Grande city limits off Bushnell Lane.
It was a lively contest, one in which dogs ran excitedly and pointed, pigeons flew and blank-filled starter pistols were fired. Among all this the 4-H dog handlers displayed poise beyond their years.
“I was so impressed, the kids showed so much potential,’’ said Teddi Montes-Botham of Cove, who with Vic Retherford of Baker City, judged the competition.
The entrants, all members of Larvik’s Sagebrush Pointers 4-H club, were responsible for getting Brittanys they trained to find homing pigeons hidden in vegetation by Larvik. The pigeons stayed in place because they had been made temporarily dizzy.
The Brittanys were responsible for finding the hidden birds and holding a point. The competitors then walked up to the brush and gently shook it, causing the birds to fly to a nearby coop that had food and water.
Next the 4-H members would fire a blank-filled starter pistol to indicate they were starting to pursue another pigeon.
The 4-H youths were judged primarily on how well they handled their dogs. Competitors were responsible for things such as keeping their dog in front of them.
Georgia Larvik walks downhill with a blank-filled starter pistol during a field trial on the south edge of La Grande. - Submitted photo
“A dog is not going to do you any good pointing at a bird 100 yards behind you,’’ Botham said.
Judges monitored how many times youths had to correct their dogs and why. The judges then talked to the handlers following the competition. In some instances they talked to them during the competition, but this had to rarely be done because the youths did so well, Larvik said.
“The judges did a great job. They really helped keep the (kids’) spirits up and offered very constructive advice,’’ Larvik said.
The biggest challenge the young handlers faced was having the confidence to let their Brittanys run free.
“The hardest thing is letting your dog do its job and not interfere,’’ Botham said.
She explained that youths in field trials are often worried that if their dog runs off, “it will disappear off the face of the earth.’’
Handlers actually have nothing to worry about.
“They are not going to do this if you have a relationship with the dog,” said Botham, who has been judging 4-H dog events for at least 25 years. “That (the relationship) is your 1,000-foot invisible leash from heart to heart. You have to take a deep breath and let your dog do its job.’’
Botham noted that hunting dogs look upon their handlers as the leader of their pack, a guarantee that they will not run off.
She noted that pointing dogs like Brittanys want to do nothing more than find birds.
“They are lean, mean bird-finding machines.’’
Field trials have been conducted for well over a century as a means of testing for breeding stock. The La Grande 4-H field trial was put on with help from the Oregon Brittany Club.
4-H leader Darin Larvik checks William Densmore’s Brittany before a recent field trial. - The Observer/DICK MASON
Larvik hopes that the training members of his Sagebrush Pointers 4-H club receive will help them develop skills needed to become humane dog trainers as adults and upland game bird hunters.
Larvik also has been providing shotgun training sessions for his club. The youths learn how to handle guns safely and shoot sporting clays at the La Grande Gun Club. Larvik began providing this training after receiving instruction at a 4-H shooting sports training camp in Eugene.
Botham said Larvik is to be commended for going many extra miles to start up the Sagebrush Pointers and keep it operating.
“He’s the guy,’’ she said.
Botham said the lessons members of the Sagebrush Pointers club are learning from Larvik will help them keep the sport of bird hunting alive and provide the youths immeasurable benefits.
“They are learning about responsibility, how to control their emotions, defeat, communicating with an animal which doesn’t speak English. They are learning about life,’’ Botham said.