GWINN - A little over 50 years ago, when John Quigley was about 8 years old, his uncles took him rabbit hunting for the first time.
"I loved it and my uncles loved it and they would pick me up every weekend and we would go rabbit hunting," Quigley recalled.
During this time, one of Quigley's uncles gave him his first beagle. His experiences with rabbit hunting and running beagles led him into the field trial scene, where he received his first registered beagle in the early 1960s. He's been competing ever since.
John Quigley holds onto two of his beagles near his home in Gwinn recently. Quigley took first place in the 13-inch male category earlier this month at the Ishpeming Beagle Club. (Journal photo by Andy Nelson-Zaleski)
"This was a great opportunity to continue training even in the off season and it kept the dogs active rather than sitting in their pens," he said.
The off season or "quiet time," as it's known, is from mid April to early July. This is the time when most animals in the wild are having offspring and it is illegal to run dogs unless permitted - such as on the grounds of a beagle club.
"This is why I belong to a club," he said. "It gives me and my dogs the opportunity to train 12 months of the year in addition to the field trials."
Field trials are broken up into four different classes. There are 13-and 15-inch classes which are divided between males and females.
The measurement is taken from the top of the dog's shoulders to the ground. After the dogs are measured, separated into groups and numbered, they are ready to compete, Quigley said.
The field trials are meant to be kept as natural to a hunting situation as possible, he said.
"For instance, at the Ishpeming Beagle Club, where I took first place over the weekend (Feb. 12), has 120 or more acres of fence enclosure," he said.
The American Kennel Club requires that the beagles be on or chasing the game for a minimum of three hours.
"Realistically, the field trials run between four to five hours each," he said.
During the trials, each dog receives a number of points for completing tasks in a certain amount of time.
"During trial, each of the judges that sees a rabbit cross will go to the 'mark line' or where the rabbit crossed near the judge. The dog that crosses that line first will be given the highest score, the second dog less and so on down the line," Quigley said.
The most important and highest points received is for the dog who can pick up a lost scent.
"This occurs when the dogs lose the rabbit scent. The first dog that can pick up the lost scent and figure out the direction of the rabbit is awarded the most points," said Quigley.
There are also a number of factors that can eliminate a dog from the field trials. These include a dog not barking while on scent; a dog that continually barks; fighting dogs; and if the dog is caught cheating.
"The thing about beagles is their drive to be lead dog, this is what gets them in trouble," Quigley observed.
If the judge physically sees a dog pass or "skirt out" in front of the lead dog, this is considered cheating.
"If your dog is caught doing this three or four times, you are either going to be demerited in score or eliminated," he said.
The purpose of field trials is to eventually have your dog become recognized as an AKC field champion.
There are two criteria that a dog needs to become an AKC field champion. The first is receiving three field trial wins and the second is accumulating a minimum of 120 points within the dog's lifetime.
"Overall, it is more than just hunting or competing. I just enjoy getting out in the great outdoors with my dogs and having fun," Quigley said.
Andy Nelson-Zaleski can be reached at 906-228-2500 ext. 256. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.