Envision 600 or more acres of rolling hills, cultivated fields, crisscrossed with row cuts, four or five ponds laid out with points, peninsulas and cover, each separated by a stand of woods – all this custom designed for retriever field trial and hunt test events on state-owned land in North Carolina.
This is the vision of a group of retriever enthusiasts from across the state, and it carries the early blessing of several members of the N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission.
The ball was put in motion last week to make the retriever facility a reality. More than a dozen representatives of retriever clubs met with three commission staffers at the WRC building on the Centennial Campus at N.C. State University.
The next step will be on May 30 and June 1 when WRC staff attend a retriever field trial and hunt test at Rocky Point in Pender County, a few miles west of Wilmington. Several members of the retriever organization will accompany commission staffers for a tour of state-owned game lands to determine if any would be suitable for the retriever event site.
The Raleigh meeting also saw the birth of the Old North State Retriever Association, whose purpose “is to develop and promote field performance of the retriever breeds and to work with the WRC to promote the development of state owned retriever hunt test and field trial grounds.”
ONSRA is the birth-child of Dr. Mac DuBose, a veteran field trainer from Hillsborough. He and his wife, Len, have handled a number of Labrador Retrievers to national titles. The new retriever group will consist of two members from every retriever club in North Carolina including field trial, hunt test, hunting retrievers and specialty retriever clubs. The state already has an extensive facility for bird dog training and trials in the Sandhills near Southern Pines.
John W. Thomas Jr., a resident of Rocky Point who is spearheading the retriever site movement, predicts that the community near the site will reap strong economic benefits.
“One hundred fifty people or more will attend a trial,” he said. “It will also bring people from the north for the winter to buy or lease land adjacent to the event area. It also would attract national events for field trials and hunt tests and bring 400 to 500 people or more for a week or two. The economic fallout for restaurants and hotels would be tremendous.”
The North Carolina retriever grounds are expected to be modeled after H. Cooper Black Jr. Memorial Field Trial and Recreation Area, a South Carolina maintained facility near Cheraw. Cooper Black covers 7,000 acres of pine forests and fields. For years it has been used by North Carolina clubs for retriever events and has been the setting for national field trial and retriever competitions.
The Cooper Black area also has extensive equestrian facilities including 20 miles of trails and sandy roads, stables, corrals and arenas. It contains 27 sites with electrical and water hookups, two comfort stations with hot showers and a meeting hall. Hunting and fishing are permitted at Cooper Black when no dog or horse events are in progress. Bird hunting is prohibited. Several ponds, numerous fields and a kennel are maintained for retriever and bird dog events and training.
Isaac Harrold, land program manager for the WRC, said last week’s meeting with retriever club members is a “listening session to gather your thoughts and opinions on the various elements that should be considered as part of our evaluation. In other words, what do you consider to be the most important elements necessary to support hunt tests/retriever field trials?”
Thomas, also a veteran of the field trial circuit who has handled Labs to championship titles, said at least 600 acres with four or five ponds and fields would be necessary. The fields would be at least 400 yards long and the ponds 500 yards. Up to four stakes would be run simultaneously. The property would be used every fall and spring weekend for events and daily for training.
The ONSRA will meet again with the WRC in late June.