Here and There, Part One

The Hunting scene in much of Europe mirrors that of North America in many important ways. For example, the average age, gender, socio-economic status of the average hunter there is about the same as it is here (basically white, middle aged males of average or slightly above average socio-economic standing). Hunters in Europe struggle with many of the same issues that we do here; loss of habitat, decreases in (some) game numbers, increases in anti-hunting initiatives, urban sprawl etc. and the overall number of hunters in Europe and in North America are declining at about the same rate.

One bright spot on both sides of the ocean however is the increase in the number of woman hunters taking to the field. I wrote about one very special women who only started hunting last year, at the age of, well let's just say 'over 40'.

The ratio of hunters to non-hunters is about the same in France (1:48) and Spain (1:41) as in the US (1:42). But in countries like Norway and Finland, there are about twice as many hunters, proportionally, than in the US (Norway 1:24, Finland 1:17) Surprisingly, Ireland leads the pack with a 1:12 ratio of hunter to non-hunter and Germany is well down the list with a ratio of 1:233.

Dutch Huntress, hunting woodcock
in Canada with an English Setter
bred in France, from Italian lines. 
When it comes to our sporting dogs and field trials,  the stats are a bit harder to parse, but the overall number of sporting dogs registered seems to be in steep decline on both sides of the ocean. I was just digging through registration numbers for English Setters the other day and I saw that the numbers of registrations in Italy dropped from a high of 19,775 in 2003, to 12,536 in 2013.

In North America, I saw a similar decline. When I looked at FDSB numbers, for example I found that from a total number of about 20,000 dogs (of all breeds) registered per year around 1990, the numbers fell to about 10,000 per year in the early 2000s and were only 5500 in 2012. Please note: these are ball park estimates of registrations only. There is no way to know how many dogs were whelped but not registered. The numbers given also represent registrations per year for all the breeds that the FDSB recognizes. However, I assume that the majority are Pointers and Setters and that there are roughly equal numbers of those breeds registered with the FDSB every year.

AKC numbers are harder to figure out since that organization no longer publishes stats for any breed. Instead, they now provide a list of 'most popular breeds' without divulging any actual numbers. Terrierman feels that the reason they won't publish numbers is that they don't want the public to see the nose dive they are taking. In fact, he wrote that if things keep going the way they are now, the AKC could be out of business in 2025. In any case, the number of AKC Pointers has always been pretty small, and the number of AKC setters is probably in just as steep decline as the other breeds. In England, the number of English Setters being registered has fallen to such low numbers that the Kennel Club declared the breed 'at risk of extinction' in 2012.

Field trial numbers are equally hard to figure out. In North America, there are several different organizations sponsoring a wide variety of trials in many different areas. The overall scene seems to be vibrant and trials are quite popular in many areas. Personally, I think the North American field trial scene is fantastic. I am a fan of all the various formats and wish I had a dog that was actually competitive in them. I also believe that North American field trials are one of the most effective systems ever devised of selecting top knotch hunting dogs. No other system on the planet produces dogs with the kind of endurance, 'grit', and stamina that our best Pointers and setters possess. And no other system on earth produces dogs with the sort of style we prefer either. America produces awesome dogs, especially for American (and Canadian!) sportsmen and women. The combination of extreme competition entered into by capable dog men maintaining highly focussed breeding programs fuels the production of awesome dogs that are perfectly matched to the game, terrain, culture and market they are intended for.

Field trial near Broomhill, Manitoba
In Europe the same thing applies. To the surprise of many folks in North America, there is actually a large and dynamic field trial scene in Europe that stretches across most of continent. From the south of Spain to the north of France, to Italy, Poland, Croatia, Greece and Scandinavia, trials are run almost year round in one region or another on wild and released game (actually planting birds is illegal in most places). Euro trial sizes range from less than a dozen dogs run on single day to literally hundreds of dogs run over a week or more. And, like our system here, the combination of extreme competition entered into by capable dog men running highly focussed breeding programs fuels the production of very good dogs that are perfectly matched to the game, terrain, culture and market they are intended for.

Brittany running in a field trial in the north of France

Unfortunately, on both sides of the ocean, it is hard not to see a slow decline in all aspects of the outdoor sporting scene. Every year I attend trials here, or there, I notice that the judges, handlers and gallery have a few more grey hairs (as do I) and I also notice in most years there are not quite as many trials scheduled as in years past.

So I guess if I could sum it all up, I would say that when you compare the sporting culture of North America and Europe, the differences are what you notice first. It's like watching American football and Rugby. Its hard not to see how different they appear. But when you look a little closer you realize that the similarities far outweigh the differences. Both are extreme athletic pursuits that separate the men from the boys real quick. And if you look close enough, you see that Football and Rugby, North American sporting culture and European sporting culture are basically a question of 'same church, different pew'. Both demand and produce excellence. Both honour, respect and reflect the traditions and cultures in which they thrive and both, to me at least, are absolutely fascinating to study.

American and European hunting cultures:
the similarities far outweigh the differences.
Bottom line: Millions of men and women on both sides of the ocean enjoy outdoor sport. The most dedicated among them devote their lives to their sport, and the rest of us benefit from the hard work and dedication they provide. America has no shortage of such people. We've produced some of the most dedicated, talented and skillful breeders, handlers and judges in the world and their hard work allows sportsmen and women in North America and beyond to enjoy days afield with some of the finest sporting dogs in the world.

But no part of the world has a monopoly on hard work or dedication or talent or skill. So no matter where you find dedicated, talented and skillful breeders, handlers and judges you will probably find sportsmen and women enjoying days afield with some of the finest sporting dogs in the world, dogs that are perfectly matched to the game, terrain, culture and market they are intended for.

One of my favourite images from my Prairie Dogs photo essay.
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