Dogged Traditionalists

Esmont-Greenfields Field Trial Club invests in the future of the sport.

“Most of us grew up wild quail hunting and didn’t get into competing in field trials until there was nowhere to go hunting anymore,” says John Milton, owner of Greenfields Farm. 

Modern farming practices have reduced the bushy ground cover that Virginia native bobwhite quail need to thrive, leading to a more than 70 percent decrease in population since the 1960s, according to the Virginia Department of Inland Game and Fisheries. 

This means that quail hunters passionate about their dogs and the sport have had to find alternatives.

Tom Stargell and Til Hankley, both of Scottsville, were two such frustrated hunters. About 15 years ago, after wild quail had vanished from hunting grounds in central Virginia, they continued to work their dogs using planted pigeons and liberated quail. They realized that other quail hunters might want to do the same, so they started the Esmont Field Trials at Fulfillment Farm. 

They were right. Other quail hunters joined in, and in a couple of years the club moved the trials to Milton’s larger Greenfields Farm to facilitate more exciting competition.

“The thing that got Tommy and I and Til into field trialing was that we bird hunted when we were young people,” explains Milton. “They don’t have an opportunity to do that today, so that means it’s up to us to encourage youngsters and other people into the sport.” 

The club organizes two competitions annually—in the fall and spring. The spring event is a Purina Points trial, which means dogs may earn points to help them qualify for national invitational competitions. Competing at the highest level, the club has attracted some of the country’s top performing dogs, including Great River Ice, a pointer who was inducted into the Field Trial Hall of Fame earlier this year. 

Save the Date: The Eastern Open Shooting Dog Championship and the Art Hillhouse Amateur Shooting Dog Classic take place Feb. 12-14, 2018 at the  Dick Cross Wildlife Management Area in Mecklenburg County. For information about field trial clubs and upcoming events in Virginia, go to

Plus, don’t miss our December 2017 issue, featuring more on the annual Esmont-Greenfields Virginia Classics in Scottsville.

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