The morning sun bounces off a field of waist-high hay, broom straw, and switchgrass creating a golden wave that sways with the wind. A shiny brown nose pierces the air above the winter stalks, twitching this way and that, then suddenly freezes. “Pshew. Pshew.” Doug Miller grabs Ike’s attention and repositions the German shorthaired pointer’s docked tail to stand tall. “Watch the wind boy, it’s changing,” the master instructs. Ike’s still as a stone pointing at a quail, while the duo practices for field trials—a non-kill competition showcasing a dog’s athleticism, stamina, and instinct to find a bird.
“You build this bond with them when they’re a puppy,” Doug explains. “A lot have that natural instinct to point birds, but to hold birds long enough for you to flush them, shoot them, and then retrieve, all of that is trained.” The liver-roan speckled stud continues to canvas the field, while littermates Minnie and Lucy bark back in their carriers, eager to get in the game. “Half of our time with the dogs is spent training, then we spend 30 percent in field trials, and 20 percent actually hunting,” Doug estimates. His wife, Heather, hikes near his side. Minnie’s her bitch. “I get so excited when I run my dog,” the outdoorsy brunette shares. “To see her do what she’s bred to do. When a dog points until the bird is flushed, and I walk up to her and tell her ‘whoa,’ and she knows I’m there without putting a hand on her. That’s a connection she and I have. It’s intense. It’s such a partnership.”
Photography by Paul Mehaffey
Common Scents Weekdays, Doug and Heather operate under titles that include manufacturing comptroller and public relations director. On weekends, it’s president and secretary of the Carolinas Pointing Dog Association. The Millers established the group in 2012, after growing weary of traveling to Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina for pointing-breed field trials, events that date back to Britain in 1866.
The gentleman’s hunting sport leapt across the pond after the Civil War. It was especially popular in South Carolina, with a then-heavy Bobwhite Quail population. Events would last for days, with dogs running full-speed across the vast countryside. Today, an estimated 2,000 regional groups and breed clubs are trying to revive the 150-year-old tradition under the umbrella of
the American Kennel Club and the American Field Sporting Dog Association. Nowadays, dogs wear tracking collars, with handlers trailing on foot, or on a Tennessee Walker. Two dogs enter the field at a time, competing against each other, in a trial that can last 30–60 minutes.
Pick of the Litter Shawn Harris and his vizsla, Fen (short for Fenway), have come down from Tega Cay, near Fort Mill, to train in Honea Path with the Millers. “These dogs are truly athletes,” he says, using a firm grip to hold onto an enthusiastic Fen. “You get to see what these dogs can do athletically and from a training standpoint. Breeding and genetics, you really get to see what you have. What’s your dog’s endurance? How well can they hunt? How smart are they? And you get to see how your dog stacks up.”
Shawn’s one of several dozen members in the Carolinas Pointing Dog Association, which includes rookies, amateurs, professional trainers, and hobbyists. The Millers landed a top dog with their first pointer Maebyn, who competed at nationals. Ike, Minnie, and Lucy are her offspring. “Oh, she loved to hunt,” Heather recalls of Mae. “She always held up her end of the bargain and found the bird. A handful of times when hunting, we would shoot and miss the bird, and she’d turn and look at you, and you could see clear as day the look on her face. She was like, ‘What? Why!’”
While adding to their human family with 16-month-old daughter Mary Lynn, the Millers hope to build upon Mae’s bloodline and beyond. “There’s a picture of me when I’m one-year-old, running around the backyard in a diaper with a litter of puppies,” reveals Doug. “I’ve been to a couple of field tests with guys in their late 80s still riding horses and running dogs. If the good Lord’s willing, I will be too.”