It’s not many times a national champion calls Fort Mill home, but for Roy anywhere there are birds to flush out he feels at home.
Roy, whose full name is At’a Boy Roy, is an English Pointer owned by Fort Mill native George Kimbrell, a second generation bird dog trainer and field trial participant. This year, he and Roy brought home the National Shooting Dog Championships.
Roy has been bird hunting since he was a puppy and Kimbrell said right now he is in his prime at 7-years-old.
“That is when they can do some winning for you,” he said.
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In fact, Roy has 26 wins to his credit for Kimbrell, including the Region III Shooting Dog Championship, which makes him the best field trial dog in Delaware, Virginia and the Carolinas. Like in NASCAR, field trial hunting has a points system and Roy is currently ranked second in points in the country.
For Kimbrell, winning the National Shooting Dog Championship was a big deal as an amateur. For nearly 20 years, Kimbrell was a professional field trial participant and lived on the road most weekends for nearly six months out of the year, but once he and wife, Julie had their son, Jack, he retired from it until about 2007.
Instead of getting back into the sport as a professional, he decided to stay an amateur because that meant less travel and expense. When he does participate in field trials, he normally enters about five dogs.
“Most field trials I do now are local within three hours,” he said. “And I’m normally gone Thursday through Sunday October through March.”
But of all the dogs he has trained over the years, Roy has stood out. For most bird dogs, the training begins between 6 and 8 weeks old. From that point, they eventually compete in the puppy stakes, which would be for rookie dogs. They will then spend a year in that before moving up to derby stakes. After a year in derby stakes, they will become a certified shooting dog by age 3.
“It’s kind of like high school, college and then minor leagues for baseball players,” said Jack Kimbrell.
The Kimbrells have 30 acres of farmland to help train Roy and their other dogs, but they also spend time training in North Dakota over the summer.
“It’s like riding a bike,” George said. “Some dogs pick it up quicker than others. Some take longer. You have to keep working them their whole life. They are like an athlete. They have to work out every day.”
How the sport works is, birds are released into the wild and then the dogs are let go to find them. Kimbrell follows on horseback and once Roy or another dog spots the birds they point. Kimbrell then has to get off his horse and flush the birds out and the process starts over again. Judges look for things like the number of birds found and dog's pointing style.
While the sport is still very popular in other southern states like Georgia and Alabama, Kimbrell said it is a dying out in South Carolina. At 49-years-old, Kimbrell said that he is the youngest of most competitors in field trial events. His son, Jack, who is 18, said he would like to follow his father in the sport and be a third generation competitor. He currently serves as a scout for his dad helping him during competitions.
“A scout isn’t supposed to be seen in what he is doing,” he said. “He is kind of like a spy.”
The season is over for now, but come October, Kimbrell and son will load dogs and a horse up in a trailer pulled by and RV and hit the road yet again on the weekends. And Roy will be right there as well ready to flush some birds and put on another winning performance.
Mac Banks: firstname.lastname@example.org, @MacBanksFM