Dan Steingraber started out small but wanted to go big – really big.
The 56-year-old Oregon resident, who played baseball, football and hockey at Waite High School before graduating in 1975, owns his own real estate appraisal business, Steingraber and Associates, on Main Street in East Toledo. In his spare time he and his four-legged companion, named Scout, compete in dog bird hunting competitions.
Steingraber started hunting rabbits with his father, Bud, and grandfather, Gus, beginning at age 9. Their dog breed of choice back then was a beagle.
“We hunted around Northwest Ohio,” Steingraber said. “I’ve loved the interaction with the dogs and watching the dogs do what they were born to do.”
Steingraber and Scout — and Steingraber’s human partner, Kevin Keisel from Pennsylvania — competed in the United Field Trialers Association (UFTA) Flushing Doubles National Championship from Feb. 14-22 at the Doublehead Resort in Town Creek, Ala.
|United Field Trailers Association champion
Dan Steingraber and Scout.
“We’ve run dogs together for a long time,” Steingraber said, referring to Keisel.
Steingraber and Keisel competed against 47 other doubles teams to win the event, and the first-place price of $1,485.
“You get in a (hunting) blind and they set six (quail) in this field,” Steingraber said. “In doubles fields, they’re usually larger (birds) and it’s a 10- to 15-acre range. You and your partner get out of the blind with a judge. When you’re ready to go, you let the dog loose. Whoever’s dog finds the bird the fastest, with the least about of bullets, wins. Our time was 6:55.
“To win these big events, everything has to go perfect. It doesn’t go perfect that often, which is why you don’t win all these big events. We flushed them, shot them and (the dogs) retrieved them. All of the dogs at this level are great retrievers. Retrieving is not an issue. It usually comes down to shooting.”
Steingraber’s retriever on this occasion was his seven-year-old female Springer spaniel, Scout, who was raised by Steingraber since she was a pup.
“She’s just a heart-charger, just a million miles and hour,” said Steingraber, who used a 12-gauge Ruger over-under during the competition. “She’s my second Springer from the same breeder. I had a lot of success with the first one, Belle.”
The UFTA National Championship is one of the largest dog trials in the country, and Steingraber called his win there a “significant accomplishment.”
“I've been competing around the country for about 10 years,” he said, “and this is my first national championship.”
Steingraber said he has finished in the top 10 a few times and took seventh, with Belle, at the 2009 National Bird Dog Challenge Association World Championships in Iowa.
“Initially I was looking for a way to extend my hunting season,” he said. “There’s a group of hunting clubs that semi-circle south and west of Cleveland, and they run small local trials called hunter’s trials, which are judged events where they just judge the dog. I was having a significant amount of success in those.
“Through running in those, you hear from guys about other events. They used to have the Northwest Ohio Gun Dog Circuit, which was a small organization but was smiliar in format to the UFTA. We ran six tournaments a year in Northwest Ohio. Me and Belle were having a lot of success in those events. Belle is 14 now, but she’s not in competitions anymore.”
Steingraber, who ran for Lucas County Commissioner in 2010, said he was always looking for the next level of bird dog competition. He began competing locally, then regionally before moving on to the next level. That’s when he became involved with the National Bird Dog Challenge Association, which was founded in 1995.
“We started competing nationally around 2005 or ‘06,” Steingraber said. “We were competitive, just learning the game at that level. The highlight with Belle was making it to the finals of the world championships in 2009. We transitioned into UFTA because there were more local events and less travel.”
At the UFTA national event, doubles competition hunters have a 20-minute time limit to hunt and are allowed 12 shells. Steingraber said the rules simply come down to this: the team that finds and bags six birds the fastest and has the most shells left, wins. Hunters can either keep the birds or donate them locally.
“If you take more than one shot to kill a bird, you lose,” Steingraber said. “That’s how competitive it is. You make any mistakes at all, you lose.”
The dog’s performance is also key.
“The dogs must retrieve to within one step of you for full credit,” Steingraber said. “Each shell you use results in a deduction of points, as will a partial retrieve. Once you bag your sixth bird and leash your dog, the time stops and you are awarded 2 points for each minute you have left.”
Steingraber, who also competes in singles competitions, said his next event is in late March in West Liberty, Ohio. He and Scout have made it to the singles Nationals in four of the past six years, finishing as high as seventh.