Guns Up!

| October 1, 2011 | 0 Comments
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About The Author

Janet Peters -

Janet Peters

Janet Peters has been on the Board of Directors of the Master National Retriever Club for the past 6 years and is the Immediate Past President. She has been a Hunt Test and show ring participant since 1987 and is an avid waterfowl and upland game hunter. Her breeding program carries the kennel name Caerleon and produces high quality show and hunting retrievers. You can find out more at Janet judged the Master National in 2005 and her husband Ron Sauls (also a hunter, hunt test participant, 2008 Master National judge) collaborated on this article. Ray Muth, John Marchica, and Russ Reavis were key contributors regarding the history of the Hunt Test program and the Master National.

A Little History

I know summer is just starting but still my mind leaps to leaves turning and those crisp, cool days and nights. And when I think of Fall, my thoughts wander to two things: the Master National and Bird Season – two of the best reasons to run hunt tests! So how did it all start anyway?

Back in 1980 a new magazine about retrievers and field trials called GUN DOG went into circulation. A frequent topic of the early contributing authors, Richard Wolters, Bill Tarrant, Mary Nelson, and Jim Spencer to name a few, was the apparent lack of “reality” in the field trial game. They all asked, “Where is the game going? 350-yard marks, 450- yard blinds, 450-yard marks, 500-yard blinds?” What does this have to do with hunting?” Their thoughts were that field trials should simulate as nearly as possible the conditions met in an ordinary day’s shoot. No shotgun can shoot that far and if you show up at the duck club in a white shirt, we’ll send you home – these were all common themes. Letters to the editors included both criticism and praise for these articles. New subscriptions were at record highs as the magazine was the talk of the retriever community.

About this time, G. Ray Arnett, Assistant Secretary of the Department of Interior in President Reagan’s administration, and Richard Wolters, author of the book GUN DOG, which shared its name with the magazine, got together for lunch. Ray was a devoted hunter and an old-line field trialer who ran a string of Labradors. He had dropped out of the licensed field trial game, not pleased with the direction it was going. As all hunting and fishing activities fell under Ray’s direction, he also had another concern – conservation of our gamebirds. Most state’s hunting laws had provisions that declared that a hunter could only take a specific number of ducks and/or geese (a limit). But he knew that if a bird was shot and wounded and not recovered, the hunter had a legal right to shoot another and another until he had recovered his bag limit. Ray viewed this as a terrible waste of our natural resources. He had a vision on how to preserve this resource and a way to get there.

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What Ray envisioned was an organization that would be dedicated to teaching the hunter how to train his dog to accomplish the job the dog was bred to perform, and thereby conserve our gamebirds. After much discussion, Wolters agreed and enlisted the support of George “Ned” Spear to develop such a program. Thus, the North American Hunting Retriever Association (NAHRA) was born.

Richard, Ned, and eight other volunteers, got to work designing the program – a noncompetitive concept that will interest the hunter in training his dog for the job it was born to do. In addition to their goal of getting hunters to train their retrievers to achieve game conservation, they wanted to establish a working stud book in order to preserve and promote hunting retriever stock in North America. The number of people involved at the beginning is small, but what they accomplished is great. The list includes Arnett, Wolters, Dave Meisner, Ned Spear, Omar Driskoll, John Krupp, David Maynard, David Follansbee, Jack Jagoda and Kent Repka.

In the beginning (the early and mid-1980’s) NAHRA and the AKC collaborated in the development of the Hunting Retriever program. The two organizations split amid much controversy that involved philosophical differences, personality clashes, lawsuits, and a great deal of animosity between some of the folks who pioneered the concept. Another major schism occurred when some of these pioneers split off and launched the UKC version of the non-competitive Hunting Retriever program. Some years later the Canadian Kennel Club launched a non-competitive Retriever Hunting Test program of their own that closely resembles the AKC program. Without getting into the reasons for the splits or the animosity, it’s sufficient to say that all three versions of the Hunting Test concept have their genesis in the work of Arnett, Wolters, Spear and a handful of others.

Where are we today? There are four organizations that sanction non-competitive hunting retriever events in North America: The North American Hunting Retriever Association (NAHRA) program; the AKC Hunt Test program; the United Kennel Club (UKC) program; and the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) program. All of these programs fill a need and can all trace their roots to those early debates on the pages of GUN DOG magazine, and the discussions between Richard Wolters, Ray Arnett, and Ned Spear. There are lots more people out there training their retrievers to be better bird finders than there would be if these programs did not exist.

The Birth of the Master National

So now we have the AKC Hunt Test program up and running, how did we get to the Master National? It may have been a logical progression for retriever enthusiasts who were saying “My dog has his Master Hunter Title, now what?” The AKC Performance Department, under the direction of Vice-President Bob McKeown and Treasurer Nelson Sills, started the event in an effort to keep folks who had earned their MH title playing the game. Another long story that I will make short, the Master National Retriever Club was formed and helped to develop the framework of the event and of itself and the first three events were held – 1988 in Virginia, 1989 in Mississippi, and 1990 in Wisconsin! And we’ve come a long way baby…

The Master National Today and Some New Happenings

The Master National Retriever Club (MNRC) was formed in the late 1980s and has evolved over the last 20 plus years. Its goal is to offer AKC Master Hunter dogs and their owners and handlers something beyond the AKC title of Master Hunter by holding an annual Master National Hunting Retriever Test (MNHRT). This National Hunt Test is normally held between September 15 and November 15 each year for those dogs that have a MH title and qualify in six tests during the prescribed time period – September 1 through August 31st. This is a recent change from our previous entry requirements of passing 5 out of 7 – aka the “batting average”.

The organization is overseen by an elected Board of Directors, which consists of a President, Secretary, Treasurer, four regional Vice Presidents and four regional Directors, and the immediate past president as ex-officio. The Board operates from a Constitution and By-Laws and a Policies and Procedures document that helps guide us through our activities during the year and mostly to ensure a well-planned, well-run annual event. The MNRC consists of member clubs from throughout the United States, who assign a delegate to represent them on all matters concerning the operation of the MNRC. Board members rotate through a fairly prescribed sequence of annual responsibilities that start with heading small functions and responsibilities such as “Throwers Committee Chair” for example, and culminate in more major responsibilities such as Chief Marshal for the event and MNRC President.

The event rotates from region to region and is put on by the MNRC and a “Host” Club from the respective region. The event in 2010 was held in Corning, California; the event in 2011 was held October 2nd through the 9th on the eastern shore of Maryland and the host club was the Susquehanna Retriever Club.

Remember, this is a non-competitive event and dogs that make it through the weeklong event, which is equivalent to 2 “high end” weekend hunt tests, are called Master National qualifiers and receive the coveted pewter plate. Additional awards are given for multiple-year qualifiers and a “Hall of Fame” has been established for dogs with 3 or more qualifications.

Judges for a particular year’s event are nominated by each region’s member clubs early the preceding year. To be nominated, a potential judge must meet the following basic qualifications:

  • Judged 8 Master Hunt Tests
  • Current with any and all AKC requirements for judges (seminars/tests)
  • Hold amateur status as defined by the AKC
  • Be in good standing with the AKC
  • Thoroughly experienced in the training, handling, and requirements of retriever work
  • Have the ability to work well with people
  • Handled a dog at MNHRT or previously judged the event prior to this requirement

Nominations are received and questionnaires are sent to the qualified potentials to see if they are interested and able to judge next year’s event. And from there, the final slate is prepared and distributed in advance of the annual event, where the judge to represent each region is voted on by the region’s member clubs.

Traditionally the test has been run via 2 flights or divisions of dogs with 2 judges for each flight. But we are the victims of our program’s success and now, with the blessing of the AKC, we are planning on running the event via 3 flights of dogs, again, with 2 judges per flight. We think this will allow for better scenarios that will allow for testing of these dogs at a level above the weekend hunt test and keep the downtime (time between running the series) to a minimum.

For the MNRC Board and the Host Club, months of planning and coordinating culminate in a week of set up and then a week of running the event. As stated before, the event is divided into 3 divisions and committee chairmen are designated from both the MNRC Board and the Host Clubs. The committees include the usual – Safety, Hospitality, Marshals, Bird Stewards, Bird Throwers, Gunners, Traffic, Equipment and Sound truck.

We are a volunteer organization and folks running the event are expected and do work throughout the testing week with Host Club and other members volunteering for set up week. We have in the past used “hired” labor with varying degrees of success. Recently, we have employed a system where clubs in the hosting region supply labor for specified days (usually folks who are not participating in the event) and the MNRC makes a donation to those clubs – a good fund raiser and we get an experienced work force.

All in all, it is 2 weeks of long days and short nights. Days filled with back breaking labor and constant efforts to improve or fix when we missed something or something changed. Not to mention taking care of the judges, participants, and each other. And sometime in all that ordered chaos, finding time to sneak away and train and take care of our own dogs. I find keeping a sense of humor is key. But there is an amazing support group here and all cheer when you do well and cry with you when things don’t go as we hoped. I am proud to be part of this phenomenal organization – my fellow Board Members and those running and working the event have become my family. I relish my time with those folks who love Fall for the same two reasons I do.

Category : Hunting

About the Author ()

I am one of the founders and editor of Retriever Life. My passion is Labradors of all sizes and shapes but I am a big fan of all the retriever breeds.

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