We can’t say we were really looking forward to this last weekend. Carlin was entered in his first Master level spaniel hunt tests, but the weather forecast had the temperature soaring past 100° F for both days. And our training sessions leading up to this weekend were revealing a few possible gaps in our performance. Carlin (we) have improved in some areas, but are still sketchy in others. That combined with the fact that Carlin is a hot blooded dog who easily overheats, we were not primed for a successful weekend.
On the other hand, the hunt test grounds near Monmouth, Oregon are very familiar. The first time I was there was in December 2013 with the Mighty Coop. The high that day was only 9° F. In the photo below is a toasty Cooper and his birds, but with me bundled up with layers of long underwear, and topped with insulated overalls. Notice that I was wearing two hats, one with ear flaps.
The mighty Coop chillin’ with his birds
But back to Carlin and a hot hunt test put on by the Northwest English Springer Spaniel Club.
We started the morning with the field work. We were running last in the Masters, and so we got to start around 9:30 a.m. and in the mid 70°s F. Watching and waiting behind the 8 dogs ahead of us got on Carlin’s nerves, especially when he saw a bird fall and he was not called for the retrieve. And it got on my nerves with basic performance anxiety, as this was my first attempt at handling a dog at the Master level.
Carlin stays focused while we wait our turn to run
The field was thigh-high grass interspersed with tall groves of Scotch broom and blackberries. And it was uphill. Carlin put up his first bird within seconds, but the gunner missed it with both shots. As the bird flew away over the trees, I was so happy to see Carlin sitting and watching intently (steady to flush and shot). A fly-away is often a weak link for a dog, but Carlin did me proud.
I called him back to continue our run. Unfortunately, I did not cast him off in the opposite direction, so he immediately took off in the direction of the fly-away that he had watched and carefully tracked. Oops. A few whistles and a verbal comment got him back on course and hunting again. As Carlin and I rounded a large clump of Scotch broom, he put up another bird. The right hand gunner knocked it down as it glided downhill into a another clump off the course.
Carlin stayed steady, but the judges, who had still been behind the Scotch broom, could not see if the bird had been hit or was down. I made another mistake by saying that Carlin could find it rather than taking a pass on the retrieve. He just sat there while I chatted with the judges.
After a bit, they said go for it. So with the release command, off Carlin went. But it wasn’t a slam dunk. He took a good line but cut left about 80 yards away. I was thinking I really screwed this up by being over-confident in his ability. But he cut back right into the clump and after a long 30 seconds of my heart in my throat, he came trotting back with the bird and delivered smack into my hand. The gamble paid off, and we were onto the next series after the Seniors and Juniors finished their land series.
It was 1:30 p.m. by the time we ready to run our turn at the “hunt dead” series, and the temperature was now a balmy 103° F. We waited for our turn in the shade of some big maple trees, but when we came out to run we were hit with a blast furnace of sun and dead air. We had 5 minutes to find a dead planted pheasant about 65 yards out, and with me directing Carlin with hand signals and whistles from the line. He did it in just over 3 minutes. I immediately threw this hot dog into a stock tank full of water, where he relaxed and drank his fill.
So we qualified to run the water series. For the water work, the order was reversed, starting with Junior dogs and ending with Masters. Being we were the last Master in the queue, we were the last dog to run for the day. The water work started with a blind retrieve across the Luckiamute River, about 50 yards away, followed with a marked retrieve into the river.
Well, when we got to the line, Carlin locked on to the bird handlers and ignored my direction to the blind. He jumped in and swam about 45° off course, swimming about 80 yards downstream to the bird handlers. He struggled up the steep bank, did not find a bird, and so he looked back at me to tell him what to do next. I whistled him back into the water, and now he had to swim about 50 yards upstream to find the low bank on which the bird was hidden in the grass. He was spent, but at 5 minutes and 10 seconds on the clock, he found it, swam back, and delivered it to hand.
Did I mention the 5 minute limit? Even though we’d gone passed that, the judges let us proceed to the water retrieve, which was launched and shot by the very handlers that distracted him on the blind. So back into the water, cross the river, and back with another bird. Oh well, I was thinking, nice try.
At the ribbon ceremony, the Juniors got theirs first, next the Seniors, and then the Masters. No ribbon for Carlin. And then the surprise. One of the judges mentioned that they were a Master ribbon short, so the secretary went and got another orange ribbon. It turns out that the judges were impressed with Carlin’s persistence and not giving up after that long swim, so they decided to be flexible on the 5 minute limit. And considering how he smoked the land series, they gave us the benefit of the doubt and awarded Carlin his first Master pass.
A tired Carlin shows off his Master ribbon in the exact spot where Cooper showed off his pheasants in the first photo. The sweat on my brow is from the heat and the anxiety of watching Carlin’s water blinds.
Tomorrow is another chance for another ribbon, but no matter how tomorrow turns out, today was sweet indeed.