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Posts Tagged ‘Master Hunter Upland Advanced’

After a long, very hot, dusty, and wildfire-smokey Labor Day at the Scatter Creek Wildlife Management Area in Rochester, Washington, I was tired. Carlin and I had just run his 10th passing master-level spaniel hunt test. He’d gotten to go swimming as part of the test, so he was refreshed, but I wasn’t.

I knew Carlin had passed the test. But I wasn’t sure that his scores were good enough to get that last high-scoring pass needed to qualify him for the Master Hunter Upland Advanced title.

After a dog gets a spaniel hunt test title, the dog can earn an “Advanced” title at that same level. So, for example, a spaniel that has earned a Junior Hunter can earn a Junior Hunter Advanced. (For dogs classified as retrievers, as are Irish Water Spaniels, the titles would be JHU and JHUA, for Junior Hunter Upland and Junior Hunter Upland Advanced, respectively.)

To earn these Advanced titles, the dog must first have earned the initial title with however many passes that takes. So, for a Master Hunter title, the dog needs to earn 5 Master Hunter passes. Then, the dog needs to earn that number again, but this time each a with score averaging 8 or more.

While ribbons were being given out, Russ went and found the judges’ score sheets, and did some quick calculations. Carlin, despite having hopped a foot out of position on one of his bird flushes, and despite an ugly hunt dead portion of the test, had squeaked by with an average of 8.25

So, that was it. Carlin had earned the highest possible title in spaniel hunting tests. More than two years of testing and three of training, working toward this goal. And we finally made it.

I cried and hugged Russ, the judges, my trainer, Carlin, the test secretary, and just about anyone else who looked like they wouldn’t mind being hugged.

Here are the tests he qualified in for the MHUA title:

Master Hunter Upland pass 6Missouri Headwaters Gun Dog Club – May 21, 2017
Average score: 9.33

Master Hunter Upland pass 7 – Cascade English Cocker Spaniel Fanciers – May 26, 2017
Average score: 9.2

Master Hunter Upland pass 8Cascade English Cocker Spaniel Fanciers – May 27, 2017
Average score: 8.9

Master Hunter Upland pass 9 – Clumber Spaniel Club of America – September 2, 2017
Average score: 8.63

Master Hunter Upland pass 10 – Puget Sound English Springer Spaniel Club – September 4, 2017
Average score: 8.25

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As I left the master upland course on Day 1, a member of the gallery stepped up to whisper in my ear. “The rules require you to aim the gun. Don’t forget.”

And all of a sudden I realized that I had not aimed the gun the day before. When a dog flushes a bird, the handler in a master upland test is supposed to follow the flight of the bird with the muzzle of an unloaded gun and pretend to shoot the bird. The official gunners do the actual shooting, but the handler must create the most realistic picture possible for the dog to test his steadiness to flush and shot. And I forgot.

And then I realized that the nice lady reminding me of the rules was also one of the judges for the Day 2 test. I had darn well better remember. I could lose points for forgetting, especially after that reminder.

The flushing portion of 2nd test put on the by the Cascade English Cocker Spaniel Fanciers was pretty much the same as the first day. It was hot, perhaps even a touch hotter. The course was a long horseshoe shape. The breeze was squirreley and inconsistent. Carlin ran 4th.

He found birds much more quickly on this course. His first flush was a flyaway, a chukar that could not be shot because it flew over the following gallery of observers. I remembered to aim the gun, though. Carlin was steady out in the field, and then returned to me when I called. I gave him a drink of water, and sent him off for the next bird.

His second chukar was a trap. He tried to flush it. It hopped about a foot away. He tried to flush it again, but the bird wasn’t flying. So he grabbed it up and brought it to me.

So at this point, the judges had seen a couple bird-findings, one flush, and one steady to flush. They’d seen him deliver a bird to my hand. But they hadn’t seen him be steady to a shot and dropped bird. The could have had Carlin go out and find a third bird, and hope that it would flush into a position where it could be safely shot. But the morning was wearing on and getting hotter, and the light breeze was likely to push a flushed bird out over the gallery again. So they decided not to risk it.

The judges had me get Carlin into place next to me, facing off the course. One of the judges walked about 35 yards off the course and threw a live bird into the air. I reminded Carlin to sit, aimed my unloaded gun, and the judge threw the bird. The gunner shot the bird, and it fell. And Carlin sat.

Finally after seeing that Carlin was steady to shot and fall, the judge tapped my shoulder, and I sent Carlin on the retrieve.

He took a line to the bird, but went out too far. So I whistled him in a bit, and he winded it. That chukar he delivered to hand, too.

So we were done with the flushing part of the test. On to the hunt dead.

This hunt dead was tougher than the previous day’s — it took Carlin 3 minutes and 40 seconds to find and return the bird. I sent him a few degrees downwind of where I thought the bird was located, but he decided to hook a left, go downwind even farther, and then go a bit too far out. I handled him back to an area more directly between me and the bird, and told him to go back, but then he went out too far again. I called him in a little bit, and he came too close to me. Argh!

I stopped him, took a breath, and then sent him back. Finally this time he caught wind of the chukar and found it. Later I was advised that perhaps it would have been better to do less handling and more waiting for him to find it on his own, but this was the first time in a long time that I’d seen him take so long to find a dead bird. Oh well. We passed the hunt dead, so it was on to the water.

Carlin’s water test was much less dramatic than the previous day’s. No running down the bank to find Russ, for one thing. When I sent him on the blind retrieve, he got right into the water, but then swam across the creek to where the previous day’s bird had been. Fortunately, he happily took my handle over to where this test’s bird was located. Again, he thought he had to get up onto the land to grab the bird just at the water’s edge, but that was OK.

His marked retrieve was excellent. I aimed the gun, the bird went up and splashed down, and Carlin was steady. The judge tapped me, I sent Carlin, and when I released him, he flew into the water. Mere moments later, the bird was in my hand. Carlin shook the water off his coat, and we left the area with a nice round of applause.

Carlin, Cascade English Cocker Spaniel Fanciers, May 27, 2017

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Russ had completed Carlin’s Master Hunter Upland title in Montana, so we decided that I would be the one to handle him (we hope) to his Master Hunter Upland Advanced title. It would make a nice ending bookend, with my having started him out by putting his Junior Hunter Upland title on him back about 1-3/4 years ago.

Before the test started, I was nervous. I hadn’t handled him successfully in anything since his Rally Novice title last November. But I’d seen how well he’d done in Montana with finding birds, being steady, and retrieving to hand. So I hoped that if one of the team weren’t that experienced, the other member might be able to carry us through.

It was was hot at the Scatter Creek Wildlife Recreation Area. In May, it’s supposed to be at least somewhat cool, but not this year. It was forecast to get up to 86 degrees F, and Carlin is a hot dog. He got so hot in the 65 degree weather in Montana that we kept him mostly soaked the whole time he was running. And this test, put on by the Cascade English Cocker Spaniel Fanciers, was no different. Fortunately, the club supplied tubs of water at the beginning of the course that handlers could use to cool their dogs.

You can see the start flags and the two judges in the photo above. Carlin and I were first in the running order. We walked to the start line, and chatted briefly with the judges. And then came the news that we would have to wait. Somehow, the judges hadn’t gotten their scoring books, and we had to wait while the club secretary quickly put them together.

Finally, after about 10 minutes, the judges had their books. They handed me the gun, and told me to send Carlin when I was ready. So I did, and he was off.

Carlin quartered the course beautifully. I whistled him a few times to turn or to come closer to me, but mostly he went back and forth across the course several times on his own. But he wasn’t finding any birds. That’s very odd. He usually finds birds as soon as there is one to find. It was only then that some in the following gallery realized that while we were waiting for the judges books to be put together, the planted chukars must have began to wake up to their surroundings and walk off the course.

Finally, about a quarter of the way down the very long, horse-shoe-shaped course, Carlin found and flushed his first bird.

I shouldn’t have been, but I was so busy goggling at Carlin flushing a bird that I forgot to whistle him to sit on the flush. Fortunately, like I said earlier, one-half the team had it together, and Carlin sat on his own. And he kept sitting while the chukar flew away over gallery, preventing a safe shot.

Carlin’s next bird (like most of the birds that morning) was a trap. It wouldn’t fly, so Carlin just grabbed it up on the run, kept going a few paces, and then turned and brought the bird to me.

Having seen Carlin find birds, flush one, be steady to wing and shot, and deliver two birds to hand, the judges told me that they had seen enough. So we were done with the flushing part of the test. On to the hunt dead.

I don’t have any pictures of the rest of the test, unfortunately. But the hunt dead went well. Like all the other dogs, he went out and found the bird steward’s bag of birds first, so I had to give him an “Over” command to send him downwind a bit to catch the scent of the bird I wanted. But even with that, it took him all of 30 seconds to run out the 65 yards and bring back my dead bird.

The next portion was the water test. For master dogs, there are two parts to this. One is the blind water retrieve. In this case, a dead bird was hidden at the edge of the other side of the swollen creek, and Carlin was supposed to go get it.

This was nerve-wracking. Unbeknownst to me, about 15 yards upwind and down the shore on our side of the creek, Russ was helping out, hidden with a basket of birds, waiting to launch them out into the pond for the marked water retrieve. So what did Carlin do? Instead of jumping into the creek to go over to the other side to retrieve the hidden bird, he ran straight down shore to Russ. That’s not totally unreasonable, as there were hidden birds there. But it’s not the direction I sent him.

I whistled him back to me, but I had to be careful not to do anything even remotely resembling getting him back to my side. If I did that, and sent him again to the bird hidden across the creek, that would be a double send and we’d fail the test.

So when Carlin came back to me, I jumped sideways about 5 feet and told Carlin to go “Over” without waiting for him to stop. This is called a handle. A handle happens after a send at some distance from the dog, so it’s not a re-send. Fortunately, he decided to jump into the creek and swim over to other side.

He found the bird over there. Eventually. He could have found it right away if he’d just looked for it at the edge of the creek, where it was hidden in some tall grassy stuff. But no, he had to climb up onto the shore, clamber among the broken tree limbs and branches, and splash around in the flooded areas. I gave him another handle, he went to where I indicated, and found his by-now soggy chukar. Which, thankfully, he brought right back to me.

photo by Dan Rotter

So now it was onto that last bird. Would he break, or would he be steady for the launch of the bird, the shot, and the splash in the water? The bird went up, the gun went off, and bird landed, and Carlin, bless him, sat while I waited for the judge to tap me.

But there was no tap. I could see out of the corner of my eye that the judge was too far away to tap me, so I gambled that by then, Carlin had demonstrated his steadiness, and I sent him.

photo by Dan Rotter

Carlin threw himself into the water with a dramatic leap, grabbed up the bird, and brought it back to me.

photo by Dan Rotter

And we were done. I knew we’d passed the test. Now the only question was: were his scores high enough to qualify toward a Master Hunter Upland Advanced title? To earn that, he has to pass 5 master tests, each with an average of 8 out of 10 poimts overall in 5 categories being judged: hunting, bird finding, bird flushing, trained abilities, and retrieving.

Master Hunter Upland pass, Cascade English Cocker Spaniel Fanciers, May 26, 2017

Later, after all the scores were tabulated, we found that yes, Carlin had averaged just over 9 out of 10 for this test. So we were happy and tired, celebrated a bit with some other competitors from Idaho, and then crawled off the hotel room for a shower and bed.

We’d need our sleep if were were going to do the whole thing over the next day.

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