By Kevin Eickman
There are certain things that scream Delmarva, one of them is waterfowl. With an abundance of natural resources, water fowling represents a great way for local residents to enjoy the outdoors in our local area. One aspect of waterfowl hunting that can go without being noticed, is the retrieval of a duck or goose after it has been harvested. With dense cover and wet and treacherous conditions, it is often impossible or impracticable for a hunter to even get to the bird. Retrievers are well suited to the task, and when trained properly are a joy to watch.
Even the best dog, when left to their own devices will find trouble. So the key to having a solid working retriever, is training and hard work. While the waterfowl season may last only a few months, training takes a year round commitment on the part of a dog owner.
One way that a dog and handler can keep their skills sharp, is an AKC hunt test. It is an event that is eligible to numerous, registered AKC breeds. The event has three categories, junior, senior and master and at each level the dog is required to make retrieves of varying degrees of difficulty. These events are judged on a pass or fail basis only, and once a dog passes the prescribed number of tests, they earn the title Junior, Senior of Master “Hunter.”
While titles may be a part of it, for the most part this is about quality time. Quality time with family and friends, some with two legs and some with four. The events give anyone who loves working with their dog, a chance at a great day outdoors, as well as a chance to honestly evaluate them in a hunting situation.
The weekend of June 1, the Maryland Retrieve Club, held their spring Hunt Test at the Johnson farm in Greenwood Delaware. Talking with event chairmen Bob Tebbens, it became apparent that these hunts take a lot of preparation. “There is a great deal of work that has to be done by so many people, without volunteers, none of this would happen.” Tebbens added “The fact that Joe Johnson allows us to use this wonderful facility, is chief among them.” The list of volunteers was long, and even included ROTC members from Sussex Tech to handle the gun stations.
There were dogs and trainers from in and around the local area, as expertise of all levels received their opportunity. Mark Frederick of Smyrna brought his Master Hunter companion “Rip” down for the test. “This is such a great way to spend your time, we get a chance to get out and have a great day,” stated Frederick. When asked what he liked most about the event, Frederick was quick to respond “The people that are involved with this sport are great, we make friends here that will last us a lifetime.”
While this may be old hat for a season veteran like Frederick, another appeal to the sport is that almost anyone can participate. Twelve-year-old Michele Pagan of Chestertown Maryland participated with her golden retriever “Gringo” in the junior test. This qualifies Pagan to work towards her own title as well, that of “Junior Handler” giving her scholarship opportunities in the future. Pagan loves working with dogs and really likes hunt tests. “It’s so much fun, I love to do it,” states Pagan. “ I really enjoy working with the dogs, it’s just something I love to do.”
There is one common denominator in all the dogs that are successful, they have owners that are committed to them. Club president Wendy Buckler says that it takes work to get a dog to be a successful hunt test participant. “The owners have to spend lots of time and really care about their animals.” stated Buckler. “It’s not something that you can just do, you have to work, and work hard at it, but the rewards are tremendous.”