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The Hunting Retriever Club Strikes Gold in California - News

The Hunting Retriever Club Strikes Gold in California   by Mark Plouffe

in News    (submitted 2012-06-06)

The Hunting Retriever Club (HRC) is without question an organization created by hunters for hunters. But underneath its camouflaged exterior, this popular hunting club has a lot to offer average retriever owners, too.

The Hunting Retriever Club arrived at sunrise, setting up their gun stations in the fields of Prado Basin in preparation for its inaugural hunt test in the state of California. History was being made, because the Hunting Retriever Club had never traveled this far west. Few knew what to expect: the tests would certainly be different than anything the American Kennel Club was doing, at least when it came to handling guns.

One-by-one, trucks and trailers from all points unknown, loaded with retrievers, shuttled into the grounds on the outskirts of this semi-sleepy city of Chino.

HRC hunt tests offer a varying degree of marks and blinds. Always expect the unexpected.

Obey the Rules

Hunting Retriever Club president, Mike Witt, was eager to explain how the club format works to a contingency of dog handlers now pacing closer to the proving grounds to get a good look at what their dogs were about to run.

"A steady dog," Witt shouted above the din of the crowd, "is going to keep you from getting your dog shot, or maybe even from shooting yourself in the foot," he said with a slight grin. Of course, Witt was referring to the golden rule that under live fire situations, dogs should never leave heel until commanded.

"My hope and desire is to bring more HRC tests to California next year," he said. "Our organization was conceived by hunters for hunters, and we are the only organization that discharges a firearm on the line," he added.

That's why the HRC is so firm on dog obedience, even though all of the guns were loaded with simple primers, not projectiles. Head judge and longtime professional trainer Steve Stevens of Riverside county backed Witt's message, reminding those within earshot that he's seen too many accidents by careless gun handlers, and on this day, Steve and Mike would be keeping an eye peeled for any flagrant disregard of the rules.

It's safe to note that exceptions to carry a gun can be made to those with disabilities if it prevents you from properly firing the weapon. The HRC is indeed flexible enough to accommodate just about everybody that wants to come out and play, not just hunters.

By now everyone was convinced that HRC's own special brand of hunt tests centered on the importance of gun safety and dog obedience. Witt peppered his moment on the mound with the notion that an HRC event wasn't simply a competition on marking, it was a real hunting experience, and no one would be spared his sermon about the dos and don'ts of a hunt test, no matter how knowledgeable they might be.

"Anywhere in the country if you are going to successfully hunt with a gun dog, the dog must be steady at the line," Witt said. "There's a lot of individuals that get away from the sport of hunting, and they may never get back into it again. They want to come to compete at an HRC event though because of our philosophy and instruction," he added.

The HRC Experience

Some say AKC competitions are more predictable than the HRC tests, and that could be true. With the AKC there are a given amount of birds that fall, and seldom do you see as many diversions being tossed out, unless you run AKC Masters. In contrast, the HRC expects all the handlers to expect the unexpected, load and fire the shotgun and return it breech-open to a safe position numerous times. In theory it's a simple format to follow, until you realize that the judges have their eyes trained on your trigger finger as much as on the dog!

Marylou Cox of Scottsdale, Arizona and her yellow Labrador named gauge were first-timer competitors.

Margo Ellis is a regional field representative for the HRC, and she's actively involved in setting up tests like the one at Prado. "HRC is affiliated with the United Kennel Club, and that intimidates some people because they know they will be handling a live gun. I think the turnout at Prado was outstanding for our first event," she said.

Depending on what part of the country an event is being held, HRC handlers may be asked to do something unique to the region. Technically you could start your dog knee deep in water. "If the hunt test is in Louisiana, for instance, we'll probably do a flooded timber hunt, and we tell you that on our premium," she added.

If you run AKC, you'll see a similar pecking order to the stakes, young dogs that are not able to be cast run in the Started division, more advanced dogs fall into a Seasoned category and finally top field dogs compete in Finished. To up the ante, top-tier Finished qualifiers can compete in premium stakes called Grand Nationals, akin to the AKC Master Nationals.

First-time competitor Marylou Cox of Scottsdale, Arizona summed it up this way, "I heard about the HRC test and to me part of the fun was that it wasn't the same old thing. I really liked how the HRC varied the marks and blinds. I'm going back to my training group and tell them we must do this."

There are clear differences between AKC, NARHA and HRC, but it doesn't make one better or worse than the other. Sure nuances mean a lot. But once you participate you'll see that it's really the same game, just the name has changed.

Photos by Caroline Fenton