Friday, June 27, 2014

Maine Hunt Test

     The Maine Spaniel Field Trial Club hosted it's annual hunt test on the weekend of June 21st at Sugar Maple Farm in Hebron maine. The test saw a large variety of flushing dogs participating in every level. Saturday 45 dogs: 22 Springers, 19 Cockers, 2 Clumbers, 1 Golden Retriever, and 1 American water Spaniel took to the field for what proved to be a very long day. Sunday the entries thinned out a bit with only 37 dogs: 17 springers, 16 Cockers, 2 Clumbers, 1 Golden Retriever, and 1 American water Spaniel. Several of the entries were handled by junior handlers under the age of 14, all of whom showed an exceptional knowledge of spaniels and spaniel handling. In addition to being a test, the MSFTC was sure to keep this a social event too, and Saturday finished off with a pig roast, and refreshments.

     I learned a while ago that not all hunt tests are created equal. If you've ever really wanted to "test" your flushing dog, this is the event. The MSFTC really thought about what a spaniel should be able to do, and put together a challenging, yet fair test. The JH test was similar to most test; the land series being held in a field with adequate cover, and the water series being held on an open, slow moving section of a nearby river. Things got more difficult for the SH, and MH testing dogs. The SH test land series was held on a course in the woods with one gun walking the edge of the field, and the other in the woods. All the flushes were in the woods, but some of the marks fell in the field. The SH hunt dead was held in a reasonably thick section of woods, and the water mark held on a pond with a bit of cover in the water. The MH land series was held on a course with the centerline running along the woodline. one gun walked the field, while the other walked in the woods. To add to the difficulty, 10 yards inside the woodline was a stone wall which the dogs would have to cross as it quartered. The MH hunt dead was held in a depression with reasonably thick cover on Saturday, and across a slightly sloping, reasonably covered hillside with a stone wall on Sunday. The MH water mark was into the same pond as the SH test, but the MH water blind required the dog to swim across a pond with quite a bit of cover, and to continue it's search in the cover on the opposite side of the pond. While this test proved to be the toughest test we've yet to enter, none of the events were something any spaniel shouldn't be able to handle.

     Being a true test, things didn't go as well as quite a few, myself included, would have liked. For the most part, the JH dogs made it through. At the SH level we began to see a few more dogs getting dropped, but still a lot of qualifying scores. The MH level saw the most dogs being dropped with only 6 of the 14 dogs qualifying on Saturday, and 5 of the 13 dogs qualifying on Sunday. We failed to qualify on Saturday when Ginger could finish her hunt dead, which was in some cover in a depression with no wind blowing through to help out.

     Sunday we made it through, and Ginger earned her second MH qualifying score. Her land series wasn't pretty, and to be honest, I wasn't thrilled with her performance. She handled nicely, but I thought her steadiness could have been a little sharper. Moving on to the hunt dead, my faith in her was totally restored. The hunt dead required the dog to go straight out through a bit of a depression, over a stone wall, and then to carry a little further into the cover. Many dogs hang up when they encounter a wall, or any perpendicular changes in cover such as a hedgerow, or a stream, and will make a turn. Ginger took her line, crossed the wall, and disappeared in the cover, only to emerge a moment later, bird in mouth. I couldn't have been happier. Her water blind was almost identical with the exception of her getting a bit sideways off the line, and needing a couple of whistles to get her back on track. Our water mark was less than perfect, but I blame myself. Ginger marked the fall, and started off nicely. She was, however, pulled left by something about 2/3 of the way to the mark. Rather than letting her sort it out by herself, which I'm sure she would have quickly done, I pipped the whistle to turn her. As a result our score suffered because I handled her on a marked retrieve.

     When it was all said and done, I felt very satisfied with our result. This was a challenging test, and what I believe all tests should aspire to be. None of the events were anything a spaniel shouldn't be able to handle, and represents the type of challenges a spaniel hunting in New England is likely to encounter. I will definitely participate in this test again in the future.

Tossed a few bumpers for a bored dog between events.

Going out for the water mark, which is in the green cover.

MH qualifying score #2


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