The Retriever Hunt Test Study Guide

By Ryan Eder

The most famous line from any bird hunter is “I don’t care about ribbons; I just want a hunting dog”. This was me when I got my first dog as well! The truth is that hunt tests provide a fantastic off-season activity for you and your hunting dog, as well as provide excellent guidelines and resources to help you train your dog at the highest possible level. After all, the more trained your dog is, the more enjoyable your time in the field with that dog will be.

In my honest opinion I feel people avoid hunt tests because there is a lack of education about these events for people to review and gain interest. I have found hunt tests to be enjoyable both in the dog work as well as the people. If more hunting dog owners realized this, I would have to assume more would partake. In terms of retrievers, the two most popular retriever hunt test organizations are The American Kennel Club (AKC) and the Hunting Retriever Club (HRC). There are more, but these are two most popular around the country.

The AKC is the kennel registry here in the United States. The HRC events are sanctioned through the United Kennel Club (UKC). Both organizations allow dogs to participate in hunt test events and earn titles that go on the dog’s pedigree as an accomplishment. Where most people get confused is knowing what each test offers, what levels a dog can run in these events and what are the criteria at each level. Let’s take a look at both AKC and HRC hunt tests and breakout what tests are offered, and what is required of you and your dog.

Up front I would like to point out some of the differences between an AKC test and HRC test beginning with the fact that HRC tests have simulated gunfire at or near the line using primer shells. AKC tests do not; rather, gunfire takes place in the stations that the marks are being thrown from. Each level has more differences, but fundamentally that is a major difference between HRC and AKC. This article will examine the tests from a basic overview standpoint; further details can be found on each organization’s website and rulebook.

Junior and Started Level Hunt Tests
The AKC retriever hunt tests start at the “Junior” level. HRC tests start at the “Started” level. Both tests consist of two (2) land marks and two (2) water marks; all of which are run as single marks. At both the junior and started level, the handler is allowed to hold the dog’s collar to ensure steadiness at the line. The goals of these tests are to expose dogs to the hunt test environment and evaluate their ability to mark a fallen bird. This may sound simple, however if you attend a test you will see just how challenging a single mark can be when you take in all considerations such as the hunt test environment, wind, cover, terrain and water.

Again, the AKC test will have each station that throws the bird blow a duck call to get the dogs attention (so will HRC) as well as shoot a blank primer shell when the bird is thrown. Both the call and shot will help your dog identify where the mark is coming from. In HRC, the gun shot (also a primer) will be shot from the line slightly to the side of the working dog.

Senior and Seasoned Level
The next levels begin to incorporate other elements of retriever work such as double marked retrieves, blind retrieves and even honoring another working dog. In both Senior (AKC) and Seasoned (HRC) a dog is asked to perform a double marked retrieve and run a blind retrieve as well on both land and water. In both tests, the blind retrieve will not be heavily influenced by the marks and will take place outside of the marks. Dogs are also asked to perform what is called a “walk up”; a mark that is thrown while the dog is walking and heeling next to the handler and asked to sit steady once the mark is thrown, mark the fall, and make the retrieve.

In AKC Senior tests, your dog is also asked to honor a working dog while off lead (this does not happen in HRC Seasoned tests). In HRC, the handler is also handling a gun and shooting primer shells at each of the marks, as well as a diversion shot. In AKC, the handler simply holds a wooden gun and all shots take place from the gunner stations.

Master and Finished Level
Both the AKC and HRC offer a test that is considered their most advanced test. The AKC offers the Master level test, and HRC offers the Finished level test. At these levels, dogs are running triple marked retrieves, as well as a blind on land and water. AKC Master tests actually will have a double blind in one of the series most often. HRC Finished tests have 2 series; a land and water series both with a triple retrieve, a blind, diversion shot and an honor (honor is in one series only). The AKC test is 3 series; land, water and whatever the judge chooses! Dogs also need to honor in one series.

The marks and blinds at both of these levels can be complex, requiring dogs to demonstrate tremendous control, memory and handling skills. Dogs that are titled in either of these venues at this level are a very special animal!

The purpose of this article was to provide a very basic and generic overview of AKC and HRC retriever hunt tests. In my experience, people we meet at training events gain interest in these venues once they understand more about what is offered, and what is required. It is my hope that you take this information, and continue to look into both venues to run your dog and progress not only their training, but your abilities as a handler! You will see dividends paid in the field as a result!