Guns Up! Top U.S. Retrievers Meet in Kansas

“GUNS UP…DOG TO THE LINE.”  Those simple words may not mean much for many folks, but if you own a retriever breed of dog – whether they be Labrador, Chesapeake, Golden, Flat- or Curly-coat retrievers, Irish water or Boykin spaniels, even standard poodles – and you run hunting tests, these words mean you and your dog are about to have some fun.

Hunting tests were born from field trials where handlers and retrievers are tested on their ability to mark and retrieve live shot birds or thrown dead birds (sometimes out to 400 yards!) and handling their dog on blind retrieves. In a blind retrieve, the handler guides the dog to a bird it has not seen by with a system of whistles and hand signals

Field trial dogs compete for first, second, third and fourth places in the event. Trial placements accumulate points toward a dog receiving the title of Field Trial Champion or Amateur Field Trial Champion.

Ed Arnett, TRCP’s Director of the Center for Responsible Energy Development, with his dog Rip at an AKC Master National event. Photo courtesy of Ed Arnett.

Several decades ago, some avid hunters that trained their retrievers for hunting and field trials conjured up the idea of a program where trained retrievers were tested under various hunting situations and scored against a standard of performance, rather than a competition among dogs. Live birds are shot or dead birds thrown in similar ways to field trials but at shorter distances and in scenarios more resembling that of true hunting situations for either waterfowl or upland birds.

Today, the North American Hunting Retriever Club, the United Kennel Club, and American Kennel Club all administer hunting retriever tests. All have different levels for young dogs, those at a middle stage of their training, and the most advanced dogs that can do it all – triple or quadruple marked retrieves, complex blind retrieves, honoring (sitting still and watching while another dog is working), sitting still to a flushing bird – the polished hunting companion. For the AKC program, dogs are awarded a Junior, Senior or Master Hunting Retriever title after qualifying the appropriate numbers of tests.

The pinnacle of the AKC hunting test program is the Master National, where each year the best of the Master Hunting Retrievers gather to run a week-long event to see who is at the top of their game. A dog must pass at least six Master tests in the 12 months after the preceding years’ Master National in order to qualify to attend that years’ event.

Master Hunting Retrievers are tested to the maximum of the standard set by the AKC. To obtain this high standard, judges use terrain, wind direction and other factors when placing birds for marked and blind retrieves so as to provide a significant challenge for the dogs.

I have been running and judging AKC hunting retriever events since 1992. I started my life with retrievers in 1991 with the goal of having a good hunting companion. After reading several books and articles on training, I discovered the hunting test programs and once my new puppy was of age to run tests, I was hooked!

This year, I was honored with the opportunity to judge the prestigious Master National event, along with seven other retriever enthusiasts and dedicated judges. The popularity of the program and quality of dogs has increased dramatically and the number of Master Hunters qualifying for the National event has more than doubled in recent years. In 2013, the number of qualifying dogs exceeded 830.

We will test these dogs on land, in the water, and land/water combination. If a dog gets through a total of all the series of tests we throw at them, they will receive a qualifying score, a big orange ribbon and a silver plate. If a dog can pass the Master National at least three times, they will enter the Master National Hall of Fame.

The author’s dog, 2-time Master National Qualifier Merganser’s Classic Rip-N-Tear MH (1996-2007) Photo courtesy of Ed Arnett.

Why does any of this matter to the average sportsman andwhy is it important to conservation? Most hunters will tell you they just want a good huntin’ dog and don’t need to run trials. Running field trials or hunting tests no doubt takes time and money, and titles for the dog may not mean anything to most hunters – but it’s the training that is the most critical piece.

What represents “good” is in the eye of the beholder, but a well-trained retriever in the field is an extension of a good sportsman-conservationist. The ability for a retriever to mark birds and be handled to a crippled bird quickly is critically important for recovering all shot game.

While there are no valid statistics on the amount of lost game when hunters don’t use a dog, use a poorly trained dog, or one that is well-trained, my experience has been that having a well-trained retriever conserves game. I am far more likely to find a downed bird and retrieve all of my shot game when I have a well-trained retrieving machine with me in the field. I suspect if surveyed, most waterfowl and upland hunters would agree.

The 2013 AKC Master National runs from September 21st to the 29th in Fall River, Kan.  If you are nearby, come watch the best of the best retrievers in the country, or follow the action on the Master National website and blogWatch a little of this event, join a retriever club, and train for and run these tests – and you just might good hooked like I did!

TR Quote Friday

TR Quote Friday

Morel Mushrooms: Wild Game’s Best Friend

If you’re like me, you are always looking for different ways to prepare wild game. One of my favorite accompaniments to grilled elk is sautéed morel mushrooms.  Considered a delicacy in many parts of the world, morels have a delicious nutty flavor that pairs wonderfully with grilled backstrap, and they are a lot of fun to gather.

Two bags of morel mushrooms.

While expensive at the store, morels can be picked for free in the same woods where you hunt deer and elk. Morels appear in the spring months when the weather begins to warm, and can be found in cottonwood bottoms, woodlots and mountain forests. In the high elevations of the West, morels can be picked as late as July. As a general rule, when you’ve bagged your tom turkey, the time should be right for picking

Morels must always be cooked. Raw, they are toxic and will make you sick.

Morel pickers generally have their best luck finding the mushrooms in recently disturbed areas, such as forests that burned the previous summer, or in cottonwood bottoms with significant beaver activity. From my experience, fires can be the most productive morel picking areas and a single person can gather several pounds in a day if the conditions are favorable.

Morels can easily be dried in a food dehydrator and then stored for a long-time. I generally set aside a bowl of fresh morels to use in the near-term and I then dry the rest and use them for special occasions throughout the year.

If dehydrated, morels can be saved for a long time.

When grilling deer or elk steak, sauté onions and morels in butter and finish the mushrooms with a splash of sherry. When the onions are caramelized and the moisture is cooked out of the morels, I pile the mushrooms and onions on top of elk or venison steaks. The blend of flavors is hard to beat, and guests always ask for seconds.

Morels can be used in an almost endless array of meals. You can stuff them with sausage, use them in gravy and get fancy with French cuisine.

While morels are fairly easy to identify, always do your research and know what you are doing before eating wild mushrooms. Morels must be cooked before eaten. Raw morels contain a toxin that will make you sick. That toxin is removed when they are cooked.

Try morels with deer or elk steaks.

Check out our favorite morel recipes at Honest-food.net.

T.R.ivia: African Pet

Post the correct answer to win a copy of “Last Stand Ted Turner’s Quest to Save a Troubled Planet” by Todd Wilkinson.

Theodore Roosevelt kept which exotic African mammal as a pet?

Image Courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress.

T.R.ivia: Bull Terrier Bite

How well do you know T.R.? Give our Wednesday Win trivia challenge a try.  Roosevelt’s Bull Terrier, Peter, caused international drama when he________

Image courtesy of dogbreedinfo.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave us a comment below or email your answers to info@trcp.org by Friday for your chance to win a season one DVD of “MeatEater.

Farmers and Fishermen to Switch Places for Conservation Exchange

Why would a South Dakota farmer want to trade places with a Louisiana Gulf fisherman? The TRCP launched an exchange program this summer to answer that question and seek solutions to conserve America’s great native prairies and coastal waters.

In the TRCP “Barnyard to Boatyard Conservation Exchange,” three South Dakota farm couples will travel to Cocodrie, La., in July for a three-day educational outing to learn about the trials and triumphs of managing businesses reliant on healthy Louisiana Delta and Gulf of Mexico ecosystems, complete with a fishing trip along Louisiana’s Cajun bayous.

Subsequently, three couples engaged in commercial fishing, tourism and recreational fishing from the Louisiana Delta region will travel to Sioux Falls, S.D., in August to participate in an intensive, three-day briefing on the innovations and realities of grain and livestock farming and ranching, capped off by a trip to the Sioux Empire Fair.

In the nation’s capital and around the country, the TRCP works to strengthen laws, policies and practices affecting fish and wildlife conservation by leading partnerships that influence decision makers.

“Our hope is that these six couples will return to their communities and stress the need to take action to conserve our nation’s natural resources for future generations,” said Tim Kizer, private lands field coordinator for the TRCP. “This is not a quick fix. It will take time. Some long-held opinions and practices must change, but we are in this for the long haul. This exchange is about equipping people with the tools to make a difference for their own futures, as well as those of their children, neighbors and their new friends thousands of miles away.”

Reporters interested in attending the Barnyard to Boatyard Exchange should contact Cathryn Kennedy, cathryn@cathrynkennedy.com (612.309.3951); Pam McCarthy-Kern, pam.mck@earthlink.net (612-360-0647); Katherine McKalip, kmckalip@trcp.org (406.240.9262) or Tim Kizer, tkizer@trcp.org (479-530-8855).

Meet Dawn and Patrick Scheier

DAWN & PATRICK SCHEIER  (Pronunciation note: Scheier rhymes with tire.)

Scheier Farms: Near Salem, SD

Row Crops: Corn & Soybeans

Acreage: 1,600; also farm with brother for a total of 3,000 acres

Family: 3 adult children: Rebecca Lacey, 24; Ben & Brittany, 22. Ben is part-time farming with his parents.

History: Patrick is a fourth generation farmer. His great-grandfather homesteaded in South Dakota. Patrick grew up on the family farm five miles from his current farm. He started his own operation in 1980 and married Dawn in 1983. Both are full time farmers now. Previously they had operated cow-calf and hog operations.

Conservation: Some no till, shelter belts, & grass ditches

Why are you participating in the Conservation Exchange?

Dawn: I like to learn. TRCP is a lot about wildlife preservation, and South Dakota is a good hunting area. I also want to learn about the Dead Zone; we hear a lot that. They (Louisiana fishermen) provide food too. It will be interesting to see and hear their perspectives.

Patrick: The fishing interests me the most. I want to learn about that area – learn about governmental regulations they (Louisiana fishermen) face, environmental issues…what they go through. And they can learn about what it takes to farm here.

What Else: Dawn is a public speaking volunteer with Common Ground, a consumer education program about farming and how food is raised, funded through the corn and soybean check-off dollars.

July Fourth Giveaway

Do you want a chance to win the greatest book of hunting stories ever?

In celebration of America’s hunting heritage, we’re giving you a chance to win “The Gigantic Book of Hunting Stories.”

So why haven’t you signed up yet? (Trust us – it’s easy.)

Take 10 seconds and throw your name in right now.

Independence Day is a big deal and we want to give you an extra reason to celebrate.

Why I’m Not a Hunting Widow

In almost any small town across the US, there are a few things you can count on. Neighbors help each other. You will almost always meet someone you know at the grocery store. Lots of guys hunt. And many of their wives or girlfriends don’t.

I have often wondered if this gender gap is a holdover from our prehistoric hunter-gatherer days when physically stronger men did the majority of hunting, or if women in general find the testosterone fueled stereotype of hunting distasteful.

Whatever the cause, there is no shortage of “significant others” who stay home and disapprove of their guy disappearing each fall to hunt. But I am not one of them – I’m part of a small but growing number of women who refuse to become hunting widows, because we take to the field with, and without, our men.

While recent studies show the overall number of hunters in America is holding relatively steady, the percentage of new hunters that are women is increasing, and sporting journals are filled with speculation on the reasons behind this demographic shift.

While I don’t speak for everyone of my gender, I’d like to share a few reasons why I hunt:

  • I did not grow up in a hunting family; in fact, I didn’t begin hunting until I was in my mid-30’s.  As an adult, I started finding out more about factory farming and the conditions animals are raised in, which encouraged me to become personally responsible for my own meat. I value the knowledge that it has lived a natural life, is always taken under fair chase conditions, and is treated as respectfully as possible.
  •  You can’t beat wild game if you are looking for lean, truly organic meat.  With the growing awareness of genetically modified food, and the secondary effects of commercial food additives, I prefer to know that the meat I eat is free of these types of concerns.  Additionally, being a successful hunter here in the Rocky Mountain west means I’m going to be hiking multi-day backpack trips at high elevations, and that’s a pretty good incentive to eat healthy and stay fit year round.
  •  I’m not embarrassed to say I love the great hunting clothes available to women these days. There was a time when any camouflage clothing that fit the female figure wasn’t designed for rigorous in-the-field use; that level of performance could only be found in gear designed for a man’s body shape.  Happily, the days of rolling up the cuffs on your husband’s or brother’s hand-me-downs are over. Today, clothing companies are making camouflage specifically for us, providing both the fit and functionality we need.  And the fact they look great doesn’t hurt.
  •  There is so much more to hunting than the split second it takes to fire a rifle or release an arrow. There’s an entire spectrum of mutual experiences that bring my husband and I closer – the anticipation of drawing tags, the planning and preparation, and the days spent together in nature away from cell phones and email. To me, the most significant moments aren’t the ones captured in the “hero shots” of a successful hunt.  They are the nights spent on a mountaintop in a tiny tent during a spectacular thunderstorm, the delight in stumbling across a patch of ripe wild raspberries and sharing the quiet, unrivalled beauty of a sunrise with the most important person in my life.

Ladies, if you have never hunted, keep this in mind – women today can and do hunt without having to become “one of the guys.”  Whether you have the opportunity to take to the field with your husband as I do, or whether you join one of the many women’s hunting groups that are springing up across the country, don’t mentally write hunting off as a “guy’s only” activity; to do so is to shortchange yourself some of the great personal rewards and satisfaction that come with it.

Guest blogger Catherine Thagard is the wife and hunting partner of TRCP’s Western Outreach Director Neil Thagard.