One thing this past hunting season demonstrated is that hunting is not hunt testing. By that I mean that some of the skills we train for hunt tests are not the same skills that a good hunting dog needs. This is unfortunate since hunt tests originally started as a way to test the skills needed by a hunting dog. Unfortunately over the years hunt tests have evolved into mini field trials with trained skills being valued over instinct. This is particularly true at the Senior and Master hunt test levels. So many of the dogs running those tests never spend a day out hunting.
Thunder and Storm both had several hunting seasons under their belts by the time they ran the higher level hunt tests. Sometimes this hurt them at tests. For example, a hunting dog’s job is to find and retrieve all the birds. Hunters use dogs to minimize the number of birds they lose. A hunting dog will normally take the quickest route to the bird and the quickest route back so they can make the next retrieve. A hunting dog does not care if they swim parallel to a shore line because that is often not the quickest route. Running down the shore and jumping in the water may in fact be quicker. Chessie’s have been bred to be thinking dogs and they will often decide what is the best route to recover the bird and that hurts them in tests where they may be required to take a particular path.
Of course there are some skills which we train for hunt tests that are valuable for hunting dogs. Steadiness is definitely one of them because it is for the safety of the dog. You do not want a dog taking off after a bird while other birds are coming in and other hunters are still shooting. Recall is another. A hunting dog needs to come when called no matter what. There may be times when you call a dog off a retrieve for the safety of the dog. Recall is not negotiable. Handling is another skill that we train for hunt tests that is also valuable for a hunting dog. Being able to direct a dog to a bird that it did not see fall means the hunter does not have to wade or paddle out to retrieve it.
But the hunter does not want to have to handle the dog to every fall while hunting. A good hunting dog needs to be able to mark the fall of birds even if they fall off to the side or behind the dog.
Freighter as our third and youngest dog has the least hunting experience. He has spent a lot of his time training for hunt tests and compared to Thunder and Storm, is running higher level tests at a younger age. But during hunting season, it was clear that some of his hunt test training had not served him all that well for hunting. For example, at hunt tests great value is put on a dog sitting in one spot. But when you are hunting and the birds fall all around or even behind the dog, a dog sitting in one spot will miss them. This was a bit of a problem for Freighter this season because he had to be handled to those falls. Luckily the ability to watch for birds all around can be acquired through hunting experience and with Thunder and Storm aging, Freighter is sure to be tapped for a lot more hunting adventures.