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Field Trials & Hunting Tests


What's in them for you?

Waterfowl Magazine - December/January 1992-93

Debra Folsom

Debra Folsom competing in an AKC hunt test. The use of duck calls and blind screens more resemble hunting situations.

The retriever sports have been growing by leaps and bounds in the last couple of years. With the arrival of the "hunting tests" there has been much enthusiasm exhibited by hunters and retriever enthusiasts throughout the nation. It has

become very confusing for the novice as to what a hunt test actually is, and how do they differ from field trials? Unfortunately when hunting tests were first developed, many of the participants and outdoor writers writing about them tried to prove there value by comparing their sport to retriever field trials in a derogatory manner. They even went as far as saying the mechanical field trial dog probably couldn't pass a hunting test. Fortunately this has been proven wrong as there are dogs that hold titles from both sports. The hunting test has matured into a very valuable, retriever sport in its own league and not at the expense of Retriever field trials.


So then, what is the difference, and what is in it for you, the average hunter? Retriever field trials are so misunderstood that I get customers who phone and say, "I don't want a dog that's out of field trial lines, I just want a good ole huntin' dog."Retriever field trials began on the estates of gentleman. Some of these early enthusiasts imported lines of dogs from England, and Scotland and had professional trainers handle the dogs. Only later did the actual owners begin handling the dogs in trials, and thus came the first Amateur stakes and Amateur field champions. The first trials were very rudimentary and probably simpler than a senior level hunting test.


As the skills of the trainers progressed, and the abilities of the dogs increased, through selective breeding and training, the field trial tests became more and more complex. The tests are designed to test the maximum abilities of the handlers and dogs and do not necessarily resemble an actual hunting situation. Usually the retrievers work at greater distances than are encountered in a hunting situation. In a blind retrieve test, the dogs must take direction with great precision, not normally required by a hunting dog. Because of these longer distances, the handlers wear white coats so the dogs can see them, when they are giving hand signals. The biggest difference between hunting tests and field trials is that a field trial is a competition with winners and losers. A hunt test is a pass or fail situation. Because of the precision and difficulty of field trial tests, few retrievers are intelligent or talented enough to successfully participate. Field Champions are like pro ball players. Not everyone can make the team. They are some of the most trainable, talented, athletes of the dog world. They are winners.


Many layman compare hunting a dog from field trial blood to going for a Sunday afternoon ride, on a race horse! There are some field trial breeders that have concentrated only on winning with little or no consideration for temperament, or the physical appearance of their dogs. Some people consider the dogs hyper and snippy in the nose. This generalization is inaccurate. There are many wonderful Field Champions that are physically, typical representatives of their breed with excellent temperaments. My very best hunting dog and personal pet was also a field champion. Most of the better, and more trainable retrievers used for hunting or hunting tests, come from field trial bloodlines. It makes sense that these high caliber working retrievers would produce the most trainable, birdie and intelligent offspring. A hunter should be trying to buy a retriever pup that has numerous field champions and dogs with hunt test titles in its pedigree. Most of the best, fully trained hunting retrievers we sell, are dogs that were started for field trials or hunt tests, and didn't quite make the grade for one reason or another. They make excellent hunting dogs. 

"Hightest Sink or Swim" at the 2001 National Field Trial Championship in Cheraw S.C. Handled by Jerry Patopea, owned by Debra Folsom.

This is an excellent source to shop for a puppy or stud dog. They have a complete list of A.K.C. Field Trial dates and locations.


Retriever hunting tests are supposed to more closely resemble actual hunting situations. The participants wear camouflage clothing, and the retrieving distance is usually within one hundred yards. They make more use of duck calls, boats, decoys etc. There are several test levels categorized by level of difficulty. The Started or Junior level is very basic consisting of single retrieves on land and water. A hunting dog with some basic training should be able to participate at this level. The Senior and Master levels are more difficult, requiring the dogs to do multiple marks and take hand signals. Because of the low beginning level, almost any hunter and retriever can participate. The dogs must receive a qualifying score on all retrieves to pass the test. After passing the required number of hunting tests at a certain level, usually five or six given by different clubs on different dates, the dog is awarded a title. A.K.C. titles will appear on all pedigrees and registration certificates bearing that dog's name. The A.K.C. titles are Junior Hunter (JH), Senior Hunter (SH), and the highest level is Master Hunter (MH). These titles appear after the registered name of the dog. 


The highest levels of hunting tests involve very complex hunting scenarios that require a very well trained dog, of above average intelligence, and perseverance in the field. A Master Hunter is an exceptional individual and a valuable contributor to any retriever pedigree. To find out about A.K.C. Hunting Tests, log on to:


This is the official web site of the A.K.C. It contains a complete list of A.K.C. hunting tests and field trials along with a lot of other great information.


The North American Hunting Retriever Association also runs Retriever Hunt Tests that are very popular throughout the country. They have four levels, Beginner, Started, Intermediate and Senior. Dogs do not have to be registered with A.K.C. to participate. To contact NAHRA, log on to:


Members of NAHRA will receive their magazine that showcases all NAHRA events.


If you are a retriever enthusiast, considering breeding, or buying a puppy, try to attend a hunting test or trial put on by a retriever club in your area. This is where the breeders of the best retrievers compete and test their dogs. Why not buy a pup out of a titled dog? They usually are not that much more expensive and usually worth it in the long haul. If you already own a dog you'd like to work with a little more than just through the hunting season, you might want to try running the hunting tests yourself. You may find yourself hooked and owning a Field Champion or Master Hunter of your own someday. You will find the field events interesting and meet people with interests similar to yours. People that participate in dog trials all have one thing in common, they just love to watch a good dog work. 


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