You could say that the Vidalia area went to the dogs the last weekend in April. But it was in a good way as top retrievers from around the country came to the area in hopes of obtaining the coveted Grand Hunting Retriever Champion status.
A total of 767 of the top retrievers along with 400 pro and amateur handlers in the US and Canada descended on the area to participate in the Hunting Retriever Club International Spring Grand April 25-29. The event was hosted in Vidalia and Natchez, Miss., by the Amite River Hunting Retriever Club of Baton Rouge.
“The Grand” is held each spring and fall in various locations across the United States. These dogs are elite and all have earned their Hunting Retriever Champion Title, which is required to enter. To get an idea of the level of talent, the HRCH title would be the equivalent to winning the Super Bowl. The GRHRCH title would be being chosen for the Pro Bowl.
Passing the test
Brandon Menard of Cypress Bottom Retrievers found success in passing his 7-year-old Yellow Lab “Jacque.” The two earned their first Started title at an Amite River test and came full circle with Jacque’s career earning his GRHRCH at this Grand hosted by Amite River as well.
“It still really hasn’t hit me that we got it done,” Menard said. “Jacque is the first dog I’ve trained to compete and has started me on this path of being a professional trainer. We overcame quite a few obstacles, but never gave up. I couldn’t be prouder and owe most of the credit to him.”
The event took place over five days and had both land and water tests, then finished with an upland test. Tests are typical of what these dogs would see across the country in terms of terrain, cover and other factors. The dogs are not competing against each other, but are judged against a set of standards developed from hunting scenarios.
Tests consist of the dog and handler on “the line” where they will work from. Handlers shoot a shotgun loaded with blanks at three “marks” consecutively, which the dog can see. These are real ducks launched by a “winger” best described as a slingshot on steroids. Distances out to 200 yards on land and 150 yards on water are the norm.
The dog must pick up all three marks and then run a “blind retrieve” where the handler knows the bird’s location and directs the dog via voice, whistle and hand signals to it. They are judged by two judges and must be successful each day to run and make the upland test. That consists of quartering, flushing and being steady to shot. Should they succeed, a Grand pass is earned. It takes two grand passes to be titled a GRHRCH.
The standards being judged on are tougher and the dog and handler need to be nearly perfect to advance. Of the 754 entries, only 191 passed.
In talking to some handlers, they all agreed that the tests were very tough this year. The tests in the Natchez area involved hilly terrain where dogs faced elevation changes and a tough background. Conversely, the Vidalia area tests consisted of flat land and lots of cover. It really challenged the dogs’ marking abilities along with their response to signals from their handlers.
Tracy Stubbs, overall Chairman of the event, agreed with the handlers on the challenge. He also remarked that a good time was had by all and wished to thank the local businesses, volunteers and government entities that went above and beyond to make the event a success.