Guns up: Preparing dogs for duck hunting

Posted May 21, 2012, at 11:12 p.m.
Sunny, a 23-month-old yellow Labrador retriever, waits with anticipation for his handler Tom Balderacchi of Vermont to command him to retrieve. Balderacchi and Sunny were hunt testing in the Finished group on Saturday. At right is honor dog Houston. (An honor dog is one that has just completed the land test and now must stay and wait, not retrieve, during the working dog's turn.) The weekend of hunt tests in Hermon was put on by Guns Up Hunting Retriever Club.
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Sunny, a 23-month-old yellow Labrador retriever, waits with anticipation for his handler Tom Balderacchi of Vermont to command him to retrieve. Balderacchi and Sunny were hunt testing in the Finished group on Saturday. At right is honor dog Houston. (An honor dog is one that has just completed the land test and now must stay and wait, not retrieve, during the working dog's turn.) The weekend of hunt tests in Hermon was put on by Guns Up Hunting Retriever Club.
Shane Sagers of Norway gives whistle commands for his one-year-old black Labrador retriever, Avery, during his hunt test in the Started group. Saturday was Shane and Avery's first hunt test. The weekend event was held in Hermon by Guns Up Hunting Retriever Club.
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Shane Sagers of Norway gives whistle commands for his one-year-old black Labrador retriever, Avery, during his hunt test in the Started group. Saturday was Shane and Avery's first hunt test. The weekend event was held in Hermon by Guns Up Hunting Retriever Club.
Handler Kathy Leeman gives a hand signal to her golden retriever Riley, who is returning with a duck during the Started dog hunt test on Saturday put on by Guns Up HRC.
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Handler Kathy Leeman gives a hand signal to her golden retriever Riley, who is returning with a duck during the Started dog hunt test on Saturday put on by Guns Up HRC.
Zipper brings a duck to his handler Roxanna Marzilli during his hunt test in the Started group on Saturday. The weekend event that was held in Hermon was put on by Guns Up Hunting Retriever Club.
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Zipper brings a duck to his handler Roxanna Marzilli during his hunt test in the Started group on Saturday. The weekend event that was held in Hermon was put on by Guns Up Hunting Retriever Club.
Boomer brings a duck to his handler Mark Wiseman of Corinth during his hunt test in the Started group on Saturday. The weekend event that was held in Hermon was put on by Guns Up Hunting Retriever Club.
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Boomer brings a duck to his handler Mark Wiseman of Corinth during his hunt test in the Started group on Saturday. The weekend event that was held in Hermon was put on by Guns Up Hunting Retriever Club.
Judges Laurie Cobb and Bill Franze (at right) watch as Riley, Kathy Leeman's golden retriever, takes off after a duck during the Started dog hunt test on Saturday. The event was put on by Guns Up Hunting Retriever Club. In background is gunner Tim Cobb.  Not until the Seasoned and Finished levels do the handlers fire their own blank rounds in the tests.
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Judges Laurie Cobb and Bill Franze (at right) watch as Riley, Kathy Leeman's golden retriever, takes off after a duck during the Started dog hunt test on Saturday. The event was put on by Guns Up Hunting Retriever Club. In background is gunner Tim Cobb. Not until the Seasoned and Finished levels do the handlers fire their own blank rounds in the tests.
Tim Cobb, gunner for the Started group, loads a 12-gauge shotgun with a blank round.
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Tim Cobb, gunner for the Started group, loads a 12-gauge shotgun with a blank round.
Judge Bill Franze takes notes as Frankie brings a retrieved duck to his handler Roxanna Gould during the Started dog hunt test on Saturday in Hermon. Gould is the president of Guns Up Hunting Retriever Club.
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Judge Bill Franze takes notes as Frankie brings a retrieved duck to his handler Roxanna Gould during the Started dog hunt test on Saturday in Hermon. Gould is the president of Guns Up Hunting Retriever Club.
Kim Smith from Chittenden, Vt. gives his labrador retriever, Brewer, whistle and hand signals to direct him to a water blind during the Finished dog's hunt test in Hermon on Saturday. The weekend event was held by Guns Up HRC.
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Kim Smith from Chittenden, Vt. gives his labrador retriever, Brewer, whistle and hand signals to direct him to a water blind during the Finished dog's hunt test in Hermon on Saturday. The weekend event was held by Guns Up HRC.
Annie, a two-year-old chocolate labrador retriever, peeks around a duck blind while waiting her turn in the the Started hunt test in Hermon on Saturday. Annie belongs to handler Kathy Hartley.
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Annie, a two-year-old chocolate labrador retriever, peeks around a duck blind while waiting her turn in the the Started hunt test in Hermon on Saturday. Annie belongs to handler Kathy Hartley. Buy Photo
Duck slinger Dustin Henry of Madison prepares to release another duck into the water from the Zinger, a giant slingshot. Dustin was helping with the Finished dog hunt tests on Saturday.
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Duck slinger Dustin Henry of Madison prepares to release another duck into the water from the Zinger, a giant slingshot. Dustin was helping with the Finished dog hunt tests on Saturday.
Brewer returns to his handler Kim Smith with his final duck in the water segment of the Finished dogs hunt test. The water portion consisted of a triple watermark with a water blind.
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Brewer returns to his handler Kim Smith with his final duck in the water segment of the Finished dogs hunt test. The water portion consisted of a triple watermark with a water blind.
Kathy Hartley, member of Guns Up Hunting Retriever Club, hugs Annie after her hunt test in the Started group on Saturday in Hermon.
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Kathy Hartley, member of Guns Up Hunting Retriever Club, hugs Annie after her hunt test in the Started group on Saturday in Hermon.
Houston looks up at his handler Diane Brunelle during thier hunt test in the Finished group on Saturday. The weekend event that was held in Hermon was put on by Guns Up Hunting Retriever Club.
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Houston looks up at his handler Diane Brunelle during thier hunt test in the Finished group on Saturday. The weekend event that was held in Hermon was put on by Guns Up Hunting Retriever Club.
Houston takes off across the field after his handler Diane Brunelle commands him to retrieve. Houston was testing in the Finished group, which consists of multiple landmarks with an honor dog, a land blind, and mutliple watermarks with a water blind. The weekend event that was held in Hermon was put on by Guns Up Hunting Retriever Club.
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Houston takes off across the field after his handler Diane Brunelle commands him to retrieve. Houston was testing in the Finished group, which consists of multiple landmarks with an honor dog, a land blind, and mutliple watermarks with a water blind. The weekend event that was held in Hermon was put on by Guns Up Hunting Retriever Club.

“Dog to the line. Guns up,” a voice shouts.

A handler uses a duck call and sounds off two quacks. Several more quacks are heard coming from the woods. A dead duck comes sailing out of the trees by way of a giant slingshot and lands in the field. One shot is fired. The handler says the dog’s name and, in a flash, the dog takes off across the field.

This was a Guns Up Hunting Retriever Club’s hunt test on Saturday, when hunting retrievers are tested using realistic hunting scenarios in a controlled environment. It is fascinating to watch. The dogs have amazing speed, skill and patience.

There are three levels of dogs: Started (beginners), Seasoned (intermediate) and Finished (advanced). Dogs are judged as pass-fail in the tests based on marking ability and memory, nose, hunting desire, control and hunting style.

“If you ever get a dog with the instinct to retrieve, there’s nothing like it. There’s a bond. The dog sees you as a part of the pack and there’s nothing like it,” said Tim Cobb, a Guns Up member.

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