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By: Zach Simpson

Zach Simpson is a16-year-old from Wadsworth, IL, who knows exactly what he wants for his future. An All Honors or Advanced Placement student, this Junior is heavily involved in competitive shooting as well as his Hunting Test activities with his Vizsla, Otis, who Zach trained and handled to his Master Hunter title. Even though the future holds college in Minnesota and studying Business and Finance, Zach expects to continue his dog-related activities.

Zach and his Dad, Bob, are involved with the dogs while Mom (Beth) and sister (Hanna) work with horses. And even though Zach’s family is split on hobbies, both groups make time to support and cheer each other on. During the summer, Zach was able to start his day volunteering at a therapeutic riding facility before going out to train Otis.

Along with his Dad, Zach has benefitted from the help of Tim May and Joel Peterson. It was shortly after receiving Otis as an early birthday present that Zach joined Tim May’s training group.

Zach was not exactly a newbie to hunting as he and his Dad had hunted upland game behind Labs. However, winning a pheasant hunt in 2008 through the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) and hunting behind a German Wirehaired Pointer convinced this young hunter a pointing dog was the type for him.

From here, we’ll let Zach tell his and Otis’ journey and how this young man balanced school and dog training to finish Otis’ Master Hunter title when he was 18 months old.

In early February of 2009, I was delighted to be able to attend “Pheasant Fest,” which was hosted by Pheasants Forever in Madison, WI. Being a young hunter, I was very interested in the many aspects of bird hunting. This event was like a walk through the candy store with a $20 bill in my pocket. I learned about everything from guns to recipes, but the most significant part was seeing all of the different types of hunting dogs. My father and I had been looking to buy a hunting dog to continue a sort of “Weekend Warrior” passion but had no clue where to start.

I remember at the end of the day coming to one of the last booths and just falling in absolute love with the Vizsla. Immediately my dad stated, “We are going to get one of those.” Little did we know, four months later a small brown puppy would be on his way home and would turn our recreational hobby into a full-time sport.

My family worked to research about breeders, training and accommodating for a puppy. The breeder we found was Busch Vizslas out of Winnebago, IL. This was a great choice in that the breeders, Jim and Linda, embodied over fifty years of experience. Another benefit was the pedigree of the litter we chose showed many titles; MH, JH, SH, AFC, DC, CGC and a NSTRA CH. This pedigree showed our puppy would have a strong gene pool in relation to hunting, testing and competing. The pup was to be born on March 18, 2009, which meant we were able to pick him up in May, thus began our journey in the world of sporting dogs. Finally, our new pup, Otis, was coming home — an early birthday present as my 15th was only a month away. A few weeks later, my father and I went to some trial grounds to see how a field trial works and to meet some of the members of our local Vizsla club. While we were there, we met Tim May who invited us to join him and his training group later in the week. What a wish come true, now we could effectively train Otis with the help of experienced dog people. So in early June, Otis and I began our journey.

My Father was a great supporter; a man who has always pushed me to be better and do the unthinkable. I attribute my success to his encouragement and support. When we first started training, my dad said to me, “Zach, Otis is going to become a Junior Hunter before hunting season.” Sure enough, he did. By the end of the summer, we had about seven guys with around 15 dogs coming out bi-weekly to train. In late September, we decided to enter Otis in Junior Hunter with me as his Junior Handler. It was scary at first but looking back, there was nothing to fear because the judges, line marshals, and fellow competitors were all very pleasant and willing to answer any questions. Four passes out of five attempts later, 7-month-old Otis and his 15-year-old handler had achieved the Junior Hunter title.

There was no time for celebration, hunting season had just opened and it was time to give Otis the true test. Throughout the season, Otis’ bird finding ability was excellent but because of his immaturity, his retrieving and steady to shot skills were minimal.

After the season was over and the freezer was full, it was time for a few months of rest before we were to do it all over again. My Dad and I brainstormed what we wanted out of Otis in 2010. My Dad’s message was similar to the one before: “Zach it’s time to set the bar high; this year we are going to work to make Otis a Master Hunter.”

After the snow had melted and temperatures warmed I was eager for another summer of training dogs. Otis’ bird work grew substantially and his retrieving and steady to shot skills were established. Once again by late September, Otis and I were ready for Hunting Tests. But instead of Senior Hunter, we would pursue Master Hunter. In nine attempts Otis passed six times. One of my fondest test memories was his third or fourth run when he found five birds in the backfield and two in the bird field. To top it off, his backing and retrieving was spot on. When the scores came back he received a 59, only one shy of a perfect score! On October 2, 2010, Otis officially became a Master Hunter at the age of 18 months which added to the overall success of our training group: Four Master Hunters and three Junior Hunters in a little less than a year. I was elated with the results of my determination but at the same time pleasantly surprised.

I have continued to work with Otis but have been privileged to volunteer and participate in not only Hunting Tests but field trials, too. I ran one of the dogs from the training group, Amber, in Open Puppy field trial and placed first. This helped her to get two points towards her field championship that she is currently working on.

Aside from AKC events, I have been blessed with more hunting opportunities than I would have ever dreamed of before. I have hunted pheasant in three states, chukar, quail and was even successful with grouse in the northern woods of Wisconsin.

My motto is work hard, never give up, and set goals. Just because we, the youth, may know less than those who have been in the sport for many years, we still can achieve and do our part. My final piece of advice is take it all in and really get involved in your local dog clubs because we are the next generation and without us America will lose an important pastime, hunting.

Zach Simpson pheasant hunting

Zach and Otis attain Junior Hunter title

Zach and Otis earn Master Hunter title

Zach and Amber placing fourth at a field trial