In the 1980s hunters with good retrievers, but without the resources, or time, to be able to be competitive in field trials were anxious to have an avenue to test their dogs for hunting abilities. The Qualifying and then Hunting Dog stake at field trials satisfied that need for a while, but did not offer titles. Thus something more was desired.
The North American Hunting Retriever Association (NAHRA) was formed to satisfy this need. AKC and NAHRA worked together for a while developing a joint hunting test for retrievers. After a time AKC and NAHRA went their separate ways. At this point AKC began it’s own Hunting Test for Retrievers program with titles offered for Junior Hunter, Senior Hunter and Master Hunter.
Junior Hunting Tests consist of single marked retrieves on land and water and dogs are allowed to be lightly restrained at the line; Senior Hunting Tests consist of double marked retrieves, and relatively simple blind retrieves on land and water, as well as honoring the retrieve of another competitor; Master Hunting Tests are for the “truly finished and experienced hunting companion” and as such full refinement in trained abilities should be expected. Master tests consist of multiple marked retrieves on land, water, and land water combination. Master blind retrieves should be demanding and are done on land and water, one of which must be a double blind. Honoring is also required as well as a walkup situation, where the dog should be walking at heel, as the first bird is thrown in a marking situation.
The first Retriever Hunting Test Sub-Committee was composed of eight individuals from around the country. Later it was changed to consist of four individuals, one from each region, and a Chairperson. Nelson Sills also serves as an advisor to the Sub-Committee.
The first AKC licensed retriever hunting tests were held in 1985. That first year, there were 13 events with a total of 681 entrants, compared to 2005 in which there were 341events, and 34,799 entries. The distinction of the first events belongs to the Jayhawk Retriever Club of St. Joseph, KS and the East Texas Retriever Club of Lufkin, TX, which ran on the same dates. As you can see from this, the program has been a rousing success. In fact it’s success is the largest problem the program faces. Large entries call for more workers and judges, and make it hard on smaller clubs.
Owners, who had titled their dogs as Master Hunters, soon desired something else to strive to achieve. Mr. Nelson Sills urged the AKC to investigate the possibility of instigating an event to give Master Hunters something else to strive toward. On advice from Mr. Sills, Bob McKowen and John Carroll, established the first Master National Hunting Test for Retrievers, after a survey of AKC clubs indicated that the majority of respondents favored such an event.
The first Master National Hunting Test for Retrievers was held in Chesapeake City, MD on September 15, 1991 with 94 entries. Twenty-six dogs qualified at the event chaired by Larry Wharton and mainly staffed by volunteers from local clubs. At this first Master National, the Master National Retriever Club was formed with representatives from 59 clubs attending. Bill Speck was elected to serve as the first President of the club. A vice president and director were elected from each of the four regions, and Linda Furr was elected to serve as Secretary/Treasurer. It was voted that the Master National would rotate among the four regions of the United States.