The Super Bowl for Retrievers
By Glenda Brown
What comes to your mind when you hear the term “National?” If you are a conformation competitor, the first thing that comes to you is the GRCA National Specialty. If you are a hunt test person, you think of the Master National. If you run field trials, you are convinced there is only one real National, and that is the National Open held each November with the National Amateur each June an exceedingly close runner-up.
With regard to the GRCA National Specialty, you can find considerable information about it on the GRCA web site.
What about the two other types of Nationals? Both the Master National and the two field trial Nationals have many things in common. Yet there is a vast difference in the goals.
The two field trial National Events are trying to determine the National Championships and have one winner each. They are extremely competitive and the numbers that qualify are composed of the top trial dogs in the country during the previous year. In a field trial National, the tests generally become consistently more difficult as the trial progresses. Usually the judges allow two mistakes before elimination, but that depends on the severity of the mistake and often at what point in the competition a mistake occurs.
In order to qualify for either the National Open or the National Amateur, a dog needs to have seven points, which includes a win, during the current competitive year. The qualifying time period for the National Open runs from after one is completed in mid-November until just before the next one starts the following mid-November. The qualifying time period for the National Amateur runs from mid-June to mid-June. For the Master National, the qualifying time period runs from August 1 of one year to July 31 of the next.
Entries at the National Open tend to be approximately 80 to 95 dogs, whereas entries for the National Amateur are often from 90 to 110 dogs. The National Open is a mixture of both professional and amateur handlers. The National Amateur has only amateurs running the dogs. The win and points needed to qualify for the National Open must come from Open stakes (both pros and amateurs). The win and points to qualify for the National Amateur may come from either the Open or Amateur stakes as long as an amateur is handling the dog.
The Master National has dogs competing against a standard and not against the other dogs. It is competitive only in that the dogs are trying “to beat” the test. The tests should not necessarily become more difficult as it progresses since the idea is not to eliminate dogs but to judge dogs against the standard. By the time a dog has qualified for a Master National, he should be considered an outstanding hunting dog and the tests reflect this quality. The amount of dogs becoming Qualifiers (Finalists) in a Master National will, of course, vary, but in 2014, 825 dogs qualified to enter, 573 entered, and 235 were Qualifiers (Finalists). Twenty-six percent of Goldens entered became Qualifiers.
The qualifications to enter a Master National should be checked through www.masternational.com as they have been changed at various times.
The National Open and National Amateur run for seven days. Their aim is to complete ten series composed of marking tests as well as blinds.
The three National events are alike in that all require a large number of volunteers in order to exist. The search for these volunteers often starts as soon as it is determined where they will be located for which year. Finding good, solid volunteers intensifies as the date for the National event approaches. The jobs run the gamut from bird stewards, marshals, hostess committees, special events, grounds crew, gunners, bird throwers, set-up crews, both test and set-up dogs, traffic control, and many more. Not only do the volunteers give up their time and energy to make sure everything runs smoothly, they are out of pocket for motels, food, traveling expenses, and lost time from work. It you are ever at a National, be sure and thank any volunteers you encounter. Without them, there would not be National events.
All three Nationals vary the location of the tests each year from region to region. The regions are the Mountain time zone, the Eastern time zone, the Central time zone, and the Pacific time zone. This results in a variety of terrain, water, temperatures, altitude, to name a few. Flatland dogs often have to learn how to adapt to mountain areas. Dogs used to wide open vistas suddenly are confronted with closed in areas with dense forests of trees in the background. Dogs accustomed to desert terrain find themselves in lush, high cover. Stick ponds, pothole water, heavy currents, an out-to-sea look, ponds filled with lily pads or cattails, and icy cold water are new to some dogs. As a result, most competitors try to arrive early and find training grounds where their dogs can attempt to adapt to the new surroundings.
There are business meetings of the sponsoring organization held on the first day to discuss and vote on numerous items. Judges are introduced, logistics of the upcoming tests are detailed, and maps are passed out. The draw for the starting number dog is done. There usually is a cocktail or dinner party that evening. During the event there is always a workers’ party to thank all the workers for what they have contributed. Of course, some are so exhausted from getting up around 4 a.m. each day, they are hard pressed to stay awake.
The handlers of the running dogs are generally nervous, worried, thrilled, excited, suffering from tummy problems, stressed, praying heavily, rubbing rabbit feet or following some other superstition, dependent upon how well their dog may be doing.
Dogs in the Master National encounter walk-ups, bulldogs, birds appearing out of nowhere, duck calls, a variety of decoys and the different scenarios that would occur when actually hunting.
Although you will have an occasional walk-up in a National Open or Amateur, it usually consists of telling you that once your dog hits the mat the judges will count to five and then call for the birds. You run from mats and almost always the dog and handler must be on the mat while sending for each bird. You can have a bulldog, although that is rarely seen. Birds are thrown from stations where the gunners are in white, with often those gunners retiring into extremely well concealed blinds. You don’t hear duck calls or someone yelling “here comes one”. The distances are considerably longer than in a Master National for both marks and blinds and the corridor on the blinds is often much narrower and more demanding.
The National Open and National Amateur each have three judges selected from the three regions other than the one where it is being held.
The Master National started in 1991 with three judges and one stake, but due to the vast increase in number of entries it has gone to four flights, with two judges for each flight. The National Open was first run in 1941 at Quoque, Long Island, New York. The winner was a Golden male, CH King Midas of Woodend. The first National Amateur was held in 1957 at Park Rapids, Minnesota. The only Golden to win a National Amateur was FC NAFC Topbrass Cotton in 1985.
The judges in all three Nationals give up approximately two weeks of their time in order to judge. They arrive early, traverse the grounds in order to plan their tests, determine a variety of test to cover changes in the wind, weather conditions, and check to make sure there is nothing that could harm a dog running one of their tests. One of the biggest factors at a National is time management. Judges are often told that the next test needs to be no more than six minutes a dog instead of the seven minutes a dog test the judges had wanted. In many ways the judges are more constricted in what they set up than they are in a weekend trial. Tests need to be planned to allow viewing by a large gallery, parking of many vehicles, a food wagon, the hospitality motor home, reporters, and other requirements.
At the end, all the Qualifiers in the Master National are delighted to have made it through with their dogs and cherish the moment. Smiles abound. Hands are shaken. Dogs are petted. The dogs just wish they could run another series or two to get more birds and enough of this sitting around having their photos taken. Just wait until the “real” hunting season starts and my best friend and I can go get those ducks, or pheasants, or dove, or quail. The AKC now has a new title to recognize those Master National Qualifiers who have completed three MNs, and it is MNH.
At the end of the National Open and National Amateur, all the Finalists—usually ten to fifteen are announced first. The AKC gives a title to the winner of either the National Open (NFC) or the National Amateur (NAFC). The Finalists do not get a title, but they have bragging rights. Then comes the moment of great suspense when everyone holds their breath until the winner is declared and awarded the coveted trophy. The winning dog is hoisted onto the table which holds the trophy, champagne glasses are raised for toasts, tears are shed, photos taken, and one or two Finalists are heard to mutter, “Just wait until next year, we’ll get you then.”