Hunt Tests – Frequently Asked Questions and Tips


  • Does Wind Direction Affect A Hunt Test Setup?

Freddy King – Wind direction can make or break a hunt test. Paying close attention to wind direction when lining our pups up for the next mark or blind is paramount. Any help we can give our pups on their next line to slightly cast them down wind of a mark or bird will help tremendously in picking up a bird successfully. Always pay attention to where your pup is looking and the wind direction.

Christian Staller – Remember that dogs hate to be casted into the wind.


  • What Should I Do In Finished If There Is No Bird Or A Re-Bird?

Hunter Shell – If I’m honoring through re-bird, or no bird I’ll come off the line to keep the dog calm. Cause for a lot of my dogs get worked up just sitting at the line with all that going in the field especially with a re-bird. To combat what your talking about the dog may think it’s getting another bird, I teach a no bird cue. When I give that cue, the dog never picks up the birds it sees fall.

Freddy King – I tend to agree with Hunter. If I’m at the line with a “hot” dog and it’s a re-bird situation I’ll commonly use that situation as moment to train coming off the line and even at times putting pup on lead. Lots of times pups will think they’re in trouble. Even more if it’s a bad throw and a no-bird is called by the judge. More times than not the pup will think they’ve moved or did something not quite right, sit better and mark the birds even better. But all dogs are different!


  • How long are the retrieves on marks at an average test? As my dog progresses more in training I’m getting more interested in the idea of trying a test, but I train alone so I don’t know how well my dog would do on longer marks.

Hunter Shell – It really depends, started marks shouldn’t exceed 75 yards, seasoned is 75 I think also, maybe 100, and finished marks are 150. In AKC the rule book says I believe should not normally exceed 150 in all 3 levels.

Harry Gillmore – I think the marking distance isn’t really the hardest, it’s the deliver to hand and blind retrieves that really determine what level you can title.


  • Michael Paul Wallace – Why would you take a dog to get a pass that has to be held by the collar when the mark is thrown. Also saw one video where a dog was on lead walking up to start the test and was almost dragging the handler to the line. Is there a plus do doing these test at a younger age with a dog?

Bill Evans – I think most people that run started/junior test are people that train their own dogs and they are both getting use to the test environment. I believe a pup should be solid on obedience, force fetch (FF) and able to be handled if necessary before running any test.


  • Verbal Commands Question:  What are you allowed and not allowed to do? I’m running in Junior AKC test. Am I allowed to verbally tell the dog to heal while waking on a lead to the line?  What about on the retrieve? So, I blow the whistle to come back, can I say hold when the dog gets close to me? Tell the dog to heal? Tell the dog to sit? Or is it assumed that when he retrieves with the bird that he will heal on his own, sit on his own and hold on his own with no commands?

Hunter Shell – The only time you can’t talk to the dog, is from when you signal for the birds till the judge releases you to send.

Harry Gillmore – My dog, even though FF, will occasionally drop the bird at the water’s edge. Am I allowed to say hold just prior to him getting out of the water?

Hunter Shell – Yeah you can do that, or at least I’ve never seen a judge fuss about that at junior.


  • Lovely Tiffany King (Tip): Always air your dogs before running a hunt test. If Fido stops to do a #2 between the 1st and 2nd marks of a triple, you can bet that time is eroding your pups memory. Plus, judges always look skeptically at pups that take a potty at the line, especially when they are down wind of the mess.

Jeffrey Ervin – Exactly, a male stopping to pee on every bush or piece of grass on the way back to you is using up memory!!


  • Matt Emerson (Tip): Ask The Judges Questions!

Huston Kennedy – This is so true…. I finally worked up the nerves to ask a question and the judges were like, “Is that it?”

Glen Scarborough – A good judge will invite any, and all questions. Trust me there are not any dumb questions. We have all been in a situation where we didn’t ask because we thought it was dumb, or would make us look that way only to find out later multiple people had the same question, and didn’t ask either!


  • Jamie Moss (Tip): Always give your pup a drink before running the water series, nothing worse than when he gets a belly full while swimming, gets choked!


  • Hunter Shell (Tip): Remember to stay calm at the line, dogs feed off how your demeanor is, so don’t get worked up, take your time lining the dog up for each retrieve. That was the biggest problem area I saw with new handlers when I judged, they got anxious, and started doing everything faster than normal, and got there dogs in trouble, when if they had slowed down a really settled there dog in they could’ve avoided trouble.


  • Christian Staller (Tip): B R E A T H E


  • Bill Evans (Tip): As a handler go ahead a line yourself up for the next bird before the dog gets back to the line. Make sure to watch as many marks as possible before you run so you will know exactly where the birds are landing.


  • Bill Evans (Tip): Chew some gum! Dogs can sense the nervousness coming off that dry cotton mouth breath.

Glen Scarborough – Peppermints are great as well!


  • Jeffrey Ervin (Tip) – On the honor bucket, unless the judges tell you to start the test you shoot after working dog! Don’t blow the call like you’re in a duck calling contest either, no reason to pull dogs attention to you.


  • Thomas Koehne (Tip) – Don’t let failing a test discourage you, you generally learn more from the failures than the passes.

Mary Lynn Metras – But do take the time before your next test to work to correct the issue rather than dig yourself into a hole and get more frustrated!


  • James Staten (Tip) – Arrive early and find where you are going to be for your test. Let your judges know it’s your first time; believe it or not they want to see you pass! Try to stay calm especially in the holding blind with your pup; I try to avoid petting and affection in the holding blind. DO everything at the line like it is normal training for you and DO NOT change your pattern just because you saw someone do something.


  • Jake Daly (Tip) – For started, delivery to hand is not required but preferred according to the handbook. However, I received a warning for touching my dog and the bird simultaneously. Also, I can’t say enough about finding a way to practice holding blind manners with other gunfire and duck calls going off!


  • Hector Randall Hernandez (Tip) – I’ve learned to train for the next level before running a test!


  • Ben Huels (Tip) – Pay attention to other dogs running, see where they are having trouble and where they are excelling. Use wind and other factors to your advantage, but most importantly KNOW YOUR DOG.


  • Freddy King (Tip) – Don’t be a hero… an extra whistle on a blind in cover or across a point or off a point to strengthen the line your pup is already on is always a good thing. Especially if pups that ran earlier had issues in certain spots and other handlers let them get in trouble. Anticipate that trouble before it happens!


  • Cody Grisanti (Tip) – For the new guy running in Started… go watch the seasoned and finished tests in the down time between series. Watch the bird placement and the handlers and how they handle their dog on blinds and try to pick up on things certain Pro’s do vs others.  Ask questions, talk to different professionals and amateurs that obviously are experienced in this game. Also if there is a lag time between dogs, go up and talk to the judges, talk to them about what they are seeing in dogs and what they would have liked to see. If you ever run under Linda Brewer… she’s like Diet Coke, you’ll thank me later.  As you progress up the ranks, you will figure this game out quickly and trick and ideas will come. Like for example, if you know for a fact your dog didn’t see a mark. Don’t send him on his name and have the dog aimlessly running around or risk a no go. Line up like you are running a blind. Send the dog a little downwind in hopes they get a nose full. More than likely you were going to have to handle anyways but at least this gives you a shot at not burning your handle. But that point brings me to the most important of all.  Be calm and breathe, you control the speed of the test. If you need to slow your dog down, take a few seconds between birds. If you need a second to collect yourself on the bucket, just sit there for a few seconds.  My dog and I always have a moment in the last holding blind. I crouch down and talk to him “it’s just 3 marks and a blind” is what I tell him. Typically he puts a paw up on me like he’s telling me he’s got it. He did that the first ever started test I ran… and now even though we are HRCH titled…. I still talk to him in the holding blind and he always puts that paw on my leg.


  • Matt Ryan (Tip) – Stay calm and move at half the speed you are used to training.


  • Clay Owens (Tip) – If you have a dog that gets really fired up park as far away from the line as possible. Don’t be afraid to talk to your dog on the bucket and train with as many dogs as possible before a test to jazz it up.


  • Josh Reed (Tip) – Bring a pop up canopy for shade, drinks/water, and food! I like to take a bumper with me so when he does something really good I can give him a fun bumper as a reward. Use common sense when it comes to standing in line, I watched someone stand in the bright sun for over an hour with his dog waiting his turn while I stayed under our canopy trying to keep my black dog as cool as possible! Even if your dog is in a shady spot in the kennel, make sure they get air movement from either the wind or a fan.


  • Freddy King (Tip) – Gun safety is paramount. Always double check the gun and even tell the judges “Open and Safe”. This will help solidify your checking of the gun each and every time before you set it down. Step away from the bucket and gun to keep them from being knocked over by hard charging returning pups. I’ve seen this happen a time or two. Shoot at the top of the arc while tracking bird but always keep an eye out on your pup. Do NOT take safety off until the very first mark comes out. If pup creeps a little bit in front just raise muzzle enough to make sure that shotgun blast does not damage hearing of your pup or cause an unsafe situation. In AKC still watch gun muzzle if an actual gun is used. You may be reprimanded for unsafe handling of a weapon.

Glen Scarborough – Practice loading a shotgun with poppers in training. I always prefer the handler to sit on the bucket then loading. Don’t point your gun at the honor, judges, or gallery when loading. If you prefer to stand while loading that’s ok, but remember gun safety. If you gun jams during your test keep going. The judges are the only people who can stop the test, and will if they deem necessary. Jammed guns will be addressed by the judges, or marshal, so just keep running your dog unless told to do otherwise. Always shoulder your gun. Just try to keep the mentality that you are using a shotgun with live rounds.


  • Rocky Stockdale (Tip) –  If you have a handle going into the 2nd series use it if your dog is leaving the area of fall (AOF). You don’t get more points for stepping on marks!

Jeffrey Ervin – You can’t take that handle home with you either!


  • Glen Scarborough (Tip) – If you are a first time handler at any level don’t be shy about telling the judges. As a judge we can anticipate issues that might arise, and help you as a handler. If you have a physical issue that will affect you during the test let the marshal, and/or judges know that as well. Judges are volunteers who have “owned, trained, run & passed” a dog to the level they are judging. They have been in the same situations you are in while running a dog. Judges are there to judge just as you are there to pass the standard.


  • Pamela Field Flotte (Tip) – When the test is over and you begin to leave the line, if at all possible, turn so that you put yourself between the test area and the dog. With a hot dog giving them an inch of forward motion can trigger them like a rocket!


  • Matt Emerson (Tip) – Tune up on your basic obedience, on leash and off leash.


  • Freddy King (Tip) – While on honor bucket, heel your pup just a little bit further back than normal and away from the marks as much as possible but within reason so that your pup can see all birds. I’ll try to block as much of the field with my knee as I can yet the pup honoring can still see all the marks. When birds come out do not swing on the birds and make your motions very slow with the gun if you are required to shoot at a bird. Stand your gun up and keep an eye on your pup until your dog is released from honor. Set gun down methodically checking to make sure gun is safe. Step in front of your pup immediately and I’ll heel dogs to my inside if I fear there may be an issue and bring them around away from the field of marks and leave the line.


  • Robert Louie (Tip) – Treat every mark as if you were running a blind and take your time lining up your dog. When stopping your dog to handle on a blind, do not give the cast immediately. This gives them time to get a better change of direction on the cast.


  • Dusty Davis (Tip) – Attend a judges/handlers seminar you will learn a lot!


  • Freddy King (Tip) – Challenging the blind… Always challenge the judge’s blind. As a rule of thumb keep pup in between your forefinger and middle finger while arm is stretched out. If pup fades to either side and touches finger then whistle and cast correct. Of course try not to do raise arm and spread those fingers while running your pup. Just learn the look of it and keep pup inside. I personally try to run even tighter than that. Keep in mind the areas your pup is likely to cheat and cast away from such areas before your pup gets into trouble. Do NOT waste that whistle at the bird unless pup is digging hard and going to overrun that bird. If pup goes into hunt mode at the bird do NOT try to handle him even if pup goes 10 to 15 feet left or right. Only time to handle your pup is if it gets out of area of blind. I see a lot of dogs lost at the bird because they try to handle a birdie dog.

Glen Scarborough – Great advice!

Bill Evans – Judges don’t care how many whistles! As long as you challenge the line and make progression toward the blind!

Cody Grisanti – To build a visual for those that might be confused as to what “challenging the line to the blind is” you want to make every cast a constant improvement to the line to the blind. Judges would much rather see you zig zag 70 times across the line to the blind while improving your position that give two cast and your dog never touch the line to the blind. See pic below:

  • Josh Reed (Tip) – Be sure to have a good slicker suit, frogg toggs, and a good pair of rubber boots. Worth every penny during a rainy test day!


  • Kyle Stanfield (Tip) – As a handler I always like running water at the top of the list so the birds sit up higher in the water and running land a little later so more scent is in the area of the fall!

Jamie Moss – That’s interesting! When I judge, I always scent the area heavily before we start so everyone has an even playing field.  When I run, I’d rather go first and stay out of the drag back. Water- I Agree 100%!


  • Freddy King (Tip) – Set your dog square to the test so they do NOT have to swing too much to see all of the birds or marks. Walk up to the test and find where the center is stand or sit with your pup pointed straight at that center. Don’t try to swing your pup too much at all to see the marks just enough they can see each mark. Keep movements from one bird to the next slow and methodical but make sure you spend as much time as possible watching and locking onto where the bird just fell to set that mark in memory as much as possible. Don’t let the test rush you if possible. I’ve seen judges slow a test down to what I consider the RIGHT speed when handlers were moving slower with deliberateness. Especially judges that are calling for each bird. Rule of thumb is about 3 seconds between each bird. Slowing down will also ease your pup’s anticipation as well as help in calming them.


  • Freddy King (Tip) – Remember to successfully do a mark without judges making notes our pups must go directly to the hunt area and establish a hunt. So, take your time lining up for those memory birds. Assert the line to that mark well before casting a pup. Almost to the point as if we were running a blind with that pup but cast on their names with enough vocal to get them to the area with just enough “Good” or “Right There’s” to solidify that line to the mark. These things we must work on in training so they roll over into hunt tests. Watch your pup closely while in the hunt area. If pup starts to leave the area and you’re sure of it then it is best to handle to the bird while in the area instead of waiting for your pup to get well out of the area and try to handle back into the area. Make sure you have a solid understanding what would be considered the hunt area of each mark. It will vary greatly with judges, distance, terrain changes and more. Be sensible and a quick handle to the bird while in the area most of the time is not a serious mark down at all. Just make sure your pup establishes a solid hunt to erase any doubt within the judge’s minds as to whether or not pup has established a hunt within the area. Then start grading if pup your pup is hunting left or right of the mark upwind too much and if pup has a tendency to leave the area and hunt off somewhere else. Don’t let judges see that… Save that mark with a quick handle to the bird while in the area. Glen, can you elaborate more about handling in the area from a judge’s point of view?

Glen Scarborough – Handling in the AOF (area of fall) is always going to be at the judge’s discretion. Each mark to each test has its own AOF. When you blow a whistle on a mark to cast your dog you have ended being judged on marking, and started judgement of handling. Quick efficient handling is always preferred over extended hunts, but usually the handle will cause a mark down.


  • Freddy King (Tip) – Walkups, I normally blow a whistle for the sit command. I’ll watch the pup with one eye while tracking bird and shooting. The whole time I am still blowing the whistle. I’ve gotten good at the technique and enough wind power that when the bird comes out I can hold that sit whistle for quite a while and until well after the bird hits the ground. Which is usually only about a second and a half. Try it, you might find your pup sits a little bit better than with verbal sit cues during walk-ups.


  • Freddy King (Tip) – When working with multiple bird tests make sure to keep your area clean of birds. AS pup returns with birds quickly hand them to the bird boy or hold them behind your back. Don’t wave them around in front of your dog as your trying to prepare for picking up the next bird. This is a major distraction to your pup and your pup can go into play mode real easy. Take bird from pup just as you always do in training, put bird in bucket almost immediate or as I do I will quickly hold bird behind my back and step towards the next mark to direct all attention to the field and next mark while asking my pup “where your bird” or “where’s your mark” or such to take their mind off the bird in hand and ready for the next mark. After casting and if pup is on correct line to the bird I will quickly hand bird off, hang it up or put in the designated area away from our handling area. I’ve seen dogs switch at the line if birds are left on the ground. I’ve seen pups go into play mode and forget about the next mark if birds are dangled overhead. Lastly when leaving the line if possible step in front of your pup and away from birds hanging or possibly on the ground from other activities. Keep your pup in control by never losing control.

Doug Abel – I still make a mistake sometimes by removing bird with my left hand, when Barney is on my left. 83 year old Mr. Jack Hansen nails me every time I do it and threatens to use his heel stick on me!