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A NEW ERA IN SQUIRREL HUNTING – THE LICENSED HUNT TEST

The idea of “testing” dogs against a basic performance standard is not a new one. It’s popular and well established in the pointing dog and retriever worlds and several others. Keep in mind both of those factions also offer field trials where dogs compete head to head against the competition for a win that day and a step towards a championship. The hunt tests in these other factions have always been a worthy test as to the skills and training of a dog. The fact that they are non-competitive, as far as going heads up against another dog and handler, seems to create an environment that is...I don’t want to say unlike because that would not be true... but for sure different than the competitive arena. At least at game time. Everyone seems to pull for each other each hoping everyone passes and receives credit towards a title. What that arena may lack in terms of national recognition, it more than makes up for with it’s friendly, lack of tension type of atmosphere.




How We Got There
Five years ago or so we started kicking this idea around specifically to put in place with our Cur / Feist Program. When you think about how many Cur and Feist dogs there are around the country and then look at the number of entries at even the largest events, it just seemed like a very big part of that sport was not participating in events.
FORMS


That situation begged of asking the question, "why is that?" It is just a more laid back world? Is it dominated by pleasure hunters who just enjoy running their dog for their own personal satisfaction? Is that sport made up of a high percentage of ex-coonhunters who are burned out on competition hunting? Of course we can only speculate as to what the correct answer may be but that’s what got us thinking.

Read more about the history of the program here.


Let’s Talk Policy - ie. How It Works for the Club

Licensed hunt tests will only be available to UKC approved clubs and may only be held at a club’s regular meeting place. All UKC registered coonhounds and Cur / Feist dogs are eligible to participate. Hunt tests may be held during the week. There is no limit to the number of Hunt Tests a club may hold and they will not count against a club’s event date limit. Nor is there a mileage conflict between clubs wishing to hold hunt tests on the same night. Hunt test date and locations must be advertised on the UKC website no less than 30 days before the event. We do recommend licensing your hunt test at least 60 days in advance which allows us to also list your upcoming events in the magazines as opposed to just the UKC website.

There will be no license fee for clubs wishing to conduct hunt tests. There will be a $3 per dog recording fee for all dogs entered, pass or fail. All of the forms and evaluation sheets, reports, etc. will be downloadable from the website or will be mailed to clubs without access. The whole program is set up to be very user friendly to clubs.

As far as titles are concerned, a dog that passes three (3) hunt tests will receive the degree of HTX as a suffix to the dog’s UKC registered name. Each three additional passes will be notated with an HTX2, HTX3 and so on. Hunt Test passes earned on coon and squirrel will be tracked separately and certificates will indicate whether the certificate was earned on coon or squirrel. The suffix HTX will not reflect whether the title was earned on which type of game but will actually combine the total number of certificates earned.

Hunt Test FAQS

How do I become a hunt test inspector?

It is not necessary to be licensed to inspect dogs for a hunt test. The criteria for serving as an inspector can be found at the bottom of the evaluation form where the inspector is required to sign the form. If a person can acknowledge by their signature that they know and understand the following, then they may serve as a hunt test inspector:
    1. I have not bred, trained or housed the above dog and I am not a regular hunting partner of the owner or handler of said dog.

    2. I am an active squirrel hunter; I am familiar with and can identify the criteria for evaluating working squirrel dogs.

    3. I was witness to this evaluation and the information contained above is true and accurate to the best of my knowledge (misrepresentation punishable by UKC sanctions).
Can you call time out and move during a hunt test?

Absolutely. In the notes section of the evaluation form, an inspector is encouraged to write down the start time of the inspection. If it becomes necessary to find new ground to finish the inspection, note the time used and/ or time remaining and move.

Is it necessary for the handler to declare the dog treed during an inspection?

It is not necessary to “tree” a dog during an inspection. If due to getting extremely deep there is question as to whether a dog heard is the dog being evaluated, it should be discussed by the handler and the inspector. At such time that it becomes obvious the dog has treed, either the handler or the inspector may suggest that the two minutes be started. If either has reason to believe that the dog is not treed, it should be discussed.

Is there a limit to the number of times a dog can fail a hunt test?

There is no limit to the number of times a dog can fail a hunt test. There is a limit as to the number of times a dog may participate in a hunt test and that is once per day or night. You have to look at the hunt tests as an alternative activity for owners to participate in with their dog. We do not wish to discourage anyone from getting out there and participating in events with their dogs.


The Evaluation

One of the concerns regarding licensed squirrel hunts is that the rule structure is too complicated. Based on that, every effort was made to keep the hunt test evaluation as simple as possible. The basic premise is this. As stated above, a dog is evaluated for one hour. During that hour, a dog must meet all of the following requirements on at least one turn out. The dog must go hunting, the dog must tree and stay treed, and the squirrel must be seen. That’s it; the most basic elements of a successful squirrel hunt. If a dog is not able to complete those standard requirements during the hour, all on the same track, it cannot be passed. In addition the dog must complete the one hour of hunting time without committing two of the listed faults.

That’s basically it. There is also a sportsmanship DQ that will be applied any time a handler’s tone becomes confrontational. There are restrictions against hunting in enclosures, off feeders or turning loose on game seen crossing the road. Electronic devices other than tracking collars will not be permitted.

Inspectors

This is a key element to the program as the future success of any program hinges on it’s integrity. Every effort has been made to prevent the buddy system from playing a part while at the same time not making this so restrictive that it would not be feasible for clubs to do. Inspectors need not be licensed to evaluate dogs in a hunt test. They must be able to sign the evaluation form in agreement to three key elements. First, they may not have bred, trained, or housed the dog they are evaluating and may not be a regular hunting partner of the owner or handler of the dog they are evaluating. They must be able to agree to the statement that they have been an active coon hunting participant for at least five years and able to identify the criteria for evaluating working coonhounds. And finally, they must sign a release that the evaluation is true and accurate to the best of their ability and that they acknowledge the fact that any misrepresentation on the part of the inspector is punishable by UKC sanctions.

Though the role of the inspector is much the same as a non-hunting judge in the nite hunts, it is not believed that clubs will have nearly as much problem lining up inspectors as non-hunting judges. Because the event is not based on heads up competition between four handlers, the job of evaluating coonhounds under this format is much easier than the role of a non-hunting judge on a nite hunt cast. The whole program was designed to closely simulate a one dog pleasure hunt with two or three hunting buddies. The evaluation process is neither complicated nor confrontational which should make lining up inspectors a fairly easy process.

Who Will This Program Appeal To?
By our way of thinking, this new program will appeal to a lot of different people. When you sit down and try to make a list of who will benefit from such a program, you won’t believe how many groups, if you want to call them that, this is tailor made for.

* The person with a young dog doing a nice job but not ready for licensed hunt exposure.
* The person with an old reliable dog that’s maybe lost a step or two in time.
* The person with physical challenges of any kind.
* The person who wishes to include his wife, kids or anyone else in a more “hands on” roll in putting a title on the families favorite hunting dog.
* The person whose primary interest is conformation events but still wishes to validate the working ability of his or her dog.
*The Champion or Grand Champion owner who wishes to debunk the myth that his titled dog can’t do the work on it’s own.
*Those who prefer to work towards UKC titles on their dogs and are eager for mid-week opportunities.
*Clubs wishing to bring the pleasure hunters back to support the efforts of the local club.
*The growing number of Cur and Feist hunters looking for more opportunities closer to home.

The list literally goes on and on. The time truly is “right” for a program of this type to be offered to squirrel hunting enthusiasts. Will a program like this ever replace the prestige of a licensed hunt title? No, and it was not intended to. This is merely UKC’s honest effort to give more houndsmen an opportunity to get out and enjoy participating in organized events with their dog. We hope the hunt test atmosphere that has established itself in the other venues follows suit at the squirrel hunting tests and we see people pulling for and supporting each other more than ever before. It’s good for the dogs, it’s good for the soul and it’s good for the sport.

Here’s to hoping this new program passes your inspection and your dog passes ours!

The Hunt Test Test Hunts (say that five times fast!)

We have been evaluating some dogs at some test hunts and it has been a lot of fun and we’ve learned a lot in the process. It’s enjoyable to spend time in the woods with two or three good sportsman really concentrating on the work of a single dog. Believe it or not it gets pretty exciting when time is running out on the hour and the dog is working and hasn’t completed his pass requirements. Or the tension of the situation where he completed his requirements in the first ten minutes of the evaluation and now must complete his hour without losing what he’s already gained. Although it seems fairly simple and straight forward, some good dogs do not pass for one reason or another. Circle trees, bad weather, days when the squirrel just don’t move and several other factors really come into play. If a dog can consistently pass this basic test, it will speak highly of the balanced ability of that dog. In the night time hunt tests we have been conducting, we have seen a pass rate of about 33%. It will be very interesting to see how that figure changes when this program goes day time with squirrel hunts. So keep in mind, some good dogs will not pass. And ask yourself, have you ever went home from a day of squirrel hunting with your brag dog when you didn’t tree a squirrel? We all know the answer to that one. The hunt tests will be no different.