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“Something for Everyone”
I’d guess most every local HRC club has a wide range of members. Some members come in with minimal interest in training, and come to be students of the game and very serious trainers. Others come in with a lot of interest but find there is no magic potion and just a lot of time and hard work in training a really good dog. Some of those settle for less than a good dog and some just drift away.
There are members who come in and immediately get active in club activities and stay that way for years and years. Others come in excited and burn themselves out in the short run.
Some come in wanting the minimum in a decent hunting dog. They might not be looking for a good dog because they don’t recognize a well-trained dog or aren’t willing to put in the effort. They may just have no frame of reference to go by. Perhaps they’ve never hunted with a good retriever. Or maybe they’ve hunted with what was a pretty darned good retriever, using the standard of the average dog one sees in a public hunting area, but again no real frame of reference. Even after this kind of member arrives and watches solid Seasoned and Finished dogs work, what they see may have no connection to anything they understand.
I can remember going to my first hunt test. I’d run the entry level test the first day and morning of the second day, and then stayed to watch the middle and top levels. I was absolutely bowled over by the performance of the dogs running blind retrieves. It was like there was absolutely no connection between what I was seeing and how that kind of canine performance might be achieved. It was far enough removed to seem magic.
It took me a while to learn, and I hardly learned it at all with my first HRC dog that was already three years old when we saw that test. The second one I did better on, but it was the third Lab before I finally got both a real clue and a good detailed and structured training program that yielded an above average hunting and test dog. I’m really glad I hung with it, but many don’t.
As the mossbacks in a club, we have to be careful not to impose our goals, values and standards on those coming in. It often doesn’t work and we just end up with a one-year member or one who leaves the first club training day, never to return. I can still remember one of our new members who had a dog that had hunted a couple seasons. The dog was a breaking fool and wouldn’t hold a bird. The owner was honest. He said, “I don’t know enough to train a fancy dog and I don’t need one. But I want a retriever that will bring my ducks back, and I want a retriever that will not break in the duck blind so I don’t annoy my hunting friends.”
Fortunately, the old members were willing to respect that and help him achieve those two things. The owner thanked everyone at the end of the summer and disappeared for the hunting season, as most of us do in the club. Early in the spring the phone rang and it was this owner. “You know, the club helped me so much and I’ve been thinking that it would be really nice to have a retriever that could run blind retrieves. I’m working on it and making progress, but I have some questions.”
Great! The kind of feedback a club loves. But realistically, if we’d met this guy at his first training session and said, “Okay, first thing you need to do is get an e-collar to get this dog under control and then force fetch him,” it’s hard to say if he’d have even stayed for that day, let alone come back another year with interest in more advanced dog training.
We have members who belong for two or three years and then drift away. We don’t see them until that dog has grown old and they need to start a new hunting dog. And there is nothing wrong with that. Welcome. I’d hope that a “Conceived by Hunters for Hunters” organization always has room for that muddy hunter who is very focused on the kind of hunting that they enjoy. Sometimes the second or third time around they get bit by the training bug and stay and run more tests and perhaps train to the next higher level. Again, welcome.
There are members who never show up at anything, and their only benefit of membership is the club membership card. That’s too bad, but that’s okay too. As long as the club is honest in describing what it offers, and members choose not to avail themselves of it, that’s fine. The club can always use the membership fee dollars for equipment, supplies and programs for members who do want to partake.
There are members who join, having never hunted, nor having any interest in learning to hunt. My feeling is we should very much welcome them to the club, help them have a good experience, but resist any non-hunter changes to what we do and do what we can to see if we can ignite an interest in hunting. Sometimes we don’t need to do anything but provide the exposure. Years ago, a lady joined the club because she wanted to play dog games and it gave her something to do while her husband was on the road for work. Pretty soon that newly-trained retriever “needed” a little field experience and she was going with her husband to handle the Lab to retrieve his ducks. Next, it was a pair of waders and a shotgun and, well, you all know the earmarks of that downhill skid into hunting addiction. Next we knew, when he was on the road, she and the dog were in the duck blind hunting alone. Doesn’t always happen, but fun to watch when it does. The club provided something for her by welcoming her, and she benefited with a new way to enjoy life and ended up being a great worker for the club and even an office holder.
Most clubs have members who have been there long enough to have had several dogs, and most have grown in their training and handling skills over that time. That is certainly a benefit readily available for those who participate in club and club related activities.
Most clubs get a few members who get really excited about running tests and getting better and better performance out of their dogs, and getting where they can compare what they can produce in a retriever with other like-minded members. Some get into actual competition and enter the hunt test/field trial game. More are likely to get bitten by the Grand bug, and become regulars at that twice-a-year HRC event held somewhere in the U.S. or Canada.
The Grand is a very different game than the weekend tests and clearly is not something many have the least interest in, and that many would not likely be successful in without a quantum leap in their training and handling skills, or who would need to enlist the services of a professional trainer to train and or run a Grand dog. It’s a little different game that is loved by some and criticized by some. I could tell when I attended a Grand hosted by our club that for those who chose to participate, it was pretty special for them, there was a lot of camaraderie, and the headquarters motel parking lot seemed like some kind of reunion in the days before the Grand kicked off. It is clearly not a part of HRC that is for everyone, but equally clearly, there are a lot of members who have tried it and liked it and find it an important part of HRC for them.
Another thing that HRC provides is an opportunity for members to give of themselves in spades. It may be the behind the scenes but critical work of the person who cares for club equipment and hauls the equipment trailer to event after event, year after year. Or the person who serves as bird steward for years who is up getting birds ready for the hunt tests while everyone else is still sawing logs at the motel. That same person is often getting them ready for disposal while others are gathering for the hunt social with a cool one in their hands.
There are a myriad of ways that people have given of their time, ability and resources to make a local club successful, from donating their time and abilities to loaning the club money to serving in elected and appointed capacities. Similarly, for those who are committed enough to want to really spend a lot of time, much of it thankless, the organization nationally provides a number of opportunities for elected and appointed positions that are part of the almost 100 percent volunteer organization that HRC has been since its inception. Leaf through this magazine and look closely at each section and the various lists, etc. When you look behind it, you see all that goes into such an enterprise as HRC. When we read our dogs’ names in the list of passing dogs at an HRC test, if we take a minute and reflect, we can come up with a whole lot of people at the local HRC club, national HRC and UKC who have spent a lot of time and effort so we can see our dog’s name in print and feel proud.
In many ways we in HRC are family, and in all but a few saintly families that connotes both the positive and the negative. We have that as well. For the most part, even though we may get into some serious kicking, eye-gouging, ear-biting and even a little ox-goring, like at some family get-togethers, generally when all is said and done, some things get straightened out, many of the distant relations aren’t even aware of it, most of the hard feelings wear off and, somehow or other, the family usually ends up better for it in the long run. So if you are new, and see or hear of some apparently strange things going on from time to time, politically, and wonder if we are about to eat our young, take heart. We’ve been there before and HRC has remained strong. Shucks, it would take all the fun out of it if all the personal, political and philosophical disagreements could be settled completely civilly. Heck, then we wouldn’t be family!
The hunter just in for a summer to get a steady dog that will hold a bird may be one end of the HRC spectrum, and the member with a serious long-term Grand Jones may be the other. Most of us fit somewhere in between. Happily, it’s been a big tent with plenty of room and a welcome mat for all, and hopefully it will stay that way for a long time. Whether you’ve got a grown-up dog you want to turn into a civilized occupant of your duck blind, or are waiting for that pup you yearn to hang a GRHRCH title or 6,000 HRC points on, welcome and enjoy!
There is an old saying that in a club of 10 members there are 10 active members, and in a club of 100 members, there are 10 active members. There is more than a little truth to that statement, but from what I see a lot of successful clubs spend a lot of effort to try to disprove it or combat it. That may be by using serious efforts to get members to get involved and become active in the club, or it may be by just recruiting like crazy to get enough active members out of the total membership. Some have found that mentor programs for new members seem to increase the percentage of new members who become active.
Whatever works, and as long as the club is healthy and the members are happy, who cares if 100 percent or 10 percent are really active? Often, for good long-term club health, it is important to get as many people involved as possible. I’ve been around our club since it started in the mid-80’s and have seen a lot of people come and go, including a lot of them who got very involved and worked hard with their dogs and for the club. Some just plain burned out, and it’s good for a club to try to help its members to avoid that.
Things change in people’s lives, and priorities that were high once may not hardly exist as time goes on, but if it’s good for members for a while, then the club has served a good purpose.
As clubs, we hope a lot of our members do get active, train better hunting retrievers as they get experience, and involve themselves in club activities and run HRC tests. If not all do, and what we do is help a few more hunters have a better four-legged hunting companion come fall, I’d have to say we’ve provided quite a service and helped provide something to those who join us, regardless of why or for how long. I sure know I wouldn’t have had the level of training in my hunting retrievers for the last 20-some years if it wasn’t for running the HRC tests and being part of my local HRC club. I would say that those who tend to benefit most and have the most fun are the ones who jump right in and get involved. Whatever your intent or interests, are you ready?
This article originally appeared in the June/July 2013 issue of HUNTING RETRIEVER.