Posts Tagged ‘NAVHDA’

Hats off to the Dogs of Pheasant Fest

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

Photo by Nancy Anisfield / Anisfield Hunting Dog Photography

Photo by Nancy Anisfield / Anisfield Hunting Dog Photography

Being a major media attraction isn’t a walk in the park. Neither is being adored by thousands. So hats off – or extra biscuits – to the dogs of Pheasant Fest.

It can’t be easy for a true bred hunting dog to line up in a parade of varied breeds in a strange hallway then march through a crowd to pose before an even bigger crowd. The enormity of the convention center, with its sensory overload of colors and noises, is a far cry from the sharp air and clean swoosh of prairie or sunlit morning gold of the southern quail pines. But these beautiful dogs took it all in stride, wagging at admirers and absorbing pet after pat after kiss.

Some of the dogs posed proudly on tables, others beckoned visitors into their booths. A small Munsterlander waited patiently while conversations rambled on around her. A sleek Weimaraner stood confidently by his owner’s chair, making eye contact with every camera lens turned his way. Reclining on an elevated platform, a noble chocolate Lab seemed to have magnetic fur, luring hands from nearly every passer-by. While their owners answered a myriad of questions about breed and training, the dogs themselves drew the attention. No written or verbal information could equal attendees’ hands-on and eyes-on experience of being able to study and touch each dog.

One of the best moments I witnessed was late Saturday afternoon. Fergi, a young German shorthair, was lying visibly pooped on her training table in the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA) booth. She’d been doing retrieving demos and obedience drills all Friday afternoon and Saturday. Getting a break from the demos, Fergi was due for a nap. When a young boy came over to give her a pet, her eyes glanced up. His hand went out to stroke her head. Calmly, quietly, Fergi rose up, turned in a very slow half circle and settled back down for her snooze, offering her back and hind quarters to the boy’s hand. She was so tired and so sweet, not wanting to pull away from him but not able to take one more pat on the head. Within seconds, she was deep asleep while the boy stroked her flanks. A win-win situation.

Dogs rested in crates in the back of booths. Dogs performed on stage, focusing on their trainers instead of the distracting crowd. Dogs strolled the aisles with only their owners’ leashes keeping them from tempting jerky treats, french fries, and candies galore. Throughout, it was clear that these dogs enjoyed the opportunity to please their handlers and participate in the event…even if there were no coveys to point or roosters to retrieve.

National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic 2015 will be February 20, 21 & 22, 2015 at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, Iowa.

Nancy Anisfield, an outdoor photographer/writer, sporting dog enthusiast and bird hunter, serves on Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s National Board of Directors. She resides in Hinesburg, Vermont.

No “Versatile Champion” Title This Year, Yet Still the Ultimate Reward

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

Nancy Anisfield sends “Scratch” on a 100-yard blind retrieve at the NAVHD Invitational Test. Photo by Rick Holt

Nancy Anisfield sends “Scratch” on a 100-yard blind retrieve at the NAVHD Invitational Test. Photo by Rick Holt

“Scratch,” my German shorthaired pointer, and I just got back from the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association’s Invitational Test. The Invitational is a multi-day event designed to evaluate hunting dogs for “superior ability, versatility and obedience in all phases of work and a variety of hunting situations.” It is a pass/fail test. Dogs that pass are awarded the title “Versatile Champion” with a “VC” placed before their name in all pedigree records and registries.

At the Invitational, the dogs must run a one-hour field hunt in a brace, being scored by three judges on search, backing, pointing, steadiness and retrieve. They must complete an off-lead heeling course, a 100-yard blind water retrieve, honor another dog’s duck retrieve at the water, and do double mark water retrieves. Throughout, the dogs are also being scored on nose, desire, cooperation and obedience.

NAVHDAprogramWe trained for the event since Scratch qualified last September. To prepare, we’ve put on about four million road miles, since it’s important for the dogs to train on strange fields and water. Between Scratch and my husband’s dog, “Rudder,” who was also testing, we planted about four million pen-raised chukar this summer. The search for just the right water to practice the blind crossing seemed endless. And I’d wake up at 3 a.m. analyzing why Scratch would veer wide before coming to me on his retrieves or how I could get him to stop surging forward in his heeling.

Despite getting so amped up before his turn in the field that upon release he exploded like a ballistic missile, Scratch had a terrific field run. During training he’d occasionally creep while honoring the other dog’s point, but on test day he was solid. His retrieves were straight and clean. On the blind retrieve he went straight across like a pro. He even settled down enough for a passing score on the dreaded heeling course. Then it was time for the double mark which I never worried about because he’d been doing it perfectly for months. Until test day.

In short, everything I worried about, he did well. The one thing I didn’t worry about, he blew big time. We did not pass. (Fortunately, Rudder saved the family honor with her new Versatile Champion title.)

The road to the Invitational is nerve-wracking and somewhat obsessive. It’s also a journey of discovery about facing a challenge and working towards a goal in partnership with your hunting dog. But the VC title isn’t the highest prize. Getting to know other handlers and their dogs– sharing the disasters, surprises and success – is the reward.

NAVHDA couldn’t run this major event without the support of its conservation partners and corporate sponsors. Pheasants Forever / Quail Forever is one of NAVHDA’s Conservation Partners. For that, Scratch and I say a heartfelt “thank you.”

Nancy Anisfield, an outdoor photographer/writer, sporting dog enthusiast and bird hunter, serves on Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s National Board of Directors. She resides in Hinesburg, Vermont.

Summer Dog Training: The Show Must Go On

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013


Photo by Nancy Anisfield / Anisfield Hunting Dog Photography

Hot, hot, hot…and rain, rain, rain. “Rimfire’s” growing green; “Tank” has sprouted mushrooms.  Coyotes left very weird white turds in the driveway. The sumac is turning yellow, and we’re growing gills and fins all around.

Nevertheless, dog training must go on. With my German shorthaired pointer, “Scratch,” and Terry’s German wirehaired pointer, “Rudder,” going to the NAVHDA Invitational in September, on test day we face an hour braced field run, 100-yard blind retrieve across water to the other bank, double marked retrieves, off lead heeling, and honoring another dog’s water retrieve. No e-collars on test day, commands minimal.

Translation: We’ve got a lot of work to do.

Training dogs in hot weather presents new challenges. While it’s conditioning to practice in the heat, it gives us something else to worry about besides how clean the retrieves are or if they’re backing consistently. I noticed recently the most worrisome part wasn’t while they were running in the field, it was afterwards. In the field, I felt the heat, too, and felt more in tune with Scratch’s need for water or shade knowing that down in the tall grass, he was pushing through captured heat up to ten degrees hotter than I was feeling. When we were done, however, and he was staked in the shade or resting in an open wire crate with a light breeze blowing, I was amazed how long it took for him to cool down.

Tongue flopping from left to right side of his gaped open mouth, drooling and panting in heavy breaths,  he wasn’t in trouble, but he was hot. Really hot. I watered down his ears, belly and armpits but didn’t give him any more water since he’d downed almost two bottles during our 20 minute run. It took him nearly twice as long to cool down.

Conditioning vs. overheating – another part of the summer’s learning experience. It’s not without its lighter side, though. Who could blame a dog that retrieves the final chukar in the field (how does he know it’s the last one out there?) and instead of coming to sit by my side with a proper presentation of the bird, blows right by me heading directly for the pond beyond the trucks.

And there I found him, reclining in the mud like a fat lazy crocodile, still holding his chukar, cool water lapping at his belly… with a very pleased sparkle in his eyes.

Nancy Anisfield, an outdoor photographer/writer, sporting dog enthusiast and bird hunter, serves on Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s National Board of Directors. She resides in Hinesburg, Vermont.

My Go-To Bird Dog Training Gun

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

Last Sunday was a perfect day for skeet shooting. Almost. It was acceptably warm for northern Vermont in early spring – 45-50 degrees. Light high clouds meant no glare from the sun. But there was a wind blowing at a steady 46 mph off Lake Champlain, with gusts up to 60. On the cup-is-half-full side of things, the wind gave us a great excuse for missing, as unpredictable clays bounced up and down like popcorn in one of those big movie theatre machines.

I didn’t do too badly, but I can’t say how many I hit out of each round because I didn’t keep score. I was there to give my “go-to” dog training gun a little practice before next week’s first clinic of the dog training season.


Photo by Nancy Anisfield / Anisfield Hunting Dog Photography

The 28-gauge Browning Citori over-under is not at all noteworthy. It has 26-inch barrels, ho-hum wood, barely a squiggle of engraving, and a straight English stock which is never my preference. It was not new when I got it. I don’t know hold old it is, although it’s clearly not “old” in the sense of antique or collectible. I don’t have the case, never saw the manual and don’t know what the barrels are choked for. That  information could be gathered by research based on the serial number, but it’s not important. What’s important? This gun and I get along.

A few years ago, the 20-gauge Franchi Veloce I’d taken on a chukar hunting trip in Idaho developed a disturbing problem. When it fired, it opened. Two or three instances of that happening were enough to put the Franchi back in its case until I could send it for repair. The lodge we were staying at had several rental and loaner guns, some of which were on consignment for sale.  The Browning 28-gauge seemed to fit, so I gave it a try.

I shot better than I had the whole trip up to that point, and I don’t know why. I never measured the Browning’s length of pull or inquired into its previous ownership. It wasn’t love at first sight (not like when I first laid eyes and hands on my beautiful Caesar Guerini Magnus Light). I even recall making disparaging comments about the English grip which didn’t work easily with the way I like to rest the butt of the gun on my hip while walking. But it shot so darn well, plain and simple, that when my husband Terry offered to buy it for me as an early Christmas present, I said yes before he even finished his sentence.

The Browning has become my dog training gun. From April to September, at NAVHDA clinics or training at home, I shoot pen-raised quail and chukar. Lots of quail and chukar. The gun gets stuffed in the back of my Jeep along with dog crates and water jugs, bird pens and coolers.  I often forget to wipe it down after a day of sweaty hands, bug repellent and summertime grit. While I’m not particularly careful or sentimental about the Guerini, for some reason I save it and the Franchi for real hunting and let the Browning be my workhorse, off-season instrument of choice.

I don’t think much about my dog training gun. We just get along. And, for its part, it seems perfectly content out in the hot sun, waiting by the kennels, helping turn young pups into fine hunting dogs.

Nancy Anisfield, an outdoor photographer/writer, sporting dog enthusiast and bird hunter, serves on Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s National Board of Directors. She resides in Hinesburg, Vermont.