Knowledge Base - What is a Spaniel Hunt Test?

According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), spaniels who participate in AKC Hunting Tests "... are judged on their natural and trained ability to hunt, flush and retrieve their game on both land and water." Breeds eligible for Hunting Tests are Airedale Terriers, American Water Spaniel, Boykin, Clumber Spaniel, Cocker Spaniel, English Cocker, English Springer Spaniel, Field Spaniel, Irish Water Spaniel, Sussex Spaniel and Welsh Springer Spaniel.

There are three levels of tests:

Level Required Elements Title
Junior Hunter Field, Water Retrieve JH
Senior Hunter Field, Hunt Dead, Water Retrieve SH
Master Hunter Field, Hunt Dead, Water Retrieve, Water Blind MH


Each level has a written standard of expectations that must be met before a qualifying score can be given. It is helpful to review the "Basics of Scoring" and sample score card located in the AKC Spaniel Hunt Test Rule Book Rules. Additionly, a MH Excellent currently level is being developed but the spaniels who participate in AKC Hunting Tests English Springer Spaniel Field Trial Association (ESSFTA).

Note: As with any game you play, you must know the rules. Not only will having a clear understanding of the rules guide you in your actions, but this knowledge will also allow you to ask the proper questions when you are unclear about a topic. To sum up: READ YOUR RULE BOOK!

Required Elements

The following describes the elements the dog must pass at any given level:

  • Field: This work occurs on land in a field with some amount of cover and simulates a hunting situation in which the dog is expected to cover the ground in a relatively efficient manner in order to find the game and retrieve any birds (shot or caught) back to the handler. Ideally, each dog will have the opportunity to find, flush, and retrieve two birds.
  • Hunt Dead: This work, also performed on land, simulates a situation in which someone has shot a bird that has landed in a location not seen by you or your dog. You are expected to be able to send your dog back to the general location so that the dog can retrieve the bird back to you.
  • Water Retrieve: The performance shows that the dog has the ability to retrieve a downed bird in the water. A gunshot will accompany the throwing of a dead bird for your dog.
  • Water Blind: This skill is only required at the Master Hunter level. Unlike the hunt dead, the dog must cross a body of water in order to find this retrieve. Along the way, the dog is expected to respond to any handling commands from the handler in an efficient manner in order to get to the bird as quickly as possible, rather than simply being sent on one command to cross the water and be left to his own devices to find the bird.

What is a Qualifying Score?

Dogs are scored 0 to 10 in the following categories:

  • Hunting Ability, which includes desire, courage, perseverance, independence, and intelligence).
  • Bird Finding Ability, which includes bird sense, response to wind and scenting conditions, and use of nose.
  • Flushing Ability, which pertains to boldness of flush.
  • Trained Abilities, which include range, pattern, gun response, and response to commands.
  • Retrieving Ability, which includes marking, enthusiasm, and mouth.

In order to receive a Qualifying score, a dog must acquire a minimum average of not less than 5 on each of the above categories of abilities. The overall average score may not be less than 7.

Title # of Qualifying Scores
Junior Hunter 4
Senior Hunter 5
Master Hunter 6

A dog completing a title at lower level will be awarded a one qualifying score at the next level. For example, a dog that completes their Junior Hunter title receives a qualifying score at Senior Hunter.

What is the difference between a Hunt Test and a Field Trial?

An overview of a Field Trial (FT) is located at http://www.essfta.org/Versatility/fieldtrial.htm. The table below lists the differences between a Hunt Test and a Field Trial:

Hunt Test Field Trial
Judged against a written standard with a pass or fail Judged against other dogs with the best dog/handler combination winning
Run individually (1 dog at a time) Run in braces (2 dogs in front of the judges at the same time)
Generally 1 test per day A field Trial may take 1 - 2 days to complete
Water test required Unless it is a National FT, Water Tests are a separate event
No standard radio used Use blue dot radios for communication

What can I expect at a typical day at a Hunt Test?

As you drive to the site, you should see signs providing directions. There will be a parking area where you can park your vehicle.

Onsite, there will be some sort of headquarters (i.e. tent, shelter, or building). You will want to check in and pick up a running order for the day, directions to the field, and instructions regarding where you can exercise your dog prior to the event. There may be a "briefing" prior to the start of the event to allow the judges to make general comments to the handlers about what they are expecting during the competition.

The announcement will be made to "Go to the field". At that time, the handlers and dogs who are first up in the running will head to the field either by vehicle or by foot. Everyone must wear an article of hunter (blaze) orange while in the field. Throughout the day, all participants and spectators must follow the orders of the Field Marshall.

The bird planter will plant birds in the field. The Field Marshall will call the first handler and dog to the line. When the handler and dog arrive, the judges will welcome the team and give the handler directions. This is the time to ask any questions you may have of the judging team.

The judges will generally say, "anytime youre ready," as a signal that the handler may begin at will. The handler will then cast the dog off when he/she is ready.


Usually, all of the field work is completed before breaking for lunch. After lunch the dogs that passed the field work in Master and Senior are called back for the Hunt Dead. Next all dogs that passed the Hunt Dead and Junior dogs that passed the field are called back for the water series. Finally the Master Blind Water Retrieve is conducted.

It is not uncommon after the HT is completed on Saturday for the club to host a "get together". This social event is usually a potluck with the host club serving the main dish.

Why Enter a Hunt Test?

This answer depends on your goals for you and your dog, but to follow are some common responses from fellow Hunt Testers:

  • It is fun!
  • I am able to spend time with my dog.
  • I enjoy meeting great people from around the country.
  • I can visit with old friends.
  • I feel a sense of accomplishment.
  • It allows me to keep my dogs tuned up for hunting season.
  • I am able to add a title to my dog


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