The AKC Hunting Test Program for Pointing Breeds
The Hunting Tests are a non-competitive program that the AKC instituted in the late 1980's, and were designed to give hunters an objective standard for evaluating their dog's natural hunting ability. Dogs are graded against a standard at 3 levels of performance: Junior, Senior, and Master. Every dog that passes the test earns a leg, or qualifying score, toward an AKC hunting title. Four legs are required to earn the letters JH after the dog's registered name (for Junior Hunter,) five legs for an SH, and six for an MH. A dog must be at least six months of age to enter the test.
The requirements for Junior Hunter are similar to that of a Derby stake at a field trial, with the additional requirement that the dog should hold point until the bird flushes. A Junior Hunting test is a 15-minute event, using a blank pistol only, no live firing and no retrieving. A dog may continue to run in Junior Hunting Tests even after he has earned his JH title, provided that he has not earned any Senior or Master legs.
The Senior Hunter test is far more demanding. The test runs for 30 minutes and includes live firing. Senior Hunting dogs must find and point game, hold their point steady until a shot is fired, stop on their own to honor their bracemate every time they encounter him on point, and perform a reasonably finished retrieve. Once they have established an honor on their own, their handlers may hold them by the collar until the bird work is completed.
A Master Hunting dog must put on a completely finished performance. Master Hunter tests run for at least 30 minutes. The dog is required to establish a stylish point and be completely steady to wing and shot, to stop for all wild flushes, and to honor every point of his bracemate, all without any command from his handler. His retrieve must be prompt, tender, and absolutely to his handler's hand.
Dogs may enter the Hunting Test program at any level, but once they have earned a leg at one level, they may not again enter a lower level. A JH title counts as one of the five legs required for an SH title; and an SH title counts as one of the six legs required for an MH title.
By AKC regulation, hunting tests may not be held in conjunction with field trials. This is AKC's attempt to emphasize that these tests are not competitive and are not asking for field trial-calibre work. The hunting tests can be a great deal of fun. They are less challenging than venturing immediately into field trials, and often serve as a pleasant introduction to field work. Many new handlers feel less pressure in this non-threatening program and develop the confidence and skills to go on and attempt the actual field trials. They can also be great training exercises for field trial dogs, since it is difficult to simulate actual field trial conditions in most of our everyday training situations. Be you hunters or not, I would encourage you to attend the hunting tests.