Meet Your Judges (2023)

Region 1 –
North Carolina

Karl Blackwell

First and foremost, thank you for allowing me to judge the 2023 Master National. I am truly grateful for the opportunity.

I purchased my first lab (Kadie) in 2016. At the time, I knew nothing about hunt tests or field trials. I watched videos and, with this knowledge, trained and handled her to a senior title. Upon realizing I had reached my limit, I sent her to a professional trainer. Kadie currently has earned more than 25 master passes, 2 master national passes, HRC finished title and placed 6th in the Super Retriever Series Crown Championship. I now own 4 dogs which compete in all aspects of the retriever world.

I’m currently a member of numerous clubs in the North Carolina/Virginia area. I judged my first junior hunt test in April 2018 and my first master hunt test is September 2019. I am an 8 point judge at all levels. I enjoy judging at all levels and take pride in setting up tests that are fair and challenging to the dog and handler. I seem to learn something every time I do so. In the process, I’ve met so many people and made so many friends.

I’m looking forward to the challenge and watching all the dog/handler teams from across the country run the tests. I would like to wish everyone the best of luck and “Dog to the Line”.

Karl Blackwell

Region 1 – Delaware

Barry R. Fry

I am honored to be selected to judge the 2023 Master National.   I truly appreciate those who have faith and confidence in me to judge this event.  I also wish to congratulate all the handlers and their dogs that have qualified for the 2023 Master National Event.

My wife, Carol and I have been married since May 1969.  We have two daughters, Renee and Lisa.  We have 1 granddaughter, Ashley (Renee) and two grandsons, Tayg and Tanner (Lisa).  We also have two great granddaughters, Savannah and Oaklyn (Ashley).

I grew up hunting upland game in the rural areas of Delaware during my high school and college days.  After returning from active Army duty, I began my journey into waterfowling.   My first lab was a large 100 lb. brute that I trained with a 100 foot rope and reading James Lamb Free’s book:  which still sits in my bookcase.  Therefore, I am a waterfowl hunter who trains hunting dogs and runs hunt tests in between hunting seasons.  I was told by a friend who was huge in the Field Trial game, if I had a senior title on the dog, it would be a very good waterfowl retriever.  So, the journey began. 

At that point, Nelson and Nancy Sills took me and my dog under their wing so to speak and trained me to train my dog.  My long acquaintance with them has been endearing and educational.   From that day forward, I was in training mode.  After putting a junior, senior and master title on the dog, Nelson kept asking me if I was interested in Judging.  I said “No”.  I was busy enough with the Fire Dept, National Guards, teaching Agriculture, serving as the FFA Advisor, serving as the Vocational Dept. chair, teaching at the Delaware State Fire School, teaching hunter safety, water safety classes and training my own dog.  

I also had two daughters which eventually turned into 3 grand children which turn into 2 great granddaughters.  Nelson kept suggesting that I “try” it.  Finally, I attended my first seminar and the adventure began.

I started judging in 2003 and have enjoyed the journey.  Judging is demanding, challenging and sometimes stressful.  But at the end of the day, you can look back with a sense of satisfaction and pride.  It is the people you meet and friends you make that make it rewarding and gratifying in the end.  I believe in a fair and challenging test and enjoy watching the dog and handler work as a team.  Although my days afield have diminished, my training days are every day:  weather permitting.  I am currently training my young 2 ½ year old yellow male lab.  He has his Senior title, has picked up a few ducks this season and we are working toward starting Masters in the spring.

I would like to extend a huge thank you to the volunteers and club members who make it possible to have successful hunt tests during the year and especially during the Master National Event.  I look forward to meeting new friends, seeing old ones and continuing this amazing journey.

Congratulations to all and have a Successful and Safe Experience in 2023.

Barry Fry

Region 1 – Ohio

Sally Koepke

I am truly honored to be selected to represent Region 1 as a judge for the 2023 Master National. A big congrats to all the handler/dog teams who have qualified or will be soon.

To be here is to be victorious.

I’ve always loved retrievers and the outdoors so getting into the hunt test game was a natural. I started in 1986 with my golden retrievers and labs participating in both hunt test, field trails, and even some upland hunting competitions. Competing with my retrievers piqued my interest to learn how to hunt duck, goose, and pheasant. Nothing gives me more pleasure than watching the sun rise and a retriever do what they were bred to do. I’m amazed and in awe of what these magnificent canines can learn and accomplish. They enrich our lives so much.

As a long-time member of Buckeye Retriever Club, one of the first clubs in the retrieving sport, I served on the Board of Directors for over 25 years. From chairing and working events, coordinating, and holding fund-raising activities, to hosting numerous tail gate parties and serving as club Secretary, I have been delighted to see our sport evolve and grow.

Participating as a judge and a handler has taken me all over the country. I’ve enjoyed setting up and running hunt tests on so many different and beautiful grounds, watched and judged some talented retrievers and met fellow enthusiasts. Many which have become lifelong friends.

I’m excited and looking forward to seeing all the different retriever breeds compete against the Master standard. And I look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones.

My goal as a 2023 judge, is to participate in setting up challenging, safe, and fair tests that meet the Master Hunter standard. I hope everyone has a wonderful time. The journey is the reward.

Many thanks for this extraordinary opportunity and experience.

Sally Koepke

Region 1 –
South Carolina

Tom McKenzie

It is an honor to be selected to judge The Master National 2023. I want to thank all the clubs, club members, and National Board that placed their trust and confidence in me. Thomasville is a beautiful area; Becky Malphus and the local clubs will do a fabulous job with this event. The grounds for this event will be outstanding.

In 1998 I bought my first retriever from Swift Creek Kennel near Camden, South Carolina. His name was Cooper, and he was to be just my hunting partner. After taking him to a puppy test, I was hooked; coming home with that ribbon was better than anything. After a lot of hard work with Nancy and Sidney Tidwell, Cooper became my first Master Hunter.

In 1999, the Tidwells hosted the Master National in Camden, South Carolina. Even though my dog was too young to qualify for that event, they convinced me to come work it for two weeks. I was fortunate enough to meet Sallie Sullivan, Frank Pendagrast, Ray Muth, Bill Teague, Ralph and Nancy Brooks, and many more, all of whom became lifelong friends.

In 2009 I attended my first Master National as a competitor. I had lost Cooper that summer but was able to compete with our dog Marty, and he went on to pass 2009, 2010, and 2011 and entered the Hall of Fame. I have run every year since 2009 and am fortunate to have five dogs in the Hall of Fame.

I rarely have a chance to thank friends for helping me get to where I am. Without the help of the Tidwells, Ray and Melissa Shanks, Brooke, Bucko, and Kylie VanDeBrake, and too many more to list, this journey would not have been possible. I also thank my wife, Tricia, who has stood with me all these years. Without her support, none of this would happen. We currently have six dogs, but every day, I still remember the ones we have lost.

I am an avid hunter, and nothing is better than taking your hunting dog out and watching them work. I started hunting with my father and grandfathers, hunting quail with pointers. Whether it’s retrieving ducks, geese, pheasant, doves, or quail, at the end of the day, its quality time spent with family, friends, and your dog that really matters.

I believe that judges should remain active participants and run their own dogs to appreciate the hard work all the handlers and trainers put into their dogs. When we get to the last series, and you are standing at the line, heart-pounding, know I have stood in that spot many times, and I will be standing with you. I know all the hard work, time and many miles you have put into getting ready for this event.

Good luck to all of you, be safe, and I look forward to seeing you on the line.

Tom McKenzie

Region 2 – Mississippi

Mark Edwards

It is both a distinct honor and privilege to represent Region 2 at the 2023 Master National.  Congratulations to all the teams that worked so hard to qualify for this prestigious event.  I look forward to seeing some of the very best dog and handler teams in the sport demonstrating excellence in their attempt to earn a pewter plate!   

I grew up as a rabid duck and bird hunter in North Mississippi.  It is still one of the passions in my life.  One chaotic day at a duck camp in the Mississippi Delta, I had enough of watching dogs break, munch birds, and wreak total havoc inside of a blind.  I decided that day that I would get my very own dog, and train it myself, as there simply had to be something better than the mayhem I was experiencing.  My wife picked us a puppy, and off we went on a great multi-year journey. 

When we got our first dog, neither my wife or I had ever heard the term “hunt test.”  I remember watching the first Master test I ever saw, and thinking “this kind of work is impossible for us to achieve.”  So, we found the local retriever club, got some mentors, found some great training partners, and went to work.  I was incredibly proud to have trained and handled my first dog, Ellie Mae, to a Master Hunter title a couple of years later.  What a journey it has been since then!  There have been more dogs, more Master Hunter titles, putting on hunt tests, meeting exceptional people and dogs, and being asked to judge them as well.  One of the most satisfying things in the world is watching a dog/handler team work their way through a fair and challenging test with style and precision.  As well as seeing the same dogs making duck hunting retrieves look simple.  It is also a joy watching new handlers and trainers giving back to the sport so that others can participate in this great journey. 

The best of luck to each handler and dog in this year’s event.  Be safe.  And thank you to all the people who work so hard to put this event on each year so the rest of us can play with our beloved canine friends. 

Mark Edwards

Region 2 – Iowa

Laura Foster

I want to thank the handlers and clubs from Region 2 for selecting me to be one of the judges for the 2022 Master National. It is both an honor and a privilege, and I look forward to seeing the dog and handler teams that have worked so hard to qualify to run.

My husband Allyn and I have been married for 32 years and we have one son, Andrew who lives nearby. We currently have two black Labs, a chocolate Lab, and a yellow Lab. Three are Master Hunters, two are QA2 and our young one is working to attain her Master title next year.

My involvement with AKC Hunting Tests began in 1987 when Allyn and I purchased our first Lab puppy with the intent of training it to be a hunting dog and a companion. We contacted a local pro trainer to inquire about training, but instead found ourselves in a very dedicated training group and were soon introduced to AKC Hunting Tests. (Training six days a week for 3 or 4 hours was the norm.) It was only a matter of months before we purchased a second puppy so we could both be fully involved (and a little competitive with each other). We joined the Idaho Retriever Club in 1987, and have been members ever since. After watching my first Master test that spring, I knew that my goal was to train and run my dogs at the Master level.

I have been a member of the Idaho Retriever Club since 1987 and joined Treasure Valley Hunting Retriever Club soon after it was formed. Over the years, I have been club secretary, hunt test secretary, co-chaired hunt tests, marshalled, thrown birds, shot birds, judged etc.

My husband and I still train and run our dogs as a team and have had six Master Hunters, three of which have been QA2. Three of our Master hunters have been completely amateur trained and run, and three have had very limited pro training. I know the time, effort, and expense that it takes to train a dog to the level of a truly finished retriever and I find great satisfaction in training and running my own dog. In 2010 I ran my chocolate Lab, Wyldfire’s High Tech CFO MH QA2 ( Penny) at the Master National in Corning, California. Even though we went out near the end of the week, it was an awesome experience and I will never forget the excitement and the nervousness of taking her to the line at the Master National.

In 2016, I had two dogs qualified to run the Master National and one qualified to run the 2017 Master Amateur Invitational.

I am an avid pheasant hunter and love to watch a good dog work in the field. My favorite hunts are on a quiet snowy day when the birds are holding tight and the dogs have to work hard to dig them out of the cover.

While judging I believe in always being fair to the dog. I like challenging tests that are fun to run, with good bird placement and good crisp handling on blinds. I enjoy watching a dog and handler take on a challenging test as a cohesive team and successfully complete it!

Good luck to all the dog’s and handlers that have worked so hard to qualify to run at the Master National this year!

Laura Foster

Region 2 – Minnesota

Lin M Gelbmann

I consider it a privilege and honor to be selected as a Master National Judge.

I have been an avid bird hunter since the age of 12 when I was my father’s retriever.  As soon as I was old enough, I got my first dog. Oddly, she was a Doberman, not a Labrador. I trained her in obedience through Utility and Tracking titles; I took her hunting and trained her to retrieve my birds. But there were no Hunt Tests back then, only Field Trials, so I felt I still needed a “real” hunting dog to participate. 

In 1978, I bought a puppy from a Field Trial line; Hunt Tests became available, and the rest is history. Since then, I have trained and titled as Master Hunters 6 Labradors and 3 Standard Poodles—yes, Poodles.  Another highlight of my life is Tye, the only AKC Conformation Champion to hold MH, MHU, and HRCH titles. He crossed the rainbow bridge at the age of 15.  I now have his 3-year-old son, who completed his Started, Seasoned, and Junior Hunter titles along with one Senior Hunter pass in his first year of trialing.  He earned his AKC Senior Hunter title this summer going 4 of 4.  Now he will move on to Master and Finished. My current Labrador is a MH and will compete in Qualified All Age this year.  Every year I hunt and guide with my Lab and my Poodle for pheasants, geese, and ducks.  As a result, my hunting experience enables me to set my tests in true hunting scenario.  I have worked at the Master National with my dogs as “set up” and “test” dogs. I have run two dogs and earned plates. I have judged the Master Amateur and this will be my 2nd time judging the Master National.

My life and career have always evolved around dogs and horses. I retired after 30 years at the University of Minnesota Veterinary School as a Veterinary Rehab Practitioner where I established the Canine and Equine Rehab Center. I continue to see and treat horses and dogs for rehab and conditioning.  I have written the book, Canine Structure Performance and Conditioning, and I frequently give seminars across the country. 

I have been extremely fortunate to have wonderful mentors along the way who have helped me teach my dogs and coached me as a handler. Learning is a life-long venture, and training techniques continue to develop and evolve. I love judging because I learn new things with every assignment, and that makes me a better handler, trainer, and judge. I have over 60 Master points but I continue to learn with every test I set up. 

Over the years, I have met so many wonderful people and made friends across the country. There is nothing I like better than watching dogs work at what they love. I know all of the hard work you have put in over the past year will pay off, and I look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones. Good luck and let’s have all the fun we can!

Lin Gelbmann

Region 2 – LA

Wilson ‘Boogie’ Lejeune Jr.

It is an honor and privilege afforded to me to be chosen as a Judge. Being able to judge the country’s best dog and handler teams is truly a highlight for me.  The 2023 Master Nationals will be special for me for so many reasons.

Growing up in southwest Louisiana on a rice farm, with a rich hunting tradition, instilled in me a hunting desire from a very young age.  In 2002, I purchased a puppy to become my hunting companion.  This dog eventually took me on a journey that I never could have dreamed of taking.

After I was introduced to this hunt test game by a local club in my area, the Lake Charles Retriever Club, I was hooked.  LCRC and its members were instrumental in my success in the hunt test world.  Everyone was willing to share their expertise and knowledge along my journey.  I want to give special thanks to the Fontenot University Training Group.

I have owned, trained, and handled two dogs to Master level.  Both qualified for Master National, and both received plates.  My current companion, Andy, also qualified for Master Amateur and has received three crystal plates.

My judging philosophy is to set up fair and straight up tests with well-placed birds, no tricks or gimmicks, while simultaneously setting up a challenging blind.

I enjoy watching the teamwork of a handler and their dog.  I find it amazing what we ask of these animals and what they are able to accomplish.

My wife, Charlyn, has been a big supporter in allowing me to play this dog game.  She has been my inspiration and strength for 49 years.  We have four children and six grandchildren.

I want to thank the dog world people for all that they did for my family after we suffered tremendous losses due to back-to-back hurricanes that directly hit us over a six-week period.  I will forever remember your kindness.  Thank you so much.

Congratulations to all of the participants; I wish you the best of luck.  I am looking forward to seeing old friends and making new ones. See you at the line.

Wilson Boogie Lejeune

Region 2 – Wisconsin

Rich Ellis

What a great honor to be chosen to judge at the 2023 Master National. We all know how much work goes into qualifying for such an event. I promise to give it my all to set up a fair and fun test. I will give my full attention to every team. This is why I love hunt tests, it’s a team sport. 

I hope you all enjoy the experience. Please take a little time out of your busy week to thank all the workers and people behind the scenes for all their hard work. Without them we could not enjoy such an event. 

It took my wife Lynn 21 years to talk me into our first Lab, which is what she grew up with. Our first dog was a Dalmatian and with a lot of work he became a pheasant machine, and yes he pointed. His downfall was not being a team player. I had to run to keep up with him. Then I started to hunt pheasant and ducks. I went to a German Wirehair, he was a team player. He by far was the best hunter I have ever owned.  

Over the years, I started hunting ducks more, so I gave in and went with a yellow Lab by the name of Chief. I knew nothing about training a retriever other than throwing a stick. So we joined Blackhawk Retriever Club, where I met and made some great friends. I remember watching these guys run blinds and hoping someday I could run a 100 yard blind with Chief. Lucky for me he was so forgiving and overcame all of my mistakes.

We started in the hunt test game and that led to field trials. By the end of Chief’s career he was a MH, QAA and had Amateur points. Not bad for an amateur trained dog, with a lot of help from my friends Nathan Robinson and Lance Hughey. Now we have Otter, who is following in his father’s footsteps, and a new yellow female. 

Lynn and I started judging to become better handlers. You learn a ton sitting in that chair, and it’s a great way to give back to the game. Even though Lynn is giving me a hard time for signing us up to judge together on our anniversary this summer, I believe everyone should judge and belong to a club. 

Our newest project has been a new Retriever Club. My good friend Lance bought a 160 acre pine tree plantation near La Crosse, Wisconsin. Lance, Nathan and I, with help from many of our new club members, have spent the last three years clearing land and putting in ponds. The La Crosse Amateur Retriever’s Club held its first hunt test there last year. It has been a great project. I am looking forward to what the future brings for this club. 

Rich Ellis

Region 3 – Texas

Kevin Buchman

It was a very humbling experience to receive a call from Charles Pugh to inform me that I had been selected as one of the judges for the 2023 MNRC national event in Thomasville. I am truly honored to represent Region 3 at this year’s Master Nationals.

I began my love for dogs as a child and I got my first personal dog when I was 14. Rusty, a Golden Retriever mix, and I trained together and went on to become a two-time National Frisbee Canine Champion team when I was only 16. We won many local and state events together.  

I met my future wife Yolanda when I was 17 and we have been married for 32 years. Yolanda and I have always had a fondness for dogs.  We have had many over the years of various breeds and we have loved every one of them.

In 2016 I began my search for a hunting companion. We found Best Retrievers, a pro trainer in our area who happen to have a couple of puppies. We fell in love with our little black bag of Coal. Not a bag of silver as I intended (long story). Coal has grown to be an amazing hunting buddy. Retrieving everything from dove to Greater Canada’s. Coal is my first hunt test dog and he and I earned his MNH4 last year in Oregon. We have two more labs that play the game and just got two puppies all looking to Coal and us to guide them through their future.

I tell Kristen Best all the time that she changed our life forever the day we picked up Coal. We were supposed to retire to Belize and own a scuba diving shop and blow bubbles all day. Instead, our lives now revolve around blowing whistles.

I have been very fortunate to have met so many great people in the sport. We have been blessed to have had the mentor we have. To have received the encouragement to be a judge and have to opportunity to watch so many dog handler teams. Blessed does not come close to describing how I feel about being selected to sit next to people who have doing this so long; some with decades of experience.

Thank you to the Master National Retriever Club for selecting me to be a part of such a prestigious event. I look forward to watching the best of the best in Thomasville and handing the best that coveted plate.

Kevin Buchman

Region 3 – Oklahoma

Robert McDow

First congratulations to all who have qualified.  If it wasn’t for you and the clubs from region three who voted for me, I would not have the honor to judge this year’s 2023 Master National.  I am very humbled to be able to sit in the judge’s chair and watch you and your dog’s work.

I had hunted most of my childhood and early adult life but never with a dog in any way.  Then the passion for training and running a dog began at the ending of the 2003 duck season when I was invited by my brother-in-law to go with him one morning.  It was my first ever duck hunt let alone with a dog.  Then it happened.  He had to handle his dog on a bird that the dog did not see go down.  I sat there in the duck blind and watched in awe as he worked to get his dog on that bird.  That’s the day it all changed for me and I was hooked.

Soon after that I joined the Sooner Retriever Club my brother-in-law was a member of.  I worked my first ever dog event the next spring at their Field Trial.  At that event I was in even more awe as I watched dog after dog work do this incredible work.  So, for the next year I worked every club event and training day just learning.  Then after about a year and a half of learning what I could, I bought my first dog, a chocolate lab puppy I named Baylee, from someone local.  I worked to get her through her junior title with the little experience I had.  Then it wasn’t long after that I got really serious about training and competing.  I bought my second lab puppy that was black but this time it was a well-trained dog.  I named her AJ.  I ran her through her titles.  All that time running dog after dog events, I kept hearing from club members and judges at the events “become a judge it will help you become a better handler and trainer”. 

So, in 2008 I worked toward becoming a judge. But I wasn’t able to judge my first test until 2010 due to work commitments.  Soon after that my judging assignments took off from there. I was able to judge lots of Junior’s and Senior’s events while running my dogs for many years.  I wanted a lot of experience judging in the lower stakes before moving to the masters. Finally in 2017 I made the decision to step up to judging the Master level.  During my time judging, it finally hit me about what they had said.  I am becoming a better handler and trainer.  When I am judging I am seeing 60+ dogs for each event.  I am getting lining experience watching each dog as I judge them.  That could take an amateur handler years with multiple dogs to accumulate handler experience to match just one Master event we see as a judge.

I will challenge you and your dogs with strong bird placements along with strong blinds. I wish everyone the best success and hope every dog receives their Master National plate and ribbon.

I can’t wait to see old friends and make new friends as we always do at events in what I call “the dog world”.  It is what I tell people who have never experienced dog training days or events.

Robert McDow

Region 3- Texas

Dorothy Ruehman

Training retrievers began as a necessity 34 years ago during the duck hunting season, when I grew tired of my husband’s chocolate Labrador “Otis” taking all of my birds to him. So, a few weekends later, I drove out to the country and returned home with a flea-infested, 5-week-old chocolate Labrador we named “Elle Lee.”  She was my first gun dog, and thoughts of her today still bring a rush of delightful memories to mind.

Six home-schooled Labradors later, six Master Hunter titles and nine Master National Plates – bestow countless incredible memories and sometimes funny stories to recount about “learning experiences” acquired at the line.

I owe a debt of gratitude to the professional retriever trainers who have guided and graciously coached us in training and running our dogs throughout our tenure in the retriever world.  Today, we are honored to train with James and Debbie Davis who are helping us with our youngest fire-breathing retriever. 

My husband Michael and I reside in Richmond, Texas, and enjoy sneaking away every chance we get to our fishing camp on the Texas Gulf Coast for saltwater wade fishing when not on the prairie hunting waterfowl.  Each of our retrievers has been a wonderfully special gift to our lives.  And, like all of our retrievers in the past, our current girls Dixie and Mae are certified crisis response and therapy dogs who work with children and patients in the Houston area.

I enjoy supporting our extraordinary sport and judging weekend Hunt Test and Field Trial events when not competing. I am looking forward to returning to Thomasville, where we ran our very first Master National years ago, and working with the dynamic slate of judges selected for 2023.  I am a handler first and wish all of the contestants and their “Super Star retrievers” the very best as they prepare for and compete in our Super Bowl this year in Georgia. See you at the line!

Dorothy Ruehman

Region 3 – Utah

Lee Whittaker

It’s amazing where dogs can take you if you follow your dreams with them. I would like to thank my peers of region 3 for selecting me as a judge for this event. What a true honor it is to evaluate these world class retrievers from the best seat in the house.

I have always had a passion for dogs since I was a youngster. At 8 years old helping Mom train our family Collie. And entering her in kids dog shows. Winning 3 years straight. Then started duck hunting with dad as his retriever. Growing up and training my own retrievers the best I could using Water Dog as my guide. They really weren’t very good. As I got older and wading for ducks got harder. I needed a better retriever. I bought a pedigree, researched new training methods and went to work. I entered that dog in my first junior hunt test. I was so nervous thought I was going to die. She passed! From that moment on it’s been all about retrievers.

Watching the big dogs run, we trained even harder. Miss Pearl AKA the “Swamp Sweeper” became the dog of my dreams. She earned her MH title at 4. She is still with me but retired now. She has 2 MH sisters filling her spot now. No bird is left behind is what we train for. I am the president of the Wasatch Hunting Retriever club going on 4 years. The club we earned that first junior ribbon from. Training, Testing, Judging, Handling and Hunting is what we do. Hard to believe it’s taken the place of fishing. I really enjoy helping new retriever enthusiasts build the team to be proud of, no matter the level. I try to setup fair challenging tests with a hunting feel. That’s where my roots come from. Thanks to my bride of 44 years for joining me in my passion and taking care of the 3 girls when I’m away. See you in Georgia.

Train Hard, Test Fair, Have Fun.

Lee Whittaker

Region 4 – California

Laura Judd

In 1997, my boyfriend and I decided to get a lab, to play fetch off his recently purchased boat. After some research I located a litter in a neighboring town. The pups were quite pricey, as I was told that both parents were out of “Master Hunters”. I had been an avid waterfowl hunter with my father while growing up in the Bay Area, but had not actually hunted since he passed away. Undaunted, I justified the expense of the pup determined to get a “Master Hunter” title on this young pup, have a litter ourselves and recoup our costs… and so it began.

My journey with my first dog, as I know many of you will attest to similar stories, quickly became an obsession…and my first Lab was an extremely talented girl, who qualified at both Nationals I took her to, in Bend in 2002 and Georgia in 2003. By then I was hooked completely. She taught me so much and was so forgiving of my many, many mistakes. I’m now running her grandson, my fourth Master Hunter.

My boyfriend and I now live on a small farm near Sebastopol, California, with five labs and the rest of the barnyard critters including a horse; sheep; chickens, and of course ducks and pigeons. I’ve been to four other Nationals, running in three, and still trying to complete my set of elusive plates!

I’ve had the incredible opportunity over the years to train with several great trainers, who have mentored me patiently. I train with Warren Grimsby as often as I can and with Tom & Katie Quarles of Autumn Retrievers when they’re in California and Maddy Hill, my regular training partner.

The camaraderie of the people in this sport is second to none and the incredible places that we get to enjoy and run our dogs on, and the friendships developed, is the best part of the journey for me. I’ve been involved with the Marin Retriever Club for many years and have served as President for a good portion of that time. We hosted the Master National in 2006 in Morgan Hill, and again in 2014 in Corning. I am also on the Board of the California Retriever Trainers Association which keeps me pretty busy when not training!

I’ve been judging since 2002 and I truly believe that it’s the best seat in the house! I strongly encourage other friends in the sport to judge not only as a way to give back, but as truly a learning experience observing competitors, both amateurs and pros run dogs.

Teamwork is so important in this game. I like to set up challenging series that make you think and work with the dog when you come to the line. I will always give every benefit of the doubt to the dog in hopes the team will be successful, but I want to see them work together as a team, so that’s what I try to set up.

Series that are challenging are the ones you remember and you know when you come off the line that what you and your dog just did was really something special! There are series that we all remember, whether we did well or not because they were so fun to run — the river series in Bend in 2002 is my all-time favorite!

I wish all the contestants the Best of Luck in 2023. I will be rooting for you!

Laura Judd

Region 4 – Washington

John Kinnard

I have enjoyed hunting and working with dogs since the early seventies. Over the years I have ran both AKC and NAHRA hunt tests and also derby and qualifying in the field trial game.

In 2006 I was able to go and qualify at the Master National which was a very exciting experience. I think tests should be fair with no tricks and handlers should be aware of what is expected of them to complete the task at hand.

I have judged three Master National events. I know the hard work and commitment it takes to develop a master dog.

And I wish all the handlers and dogs the best of luck and most of all have a fun and safe experience at the 2023 Master National.

Let me close by saying thank you to all who gave me the chance to judge this years event.

John Kinnard

Region 4 – Washington

Dave McPherson

I want to thank the committee and all involved for the invitation to judge this year’s Master National Hunt Test.  It is an honor to be selected and I look forward to working with each of these judges and the committee.  

Like all great dog stories, this one begins in a duck blind.  In the mid 2000’s, retrieving several ducks in a lower tide environment with a canoe.  I came back to the duck blind and mentioned to my duck hunting partner, “we need a duck dog.” After a few flights and a few more retrieves he said, “I know a guy”.

This led to an introduction to a man who has since become a very good friend and judging mentor .  He knew of a lab breeding that would be available soon.  I was fortunate enough to watch both labs of that breeding at the  Sauvie Island hunt test in Portland Oregon. After watching a Master stake, I was even more convinced that not only did we need a duck dog, we needed a good duck dog. 

The litter came and we made our choice and brought Tater home at eight weeks old.  The rest of the story is very common, I am sure. After doing some obedience and some light retrieving, we entered a junior hunt test. Tater went out, and Tater came back.  We stood in line and waited for that infamous ribbon ceremony.  Hooked!!!!!  Of course, on the drive home I called 458 of my closest friends to tell them how accomplished my pup was. Little did I know the challenges and sheer joy that lay ahead. 

I attended my first judges’ seminar and learned much more than I bargained for.  I began judging and was hooked, again.  So, many great handlers and some not so great. You learn as much from seeing mistakes as you do from seeing good handling.  This was the best thing to happen for my training and handling.  

I took my first advanced seminar in Corning, California.  This a learning experience due to the presenters. A a high percentage of attendees were from all over the west and were already accomplished judges.  The Q and A and commentary was well worth the weekend.  

In the summers of 2021 and 2022, I had the opportunity to judge as I had no dogs running.  I spent time on the road in California, Oregon, Washington and Montana and basically went to judging school.  What a great experience.  I highly recommend this volunteer experience.

 It is my privilege to work hard for the dogs and the handlers.  I do my best to set up tests with a standard that challenges both dog and handler without tricking either.  I believe hunt tests should be practical to duck hunting. 

Going into 2023, I now have three dogs, 1 Master dog, and 2 pups who will run this summer.  

I have been a member of Oregon Hunting Retriever Club for 15 years.  This facilitates many volunteer opportunities such as judging, stake chair at hunt tests, marshaling and being a member of the board of directors at OHRC.  Again, the experience has been invaluable to my dog life.

I continue to learn with each training and judging assignment.  I thank all the friends and mentors along the way.  

“It’s not about the ribbon” is real.   

Dave McPherson

Region 4 – Washington

Terrie Sato

My first involvement in AKC hunt tests came in 1995 when I put a JH on my first Labrador. Watching my dog love his retriever training gave me the hunt test bug. Since that time, I have owned and trained four Labrador Retrievers and two Golden Retrievers to their Master Hunter titles. Two of the Labs and one Golden also earned the distinction of being Qualified All Age with an amateur field trial win also coming from the Golden. I have a passion for dog training and believe in training and handling my own dogs, but of course not without guidance from a number of highly respected professionals and skilled amateurs. I love that this sport has introduced me to a wonderful group of people. I became a judge in 2009 and have always enjoyed watching our sporting dogs doing what they were born to do, retrieve birds.

I live in Duvall, Washington with my husband and currently two young Labradors and my trusty 15-year-old Golden boy. I also participate in competitive obedience, putting advanced titles on all of my dogs. Obedience training feeds my dog training passion on those especially soggy Western Washington days, but I can’t imagine more fun than being out in the field with my retrievers.

I am honored to have been asked to judge and look forward to seeing the wonderful dog/handler teams at the 2023 Master National!

Terrie Sato

Region 4 – California

Janet Wood

Congratulations to all the dog/handler teams that have qualified for the 2023 Master National. What a wonderful accomplishment! Come, give it your best, and have a great time with the Master National family.

My heartfelt thanks to the clubs in Region 4 for selecting me to judge this year. I consider it an honor to judge these spectacular retrievers, and being trusted to judge the best of the best is a dream come true.

Having served on the Master National Board of Directors I have an appreciation of all that goes into putting on a world-class event of this size. My hat is off to the Master National Board, the local host clubs, and the countless volunteers who give so much to make it happen.

After close to 20 years I still find training, handling, and testing retrievers to be a fascinating, intellectually challenging sport. I never stop being amazed at what our dogs are capable of.

As a judge I want to set up tests that are challenging without being overwhelming. In my mind there are three critical elements of focus: 1) Dog focus – in watching birds go down and in taking direction 2) Handler focus – we cannot ask more of our dog than we are willing to give ourselves, and should come to the line with our full attention, and 3) Judge’s focus. I as a judge owe each and every team that comes before me my full attention and consideration.

I want to give the last dog the same focus I gave the first!

Personally, I am owned by three Goldens. I am proud to say my 14+ year old Roxie currently holds the retriever record for Master passes at 96. Her daughter Keeper is chasing mom’s record with 78 passes. And hopefully 17-month old Nicks will follow in their footsteps. I admit to being a total ‘Hunt Test junkie’!

Janet Wood

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