By Larry Saavedra
An overlooked aspect of a hunt test competition, besides training vigorously before the event, is clothing. Believe it or not, it does matter what you wear.
If you come to the starting line (where you release a dog) wearing a color or style of clothing that the line judges deem as inappropriate for competition, the judges will stop the competition and ask you to change your clothes to something more in-line with the hunting environment, typically of neutral colors and so forth. This overlooked detail is black and white in AKC, and UKC/HRC rulebooks.
If you’re a people watcher, the fun thing about judging a hunt test is that you see a lot of different personalities and styles of dog handlers. Some come to the line dressed for success with pressed camouflaged duds from head to toe, while others sport street sneakers and tees. Heck, I’ve even seen people wearing flip-flops, although it happens only rarely.
As a judge you learn to expect the unexpected. Everyone respects your tastes in duds, so long as your clothing doesn’t provide you with an unfair advantage in competition; technically you must be dressed in a manner favorable to hunting.
For those new to the retrieving game, learning what to wear comes with experience, and a careful study of the sanctioning body’s rulebook. My advice to the novice is to bring one change of dark shirts and socks for starters. You will get wet and muddy, especially during the water series. Also, say no to those designer jeans! They might look cool at the mall, but the moment a dog shakes after a dip in the pond, you’ll be soaked to the bone. A better choice would be Carhartt’s flannel-lined jeans, which incidentally go on sale in the off-season from Cabela’s.
If you really hate getting wet, and most of us do, look for waterproof chaps that typically fit over the leg the dog heels to, although some competitors use them on both legs.
Hats are a personal issue, not everyone wears one, but don’t wear a white one, because you’ll likely be asked to remove it before you get started! Long sleeve shirts are better than short-sleeved, and long pants are usually a good idea too, especially in snake country. Beyond it all, plan to be outfitted like you were going hunting, and exceptional footwear are a must have item.
Boots offer the best protection and while there are hundreds of models to choose from, I’ve learned that buying a cheap pair is a total waste of money. Aside from the lack of comfort, cheaper boots can’t standup to the types of loose impediments that are often found in the field.
I recently bought what I thought was a decent pair of boots at my local sporting goods store, only to find out that a small metal shard had pierced the sole and nearly dug into my foot. These boots were only two months old, and in one outing they were destroyed.
Some handlers swear by ranch-style boots or even a soft-leather hiking shoe, but I favor a solid trail boot that’s preferably lined with waterproof Gore-Tex. The pair I’ve been wearing for nearly a year now is the Ranger GTX from Lowa (see image at start of article) with its above-the-ankle protection. These boots are handcrafted in Germany and they are made to fight off the elements, whether it be summer or winter. I can’t find another boot that even comes close to its superior quality.
The Ranger GTX is considered a mid-duty boot and they weigh about one pound each, and right out of the box they need to be broken in for a few weeks before they become comfortable enough to walk in. They aren’t the lightest boots out there, but they are definitely the most durable you will find.
The uppers are made of Nubuck leather and outsole is a Vibram Tactis DST, which gives you the stiffness you need and the sure-footedness you require in precarious situations. Because they are perforated around the top, any hot air trapped inside is released through these openings. So far, I’ve had zero issues with water.
The Ranger GTX has a lot of little features that make them the ideal field boot, like the tongue stud that prevents the padded tongue (with gussets on both sides) from moving off-center, offering a more equalized pressure once the laces are tied. There is a half-rand on the boot, which provides further support, especially in rocky terrain. The details make these boots in a class of their own. Lowa makes similar boots for women.
Although the Ranger GTX is a mighty fine boot, it’s not necessarily going to win your dog a title. You’ll have to do that with exceptional training methods. But at least the next time you run hunt test, you won’t have to worry about trudging through the water and mud. And they sure beat the heck out of flip-flops.