Robert C. Johnson: Region 1— Virginia

I am honored to have the opportunity to be a part of this event, as I represent Region 1. Our events would not be possible without your participation, support and love for the game. I view the Master National as the ultimate test, as each series always challenges the handler and dog.

Being a Master National judge is both gratifying and humbling. I feel privileged to represent Region 1 as a judge, as I continue to grow in the sport. Each event exposes me to new people and retriever clubs, which ultimately continues my education of hunt tests.

Judges are often in the spotlight during these events, but the real heroes are the clubs and the volunteers, who work diligently behind the scenes to make each event successful. As a supporter of Tidewater Retriever Club, I realize that, without the hard work of the people with a common goal, you would not have a Master National event. Many thanks to the retriever clubs, professional or amateur handlers/trainers for supporting weekend events.

I would like to thank my family, who has supported my retriever efforts throughout the years. My wife, Kim, continues to support me at events when judging or participating. My wonderful children (Ryan and Karleigh), and friends who have spent many hours throwing walk ups, poison birds, marks, blinds, etc., as I prepared for events after work hours. But, after 30 years in the corporate world, I retired this year. Shortly after retiring, I received my dream opportunity as a consultant for two plantations located on the James River (Virginia). My life currently involves prep for hunting season, planning corporate events, weddings, guided waterfowl hunts, all the while training six retrievers in my spare time.

Early in life, my brother (Richard) exposed me to duck dog training, as he prepared for NAHRA events. I fell in love with training and hunting my four-legged friends. As a teenager, I started with the book Water Dog by Richard Wolters. It didn’t take me long to realize dog training can be frustrating, but also incredibly rewarding.

After college, I became an avid waterfowl hunter, as I continued to travel from Louisiana to Canada each year. A well-trained retriever is extremely satisfying, as you make hunting memories with current and new friends.

Congratulations to everyone that qualified for the 2018 Master National. You should be proud of your accomplishments to compete at this level. I look forward to witnessing good team work between the dog and handler from start to finish. However, plate or no plate, you still have an exceptional dog, and partner, to compete in the Master National. Again, thank you to Region 1, and best of luck in this year’s event!
Robert C. Johnson

Keith Maready: Region 1— North Carolina

I consider it an honor to judge the weekend hunt test and a distinguished honor for the opportunity to represent Region 1 as an elected Master National Judge. I thank the clubs for their confidence and opportunity on the weekend test and a big thank you to the clubs in Region 1 for the display of confidence in electing me as one of your representatives to judge the 2016 Master National.

From the early days on the family farm in very rural Chinquapin, North Carolina, we lived and survived on what the farm provided. Most of our fathers were off serving in some branch of the military, and, for the most part, leaving cousins, moms, aunts, Grandma and Granddaddy on the farm. With NO education, Granddaddy took the leadership role and lead very well with a simple plan. Granddaddy Archie was a hard pusher in whatever the chore was and every day, for the first twelve years of life, in every chore I was reminded of Granddaddy’s simple plan to survive: “You gotta give to get.” You’ve got to give to the land to produce crops, you’ve got to give to the animals to produce meat, you’ve got to give help to the neighbors to get help when you’re in need and on Sunday you’ve got to give time and respect to God to get blessings when you’re in need. Granddaddy Archie lived a life of “give back” and his leadership to us, enforced a life of “give back”. Very simple, that’s why I judge hunt test.

Having had some type of hunting dog my entire life, it was natural to acquire a retriever and start duck hunting as my family migrated to the coast when my father came home from the Army. Hunting the big waters of Core Sound and Bogue Sound on the southern outer banks of North Carolina is challenging and thrilling. Having my lab to pick up birds is amazing. From the late sixties through the early eighties, our dogs were thoroughly trained. Their training was, we’re going duck hunting, get in the boat. They hunted with me and my buddies five to six times a week during the season and if they didn’t figure out the retrieving part, they didn’t get to go hunting anymore and we would buy another dog. We went through several and had some that would have retrieved an elephant - if elephants could fly and we could hit them.

In 1983, on the way home from a morning hunt we stopped by the newspaper / book store for a newspaper to see if a previous hunting adventure of ours had made the paper. Well, it did, and we kept a low profile for a few hunts. My buddy also came out with a retriever training book and that was the beginning of a bad thing for the dogs. We managed to finally acquire a couple of labs that were tuff enough to overcome our vast knowledge / sheer ignorance and they became capable of doing some impressive things. If we threw a rock in the direction of the duck they didn’t see fall, they would go in that direction and not come back until they found a duck.

My wife Wendy and I now reside in Newport, North Carolina, overlooking Bogue Sound and the Intercoastal Waterway. We live there with our two yellow labs, Luke and Gabe. Upon discovery of how little I knew about a trained retriever, Luke, the old guy, and I went through a training program with a friend, neighbor and former professional trainer. That training program led me to the hunt test world. Thank you Richard Reese. Luke is grateful every day for your patience and determination to keep me from messing up. The thrill of running hunt test, meeting wonderful folks, watching amazing dogs, and living life’s survival plan taught by Granddaddy Archie contributes to an amazing life, and I’m blessed to find myself as a Master National Judge.

My philosophy on setting up a hunt test is simple. Challenge the dog to think. On marks, place the bird where the area of fall can be marked with factors in route, and in the area, that challenge the dog to think, using both natural and trained abilities, to find and retrieve. On blinds, place the bird in an area where the line to get there has factors that challenge the dog to think using the trained ability to interpret what is being asked by the handler.

My philosophy on judging a hunt test is also simple. On marks, don’t avoid the factors, demonstrate the ability to think while using natural and trained abilities, intensely hunt the area, make the retrieve and the score is good. On blinds, don’t avoid the factors, demonstrate the ability to think and respond appropriately to the handler’s request, be on line or moving in a direction toward the line, make the retrieve and the score is good. In every series I have a yes, no, or possible that contributes to the score assigned to the task; would this dog be a benefit or distraction to my hunt? In ALL cases if there is possible, or question, my “fudge factor” is to favor the dog.

Congratulations to all in completing the qualification process to be invited to the Master National. Congratulations and THANKS to all the Judges. Thank you to the Master National Retriever Club. Thanks a million to the Umpqua Valley Retriever Club.

Good luck to all the participants and ALL THE BEST to every dog!!!  Look forward to seeing everyone in Oregon—especially the dogs!

Have a blast with friends and enjoy our very best friends – the dogs!
Keith Maready

Jim 'Doc' Wonnell:  Region 1— Florida

I was born and raised on a farm in central Indiana. High school involved mostly basketball, shop, and hunting. I got my first single barrel 16 gauge shotgun at 12 years of age. The farm and surrounding countryside offered excellent duck, pheasant and rabbit hunting.

After high school graduation I enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and spent three years on active duty achieving the rank of E-4 Sargeant and three years inactive reserve duty. I feel this and the farm years laid the ground work for my future.

In 1961 I enrolled in Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana for my pre-veterinary school classes. In 1963 I was admitted to the school of veterinary medicine program. I graduated from Purdue in 1967 and moved to Stuart, Florida. I have lived there ever since, having owned my own Veterinary Hospital. I just recently retired from practice.

I am married and have two sons, Michael 39 and Jeffrey who is 36. Jeffrey went with me to the Master National in 2009 in Texas. My wonderful wife, Sarah is the owner of Remedy Labradors and also was on the slate from Region 1 to judge the Master National several years ago, but did not judge.

I have qualified dogs for several Master National events, entered and ran dogs in five tests, 1999 was the first. I qualified four of those tests, Georgia, Texas, Virginia and Kansas. I have run AKC hunt tests for about eighteen years and have judged many tests, primarily at the Master level.

The Master program events are set up to test, in my opinion, the average Master level dog. Some are far better and some are far worse. I feel a weekend test should be set so fifty percent of the field of dogs should be able to pass with all things considered. The program is established to test the abilities of a retriever against an established set of standards without tricks, competition or political interference. I feel most tests demonstrate a retriever’s suitability and ability as hunting companions.

The Master National event is the super bowl for retrievers. Everything a weekend test provides, such as good use of ground cover, terrain, obstacles, bird placement along with the use of numerous decoys and good time management, the Master National provides only, with a greater degree of difficulty than the weekend hunt test, here proven Master Hunters are being tested.

A judge should display a good knowledge of hunting, have compassion, patience, know the rulebook and have a good understanding of the dog and handler team.,

Thank you for electing me to judge the 27th year of the Master National, 2018. Good luck to all of you and above all else, have fun.

I know we as judges are probably not going to be your best buddies, but we are all sincere and will do the best job we can.
“Doc”
Jim Wonnell, D.V.M.

Keith Kiesow: Region 2— Wisconsin

I would like to thank the clubs in Region 2 for having the confidence to allow me the honor in judging the 2018 Master National. I have been an avid bird hunter since high school.

I finally got tired of being the retriever and decided to invest in a real one. My first dog was less that what I wanted, but never knew what their real capabilities were. In 1996 I purchased a yellow lab from my supervisor where I worked. He was a member of a retriever club and I became a member and became involved in the hunt test sport. I ran my first hunt test in 1997 with a Junior Title in 1998. I have been involved in the hunt test sport ever since. Through many trials and tribulations, "Max" entered into the Master National Hall of Fame in 2001. Currently I have two yellow labs, Chief and Dash that are a pleasure to have in my family. I was fortunate to have both pass the 2017 Master National. I am currently the president of Islandview Retriever Club, a position I have held since 2002. I am also a member of the Manitowoc County Kennel Club.

I am married to my wonderful wife of 38 years Luann. She has been very patient and supporting as I spend time with the dogs, compete in some hunt tests and judging others. I have two grown children and seven grandchildren. I will be retiring on June 1st of this year as Fire Chief of the Fox Crossing Fire Department to spend more time with the dogs, hunting and working on the honey do list.

I thoroughly enjoy judging and have learned so much from many great dog handlers, pro and amateur, which has helped me be a better handler myself. I feel it is important to give back to this sport to make it better. I know first-hand, the challenges that volunteer organizations have in finding people to donate their time and talents to make the organizations survive and meet their obligations.

I was fortunate to have judged the Master National in 2010 when we had the first three flight split, wow the changes that have occurred in the past eight years. Hunt tests are a team sport. The dogs and handlers need to work as a team to be successful. I enjoy setting up tests that are challenging to bring out the best in the team. The tests need to be fair, that includes good bird placement and challenging blinds, no tricks needed.

I would like to wish all handlers teams the best of luck and know all of the hard work you have done over that past year will pay off. I look forward to meeting old friends, making new ones and watching your wonderful dogs.
Keith Kiesow

Dave Kress: Region 2— Alabama

It is a privilege and honor to be selected by peers to be among the Judges for the 2018 Master National event being held in Oregon. The journey to this judging assignment began in the late nineties with my wife, Marty and I learning how to train and handle our retrievers. Together we have earned hundreds of weekend Master qualifications, 22 of those treasured MNRC pewter plates and placed four retrievers in the Master National Hall of Fame with all amateur-trained and handled retrievers. Our travels have crisscrossed the nation allowing us to meet and make new retriever friends at each stop. The travels also allowed our retrievers to be exposed to many new and different training and test areas which ultimately strengthen their ability to cope with new and ever-changing experiences.

As a youth, I got to tag along with Dad as we hunted sea ducks off the Maryland and Long Island coasts. My first experience with a trained retriever was here as I watched big long-legged black standard Poodles make retrieves in ocean waters. My next trained retriever experience came as an early teen and in my neighborhood. My baseball coach whom happened to be an avid water fowler and a member of the newly formed Middle Tennessee Amateur Retriever Club convinced me that if I threw “dummies” for his dog I could play third base. I threw a lot of “dummies” and forgot about baseball. I got to know a lot of the founders of MTARC and see many of the big dogs of that era. A love for the retrievers was born and yes, this was even before Marty.

As a seasoned handler and judge, I can relate to all the jitters of handling a retriever. Regardless of whether you’re handling one retriever or 20, a part of the reason you’re here is to enjoy the experience and showcase your team. No matter if you’re running first or last – and any of those positions in between – I want to be courteous and respectful of your team and provide you with fair and consistent treatment of our guidelines and regulations.

My best friend and training partner is my wife Marty – without her counsel, training debates and mentoring and yes, some disagreements, this opportunity would not have manifested and I thank her. There have been many judging assignments along the way where one learns by new experiences. Each of these co-judges have taught something and helped to strengthen abilities of how to watch and apply our guidelines and I thank each of those co-judges also.

Understanding the weekend club events are the backbone of our sport, I’ve served numerous times as event chair or secretary, helped procure judges, rooms, paid the bills, bought the food, made lunches and picked up the trash. Our sport operates on volunteers that pitch in and I understand many do these mundane tasks while Qualifying their dog.

Having served on the Board of Directors for the MNRC filling several roles, including being President in 2008, I understand as well as anyone the pushes and pulls of event planning and coordination. I tip my hat to the MNRC Board and the many volunteers required to put on this event. Without the efforts of so many hands, there would be no event.

Onward to Roseburg and enjoy your 2018 MNRC experience!
Dave Kress

Mike Akeroyd: Region 3— Texas

Hi, everybody. Mike Akeroyd here. First, let me offer my sincere congratulations to you and your dogs for earning an invitation to the 2018 Master National. Your mere presence here is tribute to the team that you and your retriever have become.

Born and raised in Houston, Texas, I spent 33 years as a firefighter for the Houston Fire Department, my wife, Glenda, and I constantly promising each other that small town living would be the reward after the work was done. Now we’re very blessed to live in Franklin, Texas and life is lived at a pace of our own choosing. If you’re wondering, yes, retirement is all it’s cracked up to be!

I remember well a hunt with some firemen during South Texas’ 1997 dove season. I was chasing a crippled white wing through thick briars with no chance to catch him. That’s when I made the decision to find my first retriever. Twenty years later I find myself with a dog who’s brought me to success in the last two Master National tests. Those plates are the most beautiful (and most expensive) items in my home and are displayed prominently.

Glenda and I currently have 3 dogs, 12-year-old Lola now sees to things around the house and is in charge of keeping guests and family company. Spice is 8 years old and brought me to Master National. Eleven month old Willie is one of Spice’s pups and we have very high hopes for him. So the evolution continues….avid hunter who wants a dog becomes the obsessed dog man who likes to hunt.

I am so grateful to the members in Region 3 who have trusted me to judge this year’s event in Oregon. It’s an honor to watch the best dog and handler teams in this sport. I know what it takes to get here and truly hope each of you and your dog perform to your best ability. Good luck and let’s have all the fun we can!
Mike Akeroyd

Bill Blochowiak: Region 3 — Oklahoma

First, I would like to say I am extremely honored to be selected as a Master National Judge. I thank those that selected me. You humble me! I have been blessed with many great and wonderful judging assignments.  

On the national level, the first was the opportunity to judge the Open stake at the 1994 Golden National. Following that was the 1995 Master National in Vermont. In 2000, I was selected by the MN Board of Directors to fill in for a comrade who became ill. I was also selected as and “expansion” judge in 2010, a “backup” judge in 2013, and a replacement judge in 2014. 

My judging opportunities have extended from Vermont to California to Alaska and from South Dakota to south Texas. I have 50 plus Master points and more than 20 all-age points plus numerous minor, senior and junior stake points.  Further, I have judged eight Working Certificate/Working Certificate Excellent stakes for the Central Oklahoma Golden Retriever Club and twice judged at Flat Coat specialties.

I have judged with many wonderful people and have been to many great places. Weather would be the only culprit as “a less than enjoyable” assignment.  What I take away from the judging assignments and I would like everyone else to take away, is that all had an enjoyable time and that they hopefully were treated fairly. 

When setting up tests, I feel it is very necessary to see the grounds and set up a test that fits the territory- not force something to work because of a preconceived notion. I feel it is always best to test where you would hunt. However, on a rare occasion, weather, grounds, mechanics and time may dictate otherwise. 

I have a wonderful wife, Brenda, who has supported my game during our married life. I actually met her on a blind date to go dog training and we attended the 1980 National Open on our honeymoon. We have a daughter, Mikel, who has given us four grandsons and has a wonderful husband. We have a son, Billy, who many of you know was the motivation behind the suggestion in the late 90’s for the junior handler rules. I have two great steps sons and two super grandsons and a wonderful daughter-in-law. 

I have been fortunate to qualify dogs for the 1991, 1993, 1998, 1999, 2001 and 2017 Master Nationals. Two dogs qualified at the 1998 MN. I have also served on the board for many years culminating as chairman for the 2001 MN and president in 2005. 

My personal training was reinvigorated in 2013 after the completion of our house. The reinvigorating has a name: Kosh. We have 190 acres and on it we have built beautiful house overlooking a 7 acre lake. Here we conduct monthly training sessions for the Sooner Retriever club. We also host a “Mock” hunt test, two licensed hunt tests and one licensed field trial on our property I retired from civil service and the Air Force Reserve several years ago; serve on several non-profit boards for the low-income disabled and elderly; and, just really enjoy life.

I love to hunt and fish and most recently all has been done here on our place. All of this happened because a great friend and I got hunting dogs in 1975. I look forward to this year’s assignment and the thought of seeing and working with many old and new friends is very exciting. Thank You so much
Bill Blochowiak

Randy Morton: Region 3— Texas

I would like to thank everyone who voted for me to judge the Master National. It's an honor and a privilege to be representing Region 3 in 2018.

I grew up in East Texas hunting and fishing, in 1998 I joined Rose Country Retriever Club of East Texas to learn more about training my 3 year old lab a few months later had a hunt test and I was hooked. Started judging in 2004.

I'm blessed with three grown children two daughters and one son, three wonderful grandchildren and two labs - life is good.

See everyone in October
Randy Morton




John Kinnard: Region 4— Washington

I was introduced to hunting by a friend who thought I needed a hobby to fill my spare time. Pheasants were king in the Columbia Basin.

I was told that a dog would help me find birds. I decided to get a lab because a lot of my friends hunted with them.

I wanted to train the dog to be a very good hunter. After some research I bought the book Game Dog by Richard A. Walters. I really enjoyed training and working with dogs and other handlers.

After a while I decided to get involved in the hunt test game. I went to my first picnic test which was put on by NAHRA club. It was a total disaster but with encouragement from my wife Margaret and more training I went back. After my second test I was hooked.

Over the years I ran both AKC and NAHRA hunt tests and also Derby and Qualifying stakes in the field trial game. I have received help from a pro trainer in the Yakima Washington area as well as many amateurs along the way.

In 2006 I was able to make it to and qualify for the master national which was a very exciting experience.

I got into judging because I enjoyed watching good dogs and handlers working as a team to qualify at any level in the hunt test game. I like to watch a good marking dog that enjoys doing the work required.

I think test 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 in Washington, Idaho Montana, Oregon, Alaska and South Carolina where I had the pleasure of judging the 2015 Master National.

I know the hard work and commitment it takes to develop a master dog. I wish all the master handlers and their dogs the best of luck and hope they all have fun and a safe experience at the 2018 Master National.

Let me close by saying thank you to all who gave me the opportunity to judge this year’s national event.
Sincerely John Kinnard

Michael O'Bannon: Region 4— California

My first order of business is to thank all the people who elected me as a 2018 Master National judge. I am very grateful for the honor that my peers have given me. Also, I am humbled to be in the company of so many fine Master National judges this year.

Like many dog handlers, my experience started as a waterfowl hunter. About 15 years ago, as I got a little more gray hair, my enthusiasm for waterfowling was on the wane. Getting to the blind before dawn and retrieving my own birds was just not the fun it was in the past. I needed something to reinvigorate my passion. I thought getting a dog might be just the thing. Having not had a dog in many years, I decided to do a little research. My first step – read James Lamb Free’s book, “Training Your Retriever”. That book highlighted how much I didn’t know, but put me on a path to get started. In 2003, Jack came into my life.

I knew I wasn’t equipped to train the retriever I wanted, so I sought out a pro near my duck club. Jack spend three months in training. I went there every weekend to monitor his progress and learn all I could. I was thrilled when 2 ½ months into his training, the pro told me to take him out for an afternoon hunt. The thrill of seeing him retrieve his first bird was magical.

When he came home, I knew we needed to do more. An acquaintance mentioned the hunt test program and it sounded like a good idea. After fits and starts in Junior, I thought Jack and I would never make it to Senior, much less Master. It was too late though, I was hooked. With a lot of help from some dedicated pros, training partners, books, and videos, we did make it to Master. I lost Jack in 2016 a month after he competed as the oldest dog at the 2016 MN. He qualified for every MN from 2009 to 2016 and had 52 Master passes when he crossed the rainbow bridge. Along the way, he taught me more than I ever taught him

In 2009, I got a second dog. He benefited from my experience with Jack and I broke Riley out myself and he has done well. He also has over 50 Master passes, an all age placement, and is QA2.

The whole experience has been gratifying. I have met so many fantastic people, traveled to lots of fun dog events and and had the opportunity to travel around this great country. I knew I had to do something to give back. In addition to volunteering at weekendevents and the MN, I thought judging would be something I would enjoy. It has been a real eye opener. I didn’t realize how much I would learn standing on the other side of the book. Watching other handlers from that prospective, and working with many talented co-judges has been a great experience.

My philosophy is to set up straight forward , challenging tests without being tricky and let the handler/dog team do the test. Being an active handler myself , I know how difficult it can be to get through a weekend test, let alone a MN. I wish all those coming to the Master National success, but most of all, have a good time. You have already succeeded by just getting to Roseburg.

I would be remiss if I didn’t give some credit to my wife, Carol, for putting up with all the time spend training and traveling. She has encouraged me and had to put up with many deferred “honey-do’s” to support my passion for our sport.

I look forward to seeing lots of old friends, new friends, and all the great dogs in Roseburg. Good luck!
Mike O'Bannon