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More than 300 dogs, owners to take part in area field competition

Barry Lions, Pineville, La., trains with his 4-year-old black lab Patton Tuesday in a cornfield south of Mitchell. Lions, his son, Brett, and a friend, Anthony Nassar, will compete in the Hunting Retrievers Club competition this week near Alexandria. (Laura Wehde/Republic Photo)

ALEXANDRIA -- A local chapter will host one of the Hunting Retrievers Club's major annual events this week near Alexandria, an event one organizer calls the "Super Bowl of retriever testing."

Shane Olean, a member of the HRC board, said he was hoping for 280 dogs at the event, which begins Friday and gives dogs a shot at the coveted title of "grand champion." By Tuesday, days before the event officially begins, Olean said more than 300 dogs were expected to take part in the competition, during which dogs must successfully complete five different tests to earn the status of "grand."

"Only champion dogs are invited, and 302 from across the United States and Canada are on their way here," said Olean. "We (are) very, very happy with that."

The grand test will run from Friday to Tuesday. After the dogs are checked in at the Cabela's parking lot Saturday morning, the dogs will be divided into four groups and given a series of tests designed to evaluate their ability to flush and retrieve various decoys in both water and land tests. Actual competition will take place near Alexandria.

Dogs are required to have previously passed the "started," "seasoned" and "finished" tests to compete for "grand." An "upland" test will be given May 27.

Dogs are graded on a pass/fail system.

Olean said members of the Dakota HRC board, based in Sioux Falls, began lobbying for the national event approximately four years ago.

James LaCaze, of Texas, is a member of the national Grand Hunt Team. To the best of his knowledge, this is the first time South Dakota has hosted the event.

"We're feeling great," LaCaze said. "(302) is a pretty good number for this event."

The spring event is one of only two grand hunts held by the group annually.

Kevin Yeo is a member of Dakota HRC and owner of Granite Springs Lodge of Alexandria. Yeo said hosting the event in Alexandria should lead to similar events being held in the area. It should also have a positive effect on the local economy, he said.

"You should see a couple hundred tourists or contestants in the area for about 10 days," Yeo said. "We can turn around and say we hosted the biggest event in the HRC organization."

Calling it "the Super Bowl of retriever testing," Olean said the event is already bringing people into the area in preparation for the event later this week.

"You have 10 to 14 days of eating out, filling your gas tank (and) staying in hotels," Olean said. "I think it's going to be kind of a huge effect."