NC couple champions retriever hunt tests

CorrespondentMay 14, 2014 

Mary and Sidney Williams have parented along retriever hunt tests in North Carolina to the point they are now recognized as the grand couple of the sport.

The longtime residents of coastal North Carolina have been involved since hunt test infancy in the late 1980s, running their Chesapeake Bay Retrievers and judging events across the country, including the Super Bowl of the sport – The Master National, held annually in different parts of the United States.

Each has put multiple titles on their “Chessies” from the junior, senior and master stakes to the coveted copper plate award for a qualifying score at the Master National.

“I am extremely proud of our Chessies, both past and present,” Sidney Williams said. “I am very fortunate to have a very good Chessie trainer in the house, Mary. It takes a special touch. I am also very fortunate to have such a large group of friends with common interests.”

The couple started their career with dogs as members of the Tar Heel Retriever Club (TTHRC), one of the first retriever club in North Carolina to hold field trials.

“When we started in the game, field trials were the only sport available to the hunter and his dog,” Mary Williams said. “Because placements were given, lots of good dogs were eliminated because it was such a competitive sport…Club members began to leave and join NARA and HRC, both of which catered to the hunter and the hunting retriever.

“In those tests, handlers had to handle a shotgun. Dogs were expected to use their noses to find the birds. And natural ability was put on the same scale as skills developed through training.”

With more and more people abandoning field trials for the hunting version of a trial, the American Kennel Club decided to introduce the hunt test program in the mid 1980s. TTHRC put the Williams in charge of developing its test. In May of 1990, probably the first sanctioned hunt test was run in North Carolina on property in Louisburg owned by the late John Emory, a veteran of the field trial circuit.

Retrievers running a hunt test are judged and awarded either a pass or fail score. Marks and blinds, the distance between the dog and handler and placement of a duck, usually run no more than 150 yards. Hunt tests are suppose to simulate a waterfowl hunt.

Seven clubs

Field trial marks and blinds often stretch out several hundred yards, requiring some handlers to use binoculars to follow their dog. Placements are given first through fourth, along with awards of merit. Handlers and bird throwers wear white coats. In hunt tests, camouflage-like apparel is required.

The Williamses were also instrumental in helping several other retriever clubs establish hunt tests. Today there are seven clubs in the state, each offering a fall and spring hunt test. The movement has spread across the country with numerous hunt tests held in every state.

Mary and Sidney Williams also are charter members of the Master National Retriever Club, which was established in 1992. Mary Williams has served on the board of directors and has been vice president and president of the organization. She judged the master national in 2010. Sidney Williams judged the event in 2005 and 2012.

By far, Labs dominate entries in hunt tests followed by Chessies, golden retrievers, flat coated retrievers, standard poodles, Irish water spaniels, American water spaniels and Nova Scotia duck-tolling retrievers.

Although the Williams have owned Labs, their passion is Chessies. They have owned 16. Half earned the master title and five qualified for the master national.

Mary Williams describes training a Chessie as a challenge. She credits her background in education as a factor in her success with dogs.

“Chessies are independent. They are extremely smart. They live to hunt no matter the weather and they are loyal,” she said. “Chessies also have a reputation as being overly protective. But over the years, careful breeding and lots of socialization have greatly improved their temperament.”

Sidney Williams describes Chessies as rugged. “Heat and cold do not bother them. They love their birds and won’t come home without a fallen bird.”

N.C. master gardener

Sidney Williams, who has lived on Topsail Island since he was 9, has been involved in fishing and hunting most of his life. Mary Williams grew up on a 50-acre farm north of Atlanta.

“We raised Black Angus cows, boiler chickens and hogs,” she said. “We had a huge garden, a fishing pond, a horse, cats and dachshunds and any other critter that my mother would let me keep. Being an only child, the outdoors was my playhouse and the animals were my playmates.”

Mary Williams’ experience rabbit and squirrel hunting as a youth have followed her into adulthood. Sidney introduced her to surf fishing and shrimping. They duck hunt together out of a brush boat on the Pamlico Sound.

When Sidney Williams, 69, is not involved with his real estate business on Topsail or working his Chessies, he is gardening.

“I am a N.C. master gardener,” he said.” And I try to grow a decent garden each year. I also grow fruit and have a lot of grape vines for making wine and jelly.”

Mary Williams, 70, is a retired educator who taught on the college, high school, middle and elementary school levels.

Both see a bright future for their sport because of interest shown by young people and the state wildlife commission’s consideration of establishing a permanent site for hunt tests and field trials on state-owned lands.”

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