What greater honor for a beloved retriever than to have a body of water named for it?
For more than 10 years, hunting dogs in training have been getting their feet wet at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s training site at the Camp Robinson Special Use Area near Mayflower.
Officially known as Boone Pond, the facility is better known as Pepper’s Pond, named after the dog that belonged to Larry McMurry, who helped get the training area up and running.
“If I hadn’t had that dog Pepper I frankly wouldn’t have approached Game and Fish about this,” McMurry, 62, said. “If that’s what they want to call it, fine with me. I’m honored by that, believe me.”
The pond, built 12 years ago, is the home turf of Pin Oak HRC, the local hunting and retrieving club McMurry serves as president. It is the site of the club’s fall hunt test and hosted a Super Retriever Series event, part of fund raising efforts to help with the site’s expansion, May 31-June 2.
But the pond, whose use so far is free, is also a daily destination for hunters looking to teach their dogs the finer points of retrieving. In fact, McMurry said, it is so popular that arriving hunters often turn around and go home when they see the pond already in use, a situation which helped fuel the plans for expansion two years ago.
“It is what’s called a technical pond,” said McMurry, explaining that the pond has peninsulas, points and other features — as opposed to a continuous bank — so hunters can teach their dogs to get on and off points to learn to go where waterfowl are more plentiful.
McMurry was conducting a hunt test at a pond in Missouri several years ago when he noticed its unique features.
“It looked like someone had done this strictly for retrievers,” McMurry said.
He was informed that the pond had been built using money raised years earlier through a 1/8-cent, state conservation tax.
Noting that Arkansas had just passed a similar tax, McMurry, through a friend, approached the AGFC about building a pond on the 4,000 or so acres of the Camp Robinson Special Use area. Initially the commission wanted to impose restrictions barring dogs during the summer, so as not to endanger newborn wildlife, and disallowing the use of four-wheelers.
“Those are two things that we needed to circumvent in some fashion because we wanted to train our dogs all year long,” said McMurry, who pointed out the four-wheelers were needed for a legitimate training pond to help distribute and pick up decoys.
Eventually AGFC was convinced to designate a component of the area, a five-acre pond, strictly for retriever training.It proved so popular, that, after a tornado ripped through the area — tearing up the AGFC shooting range in the process — discussions began about expansion.
“It just destroyed some beautiful hardwood bottom land,” McMurry said.
As 2014 moved into late summer, the land had been cleared and $55,000 had been raised. McMurry said the project was only on hold because of frequent rains that had left the ground too soft to start work.
“We’ve been waiting on it to dry out this summer and get it built,” he said.
The Pin Oak HRC hunt test is scheduled for October. In such tests, McMurry said, dogs compete against a standard on a pass/fail basis, but earn points toward a title that goes on the dog’s pedigree with the United Kennel Club, with which Pin Oak is affiliated.
In a hunt test the dogs demonstrate their grasp of skills that will actually be useful in the field.
“This whole testing program is designed for a guy that wants a good hunting dog,” McMurry said.
And McMurry — who owns a grand champion retriever, Josie, and her pup, Grits — knows what a good hunting dog looks like.
“She was an awesome dog,” he said of Pepper, the pond’s namesake. “I never realized what a Lab can do. Show them the way and they do it.”