light brush test

After the trail test I was speaking to an operational handler  and

they told me that after the trail test, it was all about testing the handler.

That combined with our little adventure in looking for terrain features where he didn’t indicate the first time, made me sweat a little as I drove to our early morning light brush test.  I spent the whole drive thinking about the lessons I’d learned in the first couple of test. Knowing that I would make some kind of mistake, but hoping that it would at least be a new and different mistake.

First things first

Once we’d arrived at the area for the test, I stopped the car and let him get a little tree time in while I put on my gaiters and sprayed on a layer of tick armor. The blood suckers get thick early in Virginia and I’ve had one round with the lyme bacteria that I didn’t enjoy even a little bit.. After I was suited up and we both had our game faces firmly in place, we got back in the car and went to meet our evaluator. He was waiting patiently looking at his map.

Getting out of the car I took my coffee, my map tools, my note book, and a donut so we could start the briefing. It was a pretty standard brief, a little over 40  acres bounded by a road and a trail with a 200 meter undefined  boundary that would be easy to hit on either side, assuming that I could read the terrain correctly. I was getting pretty used to the standard questions: age, condition, mental state, physical characteristics, and equipment he might have on him.  I wasn’t quite ready for his name though. This was to be the search for Renaldo.

I put my search strategy together, deciding that since he was a hiker, and had gone out on an evening hike, we should start with the trail and we could cut our undefined boundary when we got to a certain land mark on the trail. That would put us in High Probability land. My evaluator carefully considered my reasons, and said that given the circumstances it was a good plan. Reading the look on his face I asked, ” you’re not going to let me do that are you?” A small smile crept across his face and he slowly shook his head, “….no.” Which puts us into Plan B .Run up the road until I get to my undefined and start my grid pattern there.

And we’re off.

Marching up the road there wasn’t any traffic on it so we walked the road a little bit, but I decided that walking just inside the boundary line would keep Grom up on his side of the road and out of any traffic the might come down. I counted off my paces and set my bearing on what would be my east-west grid lines so we could start our little trek through the brush. This pushed us through some brush and across a little ridge before we hit a stream that we would be crossing in the middle of our sector on every pass. This would be good since the dog would have a chance to get in the water and cool off at least once a pass.

All was going well, my bearing was drifting a little but I figured I was correcting for it and the stream came up where expected. The brush was indeed light so I was calling my imaginary boundary flags a little on the long side. Imagine my surprise when I came up on the trail and found myself about 20 meters further down the trail than I thought I would be.

I gathered my wits and corrected my position, making sure my bearing was correct I saw my evaluator/escort checking his compass so I took a peek at his needle. When he moved to cover his compass I asked if North was a secret to the test and hoped that I didn’t loose too many points for being saucy.  The compasses agreed and I resolved to trust my compass so we set off on the original bearing which didn’t feel anything like what I thought it would.

We would cut another two lines through the sector with Grom running off deeper into the sector like he had something, only to come back either wondering why we were so slow or with a look on his face like “I thought I smelled something, but…um…never mind”.

At about 40 minutes I took a look at him while we stopped next to the stream. He was getting warmer and running a little slower so I let him play in the stream while I checked my map and made some notes. He actually stayed in a down for about 5 minutes and rested while I got to say my favorite phrase.

“base this is Team Grom….”

A quick check of my bearing and a restart later we were back looking for Renaldo the errant hiker.

After another trip up one side of the hill and down another, Grom gets the look and I check the wind for the hundredth time that morning. My evaluator steals a look at his GPS and looks thoughtfully at the dog who has come back to me with the, “I was sure I there was something out there….” look but he hasn’t put it all together yet.

On the next pass we enter a little flat and I see the dog run up to a stump with the most excitement I’ve seen out of him all day long. He does his best impression of a cat trying to get up to the top of the stump but then decides he’s still a dog and turns in little circles at the base. Clearly I’m needed there and I make a hasty move over to the stump and proclaim loudly, “This looks like a clue!”

Remembering our last encounter with a clue of this size, I start talking as fast as I can. “I’m going to mark this and take my dog out to run a circle around the perimeter. I can come ba…..” The dog is charging up the next hill and my word fall short when I see him dive behind a tree and come screaming back to me. Since I’m still standing next to clue, I flash back to our last training and hoping the lack of indication was the exception and not  a new problem to solve and when he gets to me my heart stops beating for a second.

Grom has stopped directly in front of me and gives me a look in the eye before glancing back at the tree…. And I wait. But before I can start thinking about how I’m going to fix his indication he starts barking like a little maniac. Two, three, four, five… GO PLAY!

By the time I have managed to get to Renaldo, Grom has been in twice and returned to bark at me again. Such a good dog. This is where a huge puppy party happens and I find out that my subject has been text messaging my wife the whole time and everyone on facebook now knows that Renaldo will be home safe soon.

Once we get back to the vehicles, and Grom takes off his uniform, I sit down with my Evaluator to go over the debriefing. My map is drawn, with the help of my colored markers, because if you have to draw a map, it might as well be pretty. I get a look at the track on the GPS, which I haven’t been allowed to use any of the tests, and I was indeed off the first pass on my undefined, but got it corrected on my second pass. I asked a couple of questions and waited for the constructive criticism that always comes at the end. My evaluator looks at his note book, folds it up and says,

“well…. that’s all I have.”

Three more to go.

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