2011-08-31 / Front Page

Work and Play

Burke hunters turn training hobby into professional pursuit
By Anne Marie Kyzer annemariek@thetruecitizen.com


Chris Stewart’s dog Bear lunges through the water to return a dummy. Chris Stewart’s dog Bear lunges through the water to return a dummy. It’s a labor of love ... both for man and his best friend.

Hundreds of hours are invested in the training of a single dog, but it’s hard to say who enjoys it more, the canine or his handler.

The Labradors go from pups living to fetch the next toy to seasoned retrievers that can follow highly specific commands communicated through a series of hand signals and whistle chirps.

The satisfaction of watching those retrievers develop is what motivated lifelong hunters and longtime friends Chris Stewart and Jonathan Broxton to start their joint venture, Major League Retrievers, here in Burke County.

Since boyhood, both have roamed the woods and hunted fields in these parts, and most of that time they’ve had a favorite dog in tow. As teenagers, they’d chase coon hounds late into the night, but when Stewart got his first retriever and watched it develop into an awesome hunting companion with help from another local enthusiast, Rocky Yelton, he was hooked. In the off-season Broxton, a former Burke County Bear turned professional baseball player, joins in the fun and says he fell in love with the training aspect as well.


Jackie, owned by Jonathan Broxton, demonstrates her ability to follow commands from Chris Stewart. Jackie, owned by Jonathan Broxton, demonstrates her ability to follow commands from Chris Stewart. Two years ago the pair decided to turn their hobby into a side-job and now relish helping others enjoy their dogs even more.

Major League Retrievers’ purpose is two-fold, training dogs as well as developing their own Labs into exceptional sires and dams for breeding. Their studs earn a reputation by performing well and earning titles at hunt tests, which are competitions where highly prescribed hunting scenarios challenge the dogs to follow commands under even the most difficult circumstances.

Their dogs, Bear and Jackie, have already earned Hunting Retriever titles and will go for the Hunting Retriever Champion title this fall, one step below the ultimate Grand Hunting Retriever Champion.

While the hunt tests require the handlers to maintain a strictly business atmosphere, a dog’s life isn’t all work and no play. Stewart says he likes getting together with other local trainers, like his friend Ben Nelson, and working the dogs.

Both Stewart and Broxton say the real treat is when they can just enjoy their dogs in sport and as companions.

“He’s my best friend, my buddy,” Stewart says of his Lab, Bear. “I enjoy the time I spend with him and I love watching him do what he loves to do.”



At left, Chris Stewart speaks commands to 5- year- old Jackie. At left, Chris Stewart speaks commands to 5- year- old Jackie.

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