My first run was under Kelly Ward and had the pleasant task of taking a strip of 4 foot high nettles through to a fence line, approx 30 metres or so. Kelly said just do your best to get through it and see what comes out. I cast Fern off into the nettles and it was obvious she didn’t want to get her nose down, despite that she was making an effort to hunt through it with a bit of pace, but nowhere near what I know she’s capable of.
As we approached the end of the nettle bed, she flushed a number of pheasants, one of which was shot on the other side of the barbed wire fence in a patch of gorse about twenty yards away. Another was downed by the gun on the other side. Kelly told me to come forward a little and get Fern over the fence. I sent her out but she went a little out into the field, rather than going straight down the fence line. A redirect and she was into the gorse in the area where the gun had downed the bird. I left her to it and she soon appeared with the bird and delivered to hand.
We all jumped over the fence and were into some thick standing bracken. Fern was making a nice job of hunting it thoroughly and was going nicely. She soon flushed a hen pheasant, which wasn’t shot at because it flew behind some tall gorse bushes. She sat steady to the flush, and after a short hunt Kelly told me “That’ll do” and my first run was done. On walking back to the gallery, I started to realise how painful my hands were after walking through the nettles - Ouch!
The trial continued and our next run was in game crop/stubble type stuff into a headwind. I was backing up and the dog in before me was put out for moving on the flush, so I was in. We were heading towards a partridge pen, so I was expecting to come into some birds at some point. Fern evidently could smell the partridge in the pen on the pretty strong wind and needed a few “pip” reminders to stay within normal hunting range, but was going nicely.
There was soon a flush of birds, loose from between me and the other handler. One bird was shot and Steve Winspear on my left was told to try his dog on it. It made the fall but after a number of attempts nothing came out. I was told to try Fern, who again went to the mark and I left her to it, redirecting her a couple of times when she pulled towards the partridge fluttering in the pen. She failed to find anything, so Martin and Kelly walked forward to check the area. I was a bit nervous at this point, but the gun next to me said it’d hit the deck and run straight away so not to worry. No bird was found, phew!!! Unfortunately both me and Steve then had to hunt through the last bit of cover where the shot bird had landed, we were both at risk of eye wiping ourselves here! Luckily there was no bird and we were told to put our leads on as we were going back to another part of the crop to continue our runs.
We walked a long a stone wall adjacent to the field and lined out. There was a few metres of white grass before the cover started and as we set off I noticed a young poult bird clapped down in the grass. I put Fern onto it and as she went in to pick it up, I put the stop whistle in to prevent her from pegging it. I tried her again and the bird still didn’t move. This was happening literally two feet from both me and Martin, so he told me to get Fern to bring the bird in to hand. For whatever reason she wouldn’t pick it. I don’t know whether it was because I’d blown the stop whistle twice to prevent her from pegging or what.
After a lot of thinking time spent bent over his stick, Martin said he was going to have to put me out. I said I can understand why, the dog hadn’t brought me the game back. He did say, and after speaking to him again after the trial, that it was a very difficult scenario to judge, one he’s never had before and probably won’t see again. The bird itself had a bare back and “bulgy eye” as Martin put it, and wasn’t right. Never mind, another weird scenario ends a trial for me and Fern.
Only three dogs finished the trial and were awarded the following places.
1st : Fran Ardley – Golden Nectar (CSB)
2nd : Anita Jones – Episcopa Wonga
3rd : Steve Winspear – Kiltonbeck Cooper