I arrived at Maer around 8:45am and collected my arm band from Jane the secretary, before getting my boots and jacket on before the brief. Simon Tyers and Kelly Ward were the judges for the day and we were swiftly on our way. I was drawn at number 12 so had quite a long wait. The early dogs started in a valley bottom with nettles, thistles and sieves scattered amongst the trees and it wasn’t long before they were into game.
From this valley bottom, next up were two 8m wide field margins either side of a hedgerow which produced quite a bit of game for the dogs, with a couple of dogs going out for failing on a retrieve. The hedgerow carried on up a hill towards a narrow strip of woodland.
It was here that I was called up to back up number 10. It was a nice bit of woodland with bramble and fallen trees, ideal spaniel ground and from the sounds of things there was plenty of game to be found judging by the number of shots going off. Number 10 was having a nice run and flushed a pheasant which was shot inside the wood but unfortunately the dog failed to pick it and I was in.
Kelly Ward called me up and told me to wait as they were also changing dogs on the other side. As soon as we were ready to go I cast Fern off into some thick bramble and away we went. She was going really well, smashing into the bramble and taking a nice pattern either side towards the two guns. After approximately 50 yards I saw her up a gear again and went into some thick bramble, popped back out and sat. I knew she was indicating something and in she went again, this time producing a hen bird which went forward. I couldn’t believe it when the gun missed it and he apologised. In fairness he did drop a rather large branch which thankfully I wasn’t asked to pick!!
We carried on and the cover in the bottom of the wood started to thing out under the pine trees and Fern started to take in a little more ground due to the lack of cover. As we came to the end of the wood Fern went out of the hedgerow into a field of mustard. I called her back but she couldn’t find a way back through the hedgerow due to the way it had been cut and laid. So it took a few whistles to get her back to me.
Kelly told me to hold her there until the right hand side had caught up before we clambered through the hedge into the mustard field. At this point two shots rang out on the right hand side of the line and the dog and handler had gone back to try and pick a runner which had landed in the field and run back into the wood.
A few minutes later and we were called over to try for the same bird. We got to the area where Simon was and he gave us a very vague mark of where the bird had come into the wood and were told to systematically hunt the area out to try for the bird. I cast Fern out and let her get on with it. She was hunting well and I cast her again in a different area, and again once more to cover a 180 degree circle. It was to no avail and Simon and Kelly walked out to try and find the bird. After a nervous few minutes they returned and I breathed a sigh of relief.
We then went back out into the field of mustard and started to work down another field margin. Fern was smashing through the cover and it wasn’t long before she flushed two birds out of the end of the hedgerow, a cock bird being shot maybe 15 yards further on. She had sat steady and Kelly told me to send her. I thought this would be a straight out and back as the bird looked dead in the air. She immediately went to the area of the fall, however she was out of my sight in a bit of a dip, hidden by the edge of the hedge.
The next minute 12 or more birds got up in all directions. I put the stop whistle in and she sat up, before I called her back into the area. Again she pulled forward and because I thought the bird was dead I called her back. Nothing. Kelly said call her up and the dog on the other side was tried. Also to no avail. We were then told that the bird had got up and ran into the field margin on the other side of a gateway, and if our dogs found it in that area (approx 5 yards from two fence posts) then we’d be out. “Great” I thought!
We hunted the area through and Kelly said that’ll do, call her up and put your lead on. I thanked her and returned to the gallery to give Fern some water as she was shattered. Despite being the end of October it was still very warm. The two dogs carried on hunting down the hedgerow and after about 30 yards the dog on the right came back with a dead cock bird. Simon joked “Did I say 5 or 50 yards” which brought great amusement to the stewards and handlers! I looked across to Kelly and jokingly wiped my brow as a hint to how lucky I’d been!!
The dogs carried on hunting the hedgerow and it was literally 5 minutes before I was called over to back up to Joe Shotton. This guy’s still going at the grand old age of 91 and it was a pleasure to watch him working his little golden dog. At the end of the hedgerow he was called across to the other side to try for a bird the other dog had failed on. He eventually reappeared around the end of the hedge with the bird after completing a successful eye wipe.
That was Joes run done and I was back in. I had a small length of field margin and hedgerow to hunt before we moved ground into some thick, tall thistle like cover. Simon showed me where my beat was to be as we were going to come back down the other side of the cover. Fern again was going really nicely, crashing through the sieves and thistles and it wasn’t long before she flushed a cock bird which unfortunately didn’t present a shot.
We carried on and it was obvious she was starting to tire a little, yet she still tried her best to push through the cover which was getting thicker still. All I needed was a retrieve. The next minute I heard a shot and looked up, Fern had sat two yards from me. A pigeon was spiralling down towards me and landed between me and the dog, that close that my coat was splattered with blood!
Simon said it was too easy for my dog, and at two feet away from her I would agree haha, so the other dog was given the retrieve. I was impressed she’d remained steady to the fall of something so close. We hunted on, desperate for a retrieve, however game was not there and Simon called me up, saying we couldn’t run her into the ground.
Relief, I’d finally finished my first field trial!! I was elated and went to the back of the gallery to make a fuss of Fern. I was a little disappointed that we didn’t have a retrieve as I was sure that I couldn’t receive any awards without testing the dog’s mouth. To be honest the rest of the trial was a bit of a blur as I was so happy to have finished.
Once the trial was over and we’d made our way back to the cars we were called over to the lodge for the presentations. The awards are detailed below, however I was awarded Guns choice. I was chuffed, it was a little consolation for not being able to gain an award.
All four guns came and spoke to me and commented on how well Fern had gone, and that she was unlucky not to have had a retrieve. The keeper then came over and said that if he’d have been shooting, she’d have been his pick too. Hearing that 5 guys liked the way she had gone was reassuring and made me even happier at finishing the trial.
Kelly Ward also came over and said that I was only a retrieve away from gaining an award and to not give up on the dog as she’s going to win a trial soon. It was nice to hear this positive feedback and Kelly was open with her book, telling me I had an A? because of the lack of retrieve and also when Fern couldn’t get back through the hedge at the end of the wood. Simon had given me an A- so I wasn’t too far away, if only she’d picked the cock bird up, but with all the live birds getting up, I’m guessing there was a lot of scent about making it difficult for her to take a line.
The journey home seemed a lot quicker this time around, and the feeling is definitely better than wondering what if, why etc like I had on my last 9 trials!! I’ve finally got a dog I which I can say is trained to Field Trial standard, which was the goal I set myself almost 3 years ago. Now it might well be time to end on a high!
1st: Not awarded
2nd: Whitebeam Frost Pocket – Wayne Parrington
3rd: Chyknell Pippet - Joe Shotton
COM – Selwick Cove Sally – M Buckley
Guns Choice – Creechdale Phoebe of Amberquest – Scott Mossop