Days in the field wouldn’t be the same without our gundogs, so it’s only right that great performances should be rewarded – just like top shots. Judge David Tomlinson shares the winning and highly commended entries in The Field Gundog Awards 2019, in association with Skinner's Pet Food

Now in its third year, The Field Gundog Awards 2019, in association with Skinner’s Pet Food, is for proper gundogs working in the field – however brilliant or naughty. Judge David Tomlinson shares the 2019 winning and highly commended entries.

For more information on The Field Gundog Awards, read up on the categories to decide which to enter your gundog for. David Tomlinson offers his insights on the naughtiest gundog and the best amateur picker-up categories.

THE FIELD GUNDOG AWARDS 2019

Busy the working cocker had a sad start to life. For much of her first year she was cooped up in a flat and never gained so much as a glimpse of the outside world. Her luck changed when she was rehomed by Julie Warboys, and at last she got to do what she had been bred for in the first place: go shooting. Despite never having had any formal training, she now, according to her mistress, “absolutely lives for working, last season picking up for some 60 days on several different shoots”.

The Field Gundog Awards 2019

Action in the gundog ring during Burghley.

This alone would qualify her for The Field Gundog Awards, now in their third year and sponsored by Skinner’s Field & Trial, a leading make of working dog food. However, Busy went further by giving a brilliant demonstration of her drive and determination with an exceptional retrieve on the Pangdean shoot, near Brighton, last season. It was sufficient to win her the first prize for outstanding work by a spaniel – springer or cocker. Handler and dog had been asked to sweep a rough bank, with clumps of blackthorn, to look for a cock pheasant runner. This is just the sort of task that Busy relishes, but for this retrieve she had an unusual challenge, for the cock had disappeared in the vicinity of a disused badger sett. This was where Busy followed it, before disappearing for several worrying minutes.

Her mistress had the presence of mind to shine the torch on her phone down the sett, eventually spotting Busy’s wagging tail, some eight feet below ground. It was apparent that the spaniel was tugging at something, and slowly but surely she backed out of the hole, turning around at the entrance to reveal a large and feisty cock pheasant clenched between her jaws. She emerged to a round of applause from the beaters and guns who had gathered to watch.

The Field Gundog Awards 2019

Winning greyhound x wheaten terrier Alfie.

Another dog with an audience for his retrieve was Radley the black labrador; at the time, he wasn’t yet two years old. According to his handler, Philip Bishop, “a cock pheasant flew over very high and was saluted with two barrels by one of our best shots, who doesn’t usually miss. The bird towered, then crashed into the middle of a school hockey pitch where a game was being played.” The school’s bursar collected the cock from the field but Radley was then sent for it. He went off in a straight line, only to stop at the fenced-off cricket square, where he stopped to look back for instructions. Skilled handling put him back on course and he went on to “scoop up the bird in front of all the watching parents. He raced back like a poacher with his prize, very, very pleased with himself.” He might have been even more pleased if he had known his long-distance retrieve would be rewarded with a year’s supply of Skinner’s Field & Trial as winner of outstanding retrieve by any retrieving breed.

The Field Gundog Awards 2019

Rosettes for the prize winners.

Boss, Peter Bennett’s German wirehaired pointer, was exactly the same age as Radley when he, too, made an exceptional retrieve, albeit a less public one. Boss had to jump six stock fences, cross the same formidable ditch twice and cover more than 400 metres of ground to collect a wounded hen pheasant. This retrieve took place on the Aberarder Estate in the Highlands, on the last drive of the last day of the season. It was clearly a memorable way for such a young dog to finish the season, and sufficient for Boss to win the prize for outstanding work by any pointing breed.

FAMILY FRIENDS

I suspect that almost all the entrants for the awards are really family gundogs, but Fen has a larger family than most. Her master, Robert Payne, describes himself as “a retired bachelor parson”, and Fen, a black labrador bitch, “hugely welcomes all who come to the door, whether for wedding, funeral or any other discussions, and instantly breaks the ice”. Her master is a sporting parson, for Fen, as well as being a family dog, is also a proper working labrador, sitting happily in the pigeon hide or picking up on the Walcote Estate near Bishop’s Castle. Last January she surpassed herself by collecting two pinkfooted geese and four duck from across the River Annan in Dumfriesshire. I was amused to note that in his entry, the Rev Payne described Fen as “a great girl, and less expensive than a wife…”

The Field Gundog Awards 2019

Professional gundog trainer Adrian Slater.

Runner-up to Fen, and highly commended in the best family gundog class, was Richard Negus’s black cocker Mabel. Though an all-rounder, accompanying her master whether he is hedge laying or wildfowling, she also enjoys playing endlessly with Negus’s eight-year-old son, Charlie. However, arguably her greatest achievement so far was walking, with her master, the 68-mile Suffolk Coast Path in a mere 72 hours, helping raise more than £2,300 for the GWCT’s Grey Partridge Appeal. Perhaps there should be an additional class for the best fund-raising gundog?

Entries for the best amateur picker-up are always interesting: this year’s winner, Ricky Knights, readily admits that he had never been on a shoot until he acquired his working cocker, Heidi, three years ago. How the two of them qualified to become a dependable picking-up team is a classic case of following advice and acting on it. They started working with a local gundog trainer before joining the Dove Valley Gundog Club, where they passed through puppy classes to more advanced training. Heidi won a certificate of merit at her first working test, then went on to gain a Kennel Club Working Gundog Certificate at her second attempt.

The Field Gundog Awards 2019

Valerie Saunders and Peter Harris, owner of naughty gundog Wallace.

Working tests with dummies are one thing but trials with live game are a different proposition. Knights and Heidi were fortunate to gain experience on shooting days at Bagots Park near Abbots Bromley, learning under the watchful eye of Carol Dale and Gary Watson. This gave the pair the confidence to enter a trio of spaniel trials. No, they didn’t win, but they didn’t disgrace themselves, either, and last season they became regular members of the Bagots Park picking-up team. Not bad for a pair of beginners.

CARROT CAPERS

I’m not sure that springer spaniel Wallace was really being naughty when he decided to retrieve half-a-dozen carrots on a shoot day, but it was sufficiently mischievous for him to win the prize for the naughtiest gundog (something, one suspects, he would dispute). His master, Peter Harris, had drawn peg number 5 on the local shoot, usually a hot spot, and he reckoned that trainee gundog Wallace would have plenty of work to do after the drive. Alas, Harris admits, “my poor shooting resulted in no downed pheasants”, so a disappointed Wallace nipped into the nearby stables to collect, one by one, the horses’ carrots. He was clearly bored, so who could blame him?

The Field Gundog Awards 2019

A romantic retrieve.

As a judge, I shouldn’t perhaps have a favourite category but the entries for the best gundog that does not belong to a gundog breed invariably make me smile. There are always a number of unlikely candidates to consider, every one of which has a claim to be the winner. Alan Hall’s Norfolk terrier, for example, loves vermin shooting, and is a keen retriever of anything shot in the garden, while Biggles the shih tzu has become an enthusiastic beater. According to his owner, Claire Tomlin, he was bought originally as a lap dog but when he heard his first gunshot and saw his first pheasant, laps were abandoned in favour of fields. The photograph accompanying his entry, taken on the Woodbury Shoot in the Teme Valley, shows Biggles lined up with a pair of springers, a cocker and a labrador. His companions all look deadly serious, but Biggles has what looks like a big grin on his face.

A brace of sporting cavaliers, Barley and Tansy, were strong contenders for the award, too. Tansy is a beating dog and, according to her mistress, Kate Waddington, she is the hardest working cavalier in the country, beating at least two days a week during the season. Waddington didn’t say how often Barley goes shooting, but she did send an impressive photograph of him retrieving a red-legged partridge.

The Field Gundog Awards 2019

Editor Jonathan Young and the writer with Julie Warboys, owner of winning cocker Busy.

In what was the most competitive class in this year’s awards, it was exceedingly difficult to select a winner. In the end the prize went to Alfie, a nine-year-old wheaten terrier/greyhound cross. As a puppy, his owner, Paul Molyneux, noted that he had a brilliant nose and excellent eyesight, so he was encouraged to work. Eight seasons later he is still doing so with the same enthusiasm and speed as when he started, while according to his proposer, Shelley Fryer, he is the best gundog “on our syndicate shoot, much as it hurts me to say so as the owner of two labradors that work with him”. It has to be added that he is a very handsome chap, too.

We hear a lot these days about a ‘People’s Vote’; I’m sure supporters would approve of the fact that the Gundog Photograph of the Year is decided by a people’s – or, to be more precise, a readers’ – vote. Hundreds of entries were received for the award, and these were whittled down to a shortlist of 10, all sharp and perfectly exposed. They appeared on The Field’s website so decisions could be made and votes cast.

The Field Gundog Awards 2019

Enjoying a day out at Burghley.

As anyone who voted will know, choosing the best from an impressive bunch was far from easy. I loved Andrew Nottingham’s portrait of Zak the large munsterlander, sitting patiently but expectantly on his first day on the grouse moor, while Adele Jones’s picture of Sunny the labrador on a crisp January morning was wonderfully atmospheric, shot into the light with the sun rising. However, it was a portrait of Skye the springer that won, taken by Emily Ramm. This was four-year-old Skye’s last shooting season, as her master, Bob Perry, has now hung up his gun at the age of 80. If you look at the photograph (yes, it is a scotch egg in Skye’s mouth), I think you will agree that the eyes have it.

The Field Gundog Awards 2020 will have a new sponsor but similar categories. It’s worth noting that the awards aren’t aimed at impeccably trained field-trial champions but proper gundogs just like yours. We invite you to enter: there’s a class for every dog, however brilliant or naughty.

WINNERS AND HIGHLY COMMENDED

The Field Gundog Awards 2019

A display of obedience in the gundog ring.

Outstanding retrieve by any retrieving breed
Winner: Radley and Philip Bishop
Highly commended: Lexi and Megan Borthwick

Outstanding work by a spaniel (springer or cocker)
Winner: Busy and Julie Warboys
Highly commended: Ava and Craig Elliott

Outstanding work by any pointing breed
Winner: Boss and Peter Bennett

The best amateur picker-up
Winner: Heidi and Ricky Knights
Highly commended: Charlie and Daniel Woollacott

The best family gundog
Winner: Fen and Robert Payne
Highly commended: Mabel and Richard Negus

The naughtiest gundog
Winner: Wallace and Peter Harris
Highly commended: Norma and John Buckley

The best gundog that does not belong to a gundog breed
Winner: Alfie and Paul Molyneux
Highly commended: Biggles and Claire Tomlin

Gundog photograph of the year
Winner: Emily Ramm and Skye