Neil Fletcher

Former leicester tigers rugby player

Although I’d been involved in country sports with my dad from an early age, I only really got in to shooting seriously when I joined Leicester Tigers in 1996/97. I started going pigeon shooting with Dean Richards and an old boy named Brian. Brian knew everything there was to know about decoying pigeons and geese and was a real old countryman. He had a black lab called Harley and I loved to watch him working, retrieving shot birds from amongst the decoys.

Through mutual shooting and rugby friends I met Rob Hardy a few years later at the CLA Gamefair. We talked about his gundogs and it got me thinking; I’d like to get my own gundog and train it as a shooting companion. Soon after, my son Louie and I returned from a skiing trip and my wife Debbie met us in the arrivals hall of the airport. To our surprise, under her jacket was a 10-week-old black lab pup, his mother was from working lines but his dad was a show dog; we named him Toby.

Rob helped me with his basic training and how to get him retrieving properly. He wasn’t what you would call a natural but he was keen and we got him so I could take him shooting. I loved having him with me; it added a whole new dimension to my shooting day. I stared to have a few problems with him running in and couldn’t spend enough time with him to get it sorted out, as I was trying to set up a business at the time. Rob had written a book, Gundog Training Made Easy with Tony Price of Tawnyhill Gundogs. He introduced me to Tony and his wife Jean and suggested I take Toby down for him to have a look at. Debbie and I went down with Toby to their kennels in Kent and while we where there we fell in love with two black cocker pups they had from an earlier litter. A few weeks later saw us heading back down to pick up the now super steady Toby and 10-week-old Archie.

Archie was what Tony described as the Ford Fiesta of the two pups and much better suited to a beginner like me than the other Ferrari pup he intended to keep for Field Trials. The two dogs got on really well from the start and were great company for each other. While Archie was getting used to the family, lead and traffic; I was having great fun with Toby, shooting and picking-up on a small farm shoot at Eye Kettleby Lakes near Melton Mowbray. I enjoy picking-up with the dogs as much as I do the shooting.

When Archie was ready he returned to Tony and spent 11 weeks ‘at school’. He was fantastic when we collected him and I was very proud of my two boys; we spent many great days shooting and picking up together. Sadly we lost Toby recently to a Mast Cell Tumour, just before his eighth birthday. The whole family were totally gutted but instantly decided we needed to get another dog. We didn’t want Archie on his own and I desperately wanted another lab. I spent time looking at gundog pages on the web and finally found a litter of fox red labrador pups bred by a gamekeeper in Market Rasen, Lincolnshire. We picked him up when he was old enough and named him Redd. Redd is nine months now and coming along nicely, he’s so easy going and much more of a natural than Toby was. He’s a real character.

Again through rugby connections, I’ve recently met Ben Randall of Beggarbush Gundogs in Malvern. His son is a very talented player and so I’ve been helping him with his rugby and Ben’s been giving me some fantastic advice and tips for Redd’s basic training. The plan is for him to stay with Ben while we go on holiday this year. I’m sure both Redd and myself will benefit from some of his expertise. I’m really looking forward to getting on with his training and to the day when he can ‘join the team’ and come picking-up with Archie and me.

gundog award

Roddy Forbes

Captain of the Scotland Gundog team

My father was a keen rough shooter and wildfowler, so there was always a labrador at home – they were wild as hawks but superb game finders. I started training dogs in the late 1970s and entered my first trial in August 1983. It was the Highland Gundog Club Retriever Novice at Allargue estate, Strathdon, and I won it with three-year-old Carnochway Roy. What a fluke (Ed. History suggests otherwise). We then qualified for open stakes but I was completely out of my depth and became a bit disillusioned.

Next up was a springer called Carnochway Megan (Meggie). At about this time I met Danny MacKenzie who was the Scottish team captain. We got on well and he trained me to train dogs. My next dog was FTCh Carnochway Daniel from Northern Ireland. I followed up an advert for a litter sired by Alan Rountree’s FTCh Leacross Rinklesa and Dan was a lovely dog to train. He was a natural marker and brilliant on runners. I gained fourth and an award of honour at the IGL Retriever Championship at Ampton 1988.

Then came Carnochway Cane out of FTCh Tasco Dan and Lady Luck of Ulstare, again from Northern Ireland. Cane was a leggy, good looking lab, very hard going and a bit ‘hot’ but the most determined dog. He was relentless on a runner and would never give up. I won the CLA Gundog International at Margam Park in South Wales in 1990 with Cane. I then sold him to America where he was tragically killed soon after arrival.

Around that time I got to know Mary and Alan Rountree. Mary was a famous labrador breeder and very successful field trialer, as was Alan. Mary agreed to sell my brother and me two puppies from her latest litter from FTCh Heather Bank Alex and Tasco Yellow Sally. Brian got a bitch pup called Tasco Yellowbelle of Stormwatch (Midge), and I got FTCh Tasco Broom-Tip of Carnochway (Tip). When the pups arrived we were a bit disappointed as they were quite small, but little did we know what we had.

Tip and Midge were very shy for a start, but as time went by they proved to be top quality. Tip was the eye catcher but Midge was every bit as good. Sadly Midge was never made up to a champion but was so close on two or three occasions. When she was mated to David Garbutt’s Glimore Arrow she produced FTCh Stormwatch Spider of Tasco for Mary Rountree and when mated to FTCh Tasco Boris she produced FTCh Stormwatch Farr for Les MacLean.

I got a diploma of merit at the 1994 IGL Retriever Championship at Windsor with Tip and won the Tower Bird trophy and shared the Rank Routlege perpetual Cup. He was top dog at the CLA at Cornbury Park in 1993. That season he won a couple of two day 24 dog stakes and came second at the kennel Club 24 dog open at Amulree in deep snow.

Broom-Tip is probably my best dog so far, a very close second is my lab bitch Glenpatrick Mica of Carnochway (Kate) who I am competing with at the moment. Kate was born in 2012, the year of the royal wedding, hence Kate. She was bred by John Castle in Paisley and John’s Glenpatrick affix is well known, having produced many top trial dogs over the years. Kate is a small bitch but with a big heart. What she lacks in size she makes up for with drive and determination, coupled with a very laid back temperament, which is perfect for picking-up and competition. Pressure of work in the shooting season has made it impossible for me to campaign Kate in the Field Trials, she has won a novice stake but most of her time has been at working tests. She has won many open tests, among them the 40 dog open at Chatsworth where she was first in 2015, and then third in 2016, and she came fourth in the individual at the Skinners Gundog World Cup 2018. She was also in the winning team and top dog at the International Working Test European championship in the Netherlands this year, competing against 120 dogs from all over Europe. Scotland were the top team.

All my dogs have been working gundogs first (Kate has been on at least 450 plus shooting days) and I’ve used them all for picking-up, beating, dogging-in pheasants, following wounded deer, and in a season they will pick-up almost everything in the gamebook.

I was always taught that a trial dog should be nothing more than a polished shooting dog. And as an extremely keen gundog man it worries me the way some field trial handlers do not pick up with their dogs. I’ve even heard them say that picking-up will spoil a trial dog. I totally disagree. In my opinion picking-up, when handled properly, will make your dog. How else will the dog gain the proper experience? I feel very lucky to have had the dogs mentioned and many others good and not so good, and I have had great fun with all of them.