I’m very fortunate to have purchased a black Labrador bitch some 9 years ago from a breeder who had come highly recommended.

The puppy was from his bitch who was a well bred working girl and the Sire was FT CH Bringwood Bobby of Brindlebay, a very well known Champion and very successful stud at that time. Unfortunately I’ve since learned that Bobby has now passed on to that big kennel in the sky but leaves behind a rich legacy of Field Trail Champions and working dogs in the shooting fields of the UK and Europe. His name will appear on numerous pedigrees for many years to come.

I have worked as a full time pigeon guide and shoot organiser since the spring of 2005 so I guess that you would expect my dogs to be well practiced in the art of picking up all kinds of game from pigeon to pheasant, from rabbit to hare. The pleasure of watching your dog do one of those very special retrieves doesn't have to do with the species that it's sent for, but much more with initiative and skill it shows in making the retrieve.  

"There are certain retrieves that do stand out in ones memory and I would like to share some of those memories with you now"

My bitch Fanny has proven herself as a good retriever on more occasions than I could ever remember but there are certain retrieves that do stand out in ones memory and I would like to share some of those memories with you now.

Fanny at nine years of age
Fanny at nine years of age

Several years ago following a day on pigeons that at best could be described as mediocre, I decided that we would walk the three clients along a belt of conifer trees. These trees that we had named “The Walk of Shame” was a favourite roost for wood pigeons and it was not uncommon to flush perhaps 30 or more woodies from this quarter mile long belt.

The pigeons would generally break forward or some times  right or left but would often present the gun with some nice going away shots.
My nephew Stuart walked with my bitch Fanny on one side of the trees with one gun, while I with my dog Beau walked the other side with the remaining two guns.

The field to the right of the trees had a very healthy crop of Oilseed Rape standing around a metre high and getting very woodie, maybe just a week or two from being ready to harvest. The field that I was to walk with Beau contained Sugar Beet. This would make retrieves difficult for Fanny but much easier for Beau.

"Great fun for our three guests who were now getting more shots per minute than they had experienced all day"

Pigeons were breaking cover from both sides of the conifers providing great fun for our three guests who were now getting more shots per minute than they had experienced all day.

The gun walking with Stuart and Fanny hit hard a pigeon breaking to the right, feathers flew but the bird carried on for perhaps 200 yards or more over the rape crop before finally crumpling and dropping into the thick crop.

Stuart could see that Fanny had seen the bird fall and decided to let her go for the retrieve.

In what seemed like just a minute she returned with the dead pigeon held firmly in her mouth. Her cheeks were grazed and bloodied where she had pushed through the thick rape stems on her mission to find the pigeon but clearly she had pinpointed the birds fall into the crop so accurately that it took no time at all to find and pick the bird. Stuart and I looked at each other in amazement and almost disbelief that she had marked the bird so well and made what should have been a very difficult retrieve look so easy.

On another occasion whilst guiding a group who were duck shooting on a large pond that I have permission to shoot, the flight had finished and all light had gone. One of the guys had brought his own Labrador to pick up and the dog had done a grand job of collecting ducks and geese from land and water all bar one greylag that was wounded and swimming in circles on the water.

"The dog swam the 60 or so yards to where the very lively goose was still circling"

The gun said he would like to send his Lab for the retrieve and I of course agreed. The dog swam the 60 or so yards to where the very lively goose was still circling. There ensued an almighty rumpus where the goose made it quite clear that it was not happy to be taken to dry land in this fashion. The dog decided that the greylag had won this disagreement and was making it's way back without the retrieve.

“Now what do we do ?” enquired the dogs owner. “We send my secret weapon” I replied.

“Fanny, fetch it in” was her rallying call and in a flash she was in the water and swimming top speed for a very pissed-off looking goose. The water erupted and round two started for the goose but it realised quite quickly that this time it was outclassed and Fanny swam back to dry land with a very submissive looking greylag in her jaws - another very proud moment for me.

Fanny with son Beau and daughter Lulu
Fanny with son Beau and daughter Lulu

On one of the driven days that Fanny and I were attending the guns were lined out across a field of Sugar Beet. As birds flushed from the wood in front of the guns a pricked cock glided into the crop around 300 yards from where we were standing. Realising that this bird would be a strong runner and knowing that Fanny had seen it come down, I sent her on her way.

As she thundered through the sugar beet, several of the guns turned to see if she could find it. You never doubt this animals ability to mark a fallen bird and in a flash she was on the running bird and making her way back to me with the stricken bird.

At the end of the drive, the gun who had hit the bird made straight for me and praised my girl for such a fabulous retrieve (his words).

On one of my pigeon shooting days on a local farm, I had a great day with around 100 birds shot, most of which Fanny had retrieved from the decoy pattern which was set on a freshly drilled field of winter wheat. The hide was set against a deep ditch with a hawthorn hedge behind the ditch. Several dead pigeons had fallen into the hedge but the ditch made it near impossible for me to unhook two of the birds that were caught up in the hawthorn spikes around 4 to 5 feet from ground level and maybe 7 feet or more from the bottom of the ditch. I probed the thick hedge with my hide poles in an attempt to free the dead birds but to no avail.

To my amazement Fanny jumped the ditch, pushed into the bottom of the hedging then pushed herself on her back legs high into the thorns to free the bird by pulling on it's wing. She then repeated the process and retrieved the second bird. If you think that unbelievable, I don't blame you! I could hardly believe my eyes when she did it.

Fanny has several faults, all of which are due to my short comings as a trainer. She is not steady on the peg or in the hide because she wants to pick every bird shot and will run in sometimes even before the bird hits the ground. At times it can be hard work staying on top of her enthusiasm, but when it comes to marking and retrieving on land or water, it's hard to imagine a better gun dog.

"I have taken two litters from Fanny and kept a pup on both occasions"

I have taken two litters from Fanny and kept a pup on both occasions. Her son Beau and daughter Lulu have both inherited her natural ability to work in the shooting field but with both her offspring, the trainer is working hard to get it right and channel all that enthusiasm and bring on a steadier version of the wonderful Fanny.              

Gun Dogs – That Memorable Retrieve
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