A recent change in field trialling practice has highlighted the most dangerous of situations, one which the Kennel Club refuses to acknowledge or address. Field trials can only be run under the Kennel Club rules and the judges of field trials must operate within the regulations published by the Kennel Club at all times. In the not too distant past, competitors were placed some distance back from the Guns during a drive. Recently, it has become the practice to place competitors and their dogs alongside or close to the Guns. The reason is that should a bird be wounded, fall behind the Guns and then run, a dog can be sent to retrieve it without fear of the dog interfering with the line of Guns. This practice does not take account of the fact that at least 12 competitors are put within potential killing distance of the shotguns. In this position they must rely on safe gun handling by those shooting.

I trial my Labradors throughout every shooting season, across the country, whenever my name is drawn out of the hat. I have witnessed and stood in line competing in many drives at field trials alongside many Guns from all walks of life. Most of the folk shooting at field trials are expert gun handlers and beautiful Shots — countrymen regular and true. To them, safety is a habit and they make everyone around them feel safe.

Unfortunately, not all field trials are blessed with such experts. Increasingly, the field trial Gun team includes a beginner — an occasional clayshooter or simply a shotgun owner who is making up the numbers. On more than one occasion I have found myself looking down the business end of a shotgun. I have often seen a gun levelled at a competitor through the incompetence of a gun handler. I understand from a conversation with one A-panel judge that he has witnessed two competitors shot in separate field trials.

It has often been my experience that when judges are aware of dangerous gun handling during a drive at a field trial their decision is to do nothing. They must hope that an accident will not happen on their watch. I have several times asked judges to address dangerous gun handling — they have refused. One judge advised me that I could disqualify myself by moving out of the line to a safe position. In private, judges have often said to me that safety is the responsibility of the host, shoot captain, landowner or the gamekeeper: in fact, anyone except the judges.

Yet who is watching the Guns, where the birds fall and the competitors throughout each drive? The judges. It is only the judges who are close enough to the Guns to instruct immediately a Gun to hold their shotgun in the correct and safe manner. Where safety is concerned, time could be of the essence. The question of safety cannot be sidestepped. There may be judges who on their own initiative will address this situation if it occurs, but there is no clear and unequivocal guidance from the Kennel Club.

The responsibility for safety does not rest with one particular person. It must be the top priority for everyone involved in field trials, particularly for the judges who are on the spot when breaches of safety are committed. Only the judge can deal with the situation immediately. Judging takes courage and authority — it must be used in these situations. The Kennel Club regulations must reflect this and offer clear guidance to deal effectively with this potential danger.

I recently wrote to the Kennel Club to suggest that its Judges’ Regulations should be amended to include the following prior to the start of the next field trial season: If competitors are placed within dangerous distance of a shotgun, every judge attending must, without fail, make themselves aware of the safe gun handling of every person shooting.

In the event that they are unsure or not confident in the safe handling of any gun they must immediately and without further consultation to any party move all competitors to a safe distance. In the event of a competitor complaining to a judge of unsafe gun handling during the course of a drive, the judge must immediately and without further consultation to any party move that competitor to a safe distance. Such a competitor must not be disadvantaged in any way as a result of their request to be moved to what, in their opinion, is a safe distance. The judge should use his/her discretion to move the entire line to a safe distance.

In the case of a walk-up situation, should the judge be made aware of unsafe gun handling, the judge must without further consultation immediately advise the Gun of the safe and proper way to handle the weapon.

Any subsequent complaint regarding that person’s safe handling of the gun should result in that person’s involvement in the trial being terminated immediately.

I received a reply, dated 19 May 2009, which stated: The issue of safety largely rests with the host, but judges would be expected to have a regard for this at all times. The letter goes on to say that the Kennel Club feels this adequately covers the situation.

Come on Kennel Club. This is sidestepping the issue. It is in every field trial competitor’s interest and safety that it addresses this through the Judges’ Regulations in a detailed and proper manner.

Ken Byron competes in field trials with his Copperwheat Labradors. For more information, visit www.copperwheat.net.

  • T.Manganiello

    i knew some one that complained always to have being shot during trials and shooting days even if he was standing at three hundred yard from the guns thank god he still alive and bragging

  • Fiona G Joint

    I am writing in response to Ken Byron’s article ‘How safe are field trials?’. As the Secretary and Field Trial Secretary of some four different Field Trial Societies over fifteen years, I can assure you that the safety of all those who attend our Field Trials is taken very seriously indeed, whether they be competitor, steward, judge, spectator or gun.

    Further, I can assure you that any Society appointed gun would be swiftly asked to desist from his dangerous shooting and removed from the trial should it continue. But, it is the responsibility of the Chief Steward, the Steward of the Beat or the Field Trial Secretary to ensure the safety of all, not the judges and furthermore, the Society I represent would be mightily displeased if one of our judges were to approach our host’s gun to tell him that his shooting was dangerous. This is our host’s responsibility and I feel certain that should we decide to take matters into our own hands, we would not be invited back again. Judges are at a field trial to judge dogs. They have a steward in close attendance who is in radio contact with the Chief Steward and the Steward of the Beat and they are always on hand to deal with any situation. In a century of trialling there have been no fatalities.

    On the matter of placing the competitors in relation to the guns, nothing has changed as far as I am aware in thirty years. Hosts will sometimes ask that the competitors are placed well back and at other times judges will keep the competitors in line. This has always been done in order to enable a dog to earn a Drive Certificate, necessary before the title of ‘Field Trial Champion’ can be awarded. Both happen and on balance I feel safer standing in line than behind, Guns are drilled from the start not to shoot across the line whereas on some shoots, shooting behind the line is commonplace.

    On the matter of amending the Field Trial Regulations, anyone with Field Trial experience knows, or should know, that there is a very simple and clear cut procedure to follow. First, one should get in touch with the field trial secretary of one of the many clubs asking for the committee to discuss in this instance, the ‘matter of dangerous guns at field trials’. Should the committee feel that the Field Trial Regulations need amending, the club will put forward a proposal to the Kennel Club’s Field Trials Liaison Council. Each Field Trial Society running an Open stake is entitled to a voice on this council. It comprises of 58 members including the Chairman each representing a minimum of two clubs. If, after discussion, the proposal is agreed, it then goes to the Field Trial Sub Committee and lastly to the General Council for ratification. It might sound like a slow process but it does ensure that new regulations get sufficient informed debate by the most senior of our triallers and we are not inundated with numerous regulations.

    So on balance, I disagree with almost everything Ken wrote and I sincerely hope that any prospective host will not be persuaded by his argument and decide not to offer us a trial on his ground.

    Fiona Joint
    FT Secretary