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Labradors come home for the 2015 Retriever Championships at Buccleuch Estate

John Halstead lifted the trophy with Lady Celina Carter's Labrador FTCh Asterix Aguzannis of Chatsworth after three days of faultless work reports David Hudson

Lab with pheasant

The 2015 Retriever Championship was held over three days, from 30 November to 2 December at the Queensberry estate by invitation of the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry and sponsored by Roger Skinner Ltd.

With 52 Labradors and two golden retrievers battling it out, competition was tough as the event unfolded.

gundog handling

Andy Latham directing second-placed FTCh Rimrock Hurricane onto a partridge from across the valley

Hard work for the dogs

Conditions were trying. On the first day there was a fine but persistent rain falling as we started out. The ground was a mixture of rushes, bracken and rough grazing and held good numbers of pheasants plus snipe, woodcock, rabbits, hares and the odd partridge. The birds were well tucked into the cover and the Guns’ dogs had to work hard to find and flush them, but were well up to the challenge. Among the Guns were Ian Openshaw and Jon Bailey, winners of last season’s Cocker and Springer Championships respectively.

Snow was forecast for the second day and so the judges decided to press on with the second round. A challenging first day had reduced the field by half.

Buccleuch Estate first to welcome Labrador retrievers from Newfoundland

The next day – Tuesday – began with a presentation by the Duchess of Devonshire to the Duke of Buccleuch of The Best of The Best – a history of the Retriever Championship – and a reminder that it was here at the Buccleuch Estate that the first Labrador retrievers were brought over from Newfoundland in the 1830s.

The day’s quarry was mainly partridges, some walked-up and some driven. Marking in the grey gloom was far from easy, with the dogs sometimes unable to see the handlers’ signals. By the time the third round was complete, we were down to 24 runners.

Retriever judges

Judges Neil Black, Nigel Rowson, Mike Tallamy and Steven Polley

The final day began with a long drive out to the Garroch beat, where we were once again looking for partridges. The number of dogs was rapidly cut down and a final brief flurry of shooting dropped enough birds for the judges to see a last retrieve from just four of the original 43 contestants. Then it was back to Drumlanrig Castle for the awards.

Gundog champion

Winner John Halstead with FTCh Asterix Aguzannis of Chatsworth

It was no surprise to see John Halstead lift the trophy with Lady Celina Carter’s Labrador FTCh Asterix Aguzannis of Chatsworth after three days of faultless work. In second place was Andy Latham’s Labrador FTCh Rimrock Hurricane and third went to Peter Goddard’s Labrador Carltonstar Toby.

Winner John Halstead was sponsored by Sneyd’s, who sponsored seven of the dogs which made the final.

This is a condensed edition of the full article “A trial to test the best” which will be published in Shooting Times on 23 December 2015.