Versatility on Tap
Alan Fairnie looks at the HPR Breeds

Traditionally labradors and other retrieving breeds have been used by waterfowlers, peg Shots and pickers-up while cocker and springer spaniels have been favoured by roughshooters and those who join the beating line on driven shoots. A minority of gundog enthusiasts keep bird dogs - setters and pointers - for use on grouse moors or on a few walking shoots where the Shots enjoy shooting partridge or pheasant "over dogs".

This differentiation and specialisation is unnecessary, however, and the all-round sportsman can, if he or she so desires, have an all-round dog to match his pursuits. The various HRP breeds have been increasing markedly in popularity over the past 30 years or so and are no longer the rarities that they once were. To be fair, those breeds have always enjoyed greater popularity in mainland Europe but now they are becoming much more acceptable in the UK and, over the Atlantic, in the USA. "Acceptable" is maybe the wrong word - their owners tend to by enthusiastic advocates of the merits of their particular breed.

HPR, for the uninitiated, stands for "Hunt Point Retrieve" and, as the name suggests the dogs can be trained to hunt like a spaniel, point like a true pointer and retrieve like a flatcoat or golden. As with all compromises, of course, we must not expect too much. An HPR will never face the dense thorny cover that a good ESS will enter with relish; it will never look quite as stylish on the moor as a top English setter and it will not have the inborn retrieving ability of a well-bred labrador. It can, however, be trained to do almost everything the shooting man or woman will demand of a dog to an adequate standard and it has the huge advantage of obviating the need for a kennel of several different breeds. For the sportsman who wishes only one dog, an HPR could be the perfect solution.

Probably the best known HPR breed is the German shorthaired pointer which was "custom designed" from the Spanish pointer, the English pointer, the foxhound and the Hanovarian schweisshund - basically a mix of two true pointers and two tracking hounds. The GSP is a smooth coated dog in a variable mix of liver, black and white or in solid liver or black. They can be excellent pets as well as hard working dogs and are extensively used for falconry as well as shooting sports.

We then come to the German wirehaired pointer which are reputedly less easy to train than the GSP but, having said that, there are some very good examples in the field today. They are particularly popular in America, perhaps because sportsmen on the western side of the ocean are willing to use a wider range of training techniques.

The large munsterlander is arguably the most handsome of the HPR breeds and is not dissimilar to a long-haired setter in appearance. Widely regarded as an enthusiast's dog because they can be strong-headed, there seem to be many more "soft" examples around today which are more readily trainable and are credited with a high level of intelligence.

Weimaraners from Saxony and vizlas from Hungary complete the list of more common HPR breeds although interest in "lesser" breeds such as Italian spinones and Brittany "spaniels" does seem to be increasing at a fairly fast rate. At the end of the day, with the exception of the GSP, most HPR owners probably choose their particular breed on grounds of appearance rather than any other factor. And why not?

When it comes to training any of the HPR breeds it has to be remembered that their genetic makeup tends to favour an inborn aptitude for the hunting skills (because of the prominence of hound breeds in theor origins) rather than pointing or retrieving. You can be lucky and get a dog that will point naturally  and retrieve without much work on the owners part but, in general terms, the new owner of an HPR should be prepared to spend some time training it to point and, especially, to retrieve. When the job is completed, he will have a dog to be proud of, and which will be a great shooting companion for many a year.


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