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.