It was a headkeeper of the old school who triggered this article. After watching one of his Guns struggling to persuade a Weimaraner to retrieve a pheasant, he turned to me shaking his head. ?I don?t understand why anyone wants one of those Continental dogs,? he said. ?There?s no point in owning an HPR in this country. We?ve got spaniels and retrievers that have been bred for decades for the sort of shooting we do, so we don?t need anything else, do we?? It was a difficult question to answer and I don?t really think he expected me to, but he did have a point. Shooting on the Continent is, generally speaking, different from this country. In Europe, game is usually wild and thin on the ground, and there?s a distinct need for a dog that will range far and wide. In contrast, in much of lowland Britain we rely on reared game, often in plentiful supply, and there?s little call for a dog that hunts 300 yards away. Nor has there been a tradition of shooting partridges or pheasants off a point in the past 100 or so years.

On the grouse moors it?s a different matter, and a much stronger case can be made for working HPRs. However, even here I?ve heard traditionalists argue that with our native breeds of setters and pointers, there?s no need for anything else. Okay, our pointing dogs don?t usually retrieve, but they will if you train them to. These British breeds are popular on the Continent and in the US, where they are invariably expected to hunt, point and retrieve.

I?m a great believer in choice and am convinced that life would be dull if we all drove the same sort of car and worked the same breed of dog. I?m well aware of how passionate many HPR owners are about their dogs, so I thought it would be interesting to ask a few of them to justify their choice.

Rob Blacker-Kyle is as passionate about his dogs ? Korthals griffons ? as anyone I know, so I asked him first. ?HPRs are at their best finding sparse game, so they are in their element at roughshooting, though not so good in short-range hunting, such as beating, or anything requiring too much patience, such as hide shooting,? he told me. ?They live to run and hunt. Sympathetic training is essential for learned disciplines such as retrieving. The biggest mistake made by HPR owners is to concentrate on the dog?s strong points ? hunting and pointing ? and not to focus on those skills that must be learned.

?If you want an HPR for shooting, it?s essential to choose a puppy from working stock and to train it properly. Such a dog can excel at hunting all types of feathered game on any type of ground. The overall ability of HPRs is confirmed by their popularity with the hawking community and the fact that more and more stalkers use them to hunt and track deer. To me, this proves that an HPR is a versatile working gundog.?

A dog for all disciplines

Rob Gould is a veterinary surgeon, B-panel HPR judge and a successful handler of German longhaired pointers. His passion for the breed started 16 years ago when, as he explained: ?I was lucky enough to be given my first, Freya of Mellisant. Freya became a constant companion that would hunt in partnership with me for every type of game that these isles provide. This is a breed with a good nose, soft mouth, kind eye and a hunting brain. It also has speed and stamina coupled with the ability to retrieve tenderly to hand from land and water. Freya and her offspring went on to win working tests, to be graded excellent in spring pointing tests in the UK and eventually to win field trials and produce field trial champions in the UK and Europe. It?s a breed that gives me great pleasure and suits my style of hunting. A well-trained gundog is a priceless asset; a badly trained gundog, of whatever breed, has no place on the shooting field.?

Last of all I turned to Suzi Burton, field trial secretary of the
Weimaraner Club of Great Britain. ?The ?useless Weimaraner? epithet used to make me furious,? she said. ?Over the years while watching many HPRs, spaniels, Labradors and pointers, I have seen Labradors that don?t retrieve or swim, spaniels that bounce their way through the next drives, ruining the shooting for the day, and a range of work, from brilliant to rubbish, from all HPRs.

?If you want a dog that takes the guesswork out of when to mount the gun, that will hunt open ground and close down it strange in woods, that will find and hold game, from snipe to grouse and all in-between, and have the decency to wait until you have the gun ready to give the command to flush, the HPR is for you. They hunt, point and retrieve, and you only get out what you put in. If you can?t be bothered to train your dog in these disciplines to the standard that you require, from one-man-and-his-dog roughshooting all the way through to fi eld trialling, the HPR is not for you. They are an easy target for traditionalists, but when you see a good ?un whose owner has put the time in to maximise its abilities, it is a sight to see and a pleasure to have as a companion.?

If this is a subject you feel strongly about, I would be delighted to hear your views. You can email me at STgundog@aol.com