It was long awaited and much anticipated, but did the 12th Hunt, Point and Retrieve Championship live up to its promise? The event has already been scrutinised and discussed on various gundog forums, but what you read here are my own thoughts, written just a few hours after Mick Canham won the Kennel Club’s silver trophy with his German shorthaired pointer (GSP) bitch, FTCh Jhebron’s Nephrite of Stubblemere, known to friends as Orca.

The HPR Championship’s history is short but interesting. It was first held in 1986, when it was won by Tommy Brechney with his GSP FTCh Heidi of Strathbrock. The same pair won again the following year. Tommy won three more times with two different dogs, but in 1988, 1991, 1994 and 1995 no first prize was awarded. The last Championship was held in 1996, but it was decided that the standard of dogwork was so poor that it should be discontinued. This year’s Championship was the first for 17 years.

The standard of dogs competing in HPR trials has improved greatly in the past few years, so there’s been Championship. However, several critics felt that it was still too early to bring it back — I didn’t see any of them in the gallery on the Swinton Estate in North Yorkshire, where the event was held last month.

Swinton is a 20,000-acre sporting estate, so would appear to offer the perfect venue for HPRs. Unlike spaniels and retrievers, finding suitable ground for HPRs is a major challenge, because each dog requires an extensive area in which to run. With a card of 12 dogs that’s not so difficult, but for a 20-dog Championship, run over two days, that’s quite a challenge.

There were 19 runners for this Championship, featuring seven breeds. Karen Saynor’s FTCh large Münsterländer bitch had recently had a litter so wasn’t 100 per cent fit. Mick Canham wasn’t able to run one of the three bitches he qualified because she was in season, while judge Anne Johnson was unable to compete with her qualified German wirehaired pointer (GWP).

Inauspicious start

Frustratingly, the Championship got off to an inauspicious start — the two-way radios had been left behind at the hotel — so it was close to 10.30am, on a bright and mild November morning, when it finally got under way. Rory Major, one of only two handlers to have competed in this event before, was the first to run with his homebred GWP bitch, Bryantscroft Herdwick. Though she did get a retrieve (of a cock pheasant), it wasn’t a notable run. Scent was clearly very poor, and subsequent runners struggled to perform to their best ability.

All the dogwork was on grouse, but while grouse may be easy to point in spring and summer, it’s a different matter so late in the season when they are much more wary. Peter Howard had a great hunt and an excellent point with his GWP Tickencote Talk Tonight, but the bird was shot far too close, and the dog should never have been sent for the retrieve. It was eliminated for mouthing the game, which is hardly surprising.

I’d love to report that I witnessed some great hunting, but I didn’t.

The scent did pick up briefly in the middle of the day but, for the late runners, there was hardly a sniff to be had. From afar the ground looked excellent, but the dogs found it almost as challenging as the gallery, who stumbled through the bogs and struggled through the sharp stalks of burnt heather. Successive dogs were put out for missing game, including both the dual champions running: Brittany Tournesol Destinee at Bryantscroft, handled by Rory Major, and Andrew McDonald’s vizsla, Bitcon Gold Coast at Northey.

Just eight dogs remained for the second day: one GWP, one Hungarian wirehaired vizsla, two German longhaired pointers (GLPs) and four GSPs. We moved to new ground, over the hill from the previous day. Rob Gould was the first to go with his GLP Wamilanghaar Cara, and the gallery had a good view of her run. She had a fine point on grouse, but the Gun inexplicably didn’t shoot at the birds she presented, denying her the retrieve.

The action then moved to the rough ground above Leighton Reservoir. The scenery was grand, but the dogs were obscured from the gallery. The quarry was pheasants, but once again it was clear that scent was poor. However, it was kinder terrain for the dogs to quarter, and Mick Canham had a fine run with Orca, culminating in a satisfactory point and retrieve.

Despite each dog being given short second runs, Orca had impressed the judges sufficiently to take the Championship. Chris Gray’s GWP FTCh Trugvang Balder was second, with Rob Gould’s Wamilanghaar Cara third. It hadn’t been a great Championship, but it had been a successful one.