What are the best hunting dog breeds? This one question evokes a variety of answers from anyone you ask. Comparing dog breeds is sort of like comparing oranges to apples—there’s a good deal of personal preference involved, including the type of hunting you enjoy. Some dogs are great at bagging waterfowl, while other dogs excel at hunting rabbits. In no particular order, we are counting down some of the best hunting dog breeds. See if your favorite breed made the list!
1. English Setter
Specialty: Grouse hunting
I might be biased in saying English Setters are easily one of the best hunting dogs, but I’ve seen firsthand how incredible this breed truly is and I know I’m not alone. Over the years, my family has had several English setters, all of which have made excellent hunting partners and beloved family pets. English setters are great for grouse hunting because their strong nose can sniff ‘em out without bumping them—allowing you to capture the perfect shot. They also have a great body type for getting through that thick grouse habitat. There are two lines of English setters, field and conformation. Hunters tend to prefer the smaller and lightly feathered field line.
2. Golden Retriever
Specialty: Family dog that can retrieve just about anything
Golden retrievers have the most loveable dispositions, making them excellent family dogs. These loyal and gentle dogs also make incredible hunters. In fact, their name comes from their ability to carefully retrieve shot game while hunting upland game birds or waterfowl.
3. Labrador Retriever
Specialty: Best all-around waterfowl hunter
Labradors are bred for marking, retrieving and delivering waterfowl directly to you, their trusted handler. Plus, they make excellent family dogs. Hence why they are most commonly registered dog in America.
Labradors are so good at retrieving waterfowl thanks to several physical characteristics:
- A double coat that provides added warmth and water repellency
- Webbed feet
- A compact and chiseled figure
- A thick tail that provides better balance and agility in the water.
Specialty: Smelling out prey with their unbeatable sense of smell
As their name suggests, bloodhounds can sniff out blood and just about anything else. They have the strongest sense of smell compared to other dog breeds, and that’s saying a lot considering all dogs have extremely powerful noses. Bloodhounds are also great at tracking, making them ruthless hunters you’ll feel lucky to have on your side.
Specialty: Rabbit hunting
What beagles lack in size they make up for with excellent scenting abilities. In fact, beagles are said to be the runner up to bloodhounds when it comes to sense of smell. Beagles tend to bark a little too much for bird hunting, but their inclination to bark helps you keep track of them in the field.
This breed doesn’t bay on a bird’s scent like they do on a rabbit. Beagles are great at chasing rabbits in circles, giving hunters prime opportunity to shoot. They also have incredible scenting abilities. Beagles are often used as a kid’s first hunting dog, largely because of their mellow disposition and sweet nature. They continue to rank in the top 5 for AKC registration.
Specialty: Quail hunting and hunting in rough terrain
This breed of dog is fast and determined to catch anything with feathers—watch out birds! Pointers will work in some of the toughest terrain, and their thin coat helps them stay cool and maintain endurance. There’s good reason why pointers continue to dominate the highest levels of field-trial circuit.
There are different lines of pointers suited to different types of hunters, including horseback hunters as well as closer-working stock for hunting grouse or woodcock. Certain lines of this high-energy breed are better suited as family dogs than others.
8. Irish Setter
Specialty: The comeback kid, beauty + stealth
Irish setters make great family dogs and gundogs who excel at hunting turkey in the fall. For years, Irish setters were greatly respected for their hunting capabilities but overbreeding for confirmation turned them into tall beauty dogs with no nose and a reputation for being a few bolts short.
Today, several breeders are working to restore the more traditional Irish setter build and hunting capabilities; Rupert Colmore is one of these trainers. “They’ve greatly improved, really improved,” says Colmore, attributing changes in the breed to a growing number of breeders working to restore them into the super hunters they were once recognized as.
9. The Chesapeake Bay Retriever
Specialty: Waterfowl hunting and obedience/loyalty
With proper work and regular handling, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever will become your most loyal and trustworthy pal—on and off the field. This breed needs more than the occasional weekend hunt if you want to get the most out of them. Consistency is crucial with all breeds, especially a breed that learns as quickly as the Chesapeake Bay Retriever. When you’re not hunting, they make excellent family dogs.
10. English Springer Spaniel
Specialty: Pheasant hunting
This happy-go-lucky flushing dog has the stamina to work the field all day, a sense of smell that will help any hunter’s game and the loyalty you expect from your four-legged pal. This breed has a lot of energy and is smaller than labs or GSP springers, which means they can more easily cover large tracks of land. Plus, many trainers agree their retrieving instinct outpaces pointing breeds, which is ideal when your prey tries to make a run for it.
Some other great hunting dog breeds include:
- German Shorthair Pointer
Specialty: This hunting dog breed is commonly used to bag the most difficult upland bird, the Chukar.
- American Foxhound
Specialty: Deer & fox hunting—this breed will chase anything you tell it to.
- Appalachian Turkey Dog
Specialty: Turkey hunting
Specialty: Fast, calm hunters; ideal for hunting quail, pheasant and other birds.
Specialty: Hunts prey in all terrain and conditions