There’s nothing quite like upland bird hunting over a well trained bird dog. The book New England Grouse Shooting by William Harnden Foster states: “An ideal grouse gun may be defined broadly as the one that a certain hunter will find most pleasant to carry to the spot where a grouse is to be shot at, and there prove most efficient when the shot is made.” Tweak that statement just a tiny bit, and it applies perfectly to the ideal bird dog: “An ideal bird dog may be defined broadly as the one that a certain hunter will find most pleasant to follow to the spot where a game bird is to be found, and there prove most efficient at producing it for the gun.”
Here’s our list of the best gundog breeds in no particular order:
The perfect bird dog means different things to different hunters. Do you like setters, pointers or flushing dogs? Need a family dog or just a hard core hunter that lives in the kennel when it isn’t working? Are you also a duck hunter? The list goes on and on…
German Shorthaired Pointer
Shorthairs are a versatile, medium sized gundog. They are friendly, intelligent, hard pointing pointing bird dog with a great nose, and tons of endurance. “Noble” and “aristocratic” are words often used to describe the overall look of a shorthair. In addition, they are natural retrievers on land or water, they are proven waterfowl dogs. To top it all off, German Shorthairs make a fine family watchdog and companion.
Wirehaired Pointing Griffon
The hardworking Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, is known for the harsh, low-shedding coat the breed is named for. Outgoing, eager, and quick-witted. Griffs are honest, hardworking versatile bird dogs in the field and loving at home.
English Cocker Spaniel
This compact breed of bird dog is upbeat in the field and mellow at home. A great flusher who gets “birdy” like no other dog you’ve ever hunted behind, and lives to retrieve birds. This eager-to-please breed is popular mostly because they are quite possibly the most exciting dog to hunt over.
The Golden Retriever is one of the most lovable of the bird dogs. This Scottish beauty is serious in the field, and obedient and fun to be around at home. A perfect family dog for the hunter who likes to hunt pheasants. The only bad thing about them is that their popularity has diluted the gene pool, so if you’re looking for a good hunter be sure to do your research and find some proven field lines.
Deutsch Drahthaar / German Wirehaired Pointer
The German Wirehaired Pointer and closely related Drahthaar are versatile gundogs with weatherproof coats. In the home, they are affectionate companions, but they demand an active lifestyle. Drahthaars and wirehairs are both a good fit for a family who enjoys outdoor activities and hunting.
English Springer Spaniel
The English Springer Spaniel is a sweet-faced, lovable bird dog of great energy, stamina, and brains. Great mannered pets during the week, and solid hunting dogs on the weekends. If the German shorthair’s the “happy medium” of the pointing dogs, the breed that fills this role in the flushing dog division is the springer spaniel. Not as hyper as the cocker, but more energy and style than Labs or the Golden Retrievers.
Here’s a telling quote from The Hunting Dogs of America, written by Jeff Griffin: “If I lived north of the Mason-Dixon line and particularly liked to hunt pheasants but also went for grouse, woodcock and even ducks a few times during the season, I would never be without a well-trained Springer Spaniel. He’s just about the finest sporting dog for upland game on the American scene today…”
Labs are America’s most popular dog breed for a reason. Intelligent, eager to please, high prey drive, immune to cold weather, love to swim, bust heavy cover, athletic, superb retrievers…the list goes on and on. If you’re looking for a versatile dog to hunt, flush and retrieve birds “right out of the box,” get a lab. If you want a great family dog, get a lab. For me personally, the only thing that keeps a lab from being the perfect gundog is that they’re not natural pointers. I do understand that there are pointing labs, but I don’t have any experience with them.
Energetic and fun-loving, smaller than setters, but leggier than spaniels…the Brittany is a good fit for someone looking for an all-purpose, stylish and versatile hunting partner.
English Setters are elegant bird dogs with a sweet disposition. A veteran all-breed dog handler says, “As a breed to share one’s life and living space with, no other breed gives me more pleasure than the English Setter.” As for hunting, they can range from reckless horizon-busters, cautious close-workers and everything in-between. If you get lucky and get a good one, it will spoil you for any other breed.
The English Pointer is the ultimate expression of canine power and grace. They do one thing and they do it extremely well: Pointers point game birds, and they have been pointing for centuries. English Pointers are independent, stubborn, strong willed and high energy, but when they’re doing what they were bred to do, which is bird hunting in big open country, they are a beautiful sight to behold. They make exceptional quail and chukar hunting dogs for serious hunters.
Originally from Hungary, the Vizsla is an affectionate, gentle, energetic gundog built for long days in the field. The Vizsla’s a great choice for the sportsman who wants a pointing dog that’s not only eager to please but easy on the eyes, too. Vizsla’s form a tight bond with their owners and hate to be left alone. If you don’t have the time to encourage this breed’s full use of its loyalty, energy, and brain, you’re wasting a good dog.
The Weimaraner, originally bred and developed in Germany at the court of Weimar, are beautiful, friendly, obedient, and fearless bird dogs. Bloodlines have been diluted by the pet market and show dog people which makes finding a good hunting Weimaraner a crapshoot. There are still a few field trialers, and a handful of game bird hunters kept the Weimaraner’s original purpose alive, but the breed has at best a compromised position compared to most other popular versatile breeds.