A few weeks ago, I attended Pheasant Fest in Chicago, which was awesome for so many reasons. But it was really eye-opening to the world of gun dog breeds and hunting dogs in general. It seemed like everyone I talked to was fluent in this subculture’s language.
The more new hunters I get to know, the more I find that the reason many of them started hunting was because they got a gun dog breed and wanted to train them and see what they could do. Eventually, hunting was the next step for both of them to take. I’m finding that dogs are a wonderful gateway for hunting. It’s fascinating.
So I’m excited for this guest post by Hank Gulbrandsen, which discusses five great gun dog breeds to consider whether you’re curious about hunting or you’ve hunted your whole life. Keep in mind that there are many, MANY other great hunting dog breeds out there (as I recently learned), but these ones are very solid options. Enjoy.
Guest Post | Great Gun Dog Breeds
Dogs have been a human’s favorite hunting companion since their domestication, and many avid hunters will tell you that hunting just isn’t the same without their loyal hunting dog.
As a hunting companion, dogs are an invaluable asset to both new and experienced hunters alike. Their unique instincts and sense of smell give them the ability to detect birds and other prey easily.
The athleticism and intelligence displayed by these gun dog breeds in their work is impressive.
However, not just any dog makes a great hunting dog. Just as specialized hunting rifles and shotguns have been designed for each particular shooting scenario, hunting dogs have been meticulously bred and perfected over generations for specific hunting chores.
Whether you are looking for a dog to find, point, flush, trail, chase, or fetch, there is likely an ideal hunting dog for you. Knowing which gun dog breeds are designed for specific tasks can help you find success on the game trail. Here are five of our favorite breeds.
1. Chesapeake Bay Retriever
The Chesapeake Bay Retriever stands between 21 and 26 inches tall, can weigh up to 80 pounds, and has a life expectancy of around 12 years. As its name suggests, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever was bred in the United States and is considered a duck dog.
This gun dog breed has a distinct wavy, oily waterproof coat that prevents them from getting bogged down in the water when fetching geese, ducks, and other waterfowl. They are bred in various colors, including brown, chocolate and sedge, or brown with a hint of yellow.
They make a great gun dog and are very loyal to their owners. They tend to shy away from strangers and stick to the task at hand, but can be stubborn at times. Their keen sense of smell and need for a job will keep them going for all hours of the day and as their owner, you’ll probably tire before they do.
The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is an excellent dog for hunting because it has endless energy, is affectionate, and very devoted. When trained correctly, these dogs are world-class hunting companions that can assist in almost any hunting task.
2. English Setter
The English Setter is another exceptional hunting dog breed. This dog typically stands between 23 and 27 inches tall and weighs an average of 60 pounds, with a life expectancy of around 12 years.
The English Setter is known for its unique spotted coat and charming temperament. They are sweet, loving dogs but can be strong-minded while at work, which is a good quality to look for in a hunting companion. Known for their stealth, intelligence, and athleticism, they are silent seekers of prey. Initially bred for the specific purpose of retrieving birds, they make excellent partners in a quail hunt.
Uncharacteristic of a hunting dog, they tend to be low energy while indoors but become easily energized while outside. They are also very friendly and have an approachable and welcoming nature around strangers.
3. Labrador Retriever
The Labrador Retriever is one of the most popular dogs in the U.S. among hunters and non-hunters alike, and for good reason. Standing at 23 inches tall, reaching a weight of up to 80 pounds, and having a life expectancy of 14 years, this dog is extremely affectionate, outgoing, and playful. Their coats can range dramatically from yellow to chocolate to deep black in color.
Because they are an active breed that requires a lot of exercise, they are ideally suited as a hunting companion for new and experienced hunters. They pay attention to their owner’s cues and require little effort to redirect while outdoors.
Their devotion to their owners and the task at hand can be seen in their employment as support animals, therapy dogs, and narcotic retrieval assistance for law enforcement teams. They also make excellent search-and-rescue dogs.
This breed has a great work ethic and the ability to work very quietly while you are hunting. Most hunters forget their Labradors are even with them, as they are just as invested in the hunt as their owners. They know hunting takes time, effort, and strategy. These traits make this breed one of the top choices for your next hunting trip.
Beagles are a small but beautiful breed, standing at a maximum of 16 inches tall, weighing up to 25 pounds, and having a life expectancy of 15 years. Their coats are an appealing tricolor combination, comprised of white, black, and brown.
The beagle is a breed made for gun hunting, also known as “beagling.” They have an excellent ability to smell animals quickly and efficiently and can keep up with their owners, making them particularly effective for newer hunters who are looking for reliability in a dog.
Beagles are also used as detection dogs for agricultural imports and are well-known for their impressive intelligence. They are stealthy and can track and retrieve almost any type of small to medium game.
The beagle has an incredible amount of energy in their small bodies to accompany you or your party on any hunting trip. Whether you are a new or seasoned hunter, you would do well to consider adding a beagle to your hunting team.
5. German Shorthaired Pointer
The German Shorthaired Pointer (also just called “GSP”) has become increasingly popular in the U.S. over the past decade as news of this multi-talented hunting breed spreads.
Instantly recognizable for their brown and white speckled coat, the German Shorthaired Pointer stands at 24 inches tall, weighs an average of 60 pounds, and has a life expectancy of 14 years. But don’t let their elegant, lighter frame fool you – this is not a fragile dog. They demonstrate an insatiable need to please their owners and won’t stop until they’ve accomplished exactly what you’ve told them to do.
These handsome dogs are exceptional hunters and are often the winners of competitive hunting contests, outrunning most other dogs in their class. They can hunt almost any species of bird or land animal, and with their friendly and smart personality, a German Shorthaired Pointer will make any hunting trip lively and efficient.
The German Shorthaired Pointer is also trainable and makes a great family pet. They are known for being excellent in organized dog sports, such as swimming or relay races. Consider taking a German Shorthaired Pointer on your next trip for an unforgettable hunt.
Final Thoughts on Gun Dog Breeds
Finding the ideal dog for you will come down to the specific game you’re hunting, your experience level, and your personal preference. Whether you are looking for assistance with retrieving waterfowl or simply a quiet partner in the field, nothing beats the companionship of a well-trained, loyal hunting dog.
Hank is the Vice President of Real Estate and has been an Owner at Brays Island Plantation for the past 14 years. With a wealth of knowledge of and passion for hunting, fishing, and all activities that come with an outdoor lifestyle, Hank has proven time and time again to be a huge asset to the Brays Island team. When he’s not helping keep the Plantation running smoothly, Hank loves to spend time with his wife and kids.
Alicia DeLong says
What about the Golden Retriever? They are my breed spectacular hunting companions!
Absolutely – tough to only include 5 breeds on the list!
D.B. KENNEDY says
I’m no expert or authority on anything, but in living 74 years and keeping bird dogs for about 50 of those years, “English Setters predominantly.” I have never heard of these setters being specifically bread to retrieve game.
You might want to check your information again. If my memory is correct, these dogs were used to locate game birds and lay down or “set” and a net was thrown over the bird or birds and dog. The game keeper would then collect his catch.
Today’s setters are bred to stand his game, head high and tail poker straight up. Dropping when birds are located is not considered good form, and will earn pup a reputation as a dropper, not good, but sometimes pup will find himself to close to his quarry and drop in an attempt hold the birds and not bump them into flight. This can be overlooked as a learning experience .
Some setters are good retrievers some aren’t. For an all around bird dog and hunting buddy they can’t be equaled . But I’m partial.
After 50 years with hunting dogs, I’d consider you an expert! I’ve personally never hunted with a setter, but only heard great things about them. Maybe one day it will be in the cards for me. Thanks for pointing this out.
Robert Alongi says
I hunt Missouri and Iowa with English pointers. Like all dogs they have to be held in close with shock collar training. These dogs hold Point, honor and retrieve over 20 Birds a year. I’ve had pointers with a nose that could smell a quail on the wrong side of the wind at 35 yards. No brag just fact. If you want nose and hard-working bird dogs I’d highly recommend them
Thanks Robert – never hunted with one myself, but they sure seem like a great breed too.
Robert Alongi says
You’re mixing three different types of dogs. . One hunts rabbits one hunts ducks. The other 2 ARe primarily Upland Hunters.
Robert Alongi says
People should be aware that German shorthairs were bred from English pointers. Both pointers and Setters can be taught to retrieve and should be. The problem with field trials is that the dogs are great athletes. An outstanding noses But they don’t retrieve the birds in the competition. . I’m primarily a bird hunter. . Any bird dog Needs to be trained. To retrieve to hand properly. And to hunt close with use of a shock collar. Every time they go out. .
J Hausman says
Beagles can be used on birds. most rabbit hunters would be appalled. but I have had two that worked central Illinois Pheasants,. which would not hold, and have ruined maney good Quail dogs.