The Best Hunting Dog Breeds by Game
For humans, a lot has happened in the last 20,000 years. We’ve moved out of caves, seen the rise and fall of civilizations, and crafted one of the longest lasting relationships in history. Yup, man and dog have been together a long time. Today though, very few dogs look or act anything like their canis lupus cousins. That's because unlike wolves, which are broken up into only 5 major subspecies, dogs have been selectively bred to fill hundreds of different niches. The upshot of this isn't just a selection of puffballs small enough to fit inside a tea cup, but also a wide variety of breeds that thrive as a best friend and a hunting buddy.
Determining which breed is best for what though, is a whole different story. Every hunter has their own favorite and they'll gladly tell you “objectively” why it stands above the rest. In a way, they're all right; any dog that helps you have more fun or be a better hunter is the dog for you.
With that said, some breeds have a reputation for being exceptionally good for certain game, with a history of success to back them up. The following is our selection by game of these Very Important Pups.
The Best Hunting Dog Breeds by Game:
For Duck: Labrador Retrievers
Labrador Retrievers aren't just the most popular dogs in America, they're also an all-round amazing duck dog. Is it wrong to call them frogs with fur? Labs love water and are so well-suited to it that their feet are webbed for better swimming and their coats are dual-layered for retaining heat and repelling water. The latter is especially helpful in the cool waters of duck season. A lab's thick tail also helps in the water, aiding their maneuverability and balance.
These dogs are muscular creatures with the energy reserves to keep going and going (and going) long after you've tired out. For them, retrieving is almost a privilege and their soft mouths mean they'll deliver your ducks without also macerating them. They'll also almost always know where that duck is, labs are incredibly intelligent with a brain capable of remembering where a bird fell and of figuring out how to get to it.
For Pheasants: German Wirehaired Pointer
The German Wirehaired Pointer is a beautiful beast. More than just a pretty pooch though, these dogs are versatile, muscly and generally have one thing on their minds- feathers. A perfect Upland dog, the German Wirehaired Pointer was originally bred in the late 1800s as a cocktail of foxhounds, griffons, and poodles. This combination equips them with a powerful nose and tracking ability, a wiry coat that retains heat without attracting burrs, and a mouth which will deliver pheasants tenderly every time.
Like retrievers, German Wirehaired Pointers also have webbed feet, making them powerful swimmers. They're a determined bunch who will track relentlessly through any manner of terrain- soggy or otherwise. They do so with their noses up, inferring wind orientation. And when the job is done, a German Wirehaired Pointer is great in the home as well. These dogs are extremely loyal to their families (though perhaps not so for any cats that might be around).
For Grouse: Brittany
An all-rounder, a Brittany is as happy in the water as it is in woodland foliage. As their name implies, Brittanys originally hail from France, where in the 1800's they emerged as a mixture of pointer and setter. They're a smart breed who begins learning early and doesn't forget; with a Brittany, you'll have a worthy companion in the woods for as long as it lives. Brittanys are also a hardworking bunch who are partially motivated by their desire to please and their loyalty to owner. They can both point and set and have a nose specifically focused on small game and foul.
In France, Brittanys still have “spaniel” attached to the end of their names and tend to be a bit smaller and less far ranging than their stateside cousins. Across the board, they're all still pretty small though, making them easy to transport and maintain. They also just happen to be the perfect size for allowing on the couch, which they'll want to do; these dogs can enjoy family life as much as working hard.
For Turkey: Appalachian Turkey dog
We really wanted to go with the English Setter on this, but we just couldn't pull ourselves away from choosing this underdog of the breeding world, the Appalachian Turkey dog. It's as American and fall turkey hunting and Thanksgiving dinner and gives a nod to Setters, as well as Plott hounds and pointers, being a mixture of the three.
The Appalachian Turkey dog is great at getting the job done; these dogs can smell well with their noses up or down and when they've got a scent, they are excellent trackers. Furthermore, they feed off the thrill of the chase, flushing up and scattering turkeys, then keeping them suspended with a bark that is effective and incessant. Like the choices before, Appalachian Turkey dogs are loyal and lovable, making them a great choice for the family as much as for the foul.
For Rabbit: Beagle
This dog is a barking fiend. It's also full of energy and loves to dig. Not good for a back yard and neighbors, nor maybe even for your family, but a brilliant breed for rustling up bunnies. Ask anybody and they'll tell you: the beagle is the quintessential rabbit dog.
After all, their energy can be so high that is rivals that of the prey which they ceaselessly pursue. Beagles are also incredibly versatile and their bodies are small enough to match every turn and switch back a rabbit will take. Their size also helps them to dig more easily into rabbit warrens and their tenacity will keep them digging or chasing (and definitely baying) until the hunter arrives to finish off the job.
They may be far and away the best dog for the job, keep in mind that beagles have a rightfully earned reputation for being tough to train. But if you're willing to put in the legwork, it’s worth it.
For Squirrel: Mountain Cur
If you're looking for the best dog to rip after some tiny game, the Mountain Cur is a sure winner. While it's only been an official AKC breed since 1998, Curs are a breed as old as the hills. Literally. Brought over to the mountains of the southeast by European settlers, curs were an all-in-one breed for poor families setting out in America. They protected the livestock, guarded the family, and brought dinner to the table.
Curs are denigrated as a lower form of dog, but this is a criticism they don't deserve. They have substantial scent tracking abilities thanks to their hound dog lineage. This, coupled with their keen eyesight, powerful bodies and higher energy levels make the mountain cur capable of ranging ahead again until every squirrel is tree'd. Plus, when you're bored of squirrels, they'll happily switch to raccoon.
For Deer: Weimaraner
Remember those pictures where Weimaraners are dressed up in clothes? We're not talking about that type of Weimaraner. Nope, we're talking about the noble beast that was originally bred as the hunting companion of choice for royalty. Originating in France in the 18th century, the “gray ghost” was developed for a mix of traits, most notably the ability to scent and to take on large game like deer, boars and bears. The Weimaraner is also a lithe and energetic creature, capable of chasing after deer for long distances, if not keeping up. They're also great small game hunters but keep in mind, they can be a bit stubborn.
Always Remember To Gear Up Your Dog Correctly for Hunting Game
Regardless of the dog breed or game that you're going after, always ensure that you have your dog geared up and prepared for going on a hunt. This can include making your dog wear foot protectors to ensure that they're feet don't get cold, wet or sore.
You may also want to include a special vest on your checklist, depending on the breed of dog, the weather and the type of game you're hunting.