For centuries, dogs have been hunting birds and wild animals. In fact, it's common knowledge that dogs were first domesticated by man to assist them with hunting, whether by earning the sobriquet of best hunting dog based on their individual skills and overall merit, or by helping man on his hunting expeditions.
If you go back in time to the Middle Ages, you will find that canines used to accompany huntsmen on horseback to hunt game. A look at the writings of those days will reveal that dogs, among animals, are the original hunters. These days, however, man hunting with dogs isn't as popular in the United States as it used to be, but that doesn't mean this practice will die someday soon
On the contrary, hunting is very popular and huntsmen are always hunting for good hunting dogs, which are usually chosen by professional huntsmen and listed. These huntsmen assess each gun dog's competence and from this judge which gun dog is fittest for some specific types of hunting expeditions.
Anyone who knows the proficiency level of each of these hunting dogs will know that it is extremely difficult to choose the top hunting dogs, considering each one is beautifully gifted in so many ways. They have singular distinction in various ways and are adept at specific hunting aspects.
For instance, there are some gun dog breeds that are renowned for catching prey really fast, like foxes or rabbits, while others are adept at sniffing out holes of certain prey. It all depends on whether you're looking for the best duck hunting dogs, bear hunting dogs or best bird dogs.
So, what's the bottom line? Well, the bottom line is that you can never pinpoint any one hunting dog breed and name it the No. 1 dog breed of the year. There are several dog breeds that can be considered the best by professional hunters, so though many may agree on some breeds, yet the No. 1 breed will always remain elusive.
Characteristics of a good hunting dog
When looking for a good hunting dog, look out for these important characteristics:
1. Intelligence: A hunting dog should ideally be one that's trainable, one that listens to your every command and does what he's told to.
2. Superb sense of smell: For all the duties of a hunting dog, one with an evolved sense of smell is desired. Any dog lesser than that is the wrong choice. They may be trackers, retrievers or those that flush out prey, but they need to smell the prey quickly and correctly on a hunting expedition.
3. Endurance: High endurance goes well with amazing stamina, but could be more important for hunts that are longer than others. This is important as some dogs tire easily.
4. Stamina: Prey animals can be exceptionally fast and wily about manoeuvering through tricky areas. Your dog should be able to pick up speed and stamina as the need arises.
Best Hunting Dogs: Our 2017 List
Let's look at the various dog breeds that are in the running for the tag of Best Hunting Dog Breeds of 2017:
1. Labrador Retriever
Known to the best hunting dog for catching waterfowl, the Labrador Retriever was designed for work in cold water, as professional duck hunters will confirm. This breed may be loving, playful and athletic, but don't let that take away from its singular capability as an excellent gun dog. It has a short coat that is weather-resistant. This serves two purposes: One, it keeps out the water and, secondly, it keeps the dog warm when he hides himself to catch his prey.
It is also capable of remaining under difficult conditions and long hours when looking for its prey. However, it perseveres until it is successful. The Labrador Retriever is an excellent retrieving gun dog, thanks mainly to its strong jaws. For this reason, this hunting dog is seen as a highly skilled retriever, in the water and on land. It is also patient most times, making it a hot favorite of waterfowl hunters.
2. American Foxhound
Regarded as the Best Fox Hunting Dog in its class, the American Foxhound quite obviously was bred only to hunt down foxes. It has an amazingly distinctive sense of smell, a characteristic that holds it in good stead for catching running deer, coupled with its jaw-dropping stamina. Its singular agility is just right for hunting on rough terrain. The American Foxhound is a child of the outdoors and when it is in the wild looking for his prey, it will charge away to do his bidding.
Hunters looking for small game like deer and rabbit invariably enter the wild with a Beagle because this breed is the master in tracking and trapping small game. No wonder it is considered to be the No. 1 in small game capture.
The Beagle works with single-minded devotion to his cause of tracking and trapping game, determined to pin it down and focused on the job at hand. In earlier times, it was specially bred to hunt hare, but today, its scope is extended to track and trap rabbit, deer and any other small game.
The Beagle is chosen as a detection dog because of its highly developed sense of smell. This makes it an expert at moving prey in the direction of the hunter. The Beagle works with great vigour when tracking game, and it is this quality coupled with his undeniable unflagging stamina that set this breed apart from the other scent dogs as it will go as far as it should for the game his master wants. He is undoubtedly alert and highly intelligent, two sound reasons for wanting him when hunting small game.
The German Shorthaired Pointer is perhaps the most popular pointing dog worldwide. It Sleek and powerful, this breed can move and turn with lightning speed. It is adept in pointing and retrieving heavy game such as birds due to its broad and strong muzzle. Its webbed feet take it into the water chasing waterfowl with swiftness. For the huge success he meets with in this area, these dogs are renowned for being the Best Bird Dogs. Game bird hunters love this breed as it works exceptionally fast and furiously, finding birds and pinning them down. Often, you will find the Pointer trailing deer too.
One of the most iconic hound breeds bred in America, the Bloodhound was known as the Sleuthhound for its exceptional ability to track its prey. Due to its exceptionally high sense of smell, this breed was prized by the nobility of earlier times, and because of its pure breeding the name Bloodhound was given to it. Earlier, it was used to track deer and foxes, but over the centuries, it has also served as a search and rescue dog and a prison guard dog. It is highly trainable and extremely patient and makes a wonderful companion.
6. Golden Retriever
The Golden Retriever has been bred not just as a family dog but also as an amazingly reliable small game hunter. However, it was always bred to be a hunting dog that retrieves game that its owner has spotted and killed. This canine breed only retrieves it for its master.
They retrieve their game instinctively, a skill that makes them excellent companion dogs for die-hard hunters. Golden Retrievers bred to have hunting traits will enjoy being in the field, much like their owners and will never shy away from gunshots. They take to training to retrieve game very easily. Even today, they retrieve game excellently and display the best ever tracking skills.
Better known as the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, this gun dog breed was originally bred to retrieve waterfowl and specifically duck. Its prowess in this area has earned it the recognition as a great dog for duck hunting. Its endurance, intelligence and duck hunting abilities set it apart from other breeds.
Anyone looking at the Weimaraner for the first time might just be put off by its long legs and medium-sized body, but on close inspection, you'd find that this breed is in fact elegant in its bearing and unique in characteristics. This breed moves fast, remains calm no matter what and is perfect for hunting quail, pheasant and other small-sized birds. Its stamina is such that it can hunt all day and is predatory towards animals like rabbits and cats.
Over the years and with good training, the Weimaraner has become the most ideal gun dog for bird hunting, though originally it was specifically bred to hunt bear, boar and deer.
The Weimaraner is a highly intelligent, very strong and energetic dog, so bird hunters prefer to have this breed by their side when bird hunting. In fact, you'll be surprised to know that the Weimaraner has earned the sobriquet of being “the dog with the human brain” for their insight and great understanding of the job at hand. Their sharp brains help them hunt just about any bird in sight using their highly developed sense of smell, keen eyesight and drive that pushes them to locate, point and retrieve small birds.
This breed scours the field at a pace comfortable with the master so that he is always in sight of the latter. The Weimaraner is also very protective of its owner--something not seen in other hunting dogs.
Here's a scent hound that finds its game purely by scent. There are many breeds of the Coonhound, each meant for a specific hunting purpose. They are great for finding large game. Since it is known to be courageous, it is often used to hunt deer, cougars, bears, racoons, mountain lions and wolves. They are also tough, agile and intense, and always alert.
This breed is highly energetic, has a lot of stamina and can run for miles when chasing game. It can be depended upon for tracking, pursuing and capturing its prey swiftly and completely, so that a hunter will never want any other hunting companion than this one. Overall, the Coonhound is among the best hunting dog breeds, no matter what a hunter might be chasing.
10. Irish Setter
Better known by what it's famous for, the Irish Setter is seen as the Best Grouse Hunting Dog. It is an elegant and proud animal and its talents at catching game are best used for hunting grouse, quail and pheasant. This hunting dog type is bred for its endurance and great athleticism and its ability to withstand harsh weather.
Just like a Pointer, the Setter too points to a location where the prey may be and gives the hunter enough time to set up a good shot and actually shoot it. However, the Setter is unlike the Pointer in preferring to stay close to his hunter so that they are both always in the same line of vision.
11. English Springer Spaniel
Here's a really top class pheasant and quail hunting dog. In fact, it's one of the best pheasant hunting dogs we have. The English Springer Spaniel is a type of gun dog that is wholly dedicated to flushing and retrieving game. Its compact physique and strong and extremely muscular legs give it all the stamina and endurance needed to persevere, no matter how difficult the situation and rough the terrain.
Its uniqueness is its ability to seek out and locate game and drive it from its hiding place and bring it to his owner. But that's not all. It got the name “springer” because of its sole ability to make birds spring high up into the air. As a bird dog, it can confidently hunt pheasant, grouse and quail, making it the hunting breed of choice in the uplands.
12. Jack Russell Terrier
Ideal for hunting rabbits and badgers, the Jack Russell Terrier is a working dog, being persevering by nature and tough by physique. This robust dog can give a tough fight to a groundhog, fox or even a badger. As a hunting dog, it will locate its prey in the earth, chase it out of there or hold it captive till his owner can dig it out. It walks extremely fast, often beating its owner by miles.
Though the Feist is a small dog, yet it is adept in small game hunting, usually hunting squirrels. This breed may work alone or in a pack, but it works on the earth surface and barks up at trees to alert his owner of possible prey hiding up there.
This breed is small with a short coat and long legs. It is bred purely for hunting and work quietly. Its sense of smell is so highly developed that it uses this sense to locate particular trees where squirrels are. Here, it barks loudly so that his owner knows where a squirrel could be, similar to a coonhound and a raccoon. Once the Feist sights a squirrel, it will chase it as far as possible till it loses sight of the furry animal
Types of hunting dogs
Since centuries, dogs are man's special and best friends, chiefly for their loyalty. Over the years, they have been used in hunting expeditions. As time passed, these expeditions have been divided into types of hunting, such as deer hunting, duck hunting, quail hunting, etc.
Perhaps, you are looking for a specific hunting dog for the kind of hunt you want to pursue. If you do your research right, you can enjoy years of fun with the right hunting companion. Here are a few suggestions for top hunting dogs of these micro niches:
a) Duck hunting dogs: The three top choices for duck hunting dogs are:
- German Shorthaired Pointer: They are great for catching waterfowl hunters. If trained early, they can be excellent gun dogs. Their thin coats are ideal for being in the water. They are also adept at identifying ducks and pointing them out to their masters.
Golden Retriever: Athletic and with good drive, they can work for long hours unflaggingly. They have soft jaws that are ideally suited to fetching their prey, particularly waterfowl, without bringing any physical damage to them. They are great in the water, so going duck hunting with them is perfect. If you are hunting near the water or in it, a Retriever makes it worthwhile for you. Their soft jaws help them pick up their bird prey and bring it back to their hunters without damaging the bird. For those who love hunting ducks, Retrievers are the best gun dog of choice.
- Chesapeake Bay Retriever: Where endurance and personal drive are concerned, this breed knocks the socks off every other breed. They might also have a rare streak of independence too. With the right motivation, they are great at waterfowl hunting. It is a perfect breed for duck hunting, so it makes every hunting expedition a grand success.
b) Bird hunting: Should you be wondering which breed to go with as bird hunting dogs, may we present our top choices:
- Gordon Setter (Pointer): This hunting dog should remain at some distance from the hunter where he ranges and hunts. Its chief quality is not its speed but its overwhelming patience and excellent stamina. It is a natural pointer and retriever and can adapt to hunting in harsh weather too.
- Irish Red & White Setter (Pointer): A cousin of the Irish Setter, this dog is a gun dog and has a keen sense of smell and can hunt on any kind of terrain in any climate.
- Labrador Retriever (Retriever): As hunting retrievers, Labrador Retrievers are absolute naturals. They work just as well, whatever the weather conditions and no matter how cold the water. This is an extremely tough and resilient breed with a sturdy build and agility and speed to boot. Labs will typically come in front of the owner and flush birds and remain within a good distance of the gun range.
- English Springer Spaniel: This is by far the best all-round hunting dog anywhere in the world. This Spaniel type is renowned for getting into bushes and flushing out birds like pheasants. These dogs do a zig-zag movement in front of their hunters with their highly evolved sense of smell, while still remaining within the shooting range. They are ably supported by their thick and wavy coat that is perfect for going headlong into thickets and bushes all guns blazing.
c) Bear hunting dogs: Chasing black bears in their natural habitat means that you need to have a dog that can match the bear's temperament. This means the hunting dog must be smart, gritty, tough and should be excellent in scenting and tracking the bear down.
- Plott Hound: For this kind of activity, the Plott is perfect. It is highly muscular, tenacious and athletic and can track and corner a bear with great ease. This dog breed is short, has a choppy bark when following the hunter to follow the sound but without endangering their ability to chase the bear.
Plotts can scent out old scents of bears and track it down to their homes. If this means fighting with the bear, our Plott is ready for it.
d) Deer hunting dogs: If you're into deer hunting, you can choose your deer dog from here:
- Bloodhound: A large scent hound, the Bloodhound was specifically bred to hunt deer and wild boar. Its chief strength lies in discerning the smell of animals and can track them perfectly. They run fast, can see perfectly and have the right physique and temperament for being a hunting dog.
- Scottish Deerhound: This dog was bred to be a sight hound, to hunt the Red Deer by coursing.
- Weimaraner: This is a large dog breed that was bred by royalty for hunting in the early 19th century. that was originally bred for hunting in the early 19th century. The early breeds hunted large game such as bear, deer and boar.
e) Coyote Hunting Dog Breed: To get really good coyote hunting dog breeds means researching a lot before you can spot the ideal one for your needs. Coyotes, as common knowledge goes, are extremely intelligent animals, and their speed and vigilance are qualities that very few dog breeds can rival, let alone outdo. Here are the top coyote hunting dogs that you could choose from:
- American Staghound: This dog type is a mix of the Scottish Deerhound, Greyhound and some little-known breeds. These dogs are known for their excellent eye sight. They are about 24" to 30" in length and are lively, loving and calm. They run in packs. Originally developed and used for hunting coyotes and wolves, this sight hound and hunting dog is still used for coyote hunting today.
- Plott Hound: Here's one unique American hound without British ancestry. This medium-sized dog is extremely muscular and has long ears. It has high stamina and endurance, is loyal, courageous and determined and can work long hours.
- Greyhound: Originally from Egypt, the Greyhound is used to being in the open and going on hunting expeditions. Its eye sight is superb and can run at top speed.
- Black Mouth Cur: A native of the United States, this hunting dog breed chases and hunts raccoons and trees them too. It's a small dog breed that's respected for its intelligence.
- Mountain View Cur: This breed was created in 1987 in the United States. They have their origins from Mountain Curs, yet are entirely different. They are extremely fast track dogs, are very intelligent and have an innate sense of self-control. Primarily, they hunt coyotes but they also hunt boar, bobcat, pheasant and raccoon and other small animals.
Other types of hunting dogs:
Quail Hunting Dogs: Quails are usually difficult to locate as they could be near a water body or on land. If you're out quail hunting, spaniels are ideal for hunting them down and are also good at finding game in thick vegetation, and flushing them out from there. Hunters who specialize in quail hunting generally go out hunting with spaniels like Cocker Spaniels or English Springer Spaniels. Both these breeds hunt for quails near water bodies and flush them out before finally retrieving them to their masters.
Pheasant Hunting Dogs: A Pointer may be used as one among many bird dog breeds for pheasants. Not only will Pointers retrieve the game but also find it and inform the hunter of its location. Pointers have a much larger canvas than a Spaniel so they are best when hunting for upland birds like pheasants or for wild game.
However, not to be left out from a list of brilliant pheasant hunters is the Brittany, known to be an excellent Pointer. It can successfully enter any thicket and retrieve pheasants from there
You may also like: Hunting Dog Names: Ultimate Guide
From the above list of hunting dogs, you can now choose your own top 10 hunting dogs. Choosing a hunting dog is extremely personal and much depends on the kind of hunter you may be and the kind of game you choose to hunt. Whichever hunting companion you choose, you will be at peace with the way your gun dog handles his assignments and remains by your side in every hunting expedition