skip to Main Content

You’re outside breathing in the cool, crisp air with your gun at the ready. Your canine best friend is at your side. You crave this time in the woods and open fields because it’s a part of you. You feel a connection to nature, your ancestors, and the inborn nature of the dog at your side.

You’re not content to just sit and wait for animals to find you. You want to feel the leaves crunch beneath your feet. You want to follow the trail an animal has made in the woods, uncover hidden wildlife, and explore the outdoors along the way. You need a hunting dog, but which breeds of hunting dogs are best, and where should you start?

Overview of Hunting Dogs

Gun dogs include hunting dog breeds that are retrievers, pointers and setters, and flushing dogs. They find and retrieve small game and fowl. Retrievers retrieve downed birds for hunters. Pointers and setters work a field and then freeze when they detect game. Flushing dogs are used to cause birds to fly upward so that the hunter can shoot them.

Terriers both hunt and kill pests and vermin. The word “terrier” is a French word that means “to burrow.” They are good at treeing and rooting out small game such as birds, rabbits, squirrels, and foxes.

Hounds track prey, recovering downed quarry alone or in packs. Sighthounds use speed to follow animals like fox, deer, and elk. Scent hounds may not be as fast, but they have the perseverance to track prey or missing people over long distances. Other hounds use both senses.

German Shorthaired Pointer

Hunters crossed various pointers and hounds in the 1800s to create the ideal hunting dog.  They wanted a dog who would perform multiple hunting tasks instinctually. The German Shorthaired Pointer zeros in on prey of any size, be it animal or bird. It is also a pointer, retriever, and tracker. It’s at home in the field, forest, or water.

An ideal day for this dog may sound like yours: hiking all day and curling up with its people at night. The German Shorthaired Pointer is in constant motion. It needs early, consistent, and gentle training.

  • Average Size: 45-70 pounds
  • Type: gun dog
  • Specialty: pointer, retriever, tracker, animals of all sizes, birds, waterfowl

Labrador Retriever

Fishers originally bred the Labrador Retriever to help around the dock and on their boats. These working dogs happily track, flush, and retrieve birds of all types from meadows or water.

According to the American Kennel Club, the lab is America’s favorite dog year after year. These family dogs are people pleasers. They’re friendly, happy, and socialize well with both people and animals. Because they want to please you, they’re effortless to train.

  • Average Size: 65-80 pounds
  • Type: gun dog
  • Specialty: tracker, retriever, flusher, birds, waterfowl


French hunters first crossed spaniels with English Setters back in the 1500s to create a hunting dog that would both point and retrieve. Because of their mixture of hunting traits, obedience, and bobbed tails (which fooled wardens), the Brittany became popular with poachers.

The Brittany’s strong drive and nose make it an excellent hunter. These rugged, muscular dogs are quick, curious, and always on the lookout for birds. While they are independent, they are responsive to human direction and have a desire to please. Brittany’s are the fun-loving clowns of the hunting dog world.

  • Average Size: 30-40 pounds
  • Type: gun dog
  • Specialty: pointing, retrieving, birds

English Setter

In the 1500 or 1600s, hunters created the English Setter to work the moors of England, Scotland, and Ireland. It’s probably a cross of the Spanish pointer, Springer Spaniel, and Water Spaniel. Setters used their strong noses to find birds and then “set” or lay down quietly so the hunter could cast a net before helping flush the birds. When guns replaced nets in the 1700s, hunters taught setters to stand calmly and point so hunters could see them from a distance.

The elegant English Setter is the gentleman of the dog world. It has a sweet temper, is gentle, and gets along well with dogs and people. It can be boisterous when playing. However, its keen nose can lead it to food anywhere, including your counter and dishwasher.

  • Average Size: 45-80 pounds
  • Type: gun dog
  • Specialty: setting, flushing, pointing, birds

English Pointer

The earliest English Pointers of the 1600s were probably mixed with the Foxhound, Greyhound, and Bloodhounds and then combined with Spanish and Italian Pointers. A Pointer would find an animal and then stay still. Early setters would discover hares, and then hunters would unleash greyhounds to catch the hares. Later, hunters used Pointers more for birds and other small game. Two or more Pointers helped the hunter triangulate the animal’s location.

English Pointers are good at tracking. They can run long and fast. These aloof and independent dogs are the easiest to train as puppies because of stubbornness and distractibility. If socialized with their family while young, they can also be very loving.

  • Average Size: 45-75 pounds
  • Type: gun dog
  • Specialty: pointing, tracking, hares, small game, birds

Chesapeake Bay Retriever

One-third of migratory waterfowl overwinter in the Chesapeake Bay. Duck club owners in the area mixed Newfoundlands, Irish Water Spaniels, and Bloodhounds to create the strong and powerful Chesapeake Bay Retriever. Chessies’ oily coat and wooly undercoat waterproof and insulate them from freezing water. Their chest plows through the ice, while powerful hind legs and webbed feet make them tireless swimmers through ice and wind.

Chessies are protective and make excellent watchdogs. Their perceptiveness and gentleness make them great therapy dogs, while their scenting ability makes them valued as search and rescue dogs as well as drug- and bomb-detection dogs.

  • Average Size: 55-80 pounds
  • Type: gun dog
  • Specialty: retriever, scent hound, waterfowl

English Springer Spaniel

In the late 1500s, English Springer Spaniels would help hunters detect game birds in the grass, wait for hunters to set up nets, and then “spring” to flush the birds out. Later, they gained a reputation as great gundogs to point and retrieve birds. Their medium outer coat and dense, soft undercoat protect them from cold, water, and thorns.

English Springer Spaniels make great pets at home and great hunters in the fields. They are highly-trainable people pleasers. They are known for being friendly and playful with their families while being obedient dogs with great stamina during hunting sessions.

  • Average Size: 40-50 pounds
  • Type: gun dog
  • Specialty: flusher, pointer, retriever, game birds

Jack Russell Terrier

Reverend John Russell developed the Jack Russell Terrier in the 1800s for fox hunting. These dogs force foxes out of their dens and then chase them. Jack Russells hunt rabbits and vermin. Their weatherproof coat keeps them warm. A flexible chest makes it easy to dig and follow prey underground. Long legs help them run fast trailing game.

Jack Russells’ desire to hunt makes training important. They are tenacious, energetic, and intelligent. This loving and devoted family dog sometimes lacks patience with younger children. Because they are a baying terrier and alert, they also make good watchdogs.

  • Average Size: 11-13 pounds
  • Type: terrier
  • Specialty: digging, tracking, vermin, rabbits, squirrels, fox


Some say the Beagle’s name comes from Gaelic “beag,” meaning “little.” Others say it comes from the French word “be’geule,” meaning “open throat,” referencing their bay. By the 1500s, most English hunters had large packs of hounds. Because beagles were small, hunters could travel by foot rather than horse to hunt hare hunting hare. They were also small enough to be carried or put in a large pocket.

Hunters bred Beagles for hunting in packs, so they need companionship. These cute dogs are known to be happy, funny, tolerant, and good with children. The beagle’s deep muzzle gives them a great sense of smell. They are also known for their baying.

  • Average Size: 20-30 pounds
  • Type: hound
  • Specialty: scent hound, rabbits, hares

American Foxhound

George Washington bred English Foxhounds with French foxhounds the Marquis de Lafayette gave him. Fox Hunting was the primary sport of American gentlemen, and further refinements led to a distinct dog with longer legs and smaller bones than English Foxhound. Lighter, longer legs made them faster over rough terrain.

American Foxhounds aren’t city dogs because their loud bays can carry for miles. Because Foxhounds are also not traditionally house dogs, an enclosed outdoor space works best for them. Their single-minded prey drive and stubbornness can make them a challenge to train or housebreak. These pack hounds are not very affectionate but are friendly and gentle. They can be standoffish with strangers, but they get along well with kids and even cats.

  • Average Size: 60-70 pounds
  • Type: hound
  • Specialty: trailing, foxes, deer

Final Thoughts on Really Good Breeds of Hunting Dogs

The dog you choose for your outdoor adventures can be critical to your happiness. You should decide what type of hunting you plan to do and commit to giving your dog at least an hour of mental and physical exercise each day. There are some fantastic types of hunting dogs out there waiting to win your heart and follow you on your best adventures.

This Post Has 0 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back To Top