So Many Hunting Dog Breeds So Little Time         By: CJ Steely | February 12, 2020

What is The Best Hunting Dog Breed?

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After spending over 25 years professionally training hunting dogs and advising countless hunters in the field, I am frequently asked, “CJ, for real, what is the very best hunting dog breed out there?”  It’s an unanswerable question. It would be easier to provide answers to requests such as,  “What is the meaning of life” or “How can we get world peace” or even “Supposing God exists: can God create a stone that God cannot lift?” There literally isn’t an answer. Every hunter has a different style, complicated with factors such as climate, primary quarry a hunter is pursuing (i.e. pheasant, quail, grouse, chukars and or a combination). Some hunters use their dogs to track fur, and or hunt waterfowl. Different people’s personalities mesh differently with different breed personalities. I know a husband and wife team that can’t stand the personality of each other’s chosen breed. He loves German Shorthair Pointers and she adores English Springer Spaniels. Hunting dogs are a very unique and personal thing. Because the breeds vary so much, my strongest advice is to do significant research into the various breeds and your personal combination of hunting factors and expectations specific to those breeds. Once you have selected a couple of breeds harmonizing with your upland hunting ideology, only then are you ready to take that journey to find your next hunting companion.

Where your breed originates makes a difference

Start your research looking to where the origin of your potential upland hunting breed originated. I find it intriguing to look at the different countries of origins of bird hunting breeds. Hunting dog breeds were designed for different reasons among hunters of different countries. Some countries don’t even have spaniels, retrievers or any flushers. Other countries have a rich heritage of all different types of hunting breeds. As you do your research, look to the country of origin for the breed(s) you have selected and see what fuels the breeds hunting core DNA of the breed.








Illustration i. below: Continental breed and North American breeds number by country


Illustration ii. Below, breed name by country

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Which country produces the best-hunting dogs?


Again, the answer to that question is subject to the same criteria heretofore listed. Much of the hunting breeds we experience in North America today stem from heroic passionate upland hunting individuals and groups who persevered through incredible odds to help proliferate their respective breeds. The reason some continental breeds haven’t flourished in North America is, in part, because the breed protectors weren’t able to have the same opportunity to come to America as some other breeders. A big reason many breeds disappeared from off the face of the earth or didn’t come forward was due to the devastating effect of two world wars.

Today breeds like the German Shorthair Pointer and the Brittany have such widespread appeal is because when the breeds did safely arrive on American shores. North American upland enthusiasts took the breeds forward and drove popularity.


Still, some hunting breeds that did make it through the war and found their way here suffered for their exceptional good looks. Breeds like the Irish Setter, the Gordon Setter, and the Weimaraner, found broader appeal to the non-sportsman. Breeders sought breed qualities for show purposes and disregarded the breed’s original sporting purpose. Organizations such as the National Red Setter Field Trial Club, are rescuing the Irish setter breed and are restoring the hunting back into this awesome breed.


Sometimes strict breed standards have fostered American purposed breeding competing with original breed organizations. A prime example would be the conflict between the VDD purposed Drahthaars, a breed standard held under tight control from Germany, to the offshoot of the German Wirehaired Pointers (GWP) registered in the U.S. under various organizations.


I am convinced that each breed produces its share of exceptional upland hunting dogs. The trick is to find the right breeder for the breed you have selected.


How to Find a Good Hunting Dog Breeder


While it is true that you may find the dog of your dreams posted in the local or online private seller want ads, it is also true that sometimes my wife connects on a slot machine when we pass through Vegas. Your hunting dog will consume untold hours of your life, both in the field and as a companion in your life. Investing the right research and time into finding an accredited breeder takes some legwork, but it is well worth the effort. If I were you, I would follow the following basic rules when looking for your next hunting dog


•    Look to respective official breed organizations. Almost always posted on their web sites, will be listed the breed standards associated with that particular breed. You will find trial events and other activities held by the people who have a passion for the breed, you may attend such an event. Most organizations list breeders they feel comply with the direction of the breed organization’s breeding standards. Then start talking to people within the organization to identify the breeder within that organization that is breeding for the characteristics you find personally favorable.


•    Study the online forums of these associations for opinions. Most breeds have Facebook groups that are willing to talk all day long about the breeds they hold so dear.


•    Make plans to take a trip. Go visit breeder(s) in person.


•    Be Patient and don’t compromise. Oftentimes good breeders and awesome hunting dog breeds can have long wait lists to get a puppy. Be willing to sit it out a year or two to get the dog of your dreams. Well-bred puppies can take time to acquire, start making plans now so you aren’t found in a lurch down the road.


Are you sure you have selected the right breed?


Recently, I was guiding two brothers in “Hells Canyon” The brotherly duo makes it a yearly tradition to punish themselves on the steep hills chasing chukars. Both brothers love upland hunting but their personalities couldn’t be more different. The first brother, Mark, started his upland hunting passion when he acquired a Drahthaar twenty years ago. Mark is an avid sports competitor and likes to pursue things with aggressive zeal. His thought process twenty years ago was to have a dog that met his personality. Mark’s brother Ren is much more laid back. Ren’s initial hunting breed choice was a lab primarily because he loved to hunt waterfowl and upland birds equally. Over the years the two brothers have transitioned to completely different mindsets when it comes to their present-day hunting companions.


Mark now hunts with a field-bred Gordon Setter, prizing the dog's work ethics and aloof but fierce competitiveness. He misses his Drahthaar but when his dog passed away a close friend introduced Mark to Gordon Setters and the rest is history. He doesn’t waterfowl hunt so versatility is less an issue for him.  He likes a dog that can hunt Grouse in the lake states, handles wild pheasants and then can successfully chase down Hell’s Canyon chukars. The Gordon Setter proved perfect for Mark.


Ren’s needs for a true upland hunting versatile pointer/water dog/retriever and a house full of younger children eventually transitioned his attention to upland hunting versatility. Ren loved the adaptability of Mark’s earlier Drahthaar but when a suitable Draht puppy wasn’t available- and a well-bred pudlepointer puppy magically freed up - he jumped at the opportunity. Ren hasn’t looked back.


Sometimes a person may grow up with a father or uncle that raised a certain breed and fostering an inherent familiarity with a particular breed. Oftentimes, hunters naturally migrate to what they know best, when in reality there may be a breed more ideally suited to their respective needs. All I am saying is to be open-minded and research what breed might work best for you. 


I created a simple matrix provided below to help guide some thought. Walk through the matrix and see your breed recommendation. Let me know what you think.


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