Hunting > Upland & Waterfowl

Best All ’Round Hunting Dog?

For as long as there have been different breeds of gundog, there have been hunters arguing for the merit of one breed over the other. So, which canine really is the best all-around hunting dog? Ron Spomer thinks he has the answer.

6/18/2013

Hunting dogs are a bit like hunting rifles—they’re all good for something, but none are perfect for everything. Those of us who want it all might be barking up the wrong tree, but we keep searching for the .30-06 of dogs, a breed that comes closest to handling all our hunting chores: find, point, flush, trail, chase and fetch. And clean their own kennels ... maybe hunt antlers in spring … guard the castle and look handsome doing it. That’s a good dog.

But it ain’t gonna happen. Nevertheless, we can sort out those breeds that come closest to our ideal.

Let’s start by identifying what we mostly hunt with dogs: upland birds and waterfowl. Scent-hounds for trailing coons, bears and cats are a specialty. So are hog dogs for baying and tackling pigs. Even rarer are sight-hounds for coursing game and terriers for digging out rats and other burrowing rodents. Big-game hunting with dogs is almost universally forbidden. So let’s identify the best, all-around waterfowl/bird dog, the breed that can most consistently win the feathered decathlon. Here’s a best-dog tournament featuring my top choices in each category, followed by my overall winner.

POINTERS

Pros: best at finding upland birds
Cons: worst at retrieving; nearly useless for waterfowling

English pointer: best nose; lithe, fast, covers much ground; some are adequate retrievers; can be hardheaded

English setter: longer-haired pointer; gorgeous aristocrat; lousy retriever, especially in water

Brittany: blockier version of setters; close-working, affectionate; best retriever of the three, especially from water

Winner: Brittany

FLUSHERS

Pros: best for pushing upland birds from tight cover; excellent, persistent retrievers on land and water
Cons: not extra-hardy for cold-weather waterfowling

English springer spaniel (pictured): spunk personified, the ultimate ball of energy in pheasant tangles, persistent, fun, good water retriever

Boykin spaniel: all the springer is and potentially more; smaller than springer

English cocker spaniel: smallest of the three, too small for ducks and geese; not as hyperactive as others

Winner: English springer spaniel

RETRIEVERS

Pros: best for waterfowl, but good upland flushers, too
Cons:  can be very rambunctious, huge

Labrador (pictured): eager to please, quick to learn, persistent afield; tireless retriever and flusher; can be trained to point; lovable, great family pet; heavy shedder

Golden retriever: gorgeous, great retriever; loveable, great family pet; heavy shedder

Chesapeake Bay retriever: strong, big heart; best pure water retriever; strong-willed, can be moody

Winner: Labrador retriever

VERSATILE

Pros: do many tasks well including pointing, retrieving, scent-trailing and tackling
Cons: usually not the best at any one task

Pudelpointer (pictured): medium to large frame, long-legged and strong; works close; points, retrieves well from water and land; scent-trails cold and hot; extremely versatile

German shorthair: smart, lively, eager to please; closest to pointers in style; can be rambunctious and hard-headed

German wirehair/Drahthaar: big and strong; cover big ground but don’t range excessively; staunch pointers; retrieve well from land and water; can be taught to cold-trail and blood-trail

Winner: Pudelpointer

OVERALL WINNER: PUDELPOINTER

Many hunters have never even heard of this breed. But I’ve seen it and all the other breeds in action and I’m most impressed with this strange, chocolate-colored, do-it-all dog from Germany that’s big and strong, but not too heavy. Pudelpointers are faster than most Labs and just as indefatigable. A Pudelpointer is equally effective in uplands or wetlands. It nearly matches the Lab in water and comes close to the pointing breeds in the uplands. It hasn’t the class and style of a setter or pointer, hasn’t the flash of a springer, hasn’t the power of a big Lab but comes close to all. It’s intelligent, easily trained, affectionate and loyal. The right German wirehair could bump off the best Pudelpointer, but so could the right shorthair or Lab. It’s a close call, but if versatility is your need, the Pudelpointer is your champion.

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42 Responses to Best All ’Round Hunting Dog?

Dan Carter wrote:
October 16, 2014

Brittany Spaniels are not great retrieving dogs and not usually very good in the water.Retrieving is not required to become a field champion in the Briiiany clubs.

Field Cocker wrote:
October 16, 2014

Many breeds of bird dogs can be far more versatile that their reputation might suggest. Just FYI: My field bred English Cocker Spaniel regularly hunts ducks and geese, and happily retrieves them to hand.

Chris Wilson wrote:
October 16, 2014

PP? somebody fell and hit their head...........

Josh Campbell wrote:
October 15, 2014

wow, you guys are ridiculous. Thoughts from one guy that differ from yours so he must be wrong. Most dog owners think their dog is the best. This article just states what he believes is the best from his experiences. I have a jack Russell that I trained to upland hunt and he trained himself to squirrel hunt. He won't retrieve a darn thing, but he matches my hunting style to a tee. Plus he's small enough not to be a nuisance. He has brought shocked looks from many other hunters when I'm limited out on pheasants and their expensive purebred whatever has yet to put a bird up. I'm amazed at the grown ups who act like kids who's favorite toy is taken from them just because their breed of choice isn't picked by one guy.

shooter06 wrote:
September 20, 2014

Look at the versatile champions list over the years. There isn't too many pudelpointers in there! They are mostly GSP's

MeShaun wrote:
July 25, 2014

I think that the Brittany and the Chesapeake are the best dogs. I have lived with them all of my life and hunted with them. Also, the other dogs listed. I think that it was wrong to choose this dog as the winner.

justin smotherman wrote:
April 11, 2014

perfect dogs do exist. my very first german shorthair is a perfect example. sored through the roof on natural abilities points and held point till I said otherwise. I hunt pheasant qaul and chucker. my dog has cought many birds I didn't eeven have to shoot. if ur dog can catch a chucker we al no that saying something dog would hold her foot on the bird and not even touch with mouth until I said retrieve. awesome dog. german pointer can have it all it. just dpends. same with all other breeds im sure

Dan Jurek wrote:
February 26, 2014

I used to own labs, but switched to a pudelpointer 9 years ago. My labs were both great, but after having the pudelpointer, I can't imagine any other breed. One thing not mentioned is that besides all the great traits already mentioned they don't shed. I haven't lost one crippled grouse, woodcock, or pheasant in the 8 years I've hunted her. Over 600 wild birds shot, zero lost.

Pres wrote:
February 15, 2014

Believe it or not, but I have an American bloodline pit bull who can retrieve with the best of them. Whether in water or on land, fur or feathered it doesn't matter.

Ryan wrote:
January 29, 2014

How about Weimaraners? I have one just over a year and have a fairly versatile traingin schedule being he is still training he hasn't spend a lot of time in the field. But great pointer. Rock solid whoa. Decent retrials I think I will be happy with him. What do you guys think?

erica wrote:
January 22, 2014

I have a golden retriever, english springer spaniel mix. She is 80 pounds. She is great at everything. Best dog in the world.

Chef John wrote:
December 13, 2013

Any chance that my bulldog would have shot at pointing or retrieving?

Ron Boehme wrote:
November 11, 2013

Interesting comments. I have been a Navhda judge for many years. And have met Bodo a few times. Never heard him say 'best ' he loves his we love ours there is no best. No one can claim that title and no dog can either. There is an old saying I heard years ago. The best boxer in the world never stepped into the ring.

Robert W wrote:
October 21, 2013

Does anyone have any reviews/comments on Tall Timber Pudelpointers?

Bill wrote:
July 31, 2013

Hi Larry this is Ron's brother Bill. I think he received the book, but I will have to check. Can he still reach you at 541-347-6463?

Larry Dwonch wrote:
July 27, 2013

Hello Ron, I am writing on behalf of Bodo Winterhelt , he would like to know if you received the book he sent to you a few weeks ago? If you did receive this book , would you please give him a call (541) 347-6463 since he does not have any internet access. Thank You, Larry Dwonch

Joe S wrote:
July 17, 2013

I read this and was in complete awe at how many of your descriptions are right out of a book. Nothing to me seemed original. I owned 2 GSP's, 1 of which has passed, the other is just over 4. Both dogs do everything well, hold points forever, to let dad catch up, retrieve with hand signals even, water is of no issue. Work well in hot or cold conditions, seeing we live in AZ. OH and as far as rambunctious and hard-headed, never an issue with either of my BOYS, yes boys. Which are supposed to be even more bull headed. As I type this my puppy(4yo) is laying on the couch with me. Relaxed, very laid back. They both were. I don't dispute what you say about PP's, only ever saw one, and she got smoked by 7 GSP's 3 Drahthaars and 4 Pointers, not all hunting at the same time mind you, in small groups over 5 days. The bird of choice Mearns Quail. So IMHO you may keep the PP and I will continue to hunt over the 3 breeds listed, but mostly over my GSP.

Sigbot wrote:
July 16, 2013

Sirs, I am a 30 year NRA member. Your recent article about the Pudelpointer is the first time that anyone in a large magazine has written something great about these dogs that I brought to North America in 1956. My first I trained in Germany in 1950 before I immigrated. I am now proud to say that at 87 I am the longest living owner, breeder, and trainer of the Pudelpointer in the world. And when I say breeder, I mean a man dedicated to quality dogs--not just a puppy mill 'multiplier'. While dedication to quality dogs has not made me wealthy, I am pleased to look back at the development of these dogs as fine pieces of art and friendship. I am hopeful that you readers will not make these dogs so popular that unscrupulous 'breeders' will flood the marker with untested dogs which the ignorant will buy. If any of you readers would like to be directed to breeders committed to quality dogs, I would be glad to help. Respectfully, Sigbot 'Bodo' Winterhelt 541.347.6463 56006 Parkersburg Road Bandon, OR 97411

Dotty wrote:
July 16, 2013

I wouldnt knock a weimeraner mine points flushes on command retrieves on land and water also shed hunts best dog I've ever had never stops looking for a downed bird also getting a gsp in aug those my favorite choices

JW wrote:
July 14, 2013

Does anyone else have a pp that talks?

Randy Johnson wrote:
July 07, 2013

I have a 10 yr old PP who still hunts like a pup and also a 4 yr old Wirehaired Vizsla that is also a great dog. I pheasant hunt approximately 25-30 times per season and these dogs are my best buddies. They will hunt all day and can be couch potatoes when the day is done. My PP came out of the PCNA breeders, but now Bodo Winterhelt started his own association. Check them both out on line.

Christopher Glica wrote:
July 06, 2013

It is very disappointing to not see the Beagle among the top. Beagles are the best rabbit dogs and I have seen them get ringneck flushes right after watching retrievers, spaniels, and labs go through a field. They are very loyal, friendly, and exceptional family dogs. There is no better nose than a beagle's. They will chase anything and go where most dogs can't in the brush. Some people like super disciplined dogs but if you value independent thinking smart dogs that never quit, get a beagle. The beagle is a working man or women's dog and I think the article needs to be renamed to say bird dogs only or the author is ignorant by not mentioning the beagle. Besides my family beagle could match any conventional bird dog on any pheasant hunt but they can't match his rabbit skills.

Jack Else wrote:
June 29, 2013

I recently acquired my 3rd PudelPointer. Lost my 15 year old in May 2012. I would not desire another breed. I plan to get my 4th next year. My older dog is 11 & I may have to retire her from hunting; at least intensive, & hard hunts. No better companion at home or field. There are so many terrific hunting dogs and I have been blessed to hunt with many of them. All mentioned by the authors & the commenters are truly outstanding hunters. But the PudelPointer is my favorite; intelligent, athletic, sweet natured & a dog with a sense of humor...and what a nose. Easily managed. Easily trained. And despite the fact that I have managed to miss an easy shot & embarass myself, my girls have the grace to not remind me. My one recommendation is the PCNA!

John Russell wrote:
June 28, 2013

I have no problem with the pudelpointer but I've owned & trainred GWP. for 40 yrs.an never had to train one to track hot or cold. If I didn't have GWP the podelpointer would be the answer .I have helped a few people how to train them. I couldn't pick 1 over the other.

John wrote:
June 28, 2013

All said. My German shorthair pointed, swam like a fish,retrieved and most of all could handle the cholla cactus spines in AZ. After a days hunt I would spend an hour pulling cactus spines out of his muzzle. He didn't mind a bit.Toughest dog I've ever owned.

Rick wrote:
June 27, 2013

I bought my first Pudelpointer in 2001 He has been and still is a very good Pheasant hunter that excels with a fantastic nose, Great retriever and never quits. I now have 3 PP and wouldn't ever have any other Breed. I have had many Complements from my Vet as to the quality of the Breeder and the Breeder. Killbucks out of Ohio.also wonderful family Dogs.

Ed Mic wrote:
June 27, 2013

PP - By far the best all around dog. We own a wing shooting outfit and run PP and Britney's. Our best PP will hunt duck in the morning and quail all afternoon. Took top prize in NAVHDA N/A trial over 15 other dogs. We see all makes and models of dogs our clients bring and have not yet seen a better hunting all around dog.

Ted sartin wrote:
June 27, 2013

You are so far off I wander if you are a hunter.

John Catlin wrote:
June 26, 2013

I've never understood the value of these comparisons, and I've never been tempted to answer, but this one? ... Way, way wrong. Obviously trying to raise hackles with comments, especially about pointing breeds. I wouldn't take my setter duck hunting even though he is a great retriever on land AND water, but I wouldn't ask a springer or a lab to cover the ground a setter can cover.. Next, we'll hear the weimaraner is the best. Pudelpointer may be the Jack of all trades, but I know he is master of none. From an aristocratic settter point of view, dull.

GJ wrote:
June 26, 2013

Disagree on the PP, as does most of Europe who overwhelmingly favor the Drahthaar by a wide margin to hunt all species of game, from dangerous boar to killing badgers to blood tracking and dispatching roe deer and stag, to sitting quietly in a duck or deer field blind, to shooting pheasant and quail. PPs are nice dogs by they 'aint' Drahthaars as trackers, closers on vermin game, in coat consistency or in calmness and switch on and off, plus some will guard your home and belongings, PPs dont do that.

Stoneface wrote:
June 26, 2013

Pudelpointers can be nice dogs, but your evaluation of most of the breeds (ESPECIALLY the pointing breeds) couldn't have been much more wrong. You did a good job evaluating the Springers. Why did the Pudelpointer win out over Springers? Did you consider Pointing Labs? I think the article could have been a little more well-informed and thorough.

Ross Adams wrote:
June 26, 2013

What about the other breeds? Weim, Vizsla, W.P. Griffon, Spinoni? These are all high accomplished field dogs both at finding upland game birds AND retrieving.

tom danahey wrote:
June 26, 2013

In Germany, which by the way most Pudelpointers come from, true versatility is highly prized. By law, a big game hunt, elk for example, must have a trained and tested blood tracking dog available. They are kept at the base of the tree that is the 'high stand'. More Deutch Drahthaars are registered each year than all other breeds combined. I have an English Setter so this is not breed prejudice. The German Wirehair from German tested bloodlines (VDD) is the versatile winner , hands down.

JW wrote:
June 26, 2013

Good boy Boomer, you won!

Larry Dwonch wrote:
June 24, 2013

Hi Ron, My name is Larry, I read your article Best All 'Round Hunting Dog? I was happy to see the recognition that you gave to the Pudelpointer, as a long time Pudelpointer owner myself, as well as a long time supporter and friend of Bodo, I think that it would be even more appropriate to give Bodo Winterhelt his due. Bodo Winterhelt is the man who introduced the Pudelpointer to North America in 1954, he has dedicated his life to the development and the improvement of the Pudelpointer in North America, in addition Mr Winterhelt was the founder of N.A.V.H.D.A. Bodo recently turned 87, he lives in Bandon, Oregon he is still active with the Pudelpointer, even though he has had some serious physical setbacks along with many emotional disappointments, Bodo can be reached at (541) 347-6463 he would be very happy and impressed if you were to contact him. I am sure that Bodo would be more than happy to answer any and all questions you may have pertaining to the Pudelpointer, and more. If at all possible please give Mr. Winterhelt a call, the best time to reach him would be around 9 AM or 8PM P.T.also check out our web site bodo winterhelt pudelpointer.com Thank You, Larry

Stan P wrote:
June 23, 2013

I have had the pleasure of sharing my life with three great gundogs. My Golden, Magnus, died at 12, great flusher, retriever and family dog. My English Setter had the hottest nose I had ever seen. Retrieved terribly and died young. My German Wirehair, Tipper, I had for 13 great years. She could point, retrieve, flush and water retrieve better than any dog I had ever had the pleasure to share my life with. I have never heard of a Pudlepointer, maybe I should. Tipper passed on this last December, I will always miss her, she was the best gundog to this date.

Hb wrote:
June 22, 2013

I've owned 5 German Shorthaired Pointers but only hunted 2 of them (due to my work schedule). The 2 were the best hunting dogs at the club. They did everything from pointing, flushing, and retrieving even in water. They were great pets / family dogs but better hunting dogs..

Jeff H. wrote:
June 21, 2013

I have owned and trained many different hunting dog Breeds over the years. And Was lucky enough to get my first Pudelpointer a little over 5 years ago. I don't think their is a better do it all hunting breed dog than the pudelpointer. I now own 4 of them. 3 brown and 1 black that is even more rare.

Joe S. wrote:
June 20, 2013

Could not agree more! 15 yrs hunting waterfowl & upland behind PP's. They do not give up. But the great thing is they put a smile on your face every time you look at them. All they want to do is Hunt and make you happy.

Tom Van de Poll wrote:
June 19, 2013

And what about the Vizsla?

Ellery E. Worthen wrote:
June 19, 2013

Excellent dogs, I just tested my second pudelpointer, perfect score in Natural Ability Test. I wouldn't have another breed. I hunt blue grouse, western quail, pheasant, but mostly ducks and geese. Outswam my buddies lab. What a nose! My old dog finds the other hunters cripples while I pick up decoys. Great with kids, good house dogs. I WAS used to no one knowing what they are .' A what?' ' Is that like a labradoodle?' 'That's a part terrier mutt isn't it?'

Ned wrote:
June 18, 2013

Couldn't have picked a better winner. The Pudelpointer is truly the do it all dog, plus they have a great clownish personality.