Hunting > Upland & Waterfowl

The Best Gundog Breed Ever Developed

What’s the best type of hunting dog ever bred? Get ready to settle this age-old argument once and for all.


One of the first things man did when he domesticated wolves many hundreds of years ago was to start breeding his best hunting dogs. Thus, he created even better hunting dogs. And before long recognizably different canines—primitive breeds—began to take shape. No doubt a hearty debate soon followed over which breed was superior to all others.

That is, if the owners of prehistoric hunting dogs were anything like us. Why is it that with all our specialized and very different gundog breeds, we feel the need to argue the merits of one over another? Well, my friends, I for one am tired of the debate. So I’m going to settle it once and for all. Here is the best gundog breed ever developed.

Chesapeake Bay Retriever
The Chessie is the greatest gundog of all time. It is a pure retrieving machine that runs on instinct. You don’t need to teach a Chessie how to fetch ducks any more than you need to teach a spider to spin a web. The breed faces criticism from misunderstanding Labrador aficionados as “stubborn,” when in reality it’s just too proud to endure all their silly yard work. It may not have what it takes to complete complicated, 1,000-yard blinds at some fancy field trial, but no pounding surf or ice floe will stop it from fetching every duck you shoot. Plus if you stop for lunch you can just leave it in your boat—trust me, nobody will touch your decoys.

English Springer Spaniel
On second thought, the springer spaniel is the greatest gundog of all time. I’ve never seen a dog that can better track a running pheasant and it’s an accomplished waterfowl dog in all but the coldest waters. They make pleasant family animals, too. Have you ever owned a dog that smiles? I’ve never owned a springer that didn’t. But whatever you do, don’t let the springer’s merry disposition fool you: These are tough dogs. I know a guide on the Eastern Shore who uses a broad-shouldered, 50-pound springer for one very specific task: retrieving angry, wounded geese.

Come to think of it, the pointer is the greatest gundog of all time. Pointers have a beautiful, flashy gait and almost spooky nose for quail, making them the dominant dog in pointing-breed field trials and in the kennels of southern upland hunters. Rest assured, if anyone a few miles south of the Mason Dixon says “bird dog,” he means “pointer.” Everything else is just a dog. And if I had the physical and financial ability to ride a horse, I can’t imagine galloping through the loose pines of an old plantation behind anything less than a long-striding pointer.

Labrador Retriever
I don’t know what I was thinking—Labs are clearly the best gundogs of all time. While bred primarily for hunting waterfowl, they are a top choice of predominately upland hunters as well. They are intelligent, bidable animals with extreme desire to please—you can train them to do practically anything, from taking a hard-charging line toward a 1,000-yard blind retrieve to assisting law enforcement with bomb detection. Labs may have been bred in England, but they’re as American as apple pie; based on American Kennel Club registration, the Lab has been the most popular dog in the United States for 21 years straight. So, clearly they make great house pets as well and that’s an increasingly important priority among today’s suburban gundog owners.

However, if I’m being honest with myself, the Brittany is the greatest gundog of all time. It is arguably the most lovable, trainable and intelligent gundog ever bred. For this reason it is considered a perfect animal for the rookie trainer. Just the other day I suggested one to an old friend who called me up for advice on buying his first hunting dog. They are stylish, skilled and downright addictive enough to thrill even the most veteran Brittany owner. They find birds, point ’em, fetch ’em, and look darn graceful in the process. How could a gundog ever be better?

English Setter
By being an English Setter, that’s how, because it’s the greatest breed of all time. Personally I find no dog so strikingly handsome and downright regal in appearance as a blue belton English setter. While ties, sporting jackets and tweed hats have given way to blaze orange attire, grouse and woodcock hunting remain gentlemanly pursuits, if only in our imagination. And the English setter is a breed for the gentleman. That’s why it’s almost always the breed of choice in artists’ renditions of grouse-hunting scenes. You know the old cliché: A finely dressed hunter approaches an English setter that’s proudly holding a perfect point on a grouse in a beautiful stand of aspens that’s far too thin to realistically hold any birds. What other dog would befit this idealized version of the sport—a pointing Lab? Please.

German Shorthaired Pointer
And that is where the argument would end, if not for the German shorthair, the greatest gundog breed of all time. Many argue that the best bird dog breed is the one with the most hunting ability across the widest variety of game, and the GSP is the consummate all-around hunter. It was developed in the 1800s, when a change to German hunting regulations opened the sport to the general populace rather than just privileged nobility. The new class of hunters, unable to afford a large fleet of specialized dogs, needed one animal that could hunt everything. Modern, suburban Americans can surely relate to the need for one, do-it-all dog. Among the dogs developed, now known as the German versatile breeds, the GSP is the most prolific. It sniffs out, points and fetches upland birds; it’ll retrieve ducks or track predators; and the Germans have even hunted boars with the GSP. Show me another dog with such a wide-ranging resumé.

Hmm, I suppose this essay didn’t turn out as originally planned. Maybe that’s because so many outstanding gundog breeds are out there, and frankly I love every one of them for a variety of reasons. What’s the best one? Well, that’s ultimately up to you to decide based on your needs and how well the dogs’ dispositions match your own. This is an argument that has no definitive answer and will never be settled. Perhaps that’s part of the fun.

Share |



Enter your comments below, they will appear within 24 hours

Your Name

Your Email

Your Comment

32 Responses to The Best Gundog Breed Ever Developed

Jacob wrote:
November 29, 2013

I know you said it's ultimately up to me to decide which breed is the best for my own hunting needs, but really, what is your favorite breed that you've worked with? I'm new to hunting and I'm considering training a new puppy this winter, but I'm having trouble deciding which hunting dog breed to get. I found this article too that was helpful if any of you other folks want to take a look at it too.

George wrote:
September 09, 2013

What cant a lab do, retrieve anything you shoot, follow any trail, hunt anything no matter what the cover is. Fair enough alot of lines wont hunt cover but when you get one that does no springer can match them! Ultimate all round hunting dog. And who wants a pointer, just a lazy mans dog. All my opinion, depends massively on the breeding line.

Jacob wrote:
March 10, 2013

The best hunting dog breed is, hands down, the American Water Spaniel.

Frank G wrote:
February 15, 2013

Resounding YES to Springers. Not only feather finders my "kids" Camo and Ziva love to find antler sheds.

Jen wrote:
January 01, 2013

You're all wrong. The catahoula is the best hunting dog! Born with the instinct.

Zack wrote:
December 04, 2012

My dogs have always been the drive to get me out hunting. I have partnered with Labs and Brittanies with great success. When I leave my my wife or kids in the truck all I get are complaints - with my dogs, they are just happy to see me.

Tom wrote:
November 13, 2012

I agree with Kurt. Kyle W. had to start somewhere and he started with a chessie? Coincidence? I don't think so.

ESSMH wrote:
November 06, 2012

Springer Spaniel (field bred not bench) - although as others have said when she goes in after a bird my heart is in my mouth hoping this time she will NOT go thru the barbed wire fence or thorny thicket to get the bird....willing to jump in the coldest water to bring back the duck or goose - a real versatile hunter

Kurt wrote:
November 03, 2012

There is a reason you placed Chessies on top. Intelligent, loyal, hard working, lovable, and will do anything for their partner. There is no better gun dog.

Bill H wrote:
October 29, 2012

What about Boykin Spaniels ? Best all round retriver I have ever owned.

Steve K wrote:
October 29, 2012

If you want to know what Kyle really thinks, just look at the picture at the beginning of his story.

JW wrote:
October 28, 2012

No such thing as the "Best Gun Dog Breed". All are individuals! That said it depends on What you want amd what you put into them. I have owned several breeds and hunted over more. Any one says any of them don't require training does not know what a good dog is! Having owned and hunted ,Short hairs,Brits, Lab, Griffons and now Wire hairs. I have to lean towards the veratile breeds.I often hunt waterfowl in the am partridge/woodcock the back to waterfowl. Labs on woodcock be serious, Brits on sea ducks , no thanks. But ALL DAY long pheasants,partridge, ducks,geese and still do it all with style in front of the gun and not a mile out give me a well trained versatile breed any day !Griffons, Wire hairs,Wire haired vizzla.. Obviously any one that says versatile means does nothing well doesn't know what a good dog really is.

Chasnune wrote:
October 24, 2012

Had a Chessie in Montana. Retrieved all ducks and geese in the lake. Retrieved pheasants shot on Missouri river islands by swimming downstream and then swimming back up stream with the bird(s) to me. Hard to match. Out pointed a weimaraner in S Dakota on pheasant once. Very embarrassing for me as a guest. Now I have a Griffon. He does it all very well. Sleeps on the bed with our little girl. Good dogs all.

Brad wrote:
October 20, 2012

My Calamity Jane is by far best dog ever owned. Half Vizla/half Lab.As an ex upland guide with kennel full of dogs(Pointer, GSP's,Setters. Calam was the main dog.Longest retrieve was 2 corn circles with a live bird, plus points like a pointer.Whatever fits you boys, is what I say.

Mike wrote:
October 19, 2012

Definitely Labs. I don't know what kind of Labs Ted K has been around but a barker mine is not. At four years old she has hundreds of retrieves on doves, ducks and geese and I get calls every bow season to blood trail wounded deer. Plus what better house dog ever bred.

john m wrote:
October 19, 2012

You sucked me in. For a minute I thought you were (totally) serious about the Chessie ... I quickly caught on and sat back and enjoyed a great read from a gentlemn who has matured wonderfully and gained insight and talent since I gunned over his Springer in Keystone Club (and others, I believe) field trials when he was 17ish. Kudos!

Rick wrote:
October 18, 2012

Clearly the puddle pointer.

Jason wrote:
October 17, 2012

Don't forget about mutts. My Irish Setter/black lab mix is a bird hunting machine.

Steve Bullivant wrote:
October 17, 2012

The Brittanys I hunt with hold point, flush on cue, retrieve on any terrain or in water with no formal training. Their scenting ability is second to none. They clean themselves after a day afield and very rarely need bathing or grooming. They are my companions and members of my family.

Jimmy Mac wrote:
October 15, 2012

I think the best dog is the one that suits your needs and type of hunting. If ducks and geese are your thing, Retrievers. IF up land, Pointers or flushers. But the one thing I didn't hear from anyone was the breeding. Evey breed out their as great dogs. It is up to you to spend as must time researching the dog and breeder as you should. Remember this, you get what you pay for. Me personally GWP for a great vesitale dog from a great breeder, and mine does do it all Great.

Joe B wrote:
October 03, 2012

My 3 yr. old Vizsla is a hunting machine. Shot 24 pheasants over him when he was less than a year old.

Ted K wrote:
October 01, 2012

Chesapeake Retriever: Just who is the boss in this relationship, rarely the human? Springer Spaniel: Some are mean, brainless. I'll admit they're terrific chasers; mine always frightened me when a bird went through a brushpile. Anything a quail can go through, so can the springer, bloody and torn. Pointer: Since when is the German Shorthair not a pointer? Terrific dogs, terrific noses, smart, long legged, verrry looonng legged. I hope you're good at distance running. Labrador Retrievers: Nonstop barkers ranking right after beagles for constant noise. Highly variable qualities, but all are terrific at clearing off anything at tail height. Forever optimistic slobbery dogs that love to wallow and share that wallow with everyone. Brittany: Sweet lovable ever so cute pooches with good noses. I wish I could say I've had dumber dogs, but no Brittanies are in a class by themselves. Also the only dog type I've ever had that ate a ten pound bag of raw potatos knocked out of a cabinet. The various piles of dog vomit had me confused as I couldn't identify the whitish chunks. Until I found a piece of the potato bag. English Setter: On this one I agree. Smart, sweet, lovely, cuddly (all 60-75 pounds of them) with incredible noses and a sheer desire to please. Best dogs I ever owned and desire to own again. German Shorthair Pointers: Also a wonderful dog. Not as sweet, perhaps more masculine in behavior, more wilfull and determined. Incredible nose. Eager to please and absolutely baffled about where his master got to, must've lost him a county or two back. If I ever own a farm or ranch in Texas, I'd want one or more of these dogs. Irish Setter - field: Beautiful dogs! Great attitude, willing to please, shade more wilful than English Setters, Just as intelligent but definitely not reserved. Crazy perhaps. Good to great noses. llewellins: Best of the English Setters! A class act!

Frank G wrote:
September 27, 2012

I'll go with the English Springer. Although I don't use mine for the typical feather finders. They love to search/find shed antlers and a rare occasion track a downed deer. And lovable the only word they know. Forget attempting to suit up in camo without them are the door ready to go!

Tmmytomato wrote:
September 27, 2012

I've never hunted behind a better upland birder than a Brittany.

Birdogger wrote:
September 27, 2012

Definition of versatile; doesn't do anything well. The English Setter is the best birdog.

Sam Fowler wrote:
September 26, 2012

The best hunting dog I ever owned was a Boykin. He retrived ducks, doves and quail; ran and blood trailed deer, chased rabbits, treed squirrels, and even caught a small wild hog. He did everything.

Phil wrote:
September 25, 2012

Life is too short to hunt with an ugly dog, that's why God gave us the Vizsla. Easily one of the best gun dogs ever.

Richard Chenoweth wrote:
September 25, 2012

Glad to see that you correctly concluded that the GSP is the best all-around breed! I know of no other dog that has the combination of strength, agility, nose, endurance, loyalty and grace in the field. Watching these intelligent and elegant dogs work is always a thing of beauty...

jack wrote:
September 25, 2012

Amen to the Vizsla!!

Dan wrote:
September 24, 2012

While stationed in Germany in the '70s, I had the pleasure of hunting over several Kleiner Munsterlanders, and they did everything the GSP did and also followed blood trails, smiling all the while. I loved them so much, I brought one home with me.

H R Spivey wrote:
September 24, 2012

Try a Drahthaar

hal goeking wrote:
September 21, 2012

The mighty vizsla is obviously the best gun dog ever bred