Looking for a new best friend who also happens to be a great bird hunter?
You’re in luck, because over the last few hundred years, tons of cultures have done the same thing – and specifically raised these five breeds to be the best bird-hunting dogs possible.
In this guide, I’ve combined extensive research, statistics, and personal experiences to curate a list of the best five dogs for bird hunting in 2024 – so that you can start the search for your next companion!
On a similar note, if you’re looking for the best duck hunting dogs out there I’ve already covered that right here. If you’re looking for the best small hunting dogs out there, you can read about that right here.
Let’s get into it!
#1 Labrador Retrievers – Canada
First up we got the most obvious choice for bird hunting, which is of course the adorable labrador retriever.
Originally bred up in Newfoundland, Canada, they were actually originally used to retrieve fishing nets and snatch up the ones that escaped the fishing lines.
Now they’re not really used for fishing much anymore, but they are excellent swimmers and are truly wonderful for any form of waterfowl hunting.
Their mouths are soft, and they have a light grip on the game, which means that you can safely send them to retrieve the birds without worrying about ruining the meat.
Additionally, they’re not as sensitive to gunshots as most other breeds – so you don’t have to spend nearly as much time on gun training.
- Incredibly easy to train because they’re just so dang smart, but not in a husky sense. These guys will do everything to please you, so some light use of positive reinforcement will make training your labrador a breeze.
- Labrador retrievers can adapt to pretty much any form of bird hunting, which is especially great if you like to go for both waterfowl and upland birds (like I do) –
- They have incredible endurance and can stay out hunting (and be happy doing it) for a very long period of time
- They’re very gentle and friendly, which makes them wonderful housepets for anyone with regular guests or kids.
- Labradors are known for being overly energetic and enthusiastic. This is a great lot of the time but can easily turn into a drawback. If they aren’t regularly exercised they’ll develop behavioral issues, especially as youngins they might simply be so excited in the field that they scare away game or go to retrieve it too early. This has to be really honed in on during training.
- They’re also unfortunately prone to a lot of health issues, as many purebred dogs are. Hip and elbow dysplasia as well as being prone to obesity can often impact their longevity in the field.
#2 Pointers – England
Next up we have the greatest breed of dog in the world, the English Pointer.
I’ll have to come clean and say I’m slightly biased here, as not only do I hunt with a pointer currently, but my family has been hunting exclusively with pointers since for almost 120 years!
The Pointer was originally bred specifically for the purpose of bird hunting by English nobles back in the 1700s. More specifically, they were bred to… well, point.
They have a distinctive stance where they stand rigid, one foot raised and note pointing in the direction of the bird so that the hunter knows exactly where the game is. Looks pretty badass too.
- Pointers are excellent scouts. They have incredible noses, only second to the bloodhound, and they’re very fast with undeniable stamina. Meaning that they can run on ahead to find the game, come back to you, and lead you straight to the game with little to no effort on your part.
- They are very eager to please, which makes them easy to train. In my family, the only training we’ve had to do is to bring a younger dog along with an older, more experienced dog, and the older dog will naturally train them with little effort from the hunter.
- They’re not the brightest of the bunch. I know that online it says they’re real clever dogs, and while hunting they truly are, but as much as I adore my best friend – I’m not sure she’s got more than one brain cell. And it’s only active half the time.
- They’re not great retrievers. They’ll sure try their best, but they have a bad habit of just chomping the whole bird in their mouth which can sometimes completely ruin the kill. We’ve also experienced that some pointers aren’t a fan of swimming, so if you’re banking on them to retrieve waterfowl from the water you might reconsider.
Weimaraner – Germany
Up next in the lineup is the Weimaraner!
Originally bred as a gundog for German nobility back in the 1800s, the Weimaraner was to be a nice mix between a pointer and a retriever.
They were actually originally used for big game hunting such as deer and boar, but once this form of hunting started declining their main roles shifted over to bird hunting.
I mean, any dog that can combine strong pointing and retrieving instincts are naturally going to be great for birdie shootin’ and the Weimaraner is living proof of that.
- Weimaraners are versatile, adaptable, and excellent at both pointing and retrieving. For anyone who likes to hunt both waterfowl and upland birds, this might just be the dog for you.
- They’re some of the most intelligent hunting dogs around, which makes training easier. They pick up on commands really quickly but are smart enough to sometimes purposefully not follow through just to test your boundaries…
- They’re massive cuddle bugs and excellent with children, so in addition to hunting, they function as wonderful house pets as well!
- Weimaraners are pretty needy dogs and get separation anxiety big time.
- Like I mentioned earlier, they are super smart but maybe a little too strong-willed. During training, you’ve got to be consistent and use a firm hand, because I guarantee you they will test your boundaries and patience at every turn. Discipline training early on is a necessity.
- They’re going to be annoyed if you don’t exercise them enough or go away for too long, which often results in a couple of torn-up trashcans and a ruined couch. Or two. In fact, I’m pretty sure my buddy has spent more money on new couches than he did on the actual dog itself, and they don’t come cheap.
Irish Setter – Ireland
Moving on we have the gorgeous Irish Setter.
Specifically bred for bird hunting in 1700s Ireland, the Irish setter specialize in both finding and pointing at game birds.
When hunting they’ll often just roam around free scouting on ahead, as they have a keen ability to scent game in massive areas.
Once they find the birds they’ll enact “setting” which is a low crouch near the game to indicate where it is.
They also like to do this right before they’re about to get food, which is kind of cute.
- Irish Setters are incredibly adaptable, as their amazing smell and setting make them great pointers and trackers — and they also have some of the most gentle mouths in the game so once the kill is down they can safely retrieve the bird without damaging it.
- I’m convinced these guys are some of the happiest dogs on the planet. They’re super eager to please, love hunting, and love making you happy making them super easy to train.
- But because they’re so happy and enthusiastic, they’re very distraction-prone both during training and during hunts. They’re really curious, so if they scout for long enough there’s a chance they’re just going to go off on a sniffing tangent far away from the game. Mitigate this in training by spending lots of time working on recalls.
- Irish Setters are very social dogs and have more needs than other breeds to be around other dogs and people. I would recommend having at least 2 dogs if you get a setter.
- They’re susceptible to a variety of genetic conditions, so if you’re going for an Irish Setter, it’s worth spending more money to go to a reputable breeder.
Vizla – Hungary
Lastly on our list of the best bird-hunting dogs is the Swizz army knife of hunting dogs: the Vizla.
Developed over a thousand years ago in Hungary for hunting both upland and waterfowl, the Vizla excels in both fields and water environments with ease.
For some reason I don’t see a lot of my fellow hunters use the Vizla’s for hunting, which is a shame because they’re absolutely excellent at it! They can adapt to pretty much any terrain and game, and they love doing it.
- The Vizlas are by far the most versatile and adaptable breed on our list. They can take on a bunch of different roles during the hunt, including pointing, retrieving, and tracking. They can hunt upland, on mountains, in forests, in marshes, rivers, and by lakes, and their agility allows them to quickly move through pretty much any brush and terrain. Phew, that was quite the run-on sentence.
- They bond very intensly to their owner, and are regarded as some of the most loyal dogs out there. This means that if they’ve bonded to you, training should be easy, and hunting will be very effective as they are more likely to listen to your commands.
- So to build off of that: they’re easy to train. The Vizla is actually very active in a variety of other canine sports apart from hunting because of this.
- Vizlas are super high energy and require substantial amounts of exercise daily to keep them healthy and happy, and if you don’t, your couch is going to suffer the consequences. Several walks a day, the longer the better.
- With extreme loyalty comes extreme separation anxiety. You’ll have to spend a lot of time training gradually to handle alone time, and having another dog would be very beneficial.
There ya go, the best bird hunting dogs of 2023!
As you can see, if you’re looking for a smaller hunting dog, you’ve got lots of options.
Each breed comes with its unique strengths and weaknesses, but regardless of what you decide to go with, it’s important to understand these trade-offs to find the right hunting companion that will best serve your needs, while also ensuring a positive and enriching life for your buddy.
Also, keep in mind that a vast majority of the time your new best friend is going to be at home, with you and your family, and not in the wild. Make sure that you also do research about how each dog behaves in the home life as well, and discuss their personality with the breeder.
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