Hunting dog breeds are more varied than even some hunters might realize. There dozens of dogs that hunt with or for humans, falling into the following categories: hounds, gun dogs, feists, terriers, curs, and dachshunds.
While there are plenty of dogs that fall into some of these categories, we obviously can’t cover them all. Below is our Top 10 picks for just about every type of hunting you can think of.
There are plenty of great hunting “Mutts” out there as well, but we are going to focus on the primary breeds that most Americans stick to when picking out their hunting dogs.
Hounds are assorted into sighthounds, scent hounds, and lurchers. Gun dogs include such breeds as retrievers, setters, spaniels, pointers, and water dogs.
- Best Hunting Dog For Waterfowl: Labrador Retriever
- Top Quail & Pheasant Hunting Dog: The English Springer Spaniel
- A Great All Around Hunting Dog: The Coonhound
- Top Pick for Small Game: The Beagle
- Best Grouse Hunting Dogs: English Setter
- A Great Dog For Duck Hunting: The Chesapeake Bay Retriever
- Best Bird Hunting Dog: German Shorthaired Pointer
- A Great Dog For Hunting Badgers& Rabbits: The Jack Russell Terrier
- Best Fox Hunting Dog: The American Foxhound
- A Great Dog For Squirrel Hunting: The Feist
- Wrap Up:
Picking the best hunting dog breeds is no easy task, because the selection truly depends on many different factors. After careful consideration, we bring your our top 10 picks for best hunting dog breeds.
Best Hunting Dog For Waterfowl: Labrador Retriever
The Labrador Retriever is built for cold-water work, as duck hunters will tell you. It’s playful and athletic nature belies its abilities as a gun dog. Its weather-resistant, short coat both repels water and keeps the dog warm in the blind.
The Lab is capable of persisting for long hours under difficult conditions. Its powerful jaws lend to its capabilities as a retrieving gun dog, and in fact it is a skilled retriever both on land and in the water.
A dog with an even temper, the Labrador Retriever is a favorite of waterfowl hunters. It’s also a great dog for beginners if you are a first time dog owner.
Top Quail & Pheasant Hunting Dog: The English Springer Spaniel
The English Springer Spaniel is a breed of gun dog that specializes in flushing and retrieving. Its compact body and strong, muscular legs give it the power and endurance to keep going even under trying hunting conditions.
The Springer Spaniel excels at seeking out and finding game, then driving it from hiding for its master. It’s said the name “springer” came from its ability to cause birds to spring into the air.
The working Springer Spaniel is a stable fellow, well balanced, and tends to have few health complaints. Hunters of quail, pheasant, and grouse frequently cite the English Springer Spaniel as their upland hunting breed of choice.
A Great All Around Hunting Dog: The Coonhound
The Coonhound is a variety of scent hound, a dog that runs its game by scent alone. There are several breeds of coonhound, each suited to a specific hunting purpose. They are great helpers if you are out there checking the field with your rangefinder, looking for large game.
It’s known in general as a courageous beast, which is why it’s frequently used in hunting for deer, bear, wolf, and cougar. Coonhounds are tough, agile creatures that give the impression of intense, unwavering alertness.
Every Coonhound, much like humans, has its own unique voice, and owners claim they can recognize the bay of their hound from as much as a mile away.
Coonhounds have a great deal of stamina and are capable of running for many miles when on the scent.
Top Pick for Small Game: The Beagle
The Beagle is a single-minded, determined, unshakeable animal when it is on the hunt. Originally bred for hare hunting, the Beagle is used today to track rabbit, deer, and other small game.
Its keen sense of smell is why you’ll see them used as detection dogs. Expert at driving prey toward the hunter, the Beagle is a persistent when tracking game, and its stamina sets it apart from a lot of other scent dogs as it will absolutely go the distance.
It’s alertness and intelligence make it a much desired dog for hunting small game.
Best Grouse Hunting Dogs: English Setter
The English Setter is a proud and graceful animal use in hunting for quail, pheasant, and grouse. It’s a dog bred for endurance and athleticism, and it is capable of long stands in hard weather.
Like a pointer, the English Setter “points” to the location of the prey, giving the hunter ample time to set up and shoot. Unlike the Pointer, however, the English Setter prefers to remain closer to the hunter, so they’re always in line of sight.
It’s an amazing dog to watch as it sniffs the air for its prey before holding point, motionless, waiting for the kill.
A Great Dog For Duck Hunting: The Chesapeake Bay Retriever
The Chesapeake Bay Retriever is a gun dog originally bred to retrieve waterfowl, specifically (but not exclusively) duck. It’s a dog with a lot of endurance, ability, and intelligence.
The “Chessie” is a tough dog, with a double coat that does a great job of insulating it against icy water. This is a big dog, too, and it needs a lot of exercise.
Most owners agree that the Chesapeake Bay Retriever should be trained by its owner, and in an environment where as a puppy it can socialize with other dogs.
This loyal beast is the waterfowl hunter’s friend for life.
Best Bird Hunting Dog: German Shorthaired Pointer
The German Shorthaired Pointer is probably the most popular pointing dog in the world. It is a sleek, powerful animal with the uncanny ability to move and turn with astonishing rapidity.
They have a strong, broad muzzle, making it perfect for pointing and retrieving heavy game. The German Shorthaired Pointer has webbed feet and will go after waterfowl in the water without hesitation.
A versatile creature, the German Shorthaired Pointer is the average North American gamebird hunter’s dog of choice.
A Great Dog For Hunting Badgers& Rabbits: The Jack Russell Terrier
The Jack Russell Terrier is known as a working dog thanks to its toughness and stubborn nature. Its robustness makes it a formidable companion when you’re hunting groundhog, badger, or fox.
The Jack Russell locates the prey in the earth, either chasing it out of the hole or holding it in place until the hunter can dig it out. You’ll either have to be in good condition to work a Jack Russell Terrier or it will get you into shape quickly.
No matter how far you can walk in a day, the Jack Russell Terrier will outpace you several times.
Best Fox Hunting Dog: The American Foxhound
Last and certainly not least, the American Foxhound is, as its name suggests, bred to hunt foxes. With its extraordinary sense of smell, it’s also considered to be the best breed for running deer drives thanks to its stamina.
Yes, and the unmistakable baying sound it makes when on the hunt! It is an agile dog that is perfect for hunting over rugged terrain.
The American Foxhound loves to be outside, and when it is on the scent it will tear off, commands notwithstanding.
A Great Dog For Squirrel Hunting: The Feist
A Feist is a small dog, bred in the southern United States, frequently used for small game hunting, frequently squirrel hunting. Alone or in packs, the Feist works above ground and barks up the tree to alert hunters that prey is hiding there.
Feists are smallish dogs, weighing 25 to 30 pounds with short coats and long legs. They’re bred almost exclusively for hunting, and they are quiet about it, too, unlike hounds.
Feists use their senses to locate and tree the squirrel before barking loudly to alert the hunter, much in the same way a coonhound does with raccoons.
A Feist will chase a squirrel to the ends of the earth or until it loses sight of it.
Choosing a dog is a very personal choice and it will largely depend on what type of hunter you are and what type of game you will be hunting.
If you are compound bow hunting big game, then obviously a keen tracker like a Coonhound might be a better choice than a Jack Russell Terrier.
The same applies if you are hunting small game with a crossbow. You’d likely be looking at a Beagle over a Labrador retriever.
Any one of these hunting dogs will do the trick as filling in for both your best friend as well as keen hunting partner for years to come.