By Bob Humphrey
If you’re thinking about getting a hunting dog but unsure of the breed there are several things to consider, not the least of which is your intended quarry.
When targeting only one type or group of game, you should lean toward a breed bred specifically for that type. Beagles, for example, are the classic rabbit hunting dog, just as certain types of hounds are bred for bear, hog or lion hunting. But if you hunt a variety of game you may be better off choosing a more versatile breed.
Versatility is certainly a factor and a recent upland bird hunt I participated in provides a prime example. Our hunting party divided into three groups with three different guides running three different types of dogs.
The first group hunted over English setters. The classic upland bird dog, setters and pointers cast about until they catch a hot scent, then move in and lock on point, “holding” the birds until hunters move in to flush them. Setters will also retrieve fallen birds.
If upland birds are your primary game, they make a great choice. They will make water retrieves if you also hunt ducks, but aren’t as hardy in cold weather, or as strong swimmers as other breeds.
The second guide ran Labs. Labrador retrievers are known and used primarily for retrieving waterfowl, and can withstand cold temperatures, icy waters and strong currents better than upland dogs. They’re equally adept at dry-land retrieves and when properly trained cast well and make good flushing dogs. There’s even a strain specifically bred for pointing.
The third group ran spaniels, representing something of a compromise. They too are flushing dogs and retrievers, and are a bit more eager to make water retrieves, though like setters they may not hold up as well in cold, late-season duck hunts.
Keep in mind that within these categories - setters, retrievers and spaniels - there are multiple different breeds (Gordon setters, Chesapeake Bay retrievers, water spaniels) each designed for slightly more specific applications.
Another consideration is what your dog will be doing in the off-season. You may want to run field trials, and some breeds make better pets than others. Do your research; then decide which best suits your individual wants and needs.