Best Dog Breeds for Hunting

Learn More About Some Gun Dogs and Scent Hounds

best hunting dogs illustration

Mary McLain/ The Spruce 

If you enjoy the sport of hunting, then you may benefit from having a dog by your side. It's believed that humans and dogs have been hunting together since the beginning of canine domestication, long before the age of agriculture. Hunting was likely an integral part of the development of each species, especially because it was necessary for each to survive.

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In general, the most common hunting dogs are scent hounds or gun dogs. What you plan to hunt should determine the type of dog you get.

  • Gun dogs: Also called bird dogs, since that is their primary prey, these dogs sometimes hunt smaller animals like rabbits. This dog is used to locate prey and flush it out for the hunter to shoot. The dog usually retrieves the quarry for the hunter.
  • Scent hounds: This dog follows prey trails with their nose, making quite a lot of noise while running after prey. The dog's calls enable the hunter to follow the trail even when the dog is out of sight. Some scent hounds focus on pursuing prey. Others are "treeing" dogs that chase the prey up a tree and wait at the base until hunters can arrive. 

There are a few important skills a dog should possess in order to be good at hunting, such as a strong prey drive, receptiveness to training, and endurance and athleticism. The closer your bond with your dog, the better hunting partner that dog will become. Dogs are social animals that will not thrive if forced to spend the majority of their time in a kennel separated from humans and other dogs. Take the time to train and care for your dog all year long. Here are 10 dog breeds that make excellent hunting dogs.

  • 01 of 10

    Labrador Retriever

    A yellow Labrador carrying a bird out of a river.
    Photo KWest / Getty Images

    The Labrador retriever is one of the most popular gun dogs. This enthusiastic, energetic, and loyal dog breed can withstand cold temperatures and easily swim through cold water. Labradors are often considered best for duck hunting. When not on the hunt, Labs make an excellent companion and family dog. In fact, the breed is one of the most popular dog breeds today.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 21 to 24 inches

    Weight: 55 to 80 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Medium to large-sized sturdy, athletic build; smooth, water-resistant coats; otter-like tail; a clean-cut head with a broad skull and powerful jaws; and friendly eyes

  • 02 of 10

    Golden Retriever

    Golden Retriever hunting
    MATTHEW PALMER / Getty Images

    Similar to Labradors, golden retrievers are gun dogs that are excellent for hunting birds and other small prey. They are enthusiastic, loyal, and very trainable. They also make wonderful family companions and have a reputation for getting along very well with children.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 21 to 24 inches

    Weight: 55 to 75 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Sturdy, muscular, medium-sized dog with a lustrous gold coat with a broad head, friendly and intelligent eyes, and short ears

  • 03 of 10

    Beagle

    Beagle, 3 years, running across the meadow and sniffing, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
    Caroline Brinkmann / Getty Images

    The beagle is a scent hound with an amazing nose and loud voice. This breed is primarily used to hunt small game, especially rabbits. Beagles also make excellent companions for all kinds of households.

    If you are interested in a similar breed that also has good characteristics for a hunting dog, consider the harrier.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 13 to 15 inches

    Weight: 20 to 25 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Muscular, solid body with a domed skull, squarish muzzle, long floppy ears, and perky long tail held upward

  • 04 of 10

    American Foxhound

    Foxhound framed by horse legs
    Susan M. Carter / Getty Images

    The American foxhound is a scent hound full of determination. This running hound thrives on the chase. Bred from English foxhounds, the breed was first used mainly to hunt foxes. In time, the breed was used to hunt deer. They are still known as excellent fox and deer hunters (note that there are some legal restrictions with this type of hunting, depending on your location).

    Breed Overview

    Height: 21 to 28 inches

    Weight: 60 to 70 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Large dogs, built to run with long, lean legs, and a long curved tail; heads are big, ears are droopy; looks a lot like a larger beagle

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    English Springer Spaniel

    Eager Springer Spaniel
    efekt.net / Getty Images

    The English springer spaniel is an excellent bird dog that is especially good at flushing out and chasing pheasant. They have retrieving skills that parallel the Labradors and goldens. The breed's slightly smaller size makes it easier to navigate smaller spaces on the hunt. When not at work, the springer makes an excellent family dog.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 19 to 20 inches

    Weight: 40 to 53 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Medium-size compact body protected by a dense, medium-length coat adorned with feathering, a longer fringe of hair on the ears, chest, legs, and belly; gentle facial expression, drop ears, and merry wagging docked tail

  • 06 of 10

    Pointer

    Pointer Sniffing for Prey
    Tom Brakefield / Getty Images

    The pointer, sometimes called the English pointer, is a bird dog with a high prey drive and a determined spirit. The pointer will pursue prey like quail and pheasants with vigor. The breed is also heat tolerant and therefore suited to the hot, humid South. Whether on the hunt or on the couch, a pointer makes an excellent companion. Similar breeds include the German shorthair pointer and the German wirehaired pointer.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 17 to 21 inches

    Weight: 45 to 75 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Lean, muscular medium- to large-sized body with a short, dense coat; stands upright to point to a target with its wide nose and long, pointy tail outstretched

  • 07 of 10

    Chesapeake Bay Retriever

    Chesapeake Bay Retriever
    Troydays / Getty Images

    The Chesapeake Bay retriever is a determined and athletic gun dog. This breed is intelligent and typically quite devoted to its owner. Like the Lab, the Chessie is suited to cold water, it's oily coat gives it a natural resistance to the water's frigid temperature. Unlike the Lab, this breed is not necessarily everyone's best friend. A Chessie is fiercely loyal to its family and makes an excellent companion for active households.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 21 to 26 inches

    Weight: 55 to 80 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Medium-sized body with a wavy, oily coat, rather than the Labrador's smooth coat; usually brown or tan coloring

  • 08 of 10

    Bluetick Coonhound

    Blue tick hound
    John Cancalosi / Getty Images

    The bluetick coonhound is a scent hound that can pursue and tree just about any creature it finds. This breed has even been known to pursue cougars and mountain lions. These are high-energy dogs with excellent noses. They are known for being quite vocal, even when not pursuing game. The breed is a descendant of the French Bleu de Gascogne hound and the English foxhound. The bluetick makes an excellent companion for very active households.

    Similar breeds include the redbone coonhound, the treeing walker coonhound, and the black and tan coonhound.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 21 to 27 inches

    Weight: 45 to 80 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Short, sleek, and shiny coat in dark blue with a thickly mottled body; black spots on back, ears, and sides; may have tan markings

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    English Setter

    Hunting Dog on Point
    Mfpar35 / Getty Images

    The English setter is a gun dog known for pointing, running, and hunting skills. They can be trained to retrieve, making them excellent at bird hunting. As the popularity of setters rose, they began to be split into two categories: conformation and field. Field dogs are smaller, and more lightly feathered, making them best for hunting. Conformation dogs are more suited to be show dogs and pets due to their larger frames and long feathers. However, the field setter makes an excellent companion as well.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 25 to 27 inches

    Weight: 65 to 80 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Large-bodied with large heads and hair that is long, flat, silky, and a little wavy; the ears, tail, legs, and underside are all heavily feathered; ears hang long; its neck and tail are long and skinny, both are outstretched when pointing at prey

  • 10 of 10

    Irish Setter

    rish Setter Running On Grass At Park
    Simon Marlow / EyeEm / Getty Images

    The Irish setter is a gun dog known for its beautiful red coat and its graceful agility. Like English setters, the breed can be divided into show-quality and field dogs. The Irish setter is tougher than it looks; this breed is rugged, hard-working, and determined to pursue birds. Irish setters also make friendly, affectionate, and gentle companions for all kinds of families.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 24 to 27 inches

    Weight: 35 to 70 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Coat is most commonly flat, silky, long, and soft with deep chestnut red or mahogany coloring; feathering on the chest, belly, legs, tail, and ears; neck and tail outstretch to point in the direction of game

Breeds to Avoid

All dogs, by nature, have prey drive. Before domestication, this instinct would help it find food. But once humans discovered that dogs were helpful as assistants in a hunt or for chasing animals away from herds or farms, this prey drive was an asset people used to their advantage.

Over time, people decided to breed out prey drive from some types of dogs. Mostly these breeds were considered lap dogs and regal companions. They were labeled too sophisticated for domestic work, and these included the Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Maltese, and Japanese Chin dogs, to name a few.