10 Best Dog Breeds for Hunting

Best hunting dogs illustration

The Spruce / Mary McLain

If you enjoy the sport of hunting, then you might 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. There are a few important skills a dog should possess to be good at hunting: a strong prey drive, receptiveness to training, endurance, and athleticism.

Here are 10 dog breeds that make excellent hunting dogs.

Breed Characteristics

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: Often called bird dogs as that is their primary prey, these dogs also sometimes hunt smaller animals, such as rabbits. A gun 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 its nose, making a lot of noise while running after it. 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 arrive. 

Tip

While instinct and training are key for making a good hunting dog, a personal connection with that dog can be just as important. The closer your bond with your dog is, the better hunting partner that dog will be.

  • 01 of 10

    Labrador Retriever

    Chocolate Lab on couch

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

    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 thanks to their friendliness and willingness to please.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 21 to 24 inches

    Weight: 55 to 80 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Sturdy, athletic build; smooth, water-resistant coat; otter-like tail; broad skull and powerful jaw; friendly eyes

  • 02 of 10

    Golden Retriever

    Golden retriever on sofa

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

    Similar to Labradors, golden retrievers also are gun dogs. They are excellent for hunting birds and other small prey. Goldens are enthusiastic, loyal, and very trainable. They also make wonderful family companions and have a reputation for getting along very well with children. But they do need lots of activity to exercise their minds and bodies.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 21 to 24 inches

    Weight: 55 to 75 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Sturdy, muscular build; lustrous gold coat; broad head; friendly and intelligent eyes; short ears

  • 03 of 10

    Beagle

    Beagle sniffing outside
    Caroline Brinkmann / Getty Images

    The beagle is a scent hound with an amazing nose and a loud voice. This breed is primarily used to hunt small game, especially rabbits. Beagles also make excellent companions for all kinds of households and are typically good with kids. They are known for being quite loving and eager to please.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 13 to 15 inches

    Weight: 20 to 25 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Muscular body with a domed skull; squarish muzzle; long, floppy ears; 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 also was involved in deer hunting. Foxhounds make loving and loyal companions, but they do need lots of exercise each day to satisfy their high energy and endurance levels.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 21 to 28 inches

    Weight: 60 to 70 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Long, lean legs; long, curved tail; large head; droopy ears

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    English Springer Spaniel

    English springer spaniel on leaves
    efekt.net / Getty Images

    The English springer spaniel is an excellent bird dog that is especially good at flushing out and chasing pheasants. This dog has retrieving skills that can match those of the Labrador and golden retriever. And the English springer spaniel's slightly smaller size makes it better-suited 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: Dense, medium-length coat with feathering; gentle facial expression; drop ears

  • 06 of 10

    Pointer

    Pointer in pointing stance
    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, such as quail and pheasants, with vigor. Plus, the breed is fairly heat tolerant and therefore suited for hunting in warmer climates. Whether on the hunt or on the couch, a pointer makes a loyal, loving companion.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 17 to 21 inches

    Weight: 45 to 75 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Lean, muscular frame; short, dense coat; stands upright to point to a target with its wide nose and long tail outstretched

  • 07 of 10

    Chesapeake Bay Retriever

    Chesapeake Bay retriever on a dock
    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 as its oily coat gives it a natural resistance to the water. But unlike the Lab, this breed is not necessarily everyone's best friend. A Chessie is fiercely loyal to its family but can be wary of strangers.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 21 to 26 inches

    Weight: 55 to 80 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Muscular build; wavy, oily coat; usually brown or tan

  • 08 of 10

    Bluetick Coonhound

    Bluetick coonhound smiling
    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 chase cougars and mountain lions. These are high-energy dogs with excellent noses. They can be quite vocal, even when not pursuing game. While not typically ideal for apartment living, the bluetick makes an excellent companion for very active households.

    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

    English setter in tall grasses
    Mfpar35 / Getty Images

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

    Breed Overview

    Height: 25 to 27 inches

    Weight: 65 to 80 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Large head; medium-length fur that's flat, silky, and a little wavy; feathering on the ears, tail, legs, and underside; long ears; long, thin neck and tail

  • 10 of 10

    Irish Setter

    Irish setter running on grass
    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 is 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, but they need lots of exercise to keep them happy.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 24 to 27 inches

    Weight: 35 to 70 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Coat is most commonly flat, silky, long, and soft; 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 a prey drive. Before domestication, this instinct helped the canines find food. Over time, people decided to breed out the prey drive from some types of dogs. For the most part, these breeds were considered lap dogs and regal companions. They were labeled too sophisticated for domestic work, and breeding out the prey drive made them calmer companions. Dog breeds that don't make ideal hunting companions include the Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Maltese, and Japanese Chin.