Dogs have been our hunting partners since we walked together over grasslands grazed by mammoths. With such a long, shared history, it’s not entirely clear whether we domesticated dogs or they domesticated us. For sure, we share many traits with our four-legged pack members that it’s a shady line at least.
Back then, dogs would’ve been invaluable for finding, running down and distracting large animals like deer and wild boar so that humans could deliver the killing stroke with a spear or arrow.
As trends changed — but before firearms were common — smart dogs could find and point out smaller game like birds and rabbits, distracting the prey while the hunter set a net to catch them.
With firearms, the effective killing range expanded, and the sport of shooting game flushed out by dogs became popular. With this, a strong dog with a soft mouth could also retrieve the game for the hunter.
Today, we have wide array of dog, with a dog for every occasion. From breeds that can hunt underground and flush out and retrieve birds, to breeds that can track wounded animals and run down large game, there’s no shortage of hunting breeds to choose from.
Some of the best are covered below.
The Lab is one of our favorite dogs, full stop. As a hunting companion, they’re the perfect gundog. Their high intelligence, excellent sense of smell and stamina for work either on land or in water make them great bird dogs.
They work in close proximity to the hunter and are very capable upland game dogs. Their strong retrieving instinct and intelligence make them just as well suited to working from a duck blind.
Their nose and close working nature even make them decent indicator dogs, which are used for scenting and showing the hunter where big game (like deer and boar) are.
They’re very friendly and outgoing, making labs great for the entire family and amenable toward strangers. They also aren’t likely to pick a fight with other dogs.
The golden retriever meets many of the same criteria as the Labrador.
Another breed specialized as a gundog, their long coat was intentionally selected to make them very hardy in cold weather and cold water. All the amenable traits of Labradors can equally be assigned to the golden retriever.
A lot of work went into breeding golden retrievers in Scotland (where they originated) to develop a dog suited to hard work in harsh conditions.
Their soft mouth trait makes them a reliable retriever that won’t damage birds.
English Springer Spaniel
Springers were bred specifically for upland game (pheasants, partridges, grouse, etc.). Their role was to quarter — work backward and forward — in range of the hunter’s shotgun and flush (spring) the game for the hunter.
Spaniels are smaller than many other gundogs, making them well suited to working thick cover. Their shaggy coats offer some added protection in these sorts of places.
They’re affectionate and excitable, making them great companions whether in the field or by the fire at days’ end.
The springer spaniel is larger than the cocker spaniel and thus better suited to ranging longer distances and retrieving heavier game.
In fact, before the two breeds were independently categorized, the larger pups from a litter were called “springers” while the smaller ones were used only for small birds like woodcock — hence the name “cockers.”
German Wirehaired Pointer
Pointers were bred to locate and point out game to the hunter. Rather than working close and flushing out prey, pointers work across a broader area and indicate when they’ve found something by locking up and pointing their nose, sometimes raising a front foot, and waiting for the hunter.
This behavior allows the hunter to ready themselves and then either flush the animal out themselves or send the dog in. Wirehaired pointers are also good retrievers and easily trained to be gundogs.
Also used as an indicator dog for large-game stalking, the German wirehaired pointer is a large, powerfully built dog. They’re very useful at tracking wounded game and, depending on their training, more than capable of bringing wounded quarry down if required. They have been bred to be fearless of prey that might bite back.
Their wiry coat helps to keep them warm in cold climates and adds protection when working in thick cover. They’re devoted companions and good watchdogs. Quite independent, they require training in order to work best around other dogs.
Terriers are a bundle of fun — there’s no denying it. Smart, scruffy, snappy, they’ve been bred to be infallible hunters.
The jagdterrier, or German hunting terrier, is one such breed. An all-round hunting dog, it’s more than happy to pursue foxes, rabbits, wild boar or anything that smells interesting and runs away. They’re dependable above and below ground.
Jagdterriers have a great nose and are often used to blood-track wounded or lost animals.
As with most terriers, they’re extremely intelligent, overly confident and very adaptable. They have a strong prey drive and are best suited to a working lifestyle that keeps them physically and mentally occupied.
The Patterdale terrier is another great little hunter. A British breed, this little dog was bred to be a worker. Looks were never a concern, however, so there are many variations in color and coat.
With such a strong emphasis on work, they’re a highly practical dog with a strong neck, great flexibility and endurance. They have absolutely no fear of anything they’re put up against.
For quarry that goes to ground, like foxes, the Patterdale will follow straight after them, and if the fox doesn’t get out of the dog’s way, it’ll be up to the hunter to dig them out. In the United Kingdom, there’s the rough-and-ready pastime of “ratting,” and the Patterdale is an excellent ratter.
But Patterdales are more than happy to pursue larger game and will flush and hold wild boar at bay.
They’re full of energy and have a determined prey drive, making them working dogs. All of that energy needs burning off, after all. Snappy little terriers, they can be a handful around other dogs — not that the Patterdale would care!
The harrier is a hound that fills the gap between beagle and foxhound. Initially bred for trailing hares, they’re just as adept at trailing foxes and all manner of large game. In the United States, they run toward mountain lions, and in Australia, on sambar deer. They’re also good boar hounds wherever wild pigs roam.
As with most hound breeds, they’re friendly, even tempered and good around children and strangers. As a pack breed, they’re also good with other dogs.
On the hunt, they’re persistent trailers that hit a scent and follow until they catch up with their quarry. With their white tails held high, they let out a loud bay once on the scent, making them hard to lose if you can keep up with them.
Harriers are the most common fox hunters in Ireland, and that says a lot about their usefulness. Irish fox hunters aren’t caught up in the pomp that goes with some hound packs; they prefer working dogs that can be relied on.
Black and Tan Coonhound
Early American hunters found that the traditional hound breeds brought with them from Europe, while adept at running down quarry on the ground, didn’t have a tenacious “sticking” instinct for the many North American animals that took shelter in trees when chased.
Over time, hunters selectivity produced a new hound breed that could run down things like black bears, mountain lion and racoons — hence the name coonhound.
The black and tan coonhound is an attractive dog with high endurance and a determined spirit.
While mellow, friendly and calm at home, as soon as they’re outside, they’re looking for a scent and ready to pursue it. This strong hunting instinct makes them easy and fun to train and work with.
Being a relatively large hound, they’re strong and fearless; known for courage in running deer, bear, wolves and mountain lion.
Catahoula Leopard Dog
Another American breed, the Catahoula leopard dog arose from the swamps of Louisiana as a well-regarded big game hunter.
It’s not known exactly where their origins lie, but they probably were a result of breeding between the French herding dogs brought to Louisiana and the native swamp wolf hunting dogs that the native Choctaw used to pursue deer.
Theodore Roosevelt hunted with Catahoulas, and the brothers Jim and Rezin Bowie reportedly owned a pair.
They retain a strong herding instinct and work with their own unique style; and as a hunter they’re used to scent trail, tree and bring animals to bay. Catahoulas are well-regarded by those chasing wild boar in the southern United States and in Australia.
These are big, strong dogs with good endurance and a high prey drive. This can lead to difficulties with other pets and livestock. They’re known for being good with children, even if they don’t know them, but can be aggressive toward strange adults. They make good guard dogs.
The Norwegian elkhound fills the niche of determined bay dog for northern climates. An old breed, they’ve long been respected as hunters, guardians, defenders and herders.
With well-above-average intelligence, extreme loyalty and a tendency to become inseparable from their owners, they are easy to train and make very useful hunting dogs.
Elkhounds are best known for hunting moose, elk, bears, wolves and boar in Scandinavian countries. They work well independently in tracking these animals, running them down and holding them at bay until the hunter arrives.
After a long day running down the largest living deer species, they’re just as happy to spend quality time with their human family. Elkhounds have a loud bark, which they’re always ready to use, so they make good watchdogs.
A Dog for Every Occasion
There you have it. From terriers and pointers to retrievers, hounds, and tough and capable bay dogs — there’s a dog out there for everyone. Any of the breeds listed here would make a great hunting partner and friend.