Man with two of the best bird dogs, english pointer and german wire haired pointer, upland bird hunting.
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The Best Bird Dog Breeds to Take Upland Hunting

These are the best all-around breeds for chasing birds, based on decades studying gun dogs.

When it comes to selecting a hunting dog for bird hunting, many breeds will do the job capably, and exceptional individuals exist in practically every breed. But some dog breeds are pointing machines, some are great retrievers, and some are specialists for a specific bird species or in specific settings; for example, bigger breeds are better for prairie hunters and dogs that work close better suit pheasant hunters.

In other words, hunting dog breeds are as complex and varied as the birds that hunters chase. Take it from me: I've made a career working with, writing about, and studying bird dogs, a passion that began when I was young and carried around an AKC dog book everywhere I went.

That said, a representative few dog breeds are truly bird-hunting masters. Each of the five breeds here has attributes that make them strong for hunting birds in general, though you may choose based on your preferred bird. Without further ado, these are the best bird hunting dogs for the uplands.

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1. German Shorthaired Pointer

Two German shorthaired pointer bird hunting dogs

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Just about everyone who bird hunts and their uncle owns a German shorthaired pointer (GSP), and for good reason. GSPs are bird-finding machines that also serve as good retrievers on downed or crippled birds and capable in the water as well. Whether you hunt wide-open country or the overgrown grouse land, there is a breeder with a line of German shorthair that will fit your needs.

GSPs also make excellent companions and are known for their affectionate temperament towards their people. All around, the German shorthair is a hardcore hunting dog and arguably the most popular hunting dog breed in the United States.

2. English Setter

Two English Setters sitting next to the owner in a field, waiting to hunt birds

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English setters are the gentleman's bird dog. They were originally bred as a grouse dog in England and saw great popularity among eastern ruffed grouse hunters early on in their introduction to America. But these days, English setter lines vary widely by breeders. Some are field trial dogs bred to run big in the western plains, some are classic, blocky setters bred to hunt close in thick cover, with plenty of lines in between. They aren't known for their retrieving ability, but plenty do it well.

What is perhaps the best thing about owning any setter, including English Setters, Gordon Setters and Irish Setters, is their temperament: They are arguably one of the best breeds on this list as a family dog, known for their pronounced "off-switch" and calm, gentle demeanor—the perfect gentleman, indeed.

3. English Pointer

English Pointer waiting to bird hunt in a field

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Pointers are the Ferraris of gun dogs. Not everyone is capable of handling one, but for those who can, there's nothing better. Running, pointing machines, they're perfect for covering ground in the open prairies of the west in search of upland game. They're also the classic bobwhite quail dog in the south, and even do well in open shooting dog trials on ruffed grouse in the north.

The English breed truly puts the "point" in pointing dog. They aren't generally the strongest retrievers, but they will hold a point until you finish your lunch, load your gun, and get ready for the covey rise.

4. Springer Spaniel

English Springer Spaniel hunting dog sits next to a day's harvest of pheasants.

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I must admit, springer spaniels are the ultimate flushing dog—and this is coming from a Labrador guy. They can cover more ground than a cocker spaniel or Boykin spaniel, and are rugged enough for the western plains while also adjusting to flushing grouse and woodcock in thick cover just as well.

However, where springers really shine is for hunting pheasants. They are absolutely the best dogs for getting wary roosters into the air in a hurry. And considering pheasants are hands down the most popular upland bird to hunt, springers are a good choice for many. Springer spaniels are also excellent retrievers for when you have a downed bird or a cripple.

5. Labrador Retriever

Powerful black Labrador is retrieving a duck during a duck hunting day

Getty Images, Anna Pozzi

You may think labs most excel at waterfowl hunting, but they're also one of the best all-around dogs out there for bird hunters. Compared to other retrievers, such as the Chesapeake Bay retriever or golden retriever, Labradors have both the coat and stature for all-day upland hunting. They're particularly good for pheasant hunting, but I have used mine as a flusher very successfully on ruffed grouse and a variety of other game birds. Both American and British labs make great hunters, just be sure to buy from a reputable kennel whose bloodline fits your needs and desires.

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