Choosing a Compatible Bird Dog Breed for Pheasant & Quail Hunting

ec41eb26-e712-4129-ba02-5f9617eda068 As winter releases its grip on the open prairies and cattail marshes, you may be thinking about a getting a new puppy to hunt with in future fall upland bird seasons. However, before you can begin shaping your well-bred pup into a confident, well-mannered bird dog, it is crucial to first choose a breed that will facilitate the type of hunting you’re looking to do and is suitable for your lifestyle.
“Decide which breed will best suit your needs, then diligently search for the right bloodline,” says pro bird dog trainer Ronnie Smith of Ronnie Smith Kennels in Big Cabin, Oklahoma. “The Internet is not a reliable source. Talk to reputable breeders, as well as members of a local sporting dog club, to arrive at a solid, well-researched decision.”
There’s much to consider when choosing a compatible bird dog breed. For example, if you live in south Texas, you may pick a short-coated breed such as the Pointer, or if you live in northern Minnesota, you might opt for a breed with a longer coat such as the Brittany. More importantly, you should make a selection based on the breed’s known hunting style and types of game for which the breed hunts.
Although no one breed will perfectly excel in every pheasant or quail hunting situation, you can narrow your focus by weighing the differences among the flushing, pointing and retrieving breeds suitable for upland game hunting.

Flushing Breeds

  • Hunting Style: Most flushing breeds tend to quarter to the front within a comfortable range and track birds by scent and sight before the flush. Because flushing breeds typically are smaller in stature, they are suitable for hunting in dense cover. Flushing breeds have a natural desire to retrieve, and with basic obedience work and exposure to game birds, make tremendous bird dogs.
  • Types of Game: Upland and waterfowl
  • Examples: Boykin Spaniel, English Cocker Spaniel, and English Springer Spaniel

Pointing Breeds

  • Hunting Style: Enthusiastic and hard-driving, pointing breeds have good stamina and are suitable for finding birds you probably wouldn’t find on your own. They have a natural hunting instinct to point, or to stop and aim their nose toward game as a signal to the hunter, and to retrieve. Some pointing breeds will stay within comfortable range, while others have the speed, agility and independence to hunt far-ranging distances. Several pointing breeds also are versatile hunters that will hunt a variety of game on land and in water. 
  • Types of Game: Upland and waterfowl
  • Examples: Brittany, English Pointer, English Setter, German Shorthaired Pointer, German Wirehaired Pointer, Gordon Setter, Irish Setter, Italian Spinone, Pudelpointer, Red Setter, Small Munsterlander, Vizsla, Weimaraner, Wirehaired Pointing Griffon

Retrieving Breeds

  • Hunting Style: Retrieving breeds often are the first choice for waterfowling, but they also can excel at hunting upland game, especially pheasant. Retrieving breeds tend to quarter to the front within comfortable range to flush before retrieving upland game to hand. They are versatile hunters on land and in water.
  • Types of Game: Upland and waterfowl
  • Examples: Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Curly-Coated Retriever, Flat-Coated Retriever, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Poodle

After you’ve narrowed your choice down to a flushing, pointing or retrieving breed, you can take your initial research a step further by reviewing Pheasants Forever’s list of Bird Dog Breeds to learn more details about each specific breed.
Regardless of the breed you choose, hardworking bird dogs should receive top-notch nutrition for optimal field performance. Performance dog foods, such as Purina Pro Plan SPORT Performance 30/20 Formula and Purina Pro Plan SPORT Performance 30/20 Salmon & Rice Formula, contain 30 percent protein and 20 percent fat. These high levels of protein and fat help increase a dog’s capacity to metabolize fat and allows him or her to optimize oxygen metabolism, resulting in better performance and endurance in the field. For more information, please visit