The 5 best hunting dog breeds


May 2, 2023


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best hunting dog breeds

Hunting can be a solitary endeavour, and the companionship of a dog as you either walk through the woods in search of prey or stay motionless in a blind can make all the difference. In addition, going out with the best hunting dog can increase your chances of a successful hunting outing. Smart, loyal, and energetic, they can follow an animal’s scent, chase it up a tree or flush it out: all that’s left is for you to take your shot! So which dog breed is best for hunting? The SAIL team is here to help.

In this article, you will learn about:

  1. The two characteristics of hunting dogs
  2. The 5 best hunting dog breeds
  3. FAQ

The two characteristics of hunting dogs

While there are more than two, the most common hunting dogs are either gun dogs or scent dogs. The right breed will mostly depend on what you plan to hunt.

Gun dogs:

These locate camouflaged prey (such as pheasant) and flush it out so the hunter can shoot. They often retrieve flying game (most commonly ducks) as well, which can involve swimming or wading in water. They are used for bird or small game hunting. These include retrievers and flushing dogs.

Scent dogs:

These dog breeds have a great sense of smell and follow prey trails so hunters can harvest them. Some will even chase their prey up a tree and keep it there until their human arrives. They are often used to hunt running game such as rabbits and deer. This category includes hounds, pointer dogs and blood tracking dogs.

For more deer hunting tips, have a look at the SAIL article.

It’s worth remembering that your canine companion will not only be your hunting buddy; it will also be your family dog. As such, you will need to consider each breed’s characteristics carefully in addition to your preferred type of hunting. Do you have children and need an even-tempered dog? Or could you handle an active dog that easily gets bored and needs plenty of exercise?

Here are a few suggestions to help you choose a hunting dog breed that matches your needs.

The 5 best hunting dog breeds

Labrador retriever

Labradors are popular gun dogs. They are energetic and won’t run out of steam while out on a hunt. For those who enjoy hunting late in the fall, these dogs can withstand cold temperatures and swim in lakes, even when the water is cold. This makes them great duck hunting companions. In addition, they are fantastic family dogs: great with children, eager to please, affectionate, and they love to play. What more could you want in a dog!


Golden retriever

As they possess good hunting skills, golden retrievers also make for effective gun dogs. This is why they are often used for search-and-rescue. Goldens make enthusiastic hunting dogs: they like hiking, hunting, and just about any type of exercise. Used as bird dogs, they enjoy swimming as much as Labrador retrievers – ideal for duck hunting! Their long coat does require maintenance, so make sure you brush them regularly, particularly after a day out in the water and mud.

If you’d like to know more about migratory bird hunting, have a read of the SAIL blog article.



They may be small and compact, but beagles shouldn’t be underestimated! They are extremely intelligent and their nose is excellent. These scent dogs have plenty of energy, and make sure their human can follow them even when out of sight by making lots of noise. This makes them ideal companions for small game hunting (including rabbits), or larger prey as part of a pack. They are pack-oriented dogs and do play well with others. They can be very stubborn and require plenty of exercise, so make sure you can accommodate this before committing to adopting a beagle.

If you’d like to know more about small game hunting, read our article on the topic.



Ever heard the expression “having the nose of a bloodhound”? This is the best dog breed for hunting because its scent-detection abilities are simply legendary. They are regularly used by police departments to track missing people. Bloodhounds are usually bred as scent dogs to track large game. Very intelligent, they can sometimes be hard to train, so you’ll have to arm yourself with a good amount of patience. Top tip: don’t leave them alone for too long as they tend to get bored!


Irish setter

Known for their determination to get their prey, Irish setters are hard-working. They also look beautiful, thanks to their flaming red coats. They make for great bird hunting companions, of course, but they are also amazing family dogs. Remember that to keep their coat well taken care of, they require daily brushing. And a lot of exercise for good measure!

Irish Setter


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