The Most Underrated Hunting Dog Breeds

As the owner and breeder of a rare breed of hunting dog, the Deutsch Langhaar, I get a lot of questions from other bird hunters who have never heard of or seen the hunting dogs I follow behind every fall for grouse, partridge, chukar, quail and other birds. I like that my dog ​​is equally at home on a steep hillside or in a salt marsh.

But the Deutsch Langhaars are not for everyone. That is the beauty of the world of hunting dogs: there is a great dog for every need or preference. Keep in mind, too, that popularity is not a good measure of a breed’s skill on the field. Various historical factors have contributed to the relative success of one breed over another, and of course popularity is a double-edged sword when it comes to maintaining a breed’s form and function. But for those willing to be honest about their expectations and willing to put in the effort and research, the vast world of hunting dog breeds is full of possibilities.

Regardless of your motivation, opening your search to some of the most underrated dog breeds is guaranteed to broaden your horizons and deepen your appreciation for the diversity of hunting dogs around the world. —Jennifer Wapensky

Why choose a rare hunting dog?

Deutsch Langhaars are extremely capable hunting dogs.
Author’s Deutsch Langhaar on upland bird hunting. jennifer wapenski

For all the highly trained setters, pointers, Labradors, cockers, and springers out there, you might be wondering why anyone would go out of their way to get something “different.” The truth is that if there was a perfect dog, we would not have the hundreds of breeds that we have today. As much as our hunting styles, personalities, training approaches, and home lifestyles differ, so do our ideal hunting dogs.

People may be attracted to less common breeds because they have something different from what others have, or perhaps there is a specific need they are trying to fill. Rare breeds often have tight-knit communities, and especially if it’s a breed club that works hard to promote and preserve hunting skills, it could be the new social network you didn’t know you needed.

Some of the less common breed clubs will only place dogs in hunting houses, knowing that a popular pet market can be detrimental to preserving the breed’s natural hunting abilities. You don’t have to look any further than the Weimaraner, Irish Setter, or Golden Retriever for examples of how popularity can dilute hunting abilities within certain lines.

While “rare” doesn’t automatically mean “best,” there are breeds with incredible hunting talents and perhaps not as much recognition as they deserve within the hunting community. If you’re looking for your next hunting dog and are interested in something a little out of the ordinary but still more than capable in the field, consider broadening your horizons by exploring these underrated breeds. —JW

Most Underrated Pointing and Versatile Dog: Small Münsterländer

The Kleine Münsterländer is a versatile hunting dog.
If you are looking for versatility in a hunting dog, the Kleine Münsterländer is a good choice. Andrew Shoemaker / North American Small Munsterlander Group

The Small Münsterländer is growing in popularity with hunters and non-hunters alike, with annual North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA) registrations more than double what they were a decade ago. But there is a separate branch of the breed, considered by some to be an entirely separate breed, which goes unnoticed by most bird hunters. The Kleine Münsterländer, or KlM, follows the German testing and registration system just like Drahthaars, Kurzhaars and Langhaars. And just like those breeds, German-registered dogs use the German name to differentiate themselves from their American-bred counterparts.

The KIM is a very versatile pointer dog in a slightly smaller package than the other breeds in this category. The dogs undergo JGHV hunting tests alongside Drahthaars and other more familiar German breeds, and more importantly, must pass those tests prior to breeding. What this system produces are very consistent, performance-oriented dogs with only proven hunting dogs in each pedigree.

For hunters interested in all the versatility of small game hunting, KlMs are excellent for rabbits, in addition to upland birds and waterfowl. They can also trace blood, making them useful in recovering injured big game where legal. Although they are not specialists in any subject, the KLM are well-rounded and capable of taking on almost any hunting task.

If you’ve had your eye on a Small Münsterländer but weren’t sure whether to select a quality breed with proven hunting lines, or if you like the proven versatility of a German registered dog without the intensity of a Drahthaar, then it’s worth a look. take a look at the Kleine Münsterländer before choosing your next hunting partner. —JW

Most Underrated Flushing Dog: Field Spaniel

Field Spaniels can hunt alone or in packs.
Country Spaniels are a great addition to complement your Pointing Dogs. Country Spaniel Society

Country-bred English Cockers are all the rage right now. North American highland hunters are adding energetic little washdogs to their kennels, either as a supplement to a team of pointers or as independent washdogs. The antics and boundless energy of the Cocker Spaniel are the hallmark of the breed.

But there is a world of spaniels beyond the Cocker and Springer, and although many of the breeds have found that their status as domestic pets outweighs their historical hunting instincts, quality hunting dogs can still be found within from the ranks of many spaniel breeds.

The Field Spaniel is a great example of a breed that has not been divided along distinct lines of field and show. But they are rare and securing one can be difficult. They are known to be excellent bird seekers with a strong will to please their handler. At home, owners report that they are generally calm and adaptable.

For those willing to do some research, meet dogs firsthand, interview several potential breeders, and probably travel a good distance to find the right dog, a field spaniel might be the perfect fit as your next wash dog.—JW

Most Underrated Retriever: Standard Poodle

Poodles are the consummate duck dogs.
They may not look like a retriever, but poodles are capable duck dogs. american kennel club

In a field dominated by British and American Labs, the Standard Poodle doesn’t get much recognition as a tough duck dog. However, to those who live and hunt with them, the effectiveness of the hunting poodle in blinding ducks is no secret.

Despite being in the AKC’s non-sporting group, the Standard Poodle traces its origins to waterfowl dogs in France and Germany. The tight, curly coat is as utilitarian as it is beautiful. The poodle’s famous intelligence, the same trait that led to their popularity as circus dogs, can be transferred very well to hunting and training. Their independent nature often requires a different approach, but for the hunter willing to work cooperatively with their individual dog, the rewards are many.

Most hunting poodles are built to retrieve waterfowl, but the poodle’s utility in the field extends beyond the blind duck. Their independence translates very well to highland birds like pheasants and quail. They have excellent noses combined with a lot of working drive which, when channeled into bird hunting, can make a very effective combination.

As with other breeds that have enjoyed popularity as pets, a hunter looking for a hunting poodle should plan on doing a lot of homework. Whether or not there is a true “hunting line” is a subject open to lively debate within the poodle community, but finding one with the right kind of drive and desire to work will go a long way toward a successful hunting career. —JW

Read next: The best hunting dog breeds for each game animal

Most Underrated Treeing Dog: West Siberian Laika

Laika's lock on her prey.
Laika are often referred to as “reach dogs” because they fixate on their prey and won’t let go of it. joe genzel

Squirrel and raccoon hunters have long favored feists and coonhounds for tree hunting. Both breeds are suitable for the task, but the West Siberian Laika is more versatile. It’s a breed that’s always on the hunt, from stalking songbirds in your backyard to gray squirrels and barking foxes. Laikas were used in ancient Russian civilizations to corral wild boars and bears, which they are still capable of, and as protection to keep predators out of the camp. They can smell the trail of dead game and will learn to hunt just about any critter you want. Best of all, you don’t train the laika to hunt; it’s already in your blood. Just go through basic obedience training and then take them out hunting; they discover the rest on their own.

Laikas need a lot of property to roam or need to exercise a lot (I usually run my laika 30 miles a week in the off-season). Laikas are not city dogs. They should be off-leash to hunt as much as possible, even when you don’t have a gun in your hands. Laikas are primitive burrowing animals (some owners don’t even feed their dogs, allowing them to forage for food) that are also incredibly loyal. Many will just obey commands and search for an owner.

Finding a purebred Laika can be a challenge. Make sure you are registered with UKC. Vladimir Beregovoy, the man who brought the breed from Russia to the US, still sells litters in Virginia, and Darren Petty is another great resource for locating puppies. There are several laika groups on Facebook, and that’s one of the best places to start. —Joe Genzel