A Gundog is a canine on a mission. These breeds are naturally loving dogs who don’t mind cuddling up with the cat. Gundogs are beloved as family dogs. 

They come from the exalted circles of Europe and the UK. The shooting down of pheasants and foal was an aristocratic pastime. In the US, hunting is mostly a solitary sport involving game such as elk, deer, and the like.

Types Of Gundogs

Gun dogs are of three types- Pointers locate the prey, pointing towards it, standing still. Setters are great pointers.

Flushing out the fowl involves noise, movement, and dogs so that the game becomes nervous and leaves cover.

Retrieving is the recovery of the downed fowl.

The Spaniel is the expert of the gundog world and flushes out the game. They can retrieve too. A Retriever completes the hunt by recovering the kill.

The Job Description Of A Gundog

  • Hunting dogs, they should not take fright at the sound of gunshots. 
  • A good gundog’s natural canine instincts kick in when hunting. 
  • They’re pros at observing. They team up with their owners when on a mission.
  • A retriever should not in any way maul the kill. A dog breeder is careful to pick out the weakest of the litter as they tend to be soft-mothed.
  • Above all, obedience.

What Is a Hunt Test, and what is the HRCH

The HRCH is short for Hunting Retriever Champion. This certification is by the United Kennel Club and its affiliates. A gundog has to complete a hunt test to merit the title.

There are many gradations of the hunt test, on water and land. The tests serve the purpose of gauging a gundog’s memory, control, and significantly marking.

Marking is the capacity to hone in on the kill, memory serves as remembering locations of several downed birds, and control is a measure of the dog’s obedience. In the runup to these tests, dog trainers pull all stops out. 

In the US, the American Kennel Club is the authority. Their assessment standards concern retrievers. Judges scored the performance of each breed based on :

  • Natural ability to mark and remember a fall.
  • Style of hunting.
  • Perseverance.
  • Courage
  • Steadiness and control.
  • Response and delivery.

Based on these yardsticks, the dog gets to be Junior, Senior, or Master level.

The 5 Top dogs for Hunting

This rating is not on any scale. Additionally, my list is only US breeds.

1. Boykin Spaniel- The Pint-sized Prince of Gundogs

GunDogs-A Fowl Hunter’s Dog Friday
Boykin Spaniel

Picture Credits: https://www.nativebreed.org/boykin-spaniel/

A Brief History

The Boykin Spaniel is one among many indigenous breeds wholly developed in the 20th century.

Boykin is a small community of about 100 people in South Carolina named after the founding father, Lemuel Whitaker “Whit” Boykin.

A story goes that around 1900, a man called Alexander White found an abandoned brown spaniel outside his church in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

White gave the young male the rather uninspiring name of Dumpy and took him in. Lemuel White was a hunter himself and had his kennel of retrievers. Dumpy joined them on White’s next hunting outing and instinctively put up a fantastic show, especially with water retrieves. Dumpy more than held his ground with the pedigreed bird dogs.

White knew he had a winner on his hand. So he sent Dumpy off to his hunting buddy, the community patriarch Whit Boykin, the area’s leading dog man. Boykin then established Dumpy by crossing with Cockers, Chesapeake Retrievers, English Springer, and American Water Spaniels. The resulting upbeat gundog was named the Boykin Spaniel, thanks to Dumpy.

Physical And Personality Traits

  • Male Boykins stand at 16-18 inches at the shoulder.
  • The coat has a dense undercoat below a medium-length, flat, or slightly wavy outer coat. The undercoat keeps the dog warm when retrieving from water. The color ranges from a rich solid liver, dark chocolate, or brown. 
  • The Boykin Saniel’s unfettered enthusiasm in the field and being a gentle home dog fetches her full marks on all counts.
  • A Boykin takes to training with ease and enthusiasm.
  • Shedding is on the heavier side.
  • A high need for exercise and mental stimulation defines Boykins.
  • Some of these spaniels suffer from an underlying ailment-exercise-induced muscular collapse.
  • Grooming and maintenance are relatively straightforward.  
  • Above all, Boykins can flush as well as retrieve.

South Carolinians celebrate the 1st of September as Boykin Spaniel day. The Boykin Spaniel is also their State’s Official Dog.   

The Boykin Spaniel entered the elite of gundogs officially by the AKC’s approval of the Boykin Spaniel. The Boykin Spaniel got accepted into the exclusive “all American” gundog club.

2. Tollers- The Crimson Crusador Of Gundogs

The entry of this Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever into the annuls of the AKC happens to be 2003. The year of the element water. The Toller is ideally suited for swimming down to webbed feet.

GunDogs-A Fowl Hunter’s Dog Friday
The Toller- Small guy with a Big Heart

A Brief History

Tolling behavior was first noticed in foxes by Canada’s Micmac Indians. The foxes would go about their antics at the water’s edge and snatch up and bird foolish enough to come too close.

The Micmac soon taught this method of luring to their dogs.

In the 19th century, hunters felt the need for a dog to retrieve from water. These retrievers took up the name after their origins, such as Labrador, Chesapeake Bay, and such.

The hunters of Yarmouth County in the River Lake district of Nova Scotia took it further. They developed a breed that could attract fowl and retrieve them from the water. Skilfully breeding with Cocker spaniels, Irish setters, and farm Collies, the result- the Little River Duck Dog, renamed later as the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling retriever.

But what is tolling? Toller comes from the Middle English word “tollen,” which means “enticing.” The toller does precisely that. The hunter hides behind a blind while the Toller romps playfully at the water’s edge. The antics make the birds curious, and they swim up close to the shore. The dog smartly retreats behind the blind. Finally, the hunter reveals himself startling the birds into flight.

The Toller then retrieves the birds.

Tollers entered the US in 1960 and gained recognition by the AKC in 2001. 

Physical And Personality Traits

  • A Toller is small-sized.  This fellow stands at around 18” at the shoulder, weighing 35-50 pounds.
  • Tollers are affectionate, intelligent, and will not stop trying to please you. So it is best recommended for those who have time and energy to invest in their best friend.
  • Tollers are furious bundles of energy wrapped in a stunning coat ranging from a golden red to dark copper. But, of course, a gorgeous crimson is usual. 
  • The coat is medium length, low maintenance, and easy to groom.
  • As upbeat athletes, Tollers are strong and agile. 
  • Tollers enjoy rolling around in mud and dirt. So if you like clean and tidy dogs, this breed is not for you.
  • A strong drive for prey is a dominant trait, and they can chase cats they spot.
  • A toller has a sense of humor.
  • When excited, a toller lets out a high-pitched scream that can be hard on the nerves.
  • Being moderately active, Tollers will start chewing and digging if deprived of exercise.

3. Chesapeake Bay Retriever- The Sultan Of Gundogs

GunDogs-A Fowl Hunter’s Dog Friday

A Chesapeake Bay retriever is peerless.

A Brief History

A short history of this magnificent dog is required.  Dog breeding is complex. All this crossing happened a lot.

The Chesapeake Bay retriever comes from a lineage that goes back to Newfoundland, Irish Water Spaniels, and other undeterminable hounds. Another version is that Chessies descent their Sailor and Canton, two Newfoundland pups, who survived a shipwreck in 1807. The discovery of their natural retrieving abilities had them bred with local dogs. The Chessie is by now the standard. Local naming of the breed followed, such as Red Chester and  Brown Winchester. After the Founding of the AKC, the Chessie found recognition as a breed.

Retrieving in the choppy, cold waters of Chesapeake Bay requires toughness. 

The Bay’s location is on what is known as the ‘Atlantic Flyway.’ 

This is the flight path of migratory geese and ducks.

Physical And Personality Traits

  • Chessies are strong dogs with a shoulder height from 20- 27 inches. They can weigh up to 80 pounds. Not exactly cuddly, maybe. But affectionate and, importantly, tireless.
  • Chesapeake retrievers have a distinctive, oily-to-touch, and wavy coat. This double coat is both waterproof and insulating. No wonder this retriever is a prize for its adaptability to trying conditions.
  • Chessies are not the average emotional gundog. A bit reticent towards strangers and other dogs, they are affectionate about family. In general, they enjoy a rapport with children but will not tolerate abuse. 
  • A Chessie has many other skills; as a promising therapy companion dog. K-9 handlers hold them in high regard for their excellent sense of smell. They make good bomb and drug sniffers and in search and rescue operations. 
  • Their stubborn streak has its advantage. Chessies do not give up easily. 
  • They can fetch over 100 downed birds in a day. Some hunters claim figures closer to 300. It could be a hunter’s brag, but it drives home a point- the Chesapeake Retriever is an all-around champion dog.

4. American Foxhound- The Easy Breezy Gundog

GunDogs-A Fowl Hunter’s Dog Friday
Classic American Foxhound

Picture Credits: https://www.dogbreedinfo.com/americanfoxhound.htm

The American Foxhound is a purebred dog.

They can be told apart from their cousin the English Foxhound by their longer leg length.

Easygoing, kind, sweet, and loyal, symbolizing a way of life two centuries old.

A Brief History

In the late 1700s, the first European settlers arrived in the New World along with their hounds. The result- Indiscriminative breeding.

The aim of American breeders was in developing a Foxhound that suited American game and terrain- This meant a faster, lighter, and taller breed than the English Foxhound.

An avid dog breeder, George Washington kept a kennel of American Foxhounds at Mount Vernon and constantly pursued improving the breed. His choice- English Foxhounds- and French Foxhounds.

They are historically bound to the War of Independence.

Physical And Personality Traits

  • Male Foxhounds are 22 to 25 inches tall and weigh anything between 45-65 pounds.
  • The coat is of medium length and is tight and stiff. It keeps the hound protected from thorny undergrowth when in the field A good brushing is all it takes.
  • Foxhounds come in coats of different colors.
  • Grooming should include dental hygiene examination of paws, nails, and ears.
  • The American foxhound’s stamina and keenness for running are legendary. That makes them great jogging partners for an athletic bend of mind owners.
  • A Foxhound is a tremendous outdoor dog ill-suited to urban apartment dwellings. As a result, they get cranky or tend to become destructive.
  • American Foxhounds are family dogs and comfort dogs around the fireplace. They score tops with children. Their eyes are mesmerizing as if pleading gently.
  • The American Foxhound takes to voicing naturally. However, it is loud and can bother neighbors. It is a musical bawling without volume control.
  • A Foxhound is not a homebody and will roam given a chance.
  • Overeating can be a problem. Measure out food.

5. Gordon Setter- The Black Avenger Of The Highlands

GunDogs-A Fowl Hunter’s Dog Friday
Gordon Setter

Picture Credits: https://www.countrylife.co.uk/

Beauty, brains, and birdsense sum up this beautiful dog.

A Brief History

The evolution of Gordons is as early as the 17th century, a descendant of old setting spaniels crossbred with black and tan setters. However, the 4th Duke of Gordon, Alexander (1743-1827), seriously started breeding the black and tans in the kennels of his castle in Scotland. After the Duke’s death, the Duke of Richmond, his heir, continued with the kennels.

The Gordon setter arrived in America in 1840 when Rake and Rachael, Gordon setters were brought across the Atlantic by George Blunt, a Newyorker.

AKC’s recognition of the breed happened in 1884, christened as the Gordon Castle Setter. Later on, the name Gordon Setter got acceptance.

Physical And Personality Traits

  • A Gordon setter is the most beautiful pointer.
  • The Gordon is a free-ranging dog. Used in England and Scotland for ptarmigan and grouse, Gordons hunt quail and pheasants in the US.
  • The Gordon setter is slightly larger than English and Irish setters, weighs up to 80 pounds, and stands 24-27 inches.
  • A Gordon setter has the build and stamina to brace its homeland- Scotland’s rough terrain and climate.
  • Being a healthy breed, their life expectancy is 12-13 years.
  • The coat of a Gordon is slightly wavy or straight. The coat is a stunning black with distinctive tan markings on paws, legs, above the eyes, and on the chest. The expression is wise and willing.
  • Adult Gordons require one to two hours of exercise every day. The more, the better. They can be destructive if deprived. Gordons have a strong temperament- determination, and independence- often mistaken for stubbornness. 
  • They are lovely family dogs, especially with children.
  • Additionally, a Gordon is an excellent watchdog being wary about strangers.
  • Gordon setters are shedders. Constant grooming is essential.

Avoid getting a Gordon Setter, in fact, any gundog, from backyard breeders or pet stores. Instead, look for a reputable breeder. The Gordon Setter Club of America (GSCA) is a good starting point. You can look them up at https://gsca.org/.

Wrapping It Up

It is not your privilege to own a dog.

Responsibility is foremost. 

Taking a dog into your life involves serious commitment.

Gundogs are devoted to human companionship. It is a small wonder that they are excellent companion dogs. Touch is crucial for them. And so is exercise. Indulge them. The rewards are massive.

Many breeds are child tolerant. Whatever the book says, never leave a dog with your child unsupervised.

If you are an urban dweller, a gundog may not be the brightest choice.

Further reading on American gundogs: https://www.outdoorlife.com/great-american-gun-dogs/



From the start, sportspeople working the swampy terrain of South Carolina took to the dog’s versatility and effortless sense of balance. The Boykin Spaniel’s bird hunting skills spread along the Eastern seaboard.

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