Pheasant Hunting Dogs: Find Out Which Breed Is Best for You

It’s an unwritten rule that you need a faithful companion when you’re out hunting for upland game, which is why we’re going to tell you more about pheasant hunting dogs.

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Pheasants are a preferred quarry of most upland hunters, so if you want to get it right, you need a dog that can show you where they’re hiding and maybe even retrieve them once they’re down.

See also: Rabbit Hunting Dogs: Trained to Catch Cottontails

We’re going to start by showcasing the pros and cons of each gundog type, so we can later debate which sort of breed can do a better job at hunting pheasants alongside you.

Which Gundog Is Better?

Pheasants can be hunted in different environments, from prairies to marshes, so you’ll need the right sort of dog that can assist you in all these terrains.

Pheasant hunting

On the other hand, some breeds are better than others when it comes to specific purposes, so we’ll take a look at the three main gundog types first, to see if we can settle the matter of who’s best.

Flushing dogs

  • Their job is to find the game, and then drive it out of its shelter.
  • Need less training, because they’re very obedient.
  • The retrieving work comes naturally for them.
  • Their biggest problem is that they tend to run off and stray from you, so you need to teach them to stay focused.
  • They work best in marshes or other environments where you can watch them closely from the side.
  • A big inconvenience of other dogs is that they can trigger a cluster flush, scaring all the pheasants that stick together, so flushers are better in short-range hunting.

Pointing dogs

  • They’ll find the game and point to it, hence the name, but remain still afterward.
  • More training is necessary since they’re the least obedient of the hunting dog breeds.
  • They’re independent and strong-minded, so they’re prone to mistakes when they don’t follow your specific commands.
  • You need to have more patience with them since they have more intricate behaviors and complex personalities.
  • Their favorite environment doesn’t have a lot of covers, mainly just grass, and some scarce brush.
  • You can use pointers especially when you can’t see the pheasants yourself because they’re far past your shooting range.
  • Unlike flushing dogs, they’re better in long-range hunting.
  • Some pointers have an innate instinct of retrieving.

Retrieving dogs

  • Their job is to find and bring you the pheasant after you’ve already shot it.
  • They don’t need too much obedience training either because they’re eager to please.
  • They’re mostly used for waterfowl, but they can perform quite well for upland birds too.
  • They’re very intelligent dogs, and they understand what they have to do without too much hassle.
  • Their sense of smell is amazing, which is why you can count on retrievers to bring you back the shot quarry.
  • Since they’re eager to please, they won’t stray away from you.
  • Their intelligence makes them highly versatile, and effective partners in multiple environments, but they’re better suited for hunters who know exactly where the pheasants hide.
  • They love working alongside people, that’s what they were bred for, and sometimes you can even teach them to flush.

Which Breed Is Better?

With all that in minds, the three gundog types we’ve discussed can make reliable hunting companions if you train them well and let them work in the right environment.

However, the features we’ve presented so far are general in nature, and it’s worth noting that each breed has particular characteristics that warrant further discussion. And what’s more, once you get your own dog, remember that dog has its own personality and quirks, so don’t expect everything to go by the book.

That being said, we’ll take a look at the characteristics of eight pheasant hunting dog breeds, to see who makes the best companion. Check out our piece on the top five reliable hunting dog breeds for your reference.

The Boykin Spaniel

This is a flushing type, so its purpose is to find where the pheasants are hiding, and then drive them out of there so you can shoot them. Their hunting style is walking leisurely in front of you in a marsh or in another sort of cramped environment, and use their sense of smell and vision to find the pheasants.

Boykin Spaniel

That said, it’s worth noting that they have an extremely strong sense of smell to help do their job. However, they get a bit insecure and tend to hesitate before they do the actual flushing. Another great advantage is that they can work in different environments, and they will even go in the water to flush.

They swim impeccably which really helps in marshes, and their retrieving instinct is pretty strong, so you can use them after you’ve shot the pheasant too.

Other characteristics of the Boykin Spaniel are:

  • They’re a medium type of dog.
  • They have a thick coat, that’s short.
  • Their medium height is 16 inches.
  • Their average weight is 32 pounds.
  • They get really attached to their owner, so they’ll do their best to please you.
  • They love to play a lot and need to be exercised on a regular basis.

The Brittany

This is a pointer type of dog, meaning it can show you where the pheasants are hiding, and then remain perfectly still while you shoot them. It can be used on a longer distance than a flusher, but it’s worth noting that this breed prefers working closer to you than other pointers.

Pheasant hunting Brittany

A great advantage is that they’re innate hunters, meaning they love doing their jobs, which is why you can train a puppy really easy to point. Besides this, they’re intelligent creatures, and you can also teach them to retrieve a shot pheasant. It also helps that their instinct towards retrieval is pretty sharp too.

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They’re a versatile companion, and they can assist you on bigger distances since they can run like the wind. Moreover, their thick coat and strong skin are strong enough to withstand hunting under some cover too.

Other characteristics of the Brittany are:

  • They’re a medium size, that averages 19 inches in height and 35 pounds in weight.
  • They have a dense coat that comes in a lot of colors and patterns.
  • Their personalities are playful and alert.
  • They need plenty of
  • They’re outgoing animals.

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever

As its name suggests, this is a retriever type of dog, meaning you can take it along on your hunt so it can bring you back the pheasants you’ve already shot. Its gait inspires power and toughness, so you can rely on its resistance even during long hunts.

Chesapeake Bay Retriever

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Its best feature is its rugged coat that was meant to endure spending a lot of time in freezing conditions and cold water. That means you can take this breed along on hunts that take place in covered areas. That way, the brush, and branches won’t do any damage to its thick coat. You can even take them along in extreme conditions, damp weather and hunts along marshes.

Since they are really obedient, they’ll follow your commands, stay on track and won’t stray. They’re massive dogs, with big, strong jaws, built for retrieving bigger birds like pheasants, which is another plus.

Other characteristics of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever are:

  • Their massive size that reaches and average of 24 inches height and 70 pounds weight.
  • They have a heavy undercoat.
  • They come in different colors.
  • Their personalities are pleasant and easy-going.
  • They love swimming.
  • They’re extremely loyal to their owners.
  • They tend to become over-protective, so they need extensive obedience training.

The English Cocker Spaniel

Another type of flusher, this is one of the most reliable dog breeds when it comes to pheasant hunting. That’s because it will work closely with you and effectively flush out all upland birds from their hiding spots. Their hunting style is walking in front of you at a moderate distance, so they remain in your shooting range.

English Cocker Spaniel

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Since they don’t grow very tall, they’re perfect for hunting under thick cover, which they can easily sneak under. That’s a definite advantage since an average-height adult can’t do that without scaring away the game. With that in mind, they’re still a rather versatile breed that can hunt in other environments, but they don’t do that well in extreme weather.

Other characteristics of the English Cocker Spaniel are:

  • They’re a medium size breed, reaching an average height of 16 inches and an average weight of 30 pounds.
  • They have an average-length coat that can come in a wide range of colors.
  • They’re friendly and easy going.
  • They don’t need too much exercise since they’re not extremely active.
  • They can be house-trained easily, so you can keep them inside.

The English Pointer

As its name suggest, this breed of dog is of the pointing type, meaning they’ll show you where the pheasant hides and then stop moving altogether. But what distinguishes the English Pointer among all the other pointing dogs is that it was specially bred for hard work in difficult conditions.

English Pointer

In other words, an English Pointer can’t thrive or be happy without something to do. And once you show a puppy how to become a pointer, it won’t stop until it gets the job done with flying colors. So they’ll listen to your commands, even though they require some extra obedience training at first.

Their personalities manifest a strong, independent side, but once you train them properly, they can work amazingly well with other humans and dogs too, showing great enthusiasm. They’re born with great hunting instincts, so all you have to do is teach them how to use them for long-range hunting.

Other characteristics of the English Pointer are:

  • They reach a large size, which averages 23 inches in height and 60 pounds in weight.
  • Their coat is short and smooth, proving really aerodynamic and thus a real positive when it comes to running.
  • They come in different colors.
  • They’re vigorous and muscular.
  • Their loyalty is impressive, and they’ll become your true
  • They need sufficient exercise since they’re active and energetic.
  • Their better off living outdoors than in an apartment.

The Irish Red & White Setter

This breed is another one of the pointer types, that makes for a favorite gundog of many upland hunters. They’ll do a good job showing you where the pheasant is hiding, especially when you’re hunting at a longer range and need a trusty companion to scout bigger distances outside of your shooting range.

Irish Red & White Setter

Their main advantage stems from their acute sense of smell, that will help them sniff out the pheasants even from far away. Besides, they’re a truly versatile breed which you can use regardless of the terrain and weather. Although most pointers do well in warmer conditions, these dogs will perform quite well in bad weather too.

A noteworthy disadvantage regards the fact that, because of their personalities and behavior, they’re not fast learners. On the other hand, they have other traits that compensate this disadvantage, seeing as they’re loyal, eager to please and have good instincts.

Other characteristics of the Irish Red&White Setter are:

  • They’re a large size, reaching an average of 24 inches in height and 65 pounds in weight.
  • Their coat is long, and its color is basically white with red patches.
  • They socialize well with other dogs and people, and they really like kids.
  • They enjoy playing and require plenty of activity.

The Labrador Retriever

A retriever type of dog, this breed is great for waterfowl but can be used successfully with the upland game too. That’s because they have all the necessary qualities that render them a good pheasant hunting companion. Firstly, they’re large and have strong jaws, which means they’re fit to retrieving bigger game too.

Secondly, they’re intelligent creatures, which makes them work well in different conditions. Their high levels of versatility are just what you need, considering you can go hunting for pheasants in a wide array of places.

Labrador Retriever

For instance, if you shoot a wild pheasant near a marsh, and think it’s difficult to retrieve it from the water, just count on the Lab. This dog is strong and can endure cold water, so it can get your pheasant back in no time.

Besides, its muscular build helps it reach good speeds, so you can take it along on hunts that take place on open fields too. And you can even teach the Lab how to flush the pheasants from a closer shooting range. Other characteristics of the Labrador Retriever are:

  • They’re a large breed, that averages 23 inches in height and 70 pounds in weight.
  • Their coat is short and smooth, giving it an aerodynamic build.
  • They have increased resistance to punctures under a thick cover, seeing as their coat has double layers.
  • They’re very social and friendly.
  • Their intelligence levels sky-rocket, which means you can teach them easily.
  • They have an impressive work ethic.

The Red Setter

We may be a bit partial to pointers for upland game hunting, but this breed definitely takes the cake. You need a dog that will show you where the pheasants are hiding at a distance bigger than your shooting range, so you need a companion which has a high capacity for endurance. That’s the Red Setter, a dog that can run for ages without getting tired or forgetting its job.

Red Setter

So apart from being able to withstand a lot of running and scouting, this breed is really determined to get the job done and has strong hunting instincts. That’s because they’re highly intelligent animals, which helps them keep their focus and perform well in various environments.

That renders them a useful and versatile companion, therefore they can work really well in places with or without cover, from open fields to marshes. So if you’re hunting for various upland, not just pheasants, this is the dog for you. Plus, you can easily teach them to back you up and even retrieve the game seeing as they’re so smart.

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Other characteristics of the Red Setter are:

  • They have a medium size, reaching an average of 26 inches in height and 45 pounds weight.
  • They have a long, mahogany coat.
  • They’re fairly easy to train, unlike most pointing dogs.
  • They make wonderful family dogs.
  • Their exercise requirements are pretty high, although you can keep them indoors when properly exercised.
  • Their loyalty is impressive.

Which Dog Is Better for You?

After reviewing these eight pheasant hunting dog breeds, we can safely say there’s no such thing as the best breed for this purpose. On the contrary, each of them can do a good job depending on the training they receive and the environment they work in. So in the end, it all depends on you.

Pheasant hunting dog

Do you need a dog that can retrieve well or one that’s specialized in flushing/ pointing? Do you generally hunt in extreme weather, or during the warmer season?

Do you prefer prairies, covered areas, or both? Answering these questions can help you narrow the search, but you’ll also have to take into account other factors like your personality, the size of your family and living arrangements.

So we’re curious to know: which dog do you think you’ll end up choosing? Have you owned any other upland dog breed before? And if yes, was that a reliable hunting companion? We’re curious to learn from your experience because oftentimes theory and practice are extremely different, so leave us a comment below.

For tips on the top predator hunting gear, check out our piece on this important topic.


Shawn Harrison

Shawn Harrison is our expert in hunting. He was born in Alaska, so hunting was his hobby since high school. Later, Shawn took a Hunter Training at Alaska Department of Fish and Game to structure his knowledge and now he is open to share his knowledge with our readers. Shawn is taking ‘Safety First’ approach on all of his trips, especially is some people are going hunting for the first time.


  • In my experience the dog’s training is the most important factor. Before you buy a dog, check thoroughly its hunting abilities. You can easily get a dog that won’t hunt, even if you carefully choose its breed.
    I’ve had 5 dogs. Although they all were Golden retrievers and Red setters, each of them was very different. Some had problems with being gun shy, others were just too impatient. Eventually, I spent some time searching for a well-trained dog and got a Brittany which is by far the best one yet.

    • The dog’s breed, how you socialize it, and how far are you willing to train it are part of the considerations that need to be taken because it will only help your hunting experience better. Setters are amazing for this segment of outdoor hunting. This is where they really do a stellar job.

  • Looking at your list, my vote would go to English cocker spaniels. Their main goal in life is to hunt pheasants. Their noses are magnets. Even if they don’t have eyes as good as retrievers’, they use their outstanding noses to make up for that. They relatively quickly recover the bird because they are fast and have good endurance. The only problem is water where retrievers are always more efficient.

    • They shine in two different segments, Michael. Cocker Spaniels are effective pheasant hunters, and their intuitive nature is very helpful in this aspect, however, if you hunt in more watery areas, a retriever can be a slightly better option.