Versatile Breeds for Bird Hunting

Paul Fuller is the gun dog columnist for Northwoods Sporting Journal. The Journal has granted permission to re-print Paul’s articles. Thank you Northwoods Sporting Journal.

February 2013

Your author has the good fortune to travel extensively in pursuit of upland game birds. During these travels, I see the work of many different bird dog breeds working many different bird species. Watching any well-trained bird dog is always a treat…no matter what breed. Is there anything more beautiful than a staunch English setter with that gorgeous flag? Or the intensity of a rock solid (English) Pointer? Those two breeds have been the backbone of the pointing dog world for decades.

For pure utility, however, the versatile breeds are hard to beat. I witnessed their superior versatility several times over the past hunting season. Although there are many breeds known as versatile, the most popular is the German shorthaired pointer. The shorthair was slowly developed over several decades in Germany during the 1800s. The aristocrats had breeds for every purpose; i.e., pointing, flushing , tracking and retrieving. Common folks could not afford to have multiple breeds so the versatile hunting dog was conceived; a dog that would perform all the functions required for bird hunting. Excellent specimens of several breeds were bred over many, many decades to ultimately have what eventually became the German shorthaired pointer.

In the United States, the shorthair began gaining in popularity after WWII. A personal note on this. My father and I had English setters throughout my youth. In 1960, a neighbor and hunting friend of my father, stopped by our place and said: “Doc, I have a dog that you’ve never seen before…it’s called a German shorthair pointer”. My father was a veterinarian. He had seen a couple at his hospital, but had never seen one work. I became much attached to our neighbor’s shorthair and often stopped over at the neighbor’s house and took his dog hunting over our setters.

Now let’s talk about the benefits of the versatile breeds such at the German shorthair pointer. For the foot hunter, they are biddable, they work close and they are a great family dog. For me, the most valuable asset is that they very seldom lose a downed bird. Since, originally, they were heavily bred as tracking dogs, they will pick-up the scent of a wounded bird more quickly than any other pointing dog I’ve ever experienced. As ethical hunters, that should be important to all of us.


Just from this past fall, I can relate several instances of birds that would possible never be found if it weren’t for the shorthair’s tracking ability. Hunting in Emo, Ontario, in early October, two of my on-the-wing shot birds were only wounded. Both showed signs of being hit but kept flying. I took Dillon, my senior dog, deep into the cover where I thought these birds might have landed. After just a minute or two, for both birds, Dillon found scent. He tracked these birds several hundred feet before locating and capturing the birds. Without a versatile dog, neither of these birds would have ever been recovered.

Back in New England, a good friend had a very nice on-the-wing shot while we were hunting near Rangeley, Maine. It looked like a solid hit but when he went looking for the bird, he had no luck. Dillon and I were hunting a few hundred yards down the logging road and worked our way up to my friend’s location after hearing the shot. After listening to the story, I took Dillon to where my friend thought he had dropped the bird. Dillon picked-up the scent immediately and tracked the bird about 100 yards before capturing and returning the bird to us. Yet another bird that may never have been found.

While my wife and I were hunting near the North Maine Woods in late October, we came upon hunters who had just shot a bird near the road we were on. The shooter was positive he had a good shot and dropped the bird. No bird was found, however. I asked if I could put Dillon down and the hunters approved. Dillon found the bird in less than one minute. 

Here is one last story from the 2012 hunting season. In November, I flew to Iowa to film an episode for my TV program, Bird Dogs Afield. We were hunting with Steve Ries, owner of Top Gun Kennels in Central City, Iowa. Steve is a breeder and professional trainer of shorthairs. Steve’s dogs pinned and pointed rooster after rooster. Pheasant hunters typically want their dogs immediately on top of a downed pheasant because they often run after going down. With Steve’s well-trained shorthairs, that’s not an issue. His dogs can release on the shot (not the flush) and still find downed birds. They did this time after time…we never lost a bird.

The German shorthaired pointer and other versatile breeds help conserve game. Next time you’re in the market for a bird dog, consider a versatile breed.