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Best Hunting Dogs for Upland Game Birds

by NOMAD Outdoor February 11, 2016

Hunting an upland game bird requires two things: a shotgun and a dog. (Okay, a hunting license too.)

A good bird dog is so important to an upland hunter. Some jokingly say they would rather go out without their shotgun than without their furry companion. A dog that can sniff out a pheasant or quail is arguably more important to its sport than any other type of canine, including waterfowl retrievers.

If you’re thinking about getting yourself a bird dog, what should you choose? While there are many top-notch possibilities, let’s look at some of the finest breeds for upland bird hunting.

What are “Upland Birds”?

Upland bird is a catchall term that generally refers to most game birds that are not waterfowl. While these birds vary in size, shape, and appearance, they are commonly found on the ground in grasslands and open fields. While they may hide in denser wooded areas, upland birds are most often hunted in grasslands, cornfields, and lighter brush.

The most common upland game birds are pheasant, quail, and grouse, although prairie chicken, doves, and even pigeons are considered upland game birds. The top game bird in America, especially in the upper Midwest, is pheasant, a tough, crafty, and richly colored bird that is excellent on the table.

English Springer Spaniel

It’s arguably the best all around hunting dog in the country, although anyone who owns a retriever would be happy to argue the point. The English springer spaniel is great at getting into the bush and flushing out pheasants and other birds. They instinctively zig-zag in front of a hunter, using their excellent nose while staying within shooting range. They also have a dense, wavy coat that is excellent for busting through thickets and brush.


With a keen nose and excellent trainability, the Brittany is considered by many to be the best pointer in all the land. They are certainly one of the most popular dogs for pheasant hunting thanks to top-notch pointing and above-average retrieving skills. At roughly 17 to 21 inches tall and 30 to 40 pounds, the Brittany can not only get into thick cover, they can go all day without losing a step.

German Shorthair Pointer

High in energy yet eager to please, the German shorthair pointer is considered one of the best dogs for both hunting and family life. They can range and hunt with enthusiasm, and take to pointing with little instruction. While their short hair is dense, it doesn’t provide the protection that longer haired dogs like spaniels, setters, and labs get from their thicker, durable coats. Despite this, the German shorthair remains one of the most popular dogs for pheasant hunting.

Irish Red & White Setter

While the Irish setter is known as a fine hunting dog, the Irish red & white setter is used more frequently for hunting. They have a strong reputation for a keen nose and get in and out of a wide variety of terrain. They are larger than many of the popular upland bird dogs, reaching as much as 75 pounds, and are very loyal, patient, and friendly. Known as a natural hunter, these dogs generally take to the sport of hunting quicker than any other training.


Although they are not well suited for extremely low temperatures, the vizsla is one of the ultimate upland bird hunters. But be prepared if you bring home a vizsla, as this Hungarian breed is high energy and extremely curious. But it’s this energy and enthusiasm that makes it a great bird dog. The have a moderate size but are muscular and robust, and although they don’t have a thick coat, they generally take to water quickly.

Get the Hunting Apparel You Need for a Successful Hunt

When you head to the grasslands for pheasant, quail, or other upland game birds, make sure you have durable, comfortable hunting apparel from NOMAD. Our Sward Pants are excellent for tromping through grass and thickets, and the OG Snap Capin blaze orange helps you stay safe in the field.

NOMAD Outdoor
NOMAD Outdoor

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