Masters of the Field

These lesser-known gundogs hunt feathered game with skill and intensity.

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With the development of guns and the rise of wingshooting in the 17th century, hunters needed dogs that could not only scent and track game, but could also indicate a bird’s location by pointing or setting, flush it (drive it out of the brush), and retrieve the downed game to the hunter. Gundogs, also known as sporting dogs, have various talents.

Gundog types
Although most gundogs have more than one function, sporting breeds fall into four categories: pointers, setters, spaniels and retrievers. Pointers, setters and spaniels existed long before the development of guns. They were used to find game birds (which were then netted), or to flush them for hunters who had falcons or bows. Many early sporting breeds also retrieved game, but dogs that specialize in retrieving are a more recent creation, dating to the 19th century.

Pointers descend from scenthounds, which explains their skill at tracking. Unlike scenthounds, though, Pointers were developed to work closely with the hunter, to point when they scented game, and in some cases, to retrieve it after the hunter flushed and shot it. Pointers are characterized by sleek, racy physiques, speed, stamina, and style as well as an eye-catching attitude and regal bearing. The quintessential member of this group is the Pointer. Some pointing breeds are categorized as versatile hunting dogs.

Setters are classified as pointing breeds. They work in much the same way as pointers, but they have a habit of crouching, or couching, upon catching a bird’s scent. It’s also conjectured that the dogs caused the game to stay motionless – “setting” it – until the hunter arrived to flush and shoot the bird. Setters are identified by their fringed coat, with feathering on the ears, legs, belly and tail. These breeds include the English, Irish, Gordon, Red, and Irish Red and White Setters.

Spaniels perform the same way as setters, but with one difference: Spaniels were developed to flush game birds from cover instead of waiting for the hunter to do so. Spaniels also retrieve downed game, and some are even classified as retrievers. Like setters, they have a fringed coat. Members of this family include the Clumber, Cocker, English Cocker, English Springer, Field, Sussex and Welsh Springer Spaniels.

Retrievers flush and retrieve upland game, such as pheasants, grouse, quail and partridge, or retrieve waterfowl, such as ducks and geese. On land, retrievers quarter the field (moving back and forth in front of the hunter as they seek out game birds), flush and then retrieve them. Water retrievers wait while the bird is shot, mark where it falls or are directed to the bird by the hunter, then bring it in – often from icy-cold and rough water.

Retrieving breeds include the American Water Spaniel, Boykin Spaniel, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Curly-Coated Retriever, Flat-Coated Retriever, Golden Retriever, Irish Water Spaniel, Labrador Retriever and Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. The Standard Poodle, classified by the American Kennel Club as a Non-Sporting breed, is also used as a water retriever and upland flusher.

Versatile hunting breeds are pointing, flushing and retrieving dogs all rolled into one. These breeds include the Brittany, German Shorthaired and Wirehaired Pointers, Spinone Italiano, Vizsla, Weimaraner, and Wirehaired Pointing Griffon.

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