Quail hunting is a popular sport in the United States, and a successful hunt involves several factors. The birds have to be located before anything else can take place, of course, and that requires a dependable bird dog. Which hunting dogs are best for quail? Most experienced quail hunters agree that pointers and setters work best with the birds. Quail spend much of their time on the ground, and dogs can track the birds for their human handlers. When the covey holds hidden in cover, a trained bird dog will point or set, alerting the hunter to the location of the quail. A good dog will also track wounded birds and find dead birds, and if the dog is a retriever, the downed quail will be delivered to your hand.
Best Dog Breeds for Quail
The best dog breeds for quail hunting almost always include the English pointer, the English setter, the German shorthair pointer, and the Brittany. The best breed for you is the one that most closely matches your hunting style and the conditions you’ll be encountering on quail hunts. If the dog is to be a family pet, too, you’ll want one that can fit easily into family life.
The English pointer is often considered the ultimate quail dog. Long, lean, and leggy, the breed has plenty of natural prey drive, and they usually “zero in” on birds. Most English pointers will ignore the scent of small game like rabbits. High energy dogs, English pointers are good for hunters who have a lot of area to cover and for those who enjoy especially long hunts. Because of their short, slick coats, the dogs do well in warm weather, and brambles and burrs aren’t usually a problem. English pointers aren’t natural retrievers, although they can be trained to retrieve.
Surprisingly, these marathon hunting dogs make surprisingly good indoor pets. They’re docile and affectionate, and they usually do well with other dogs and with cats. Many seem to have a special affinity for children, too.
If you need a dog that can cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time, one that can handle hot weather, one that has amazing endurance, one that won’t get tangled in underbrush, and one that can double as a house pet, the English pointer would be a good choice.
The English setter is a beautiful hunting dog with a long coat, and most members of this breed are natural retrievers. They’re also very “birdy” and will follow the scent of quail into the thickest underbrush imaginable. Of course, you’ll have to spend time removing burrs, twigs, and sticks after the hunt is over. Rarely do members of this breed get the scent of birds confused with the scent of small game.
Setters can be taught to hunt close or at a distance from the hunter. Those that hunt far away are usually capable of independent thinking. They’re great retrievers and are real people pleasers. They thrive on positive feedback and should be handled with consistency, patience, and gentle training methods. The English setter matures later than most other gundog breeds, so you’ll need to be patient if you purchase a young dog or puppy. Indoors, they function as quiet, affectionate pets.
If you want an elegant bird dog that’s not afraid to go anywhere, one that will bring downed birds to your hand, and one that can be a calm indoor pet, the English setter might be your best bet.
German shorthaired pointers are extremely athletic, energetic, and intelligent. Like English pointers, German shorthairs have short coats, but they also have an undercoat that provides extra insulation and waterproofing. Due to the special coat and its webbed feet, this breed takes readily to water. Over the years, the breed has been used to hunt all types of birds and small mammals, so you’ll need to teach the dog to “specialize” in quail hunting. Because of the breed’s high intelligence, they’re easy to train. Most shorthairs hunt in the medium range, and most are excellent retrievers. Some dogs of this breed, however, are reluctant to enter especially thorny brush. Also, some German shorthairs won’t honor the points of other dogs.
If most of your quail hunting is done in medium-sized areas, where the temperatures are sometimes chilly during hunting season, and where birds might be downed in water, the German shorthair might be the best breed for you. Just make sure you have enough time to keep the dog active all year – physically and mentally.
The smallest of the quail-hunting dog breeds suggested here is the Brittany, and having a smaller gundog can be a real advantage. They can squeeze through extremely tight spots, and they cost less to feed. Although they’re a member of the spaniel family, the breed works more like a pointer or setter. Brittanies have fairly long coats and can handle cold temperatures. Also, the Brittany tends to hunt close to the hunter. They’re affectionate dogs and make great pets.
If you want a small hunting dog that can double as a pet, one that can hunt in cold weather, and one that’s easy to follow, you might want to consider buying a Brittany.
Once you’ve decided on a breed, you’ll need to decide whether you want to buy a puppy, a partially trained dog, or a finished hunting dog. Of course, you’ll have to pay more for a dog that’s been started than you’ll pay for a puppy. And you’ll have to pay significantly more for a fully trained or finished quail dog.
When you find a finished hunting dog for sale, watch it hunt before buying it. Ask to be taken on a quail hunt with the dog to make sure it’s an experienced hunter. If the canine was advertised as started or partially trained, make sure it can perform the tasks for which it’s been trained. If you’re not impressed with the dog’s skills, look for another dog.
In almost all cases, puppies are cheaper than started or finished dogs. You’ll need to find a pup from strong hunting bloodlines that’s healthy and confident. To choose an assertive pup from a litter, watch the puppies together. Does one seem to be the leader? A confident puppy will hold its tail high and come to you boldly. Such a pup shouldn’t act timid or frightened.
Training your own young dog is rewarding, but it’s a long road from frolicking youngster to serious gundog. If you don’t have the patience and skills required for hunting dog training, you’ll be better off with a trained adult. Yes, you’ll have to part with more money, but a finished dog will be ready to go from day one. And if you’ve chosen a breed to match your hunting style and conditions, you should be putting quail on the table in no time.