Out of Bounds

Bird Dogs: Choose Your Partner

I love all bird dogs but English setters are my hunting partner of choice. Setters are quirky and stylish, and no breed hunts with more grace.

By Rob Breeding

English setters are my hunting partners of choice but I am by no means a bird-dog bigot.

My old friend the Long Walker is coming to town next week. We’ll hunt together, and by hunt together I mean we’ll walk from the truck for a hundred yards, then come up with a flimsy excuse to split up. We’ll reconvene at the truck only after the field has been properly worked.

The Long Walker and I share an affliction: the only hunting partner we ever really want is our dog. Add to the party and the hunt can feel a tad crowded.

He’ll be in town as long as the weather holds. Once there’s a sign of winter in the air, however, he’ll skedaddle back to Arizona where he finds the season more accommodating.

The Long Walker has always run Brittanys, sometimes called Brittany spaniels. The breed originated in Brittany, France, the result of breeding spaniels with English setters in the 1800s. The Long Walker’s Brits are fine, big running dogs. When we hunt on the vast tracts of public land in the Southwest, pursuing Mearns’ quail, they run big — as often as not they are out of sight. Of course, they check in from time to time, then disappear again.

If they are gone too long, we go find them. When you’re hunting Mearns’ quail, the dogs are usually on point, somewhere, for five, 10, maybe 15 minutes. The dogs remain on point, their noses directed toward the tight-holding birds spread out before them.

My first setter, Jack, ran as big as the Long Walkers’ Brits. He had 20 pounds on them so while he might not have been quite as fast, size has its advantages plowing through heavy cover. Whenever Jack found birds he was my steadiest dog on point. Many times I watched him lock up on sharptail a hundred yards away, or more, and that old boy never flinched as I walked the distance to his point.

He was even better on Mearns’ quail. In the woodlands where we hunt them, the Long Walker and I sometimes had to guess where to find our dogs. Our first guess was to head off in the last direction we saw them, but there were times when the dogs had worked their way around in the opposite direction before they found birds. Fortunately, with Mearns’ quail, the birds were usually still there.

My English setter No. 2, Doll, never had the speed to keep up with the Long Walker’s Brittanys. And she has also always been inclined to keep a little tighter tabs on my whereabouts. She checks in so regularly, if I don’t see Doll for more than a few minutes it’s almost always because she’s found birds. 

With the Brittanys, Doll tends to hunt underneath, close to us, while the smaller dogs go long. Doll’s hunting tactics reflected a couple of things: she was bigger than Jack with a hunting weight of between 60-65 pounds, and she was a she. 

My female hunting partners are just a little more clingy than the Long Walker’s males.

This also seems the case for my No. 3 setter, Jade. She’s the slightest of the bunch, running about 45 pounds, so I have no doubt she can run with the Long Walker’s Brits. But Jade never allows too much space to develop between us when we are hunting. She’s only two, however, so this could change as she gets a little older and more self-assured.

I’m quite fond of Brittanys. The Long Walker’s pups have always been fabulous bird dogs. I’ve also hunted over many versatile dogs, German shorthair pointers and vizslas, as well as flushing retrievers. 

Many great dogs. I love them all but English setters are the one for me. Setters are quirky and stylish. No breed hunts with more grace.

They are my GOAT.

Rob Breeding’s website is www.mthookandbullet.com.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.