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Big Dave2

The Greatest Upland Hunting Dog of All?

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Big Dave2    0
Big Dave2

Any comments about this article?

The Greatest Upland Hunting Dog of All?

The author contends that the springer spaniel is the best all-around choice for upland birds and game no matter where you live.

By John Gribb

Field-bred English springer spaniels are the most versatile sporting dog commonly found in America. Sure the Germanic "versatile" breeds, with their avid protagonists, do a few things in the field exceptionally well and the lovable Labradors are a joy to be around. At the other extreme, very few pointer owners even want versatility from their upland bird specialists. To each his own…

Pointers, setters and the Germanic "versatile" breeds all handle the job of finding upland birds well, but it is rare that one is permitted or able to locate and retrieve a hare, cottontail, squirrel or duck. Many don't make retrieves, let alone water retrieves, worth a hoot.

Labrador retrievers, along with goldens and Chesapeakes are wonderful around water and waterfowl and they can easily be taught to handle upland birds, but frankly, they are rather methodical in the fields. I spell that "boring."

For the busy, one-dog-owning all-around outdoorsman, the hunter who enjoys the full scope of small-game action in the field, the best choice is a field springer spaniel.

Springers handle upland game with the panache of a pointer while almost always working within gun range for the inevitable flushed birds. They equal most any retriever in the fetching of downed or crippled game, can track and flush bunnies and handle water retrieves in all but the harshest conditions.

My springers have hunted rabbits, squirrels, ducks, geese, pheasants, grouse and woodcock in the Northern states and I recently determined that they make wonderful quail dogs, especially in thick cover where pressured quail hide, even though flushing is a non-traditional but equally effective approach to the Southerners' favorite bird.

Hunting seasons are too short, and if a sportsman can afford the time or money to keep only one dog, it ought to be a springer. Together, they can get into the field from October through March and chase something.


What makes springers the best and most versatile dogs?

Bird dogs fall into three general categories: pointing dogs, flushing dogs and retrievers with their names describing the strongest attributes of each category. What makes one dog perfect for one person and wrong for another has much to do with the owner's personality and expectations. Some hunters revel in seeing big-running bird dogs that lock up mid- stride and hold steadily pointed at a bird while the hunter ambles into position. Others focus on waterfowling, so their primary objective is a non-slip retriever that is strong, dependable and weatherproof.

All dogs add immeasurably to the hunting experience, but only one breed can do it all exceptionally well.

Where the primary interest is upland birds, including pheasants, grouse, woodcock and quail, and the secondary interest is in small game and waterfowl, a springer spaniel is the ideal dog.

The springer is a breed almost custom-made to work in thick woods because they are naturally close- working dogs, normally ranging no more than 40 yards from the gun in open cover and much closer in the thick stuff.

Springers get the job done with style, speed, aggression, power and determination. They work thick edge cover, open fields, standing crops and they also bust brush.

Springers rarely venture out of range, they look back to the hunter constantly and they communicate. Two-way communications is important while hunting, and a springer will often tell you what kind of bird they are working and what the bird is doing, if you "listen" to the signs.

Springers are flushing dogs and are bred to try to catch their prey, so there is more language to read than with a pointer where a point is unmistakable in its meaning.

Let's look at how springers handle each of the primary upland birds, the signals they send and how the hunter supports the effort.


Pheasants are the largest upland game bird (other than turkeys) and probably the most exciting challenge for upland dogs. Most experts agree that for the lone hunter on foot the best dog for pheasants is the springer. With erratic bouncing strides, springers search like a windshield wiper, coursing left and right at top speed, which helps confuse sitting birds.

Experienced hunters know that pheasants would rather run and hide than fly, but they normally don't run out the other end of a field the moment you enter. They just stay far enough ahead of a hunting party as necessary to feel comfortable.

When a springer crosses fresh bird scent, what I like to call warm body scent, the signs are simple to read. The dog's tail goes crazy in an uncontrolled frenzy to find the bird and make it fly. The action is best described as wanton disregard for body and limbs as the dog throws itself back and forth across the moving scent path.

Springers don't lock up, focused on the source of a strong scent, but rather suck in the live aromas from the air and attack the source. If the frenzy is contained in a small area with the dog lunging in tight circles, the bird is probably hunkering down nearby. Hunters need only wait a few seconds for the flush. If, on the other hand, the action is back and forth but progressing in a direction away from the origin, then the bird has found an escape route. The dog will catch it somewhere up ahead, so it's time to get moving and stay ready.

Springers also use ground scent as well as airborne scent when searching for game. All gundogs miss birds, but springers generally cover the ground more thoroughly than pointers -- just less of it.


Ruffed grouse or partridge live in thick cover and even thicker cover. In normally dense habitat, such as alders, poplars or more mature hardwoods, the whole flushing scene unfolds very quickly. Partridges do not hang around for long on the ground when a dog is breathing on their tail. They either fly immediately or jump into a tree and hide. The advantage with a springer is that the story unfolds at closer range than with a big-running dog and at least we get a snap shot.

All dogs have trouble with grouse. Good pointers can handle inexperienced early-season birds that will hold tight, but later in the season it gets more difficult. Even when birds are pinned, grouse will often hold tight until just as you're crossing a log or get tangled in some vines, and then they flush with a startling roar from underfoot. Springers make them fly now!

In the thickest stuff, the kind of cover preferred at times by ruffed grouse and woodcock, a springer spaniel really shows its advantages. Given the choice between flushing a woodcock from a tangled alder patch on my own or with a dog, I'll pick the dog. Because woodcock and grouse in thick cover hold well in their secure hiding places, there is plenty of warning when a springer crosses fresh scent. Springers will do the brush busting regardless of how thick the brambles, and you will see the birds fly instead of just hearing them or wondering where they went.


Quail are a pointing dog owner's dream, at least when they are in good quail cover. They hold beautifully while hunters amble into position and flush in a tight covey for exciting going-away shots.

Pressured quail often seek refuge in the thickest blowdowns and tangles. Springers will not give a hunter one of those classic "point-and-shoot" scenes depicted in sporting art, but they get the job done and are equally proficient following up singles or dealing with pressured birds. They also handle cripples and retrieves better than most pointers.


Though not a primary quarry of springers, snowshoe hares, cottontails or waterfowl can extend the hunting seasons and add to the fun. A springer will never match the tracking ability of a beagle on a bunny or the powerful swimming of a big Lab on a 50- yard retrieve through icy waters, but they turn in respectable performances no matter what the game.

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cw642    0

The real truth, the standard poodle is the greatest.

It's nice how it breaks down how they arn't the best at anything but they are the best overall. I do think it's a good essay for a 8th grader. laugh.gif


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2 DA GILLS    0

Bird dog debates are like Ford versus Chevy or Bud versus Miller. There are no "actual" answers, only opinions.

Pick a breed you like and have fun. Does it really matter what anyone else thinks?

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brittman    0


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LABS4ME    0

Ironically written by an owner of Springers!!!

The best bird dog is the one that suits YOU!!! Not taking anything away from a Springer, but it may not suit the next guy. Just as though it doesn't sound like a pointer fits the author.

Good Luck!


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DRH1175    0

Definitly the best dog by far is the one you prefer. If you love hunting over a pointer than I doubt a springer will really work for ya. I have owned both pointers and flushers. Personally for pheasants my favorite dog is my current golden. She has the best nose out of all the dogs I have owned including the pointers I have had. And loves to go right in after them. She has more drive than one could have expected out of a retriever. She is unusual for a golden in that aspect. For grouse though I still love my old WireHair that passed away about 6 years ago. If you can't get the grouse to sit than it is mighty hard to get a shot at them. Honestly if one was to regularly hunt the 3 birds mentioned he best have about 3 diffent breeds if he wants the best at everything. Somehow I just don't think a springer would hold up to 30 retrieves in 30 degree water? To each his own every breed holds its weight in gold while in the field.

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bennybear    0

I would not hunt an english bulldog, sharpei. or pug before a springer for birds.

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kgpcr4    2

I have never been a fan of springers. they are poor in cattails and not a good water dog when it gets cold and the rooster lands in water. The ones i hunted over were very unimpressive though the owners thought they were the best dogs ever. just my .02

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springerspeed    0

I don't know if I would lump all springers in the catagory of being poor in cattails and not being good making a water retrieve in the cold.

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WaveWacker    0

As stated earlier...Whatever breed you love to own is the best dog for you. Do some breeds tend to be stronger in certain areas then others? Absolutely. However I think that it is unarguable that depending on the individual dog, a springer is a good upland breed. I personally have them and wouldn't go with anything else. I've hunted behind good wirehairs, goldens, labs, etc. and they have put birds in the air as well, but sprigers are what I grew up with and what I will always own.

Now to state that Springers (making it sound that this includes the entire breed) are not good in cattails or for water retrieves is just not a fair comment. I know this as the dogs that I have had were always as good if not better in the cattails then other breeds. Some did lack on water retrieves, but I contribute this more towards the lack of training them back in the day as compared to now.

I've seen labs, goldens, pointers etc. that had "weak spots" in different areas. Do I contribute that to the breed? No.

So the point is...grab whatever dog you enjoy in the field best and get out in the fall!

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Mille Lacs Guy    0
Mille Lacs Guy

I've got 3 springers and 2 labs and I hunt pheasants with all of them. I wish my labs hunted as good in cattails as my springers.

As WaveWacker said you can't lump all springers into one category nor can you lump all of anything into one category. However, there is a significant difference between field bred springers and bench springers. All take my chances with a field dog any day. I do a lot of bird hunting all fall and I would say only 10-20 percent of springers that I see are actual field bred springers. Most are bench dogs that people are hunting with. That's not to say all bench dogs can't hunt but I'll take my chances with a field bred dog any day as I said earlier.

Even though I am a huge lab fan as well as a fan of springers, there is nothing better than a well trained springer on upland birds. It's amazing to watch them work and retrieve.

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SDbowhunter    0

If i only hunted pheasents I would defineatly own a german short hair pointer. I hunted under one last year and all i can say is wow. SUPER DOG! Leaps entire sections in a single bound. I personally dont like the personality of springers. I got bite by one as kid so that is probably part of my bias. But with the duck, goose, pheasent, grouse, on my list a lab is the obvious choice for me. I also like their personality best of any dog i have ever owned. But i have seen some beautiful springers that are great hunting dogs.

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