A potpourri of hunting dog breeds will be unleashed on Minnesota grasslands beginning Saturday as canines and their owners open another pheasant hunting season.
Labrador retrievers, ubiquitous in Minnesota, will be there in force, of course, but they’ll be joined by numerous breeds of setters, spaniels, pointers, other retrievers and mutts.
Which is best for hunting? That’s easy. Yours. Here’s a sampling:
German shorthairs: do-everything dogs
Bob St. Pierre grew up with Brittanys, his wife with Labs. So when it came time to get their own hunting dog, a compromise was needed.
“We got a German shorthair. As it turned out, I have the best of both worlds,’’ said St. Pierre, 39, of Hugo, who hunts pheasant, ruffed grouse and ducks.
“I know you can hunt grouse without a pointer, but it makes life so much easier with one,’’ he said. German shorthairs are considered one of the “versatile’’ breeds. “They point and retrieve,’’ he said.
Even with the dog’s short coat, St. Pierre hunts late-season pheasants.
“You don’t want to break ice with them, but I absolutely hunt pheasants in the snow with them. They make very good pheasant dogs.’’
And good pets.
“They definitely are good around the house; they are lovers, very affectionate. You just have to make sure you get exercise for them.’’
Springer spaniels: versatile, friendly
John Smith, 53, of Eden Prairie, was raised in the Detroit area. He was introduced to pheasant hunting by his father-in-law. “I got hooked,’’ he said. “And I could see a dog was essential.’’
So he got a springer spaniel. “My Lab friends joked that I only got half a dog and I should take it back,’’ he said — until they saw his springer flush and retrieve pheasants.
“It’s versatile — I can hunt anything, pheasants, ruffed grouse, ducks, even geese. They have great noses and retrieve. I personally feel the springer is, if not the best, one of the best pheasant dogs out there.’’
His springers love to swim and will gladly retrieve a rooster or duck dropped in water. But Smith also wanted a good family pet, and said springers fit the bill. “They work hard in the field, but the switch goes off in the house, and they are a nice family pet,’’ he said.
Labrador retriever: tough to beat
“I’ve been a Lab guy my whole life,’’ said Fritz Basgen, 62, of Minnetonka. Poppy, a 5-year-old yellow Lab, is his latest. Why Labs?
“It’s a combination of intelligence and personality,’’ he said. “They are good companions in the house, and are terrific hunting partners. They have stamina, brains and good noses.’’
Basgen hunts mostly ducks and pheasants, and just returned from duck hunting in North Dakota.
“I haven’t had that much fun duck hunting since I was a kid,’’ he said. “Poppy made a blind water retrieve that was thrilling to watch.
“Having a good dog makes it so much fun.’’
English cocker spaniel: a pocket rocket
Anthony Hauck, 31, of Roseville, had German shorthairs growing up. When he was ready for his own hunting dog, he researched the various breeds.
“I wanted a close-working dog,’’ he said. He and his girlfriend encountered English cocker spaniels, and immediately fell in love with them.
“I knew right away that’s what I wanted,’’ Hauck said. His cocker, Sprig, weighs in at just 20 pounds. But don’t let the size fool you, Hauk says.
“Their nickname is ‘pocket rockets,’ and that’s a pretty apt description. When they get on a bird, they hit the rocket-booster button. I love seeing the speed. That does it for me.’’
“Naysayers said she wouldn’t have the stamina and wouldn’t bust through tough cover, but she works just as good as a Lab. She burrows underneath.
“It’s a cliché, but size doesn’t matter. It’s about heart and drive.’’
English setter: elegance afield
Decades ago, when Rick Peifer, 64, of Wyoming, Minn., saw a friend working his English setters on ruffed grouse, Peifer was awestruck.
“The guy didn’t whistle or yell at his dogs all the time,” he said. “When I saw how effective the dogs were, the level of confidence he had and how well the dogs handled the birds, I was smitten.’’
That was more than 30 years ago, and he has hunted with them ever since.
“I just love them,’’ Peifer said.
“They cover a lot of ground, so their chances of finding birds are greater, particularly when pheasant and grouse numbers are low.
“They don’t like water; they aren’t duck dogs. But all my dogs have been great retrievers,’’ he said.
While Peifer is smitten with English setters, he acknowledges that no single breed appeals to all hunters.
“Anyone who has a dog, whatever the breed, can have fun pursuing birds,” he said, “and have great success at it.’’