Bird Dogs & Training  |  04/14/2023

Long Live the King


Labradors are the true kings of bird dog versatility

By Casey Sill

Some upland hunters love to throw shade at Labs. Believe me, I get it.

There are SO many of them out there that statistically there is bound to be lots of bad ones. And I’ll be the first to admit there are plenty of awful Labs. Fat Labs … stupid labs … chocolate Labs … the list goes on.

Guilt by association is real. I looked down on Labs for a long time because of the bottom- dwelling, corndog-shaped examples that form the stereotype of the breed. I thought Labs were for people without any personality.

My first bird dog was an English setter, a breed I’d grown up with and still hold some measure of affection for. Only problem was, I loved to hunt ducks as well as upland birds.

The odds of my setter retrieving anything were (and are) about as realistic as her learning algebra, so eventually I broke down and bought a female black Lab. Four years later, and much to the chagrin of my setter-loving wife, I can confidently say I will never own anything but Labs from here on out.

For all my initial trepidation, when I brought my Lab Bruly home, I immediately fell in love with the breed. My introduction to the world of retriever hunt tests a short while later sealed my fate as a Lab evangelist.

I'm not ashamed to say I have drunk the proverbial Kool Aid.

My introduction to the world of retriever hunt tests a short while later sealed my fate as a Lab evangelist.

Any decent Lab would run head-first through a brick wall if there was a dead pheasant on the other side, and I like that. Their athletic tenacity is second to none (I’m speaking exclusively about non-potato-shaped Labs here), and their eagerness to please cannot be matched among sporting breeds.

More importantly, I love the training style. Retriever training is infinitely more collaborative than training a pointing dog.

The ultimate example of this collaboration, and what I would say is the apex of all gun dog training, is the ability to run blind retrieves. You might have an English pointer that will hold a covey of quail until they die of old age, or a Draht that could take down a small rhinoceros. But the teamwork of an impeccable whistle-sit and cast at 200 yards blows all that out of the water.

While other breeds technically can run blinds, Labs are the only ones that are any good at it.

While blinds are thought of as primarily a tool for waterfowl, they also serve their purpose in the uplands. Which leads me to the one true reason Labs reign supreme — versatility. I know all you NAVHDA guys are holding back strokes at the use of the words “Lab” and “versatile” in the same sentence (they don’t point, big deal), so I’ll set up a little hypothetical experiment for you.

Let’s imagine a virtual reality bird hunting simulator, with dozens of different scenarios based on geography, climate and species — ranging from Virginia doves to Northwoods grouse to November mallards. If we hit the “random” button on that simulator, a Labrador would excel in more of those scenarios than any other breed. There wouldn’t even be a close second.

That’s versatility my friends. Functional versatility.

But let’s look beyond function and think esthetically. What a breed looks like plays a big part in my interest in them, and I’m going to seriously ruffle some feathers here: Labradors are the best-looking gun dog there is (with some conditions).

I practice the Henry Ford rule when it comes to Labs. I’ll take them in any color I can get — so long as it’s black. I don’t think there’s anything better looking than a midnight-coated Lab quartering in the midday sun, but I do not extend that same admiration to yellow or chocolate Labs.

I don’t think there’s anything better looking than a midnight-coated Lab in the midday sun.

Setters, who I believe are circumstantially beautiful, would come a close second. But their stock drops significantly at the first sign of moisture. When one drop of water hits a setter’s coat they immediately transform into a plague-infected rat, gnawing its way through the streets of medieval London.

Likewise, my primary gripe with shorthairs isn’t their ability, or their intelligence. As a working dog I think they function at an acceptable level. Not as good as a Lab, but acceptable. My issue with shorthairs is mostly about their looks — I think they are ugly.

You might say, “But Casey, look at this photo of my 16-week-old GSP puppy, you’re going to tell me he’s ugly?”

No, he’s definitely cute, but all puppies are cute. French bulldogs are an affront to all that is good and decent in the world, but even their spawn can make your heart flutter just a bit. The true measure of attractiveness in a dog is how they age, and shorthairs age like Nick Nolte.

After about the age of seven, all shorthairs look like a house elf from Harry Potter — oversized joints, chewed up ears and click-clackity nails, typically trimmed to the average size and shape of a Serrano chili pepper. All dogs eventually look like this, but shorthairs just seem to get there a lot faster.

I could keep moving down the list of breeds and laying out in detail why each one falls short of the Labrador. But for the sake of brevity, let’s speed things up a bit.

I don’t mind English pointers, but I can’t afford the horse I’d need to keep up with one. Brittanys are a miniature version of the cowardly lion from Wizard of Oz. Springers are just Brittanys on amphetamines. Weimaraners should stick to being photographed in human clothes. And all those new-fangled German breeds whose names sound like a venereal disease just mean you paid too much for a shorthair. That about sums it up.

I read recently that Labs have been usurped by the aforementioned demon spawn, the French bulldog, as the most popular dog in America. I was happy to see Labs lose the crown — maybe a few less Labs means a few less bad Labs. But they will always sit atop the throne of sporting dogs.

Long live the king.

Casey Sill is the PR specialist at Pheasants Forever. All hate mail correspondence can be sent to


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