Top Three Bird Dog Breeds of 2019

Top Three Bird Dog Breeds of 2019

Exploring the three most popular bird dog breeds of the Project Upland community

There’s no better way to incite a riot in the bird dog world than to talk about breed favorites. That’s why we do our best to cover all breeds and keep our personal preferences and opinions to ourselves. This article, however, is based on our community survey to see what the most popular bird dogs are amongst our upland world. There certainly remains a level of bias as Project Upland is a very new brand, our beginnings forged in the North Woods of grouse hunters — a factor most certainly contributing to the number one most popular breed in our community.

Project Upland Podcast Host Nick Larson’s English Setter – Hartley.

Number One – The English Setter

The North Woods has a fascination with Ripley paintings, George Bird Evans, and many glaring cultural norms when it comes to the grouse woods. That has contributed greatly to the popularity of the English setter around our community. The exact number, 20.58 percent, of the dog owning community inside Project Upland owns an English setter.

The English setter has a long history in bird dog development. Artwork dating back to the 15th century depicts what many people believe to be the earliest days of the breed. The original mixing of bloodlines according to the AKC includes the Spanish pointer, the large water spaniel, and the springer spaniel. The term setter, as you might expect, was adapted from the word “set” which reflects how the breed would lay or set when they located game birds.

The modern version of the breed is traced to the early 1800s when Edward Laverack of England developed what most believe is the modern show breed. More noticeable in the bird dog community is the name R. LL. Purcell Llewellin, also from England, who would use part of the bloodline developed by Laverack to produce the sporting version of the breed. Hence the “Llewellin setter” (sometimes called “Llewellyn”) which, though some will gladly debate, is still considered an English setter.

Another popular bloodline in the English setter lineage would pop up in the United States in connection with George Ryman, creator of the “Ryman setter.” Hoping to avoid being stoned to death, I will not try to spell out the key characteristics that make up the Ryman setter, but merely point you in the right direction for credible information on the subject: “The Real Ryman Setter: A History With Stories from the Appalachian Grouse Covers” by Walt Lesser. This version of the breed was specifically developed for ruffed grouse hunting. And as mentioned before, since Project Upland had its early beginnings in the grouse community, this is a key factor in this breed coming out on top.

Project Upland Writer Marissa Jensen with her German Shorthaired Pointer.

Number Two – The German Shorthaired Pointer

If I’d had to make a guess before conducting this survey, I would have placed my money on the German shorthaired pointer as being the most popular bird dog breed in the community. And at 19.81 percent, they were pretty close to beating out the English setter. According to a recent post by the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA), “ . . . there are currently more German shorthaired Pointers registered with NAVHDA than any other breed” — 5827 to be exact since 2014. Before I venture too deeply into the German shorthaired world, I would like to mention that the English setter is also recognized as a versatile breed in NAVHDA, a fact often missed.

The German shorthaired pointer is a much younger breed when compared to the English setter. Recognized by the AKC in 1930, many say the breed first developed in the 1800s, though the concept of German bird dogs dates back to the 1700s. These were the days when the idea of a versatile hunting dog became popular instead of keeping many specialty breeds. The German testing for these dogs is still very much in line with that theory, including portions of the test for rabbit and ducks on top of game birds.

You can find the GSP in a few Project Upland film classics like “Revel in the First,” “Camp Thunderbird,” “Sport of Kings,” “Those Moments” and “Bird Dog Trainer for a Day.”

A Photo of A Labrador Retriever by Steve Oehlenschlager.

Number Three – The Labrador Retriever

The Labrador retriever is the number one most popular dog in America. Not in the hunting dog world — in the world of all dogs. In our bird dog community, they came in at number three at 14.53 percent. The English setter did not make the top 10 list of most popular dogs in America; however, the German shorthaired came in at number nine. Because of the mainstream popularity of this breed, there tends to be a lot of controversy surrounding the purity and standards inside the hunting community. Just say “Silver Lab” inside a room full of Labrador owners and you may not make it out of the room alive.

Developed from the St. John’s water dog, its key characteristics are based around pulling fishing nets and ropes and retrieving fish. Their popularity stretches not just through the bird dog world but also across the world of waterfowl as incredible retrievers, by nature.

One must question that their popularity in the greater bird dog breed world would likely bring them to rank number one had Project Upland origins been built around pheasant hunting. And it is still an incredible breed even for the ruffed grouse as can be seen in the latest Ruffed Grouse Society film, “Flushing Grouse.” They own a special place in all the sporting dog world, no matter what the game.

An American Brittany from the making of the Film “All About the Dogs“.

Other Popular Bird Dog Breeds

As curiosity I’m sure is killing many of us, we must wonder where other popular bird dog breeds landed in our survey. The American Brittany came in at fourth place at 10.99 percent. The English springer spaniel placed fifth place at 4.38 percent. The last five slots (of the top ten) are held in the order of the wirehaired pointing griffon, drahthaar, vizsla, pointer and the golden retriever.

We will certainly revisit this concept in the future to witness the changing tides of bird dog breed popularity in an ever-evolving community.

Last modified: February 10, 2020

12 Responses to :
Top Three Bird Dog Breeds of 2019

  1. Craig Stewart says:

    Interesting article. Please note: Drahthaar is misspelled! ” The English springer spaniel placed fifth place at 4.38 percent. The last five slots are held in the order of the wirehaired pointing griffon, drahtaar, vizsla, English pointer and the golden retriever. “

    1. Gregg says:

      What?! English Pointers rule.

    2. Ben Kelly says:

      Drahthaar is the correct spelling.

  2. Max says:

    The author did not know there’s no “y” in Llewellin. Grouse hunters who own setters always refer to their dogs by their strain, i.e. Ryman, DeCoverly and Llewellin, hardly ever as English setters. They leave that for Field setter owners.

    1. A.J. DeRosa says:

      Hey Max, great catch on that detail. We have amended that breed reference as you are correct as that is how they referred to as today as “Llewellin”. Upon our research we did, we found that Purcell Llewellyn name was in fact spelled with a “y” and not an “i” which is a welsh origins name (he was from Wales). Common occurrence to the name in the states. Thank you for the feedback!

      1. Max says:

        I will correct you again. His name was Richard Purcell Llewellin and as written and well documented in Freeman Lloyd’s book All Setters: Their Histories, Rearing & Training (ca. early 1930’s), A.F. Hochwalt’s books Dogcraft (1908) and The Modern Setter (1923) show no Llewellin spelling with a “y” when referring to Richard Purcell Llewellin. Welsh or not it’s Llewellin.

        1. A.J. DeRosa says:

          Hey Max,

          This is pretty interesting stuff and certainly do not doubt the validate of what you are saying at all. You actually bring up a great point. You have inspired me to dig deeper on this and I dug up a magazine article from 1898 in a magazine called “Outing”. The article is called “Dogs of To-day – The English Setter”, using the name “Llewellyn”. I think an article on this whole topic maybe in order in the near future. I found a couple other for the early 1900’s however I am noticing they are all of British origins. One called “The New Country Life” in 1917. I also saw a modern republish (2010) on a book called “The Irish Setter” that also uses the “y”. However again, British origins.

          But as you said today it is 100% refereed to as “Llewellin”. Would love to continue the conversation and even pick your brain a bit if you are willing to see what else can be found and some more details on the references you gave to cite in the article. Thanks again, truly appreciate your passion and knowledge, I am by no means a setter expert. My email is

  3. Alan Dechovitz says:

    This was interesting. And of course the answer is correct as both my Llewelyn and I agree with the result😎I subscribe to Project Upland and have found the first couple of issues somewhat interesting. But I also have noticed what you commented on which is that a preponderance of your authors writing about grouse and western plains hunting. To hold me and guys like me in your audience you need to get some voices from the southeast. It’d be a natural, upland hunting for quail is in our blood here.

    1. A.J. DeRosa says:

      Great feedback Alan! We are working to add more southern content. In fact you will see a good uptick in it for the winter issue. Fall issue has an article specifically based around conservation for bobwhite and restoring native grasslands to Missouri.

  4. jon edwards says:

    Cool article. We breed GSP’s and Brittany’s. I am liking this format. Just starting to explore PU now. Thanks

  5. Keith says:

    The last spot can’t be held by Golden Retriever. I hunt a couple of Braque Francais, and they have to be less numerous in the upland community then the Golden Retriever.

    1. A.J. DeRosa says:

      Our wording was bit off in that. Just added (of the top ten). So Golden Retriever was #10 in the audience at 2.09%. The 1.11% of the audience cited owning Braque Francais.

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