I've begun looking for a puppy. Of course every dog person is always looking for a puppy, researching breeders, and new lines within each breed, but I don't mean it in that sense. I mean it in the sense of, I've been calling and e-mailing breeders I've researched, and been refered to. Actually looking for a puppy.
Over the years I've been exposed to many different breeds of bird dogs. I've shot over quite a few different breeds too, and have developed opinions of the differing breeds. Then again, have you ever met a grouse hunter, or even a disciple of any of the other winged game, that didn't have opinionated views of the various breeds. True, most hunters become fanatical about their particular breed. Same with guns, loads, and boots. If we can argue, pointlessly about something, we will. I'm sure some of my hunting buddies will take exeption, but I've come to believe there are only two types of dogs with characteristic suitable to allow them to become grouse dogs. They are the Setter, and the Spaniel.
The Spaniel may be the best do all, versitile upland dog ever. An English Springer Spaniel is a tough little dog, with energy, and a passion to hunt. Reliable retrievers who take to the water readily, and can penetrate tough cover easily. They look great too. As a grouse hunter I have learned the importance of being fully prepared for each shot, and that isn't easy. Hunting with a spaniel makes this possible. When the dog gets birdy all the hunter need do is position himself to a place where one can easily swing the shotgun and wait for a flush. No walking in on points, trying to kikck a bird out of cover that he may not even be in. With a Spaniel, you may not see as many birds as you would with a pointing dog that covers more ground, but trust me, you'll kill more of the ones you see. Spaniels can also handle occasional waterfowl retrieving duties, so urge to jump shoot Mallards can be accommodated.
Though I've mentioned the English Springer Spaniel, it is by no means the only spaniel capable of handling grouse. No doubt a Field spaniel could do the job, or even a properly bred Cocker. A Welsh Springer Spaniel, though I've never seen on in the field, I'm inclined to place on this list too. By all accounts, the Welshie, which is more common in the UK has what it takes, though anyone here in the states looking to get one should make sure it's a field bred dog, and not a bench bred dog.
The Setter is the other breed I feel has the capacity to be a grouse dog. Like Spaniels, Setters differ slightly both between breeds, and their lines within a breed. Though I'm partial to the English Setter, many Gordon Setters have become grouse dogs. I'm sure their Irish red and white, and American Red cousins have what it takes too. My argument for including Setters on this list isn't very good. Tradition. English Setters are just what one uses to hunt grouse. Aside from that, they are damned good looking, and generally have lots of style. What is better than watching a beautiful, feathery Setter coursing through the woods, and staunchly locked up on point? Nothing. Besides that, I've never come across a breed of dog that is more endearing, and tries harder to make people love them. I'd advise anyone looking for an English Setter, for the purpose of hunting grouse, to focus on the Ryman/Old Hemlock type Setters. These lines have been bred to be slower(but not slow), closer workers than other lines.
Retrievers, too come close to making the list. Labs, Chessies, and Goldens all hunt like Spaniels, flushing for the gun. A hunter with one of these breeds will certainly kill a lot of birds, but they are waterfowl dogs, and that is their first true mission. Fortunately, most guys hunting with retrievers are waterfowlers first, and dabble (no pun intended) with grouse hunting in the same way I hunted grouse first, but only very casually waterfowled with my Springer. Of course shooting over any well mannered dog is a joy, and I've had some absolutely unforgettable experiences shooting over retrievers and pointers.
The funny thing is, over time, I, like everyone, will eventually see things differently. My list is always in danger of changing. Having had a Spaniel, and then a Setter, I've been known to say, and I quote "I'll never get a Setter again." Yet my puppy search has had me in contact with some serious Setter people. I've always secretly, and sometimes not so secretly harbored an interest in a wire-haired breed of dog too. That right there is a potential list changer. I have another opinion that's changed too. I decided awhile back that I'd never have more than one dog at a time ever again. I've now decided that I'll never have only one dog at a time ever again. Please don't tell my wife.