Cameron Mitchell on Labrador Retrievers for Hunting

Cameron Mitchell on Labrador Retrievers for Hunting

Words by Cameron Mitchell

Labs are working dogs with an instinct for retrieving game.  With the right kind of attention and training, they can also be a loving and loyal companion.

Labs sometimes get a bad rap because they are one of the breeds that are often produced by puppy mills and sold to ill-prepared owners who don’t tend to the animal’s need for exercise, mental stimulation, and companionship. But I love labs exactly because they are a diverse and breed. I have had several labs (some short and stocky with long hair, others tall and slim with short hair) and they have proven to be the perfect all around dog for both an intensive bird hunting life and a happy family life.

It is no coincidence that labs are chosen for everything from search and rescue operations to customs and immigration work to assisting the disabled.  They are intelligent dogs who are eager to please, which makes them highly effective at many tasks if trained properly at an early stage of development.

Labs require basic obedience from the beginning to establish a relationship with their owner and to control their exuberant love for running and retrieving. Simple consistency of commands and agreement about discipline and behaviors toward the dog within a family can avoid all the pitfalls of intense retrievers (digging, chewing, running off, jumping up, etc…).  Quite frankly, the breed’s intensity is what makes them such great hunting dogs and so much fun.

I have seen a lab sit on a dog platform attached to the side of a tree in flooded timber for hours shivering, not from the cold, but from the desire to jump in the water.  They patiently wait because they have been trained and because they simply love the routine of the retrieve: the blow of the whistle, the special “go” command, a big splash or jump, grabbing the bird, and bringing it home.  When they get back to the house, they are just as happy to curl up on the rug with small children crawling all over them.

I was once told this story about a lab: The dog grew up hunting many different kinds of birds. He was a seasoned waterfowl dog as well as the owner’s best friend in the world. For some reason, there came a day when the gentleman had to leave his retriever at home when he left to hunt. As he was leaving, the dog sat behind the closed screen. He cried and moaned as the hunter drove away. When the hunter returned, for the first time in the dog’s life, he chose to not greet him at the door. Instead he remained in his bed with his head hung low. These dogs not only love the hunt, but they love their people. Needless to say, the lab was never left home again.


Hunter Series Acute Trauma Care Kit
Save this product

Lifesaving gear for severe injuries, gunshot wounds, broken bones, and major blood loss.

Hidden Canyon Hunter Knife
Save this product

A perfect hunting companion, the Benchmade Hidden Canyon Hunter is a premium fixed-blade knife designed for hunters everywhere.

Bino Harness Pro-M
Save this product
FHF Gear

"No bino harness can compete with the FHF harness. It's the best. " - Steven Rinella

Diamondback HD 10X42 Binos
Save this product
Vortex Optics

Rock-solid optic that optically punches high above its class.

Get the latest in your inbox
Subscribe to our newsletters to receive regular emails with hand-picked content, gear recommendations, and special deals.
Our picks for the week's best content and gear
For the whitetail obsessed, with Mark Kenyon
Redefining our connection to food, with Danielle Prewett
Your one-stop for everything waterfowl, with Sean Weaver
Get out on the water with the MeatEater Fishing crew
Technical hunting apparel
Purpose-built accessories for hunting and fishing
Quality elk, turkey, waterfowl, and deer calls
Save this article