An innovative approach to tree breeding called 'breeding without breeding' (BWB) is presented. The method, as applied on the material in hand, allows the capture of 75-85% of the genetic response to selection attained through conventional programmes without the need to do any controlled pollination and simplified or possibly no experimental field testing: both considered to be the most resource-demanding activities in breeding programmes. BWB combines the use of genotypic or phenotypic pre-selection of superior individuals, informative DNA markers for fingerprinting and pedigree reconstruction of offspring to assemble naturally created full- and half-sib families resulting from mating among selected parents, and quantitative genetics analyses to identify elite genotypes for further genetic improvement or the establishment of production populations. BWB utility is demonstrated using a retrospective study of Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) progeny tests consisting of offspring produced from 150 controlled crosses among 60 parents and established over three sites. The empirical results are supported by theoretical expectations demonstrating anticipated minimum genetic response compared with conventional approaches. The method's simplicity offers an exceptional opportunity for the development of comparable breeding efforts in developing countries, advanced and new breeding programmes, and economically important and 'minor' species.