Part of what makes hunting exciting is there are no routine outings. That unpredictability keeps us coming back.

Last weekend for the opening of quail season we brought three puppies of three different breeds on their first hunt of the season.

Throw in two boats, the Snake River and some brushy islands, and you’ve got a hunt that’s part comedy and part chaos.

Our trio consisted of Dave Heimer with Cash, his 9-month-old Chesapeake Bay retriever; Jesse Murphy with Wyatt, his 1-year-old Brittany spaniel; and me with Dusty, a 9-month-old yellow Lab.

The irony of buying a puppy is you get it to make your hunting easier and more effective, but for the first season, you’re a combination of chauffeur and soccer mom minus the juice boxes.

The hunts become more about training the dog than pulling the trigger, but you take great joy in the firsts - a first flush, a first retrieve, a first blind retrieve - all of which will hopefully become routine as the dog gains experience.

The puppies didn’t disappoint on any front last weekend. They were rambunctious and unruly from the start, and three owners trying to keep three puppies under control and loaded in boats is always fertile ground for comedy.

Dusty and Wyatt redecorated the interior of my driftboat in a nice motif of Snake River mud and puppy paw prints and managed to hit every seat in the boat before settling in.

Cash, a male in the midst of an awesome growth spurt, dwarfed his new hunting buddies and seemed to take up half of Dave’s boat all by himself.

We hit the first island and almost immediately got into quail and doves.

After a long offseason, the hunters were as eager as the puppies, and we scattered in different directions chasing birds.

My initial impression after the first volley was typical good news/bad news: My wing shooting skills were rusty, but at least my dog isn’t gun-shy.

In fact, once the puppies got a nose full of birds, their frenetic energy became focused.

A good hunting dog is a combination of good breeding, constant reinforcement and a liberal dose of patience. All three dogs showed promise beyond their ages.

It was beautiful to watch Wyatt work a field. His effortless, gliding gait seemed to levitate him at will above the grass and brush. He was the “veteran” of the group because he got a few days in as a toddler last year.

Wyatt found birds under

difficult conditions. Despite it being opening day, the quail were savvy quarry and either stayed in the thickest brush or immediately flew to it after being flushed. It was tough going for dogs and hunters. Credit to the birds, they beat us fair and square.

The doves were a little more accommodating. They held a little longer and flushed within reasonable gun range. Wyatt retrieved dead birds with the ease of a retriever.

Dusty fetched her first bird, a dove with a terminal case of bad luck that flew within range when I was actually in a position to make the shot.

After a few miscues, she found the small bird in tall grass and brought it to me. I couldn’t have been prouder if it was a 10-pound Canada goose.

Heimer and I chose the Snake River and its islands because it’s where we duck hunt, and we could get a combo upland bird hunt and a field-training day for the upcoming duck season.

It was an opportunity to put our retrievers in actual duck hunting situations and let us focus on the dogs rather than the ducks.

Cash was rock solid in a small boat and stayed that way until released, and tirelessly swam the Snake and its strong currents to fetch dummies thrown by Heimer.

Now that hunting season is here, it’s exciting to usher it in with young dogs eager to hunt and learn.

So if our bag was a few birds lighter than usual, no biggie, we have many hunting days ahead and four-legged buddies to share the experience with us.



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