This past weekend was the opener of both the Oklahoma quail season and the combined quail/pheasant season in Kansas. More importantly, it was the start of my pup Jenny’s first real hunting season. Last fall she was a gangly, goofy puppy who ran like the wind and had no idea what she was doing, but was damn happy to be doing it. This fall she is a gangly, goofy teenager who still runs like the wind and has very little idea of what she’s supposed to be doing, which is, I guess, a step up from nothing.

I’ve been working with Jenny on some basic commands like “whoa” and introducing her to planted birds via the pigeon pole, but for young dogs there’s no experience like real experience, so getting her on birds this inaugural hunting year was going to be crucial for her development.

This past Saturday we loaded up and headed for Norton, Kansas to meet up with the Pheasants Forever Rooster Road Trip crew for a two-day public-land pheasant and quail hunt. The PF guys were on the first leg of their epic five-state, public-land road trip and had graciously invited Jenny and me to join them. I guess they thought I had a bird dog or something. Big mistake on their part.

Jenny ran. Oh, yes, she ran–to the horizon and back. She made mistakes and forgot her training. She busted birds. She chased deer and rabbits. She failed to honor points. She gave me the finger on “whoa”, “here” and became deaf to the whistle. In short, she did exactly what any young dog, no matter how (allegedly) trained, will do when they’re learning the ropes. But by the middle of the first day, I could tell she was starting to put things together. She settled down, started using her nose, and not long after PF Vice President of Marketing Bob St. Pierre’s excellent German Shorthair, Trammell found a covey, Jenny made a short, half-hearted flash point on a single that flushed wild. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a start.

And then, late in the day, it all came together for one brief moment. Jenny locked up on a solid, stylish point, held it staunchly and when I walked it up a covey of bobs burst out of the grass. I don’t know who was more surprised, the dog or me. Probably me, since I about dropped my gun before managing to scratch one down. Then, to my astonishment, Jenny started hunting dead, and found that quail in the thick grass. And just to keep the moment from being too perfectly perfect, she then forgot all about that whole retrieving thing and took off with it, with me in hot pursuit. We hunted a few singles after that and I got one more good, solid point (and a reluctant retrieve, even!) before daylight slipped away.

It was a great finish to a great day (when I finally caught her). It’s always a fascinating thing for me to watch a young dog start figuring everything out, to be there when that switch is finally flipped. I went to bed feeling pretty good about things and brimming with optimism about the next day. Of course, Jenny had other plans–but hey–that’s dog training. Baby steps, man. Baby steps…