By PJ Maguire

Some dogs have it, and some dogs don't. Usually it is instincts that separate the great gundogs from the rest. Selecting a gundog from good lineage is typically the best way to ensure that your pup will hunt. I have found that there are some exceptions to this rule, good and bad. In my opinion puppy selection can be a roll of the dice anyway you cut it.

There isn't a substitute for a good hunting dog

I shot my first wild pheasant in Southwestern Minnesota over a half German Shepard, half lab. It was my dad's friend, Mark Schmitz's dog. He had a couple lab mixes that roamed the acreage where he lived near Wells, Minnesota. These dogs could hunt pheasants, really well, when the blaze orange was put on and the shotguns brought out. Mark's dogs were all businesses when it was time to hunt birds, which was often in the fall. These dogs had gained a ton of experience over the years and they knew the game well. I have very fond memories of hunting with them.

As I grew older my father and I continued to hunt birds with Mark Schmitz, always with a pack of dogs. Mark was the kind of guy that would take his buddies labs hunting if their owners could not go. This was always a plus for upland where it is always the more dogs the merrier. Mark believed that it was every retriever's God given right to have the opportunity to hunt birds, as do I. So when my aunt Bobbi and uncle Jim got a yellow lab pup two summers ago, I was excited. Even though the pup, named Chet, didn't come from a strong hunting line, I knew I was going to give him an opportunity to hunt birds.

I won't go into great detail about his first hunt two falls ago, but he was six months and composed himself well in the marsh. Last fall he continued to prove his worth as an upland dog. He travels well, stays close, comes when called and retrieved his first pheasant. What more could you ask for in a gundog?

My family has two gundogs; Cullie just turned eleven and Stella is seven and a half months, both female black labs. With the new pup around I don't have a ton of time to devout to my aunt's dog Chet. I will still work with him at the lake and bring him along to bust the brush on pheasant hunting trips when I can.

Stella, my mother's new pup, has a ton of hunting potential. My family has been around her mother and grandmother at the lakes in Northern Minnesota for years. When my mother and I brought her home at eight weeks the first thing she did was run down the stairs to the basement, then ran back up. A woman I work with told me her yellow lab did not go down stairs until he was six months old.

At three months Stella was running through CRP fields in South Dakota. She mostly chased the other dogs not pheasants, but learning. At five months she retrieved her first pheasant and by the end of that day had retrieved three more and chased down two cripples. She is an amazing pup and naturally fearless.

Cullie, my parents older black lab, turned out to be about as good of a hunting dog as one could ask for. She is great around the house, good with kids, and is in no way a nuisance of any kind. I could bring Cullie to the Mall of America with Hannah Montana there and the dog wouldn't leave my side as we walked around.

When it is time to hunt, Cullie seems to morph into a different dog. My father and I take her along on many hunting trips so she has been around the block so to speak. When it comes to dogs, there is no substitute for experience. I wish I had a dollar for every time some looked at me in disbelief and said, 'I can't believe that is your mom's housedog.'

Retrievers are natural born companions and hunters. Some have it naturally and some have to work hard at it. With a little love and patience you'll be able to enjoy your retriever no matter the circumstance.