There are certain things you can expect to find outdoorsmen involved in at different times of the year.

In the early fall, many will be hanging deer stands and checking woodland paths for rubs and scrapes.

When the winter winds blow, waterfowl hunters round up their decoys and make sure their chest waders can handle another season in the marsh.

Summer is for floating down slow-moving creeks on warm afternoons, dropping bass and bream poppers among cypress knees that rise like sentinels from the dark water.

Sportsmen who enjoy time in the field with pointing dogs, retrievers or hounds know that spring is prime time for other things – puppies. The vernal season and baby dogs just seem to go together, “like peas and carrots” as Forrest Gump would

say. Both represent a starting over, a renewal of the spirit, faith in the future and all that it promises.

But hunters also have practical reasons for acquiring new pups in the spring.

One of them is that a dog eight weeks old around Easter will be just about the right age to begin some serious field work when hunting season rolls around. Another is that the warm, long days of summer make caring for a young pup easier than it might be during the winter months. Late afternoons from May to September are perfect times for romping in the yard and doing a little play-training.

Warm weather is great for introducing young retrievers to water and bird dogs to the “whoa” command. Squirrel dog pups can be taken to the local park and allowed to tree bushytails to their heart’s content. (Just don’t let them catch one or the PETA police may be on your case.) Little hounds can start to figure out that following the trail of piece of deer or raccoon hide dragged across the back yard is great sport, especially if there is a treat at the end.

Whatever the motivation, spring is the time of year a lot of sportsmen find themselves standing ankle-deep in a sea of squirming, gnawing little bodies faced with the prospect of picking one – only one. How do they do it? How do they pick Mr. Right out of a large pool of promising pups?

If they’re like the late Richard Wolters, they just close their eyes and grab one.

Wolters, a renowned gun dog trainer and author, maintained that, if the bloodlines are top notch and there has been no neonatal trauma, one pup is as promising as the next. Most folks are a little more particular and a few are downright peculiar.

Some people will take nothing but the runt of the litter, their reasoning being that the little fellow (or girl) has to be sharper than the rest in order to have survived to the seven or eight-week point. Others want the biggest pup, equating size with a robust, aggressive nature. While not everyone adheres to one of those philosophies, most puppy-pickers have a system of some type.

John Weller, owner of Weller’s Kennel and a nationally-known retriever trainer, told me once that a person should try to look at a prospective litter two or three times, preferably at different times of the day. His rationale was that it’s hard to get an accurate feel for a pup’s personality in one visit because there are so many environmental factors that may be influencing the situation. Some of the pups may have just awakened or eaten. Others may be tired after some recent romping.

In any case, he recommended marking a promising pup on the first visit and then re-evaluating him/her on subsequent trips. (Another friend said he does the same thing, putting a red mark on the prospective candidate’s head with a Sharpie pen. I suggest clearing that with the breeder beforehand.)

In making the final selection, Weller suggested giving preference to the pup that is most “rambunctious.” He figures that’s an indication the dog will take the rigors of training and hunting well. A lot of experienced trainers agree, their philosophy being you can always get a handle on all that drive later with a little work but you can’t put it in if it’s not there to start with.

To determine which one has that little extra spunk, some people will do things like toss a pigeon wing or something similar in the middle of the litter and see which puppy takes it away from his brothers. Others will put a light leash on one and see which of the others will try to “lead” him. Some will just get a short distance from the litter, kneel down and call them with whistles and claps, figuring the one(s) that come most readily are more attuned to dealing with humans and eager to please.

I have used every puppy selection process imaginable over the years. One is to place each little dog on its back in turn and gently hold it there with my hand. My theory was that the ones that submitted to the restraint quickly would tend to be more compliant when it came to training later on and those who struggled non-stop would be more rugged and hard-charging. I was looking for something in between.

My research largely went for naught. I usually ended up with the one my daughter or wife fell in love with because it had “sweet eyes.” Their instincts must have been good because, in each case, those pups developed into skillful, responsive – and sweet-natured – gun dogs. Of course, all pups have that potential when the spring sun is warm and the blooms are on the dogwoods, when it’s puppy-picking season.

Ed Wall can be reached at edwall@embarqmail.com or 252-671- 3207. His web site is www.edwalloutdoors.com