The story is told as a flashback to a time when the protagonist was a boy raising his first brace of red coonhounds. Old Dan and Little Ann become his best friends. They quickly become the best hunting dogs in the county, winning Billy acclaim and monetary awards. His grandfather enters him into several contests that he wins. In a confrontation with a mountain lion Billy's life is saved by the two dogs, but they lose their own lives. He buries them and over the graves two red ferns grow.