Out of Bounds

Ode to the Long Walker

Hunting with others isn’t horrible. It’s just that the conversation, the other dogs, and the necessity of negotiation breaks hunting’s fourth wall

By Rob Breeding

“Hunting with you is only marginally less pleasant than hunting alone.”

In polite society that may not seem a compliment. But bird hunters — at least the introverted type — understand.

Hunting with others isn’t horrible. It’s just that the conversation, the other dogs, and the necessity of negotiation — You wanna head up that canyon, or down? — breaks hunting’s fourth wall. Instead of losing yourself in the moment, you’re managing a relationship.

Someone who can integrate their routine to yours, without drawing much attention to it while they do so, is a magician. The Long Walker does that better than any hunting partner I’ve known.

It starts with our approach to dog training; neither of us has a formal regimen. Training means getting a puppy that comes from strong bird hunting lines, and bird hunting. We correct as we go, developing our dogs along the way. If the dog’s a hunter, this “method” works fine. If the dog isn’t a hunter, all the training in the world might not make a difference.

Neither of us gets too worked up about dogs making the occasional misstep. They’re not perfect beings, though dogs are a heck of a lot more perfect than many handlers. A hunter who blows their stack when a dog makes a mistake — say bumping a bird out of range or dropping a retrieve before they make it to hand — is a hunter with whom I’m sharing my last day afield. 

Instead, the Long Walker and I will stop and calmly correct our pup’s transgressions. You know what you get out of that? A loyal, trusting dog who learns from you until they’re doing exactly what you need, by choice, without suffering from the kind of canine PTSD that can result from heavy-handed tactics.

When some folks hear a bird hunter say, “We didn’t get many birds, but the dog work was great,” they assume it’s an excuse. That’s not how The Long Walker operates, nor I. Last week we were out pheasant hunting, and at day’s end neither of us had a bird. It wasn’t for lack of opportunity, but sometimes that’s the way it goes.

We sat next to our trucks, sipping refreshing beverages and reflecting on the events of the day. We both have young dogs and they’d both hunted exceptionally well. Because of that, we were both elated. Watching a young dog come into its own is joy for people who see pups as equal partners in their bird hunting endeavors, rather than a servant with a job to do.

I don’t want to hunt with people who think like that, either.

Neither of us is obsessive about ending the day with a tailgate heavy with dead birds. I’ve killed a few in my time and The Long Walker a lot more. I’ve learned a couple of birds — so I can focus on cooking, not plucking — is as much a victory as a limit.

The Long Walker earned his nickname years ago, when I hunted with him in Arizona. He is one of the guys who put in the boot work back in the 1970s figuring out how many Mearns’ quail (now more commonly called Montezuma quail) wander the grasslands along the Arizona-Mexico border. 

His method involved having Mrs. Long Walker drop him off in the morning at the mouth of some remote canyon, then picking him up that evening at the other end, 10 miles away. I’ve hunted Mearns’ with him a few times. Lots of quail and meniscus surgery was my reward.

I never complained, which I suppose was an essential part of keeping up my end of the deal. The Long Walker tells me he’d just as soon hunt alone as well, though we both know when you’re running dogs, you’re never alone.

It’s just bird hunting at its finest.

Rob Breeding’s website is www.mthookandbullet.com.