When a pointer streaks across a stubble field like a bolt of white lightning…when a Lab vaults into cold water that would stop your heart and churns toward a fallen greenhead…when a springer spaniel levitates from the switchgrass, jaws snapping at a pheasant’s tail feathers…when a pack of blueticks strike scent, and the night suddenly throbs with their urgent music…

Whenever and wherever we hunt with dogs, we engage in a partnership that spans tens of thousands of years—a partnership so intimate and mutually beneficial that we’ve essentially co-evolved. An increasing body of evidence suggests that the qualities dogs brought to the Stone Age party allowed our ancestors’ brains to devote less capacity to sensory functions, clearing the decks for intellectual growth.

In other words, dogs made us human.

It’s also the case, as many experiments have shown, that dogs have a unique ability to read our body language and respond to subtle cues. Not that this comes as news to anyone who’s tried to slip past his dog carrying a shotgun. You might as well try to sneak the sunrise past a rooster.

And that, ultimately, is why we hunt with dogs: because they love it, and live for it, as much as we do. Check that: more than we do. We depend on their skill and artistry, we admire their tenacity and courage, but what keeps us going is their passion. It pulls us along in its slipstream and spurs us to hold up our end of the partnership as loftily as they do theirs.

Here, we salute the very best of them.