The hunt is a communal undertaking of which the climax, but only the climax, is the kill.

J. Bronowski, The Ascent of Man

GOING IT ALONE is not practical for most hunters, even if they wanted to. It is inefficient and expensive and, in the event of accident, dangerous.

Solitary stalking is also, as the late Dr. Bronowski pointed out, unsatisfying. It is primevally pleasant to go into the field with compatible companions and the pooling of knowledge, experience and effort greatly increases the probability of success.

On the other hand, nothing is more frustrating if not frightening than to find yourself afield with some boob, boor or butcher.

The ideal hunting buddies are wife and husband. They already know each other so intimately that there is unlikely to be any rude awakening to personality quirks or defects of character.

Nor is one going to discover on the first morning out that the other cannot stomach eggs or bacon. And mutual deticking can be fun rather than embarrassing.

But it doesn't work that way, women's liberation notwithstanding. All the couples who share a love of hunting could share a cab without crowding. Most wives are at best uninterested, and many are hostile ("Come kiss daddy goodbye, children, he's going out to murder Bambi.")

So mostly it is a cast of the boys going out with boys. This is no problem in small towns and rural areas, where a man's reputation will be widespread and more than likely well-deserved. Everybody knew the boy and the knows the man, and they sort themselves out into hunting parties almost without conscious thought.

For urban, mobile man the problem is so subtle and acute that many give up hunting for suitable companions and, by extension, give up hunting.

Rod and gun clubs can be fruitful!, sources of fellow hunters, but they often are exclusive, expensive, way to hell and gone out in the country and largely populated with shooters as opposed to hunters. The conversations tend toward monologues about velocity which the gun-control zats are undermining democracy. It makes for a long day in the duck blind.

By and large, hunting buddies are found across the street in the neighborhood or down the hall in the office. Unfortunately, the same guy who makes a delightful luncheon companion can be a disaster in the field.

There are rules of thumb: a man who is crude in the office will be gross in the outdoors; if he is badly out of shape you'll wind up hauling his gear in and his deer out; and if he can't tell a hawk from a buzzard he'll blast a brant for a black duck.

If there is a fail-safe hunting companion it is a birdwatcher. Birders - certain monomaniacal 'listers' aside - tend to be active, observant, interested (and therefore interesting) people with a deep appreciation of the natural world.A nirder who hunts will have considered at length the morality of killing animals. He will come in from a fruitless day on a deer stand not grousing about his lack of luck but bubbling over about the pileated woodpecker he watched all afternoon.

He is a rare birder who hunts, however, and so we must search among a broader group. Look for:

A man who cooks. Animals are real to him.

A man who cuts his own firewood. If he knows about wood, he probably knows about woods.

A man who grew up in the country.

A man who helps with the dishes and other "women's work," especially one who changes diapers. He's less likely to be trying to prove something.

A man who borrows books, and returns them. Both are important.

A man who keeps a litter bag in his car and uses it. He is aware we share the earth.

Look out for:

Boldfingure. A man who talks in your face and taps on your chest is not a man to be around while he's armed.

Wimpy. If he calls you to come pick up his cat where it got run over in the street, don't you call him to go hunting.

Groucho. In short doses at the office he may be a scream, but the compulsive joker will send youi into hissy fits after few hours in camp.

Twitchy. If he can't sit still in the office he'll be a dervish in the field.

Grouchy. If he's always carping at P-TA meetings he'll whine like the wind in the pines.

Fumbles.Guy who drop things will drop lighted lanterns and loaded guns.

The drinker.

The gamsman. If he one-ups you in the office he'll poach your shots.

Dapper Dan. Guy who wear $85 double-knit leisure suits into the field have strange ideas about hunting.

Wyatt Earp. He's always fooling with his weapon, and he's a fool.

There are more, but it's too depressing. Go find a birdwatcher.