by Amy McGarry
The word sultan has many different meanings in Arabic, including “strength,” “ruler,” and “king.” When it comes to my friend Sultan Almuhanna, as a hunter and fisherman, the name is apt. He is indeed a king of the outdoors.
Like so many outdoorsmen, hunting and fishing are more than just a hobby for Sultan. They are almost an obsession. And while I know countless avid hunters and fishermen/women, the difference about Sultan is that he was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, not a place I would associate with “the great outdoors.” In fact, Sultan had never been fishing nor had he ever shot a rifle in his home country. What he had done growing up in Saudi was an outdoor activity for which the country is famous—falconry. His experience as a falconer would come to influence his future life as a hunter and fisherman in the US in numerous valuable ways.
Hunting with falcons has been an integral part of history on the Arabian Peninsula for 10,000 years. “The sport of kings” is a widely popular hobby throughout the Gulf region. Sultan was introduced to falconry by his cousin when he was about 10 years old. The young Sultan was fascinated by how the falcon would forgo its freedom to fly away in order to catch a pigeon or rabbit for its falconer. He continued to observe his cousin for years, learning. Although Sultan’s father was not a falconer himself, he bought Sultan his first falcon when he was 17 years old.
While Sultan had no formal experience in training falcons, he later bought a wild falcon and set to training it himself. He discovered he had a natural affinity for building a relationship with the falcon, a prerequisite for training the bird. He explained that some falcons do fly away from their handlers. But as Sultan explains, with enough patience and the right training, it always comes back because “he trusts you. I’m asking him to be my friend. I let him know that I’m his buddy.” Relationship and patience are the ongoing themes for Sultan as an outdoorsman, as well as pride and honor.
When Sultan moved to the U.S. to attend university, he learned that requirements for falconry include two years of formal study and passing a test to become licensed. Considering he was already an experienced falconer, that seemed like a waste of time. But he was soon to discover his new passions.
It started with walks along the Mississippi River in Wisconsin where he was studying. He’d see people fishing on the river and felt a calling. He went to the local K-Mart, bought a fishing pole and license, and with no help whatsoever took himself fishing for the first time.
“I had no idea what I was doing. Had no clue what I was fishing for.”
“Did you catch anything?”
“I’m not gonna lie. No,” he told me with a laugh.
=“Fishermen are supposed to lie,” I said, thinking I was teaching him something about American culture.
=“I know. I found out people lie. Especially about where the good fishing spots are, their ‘honey holes.’ But I always share my ‘honey holes.’
It wasn’t until he moved to Cheney to attend Eastern Washington University that he caught his first fish, a tiger trout out of Fish Lake. He still fished solo. His friends at school had no interest in fishing.
When asked what he loves about fishing, Sultan says, “Trust me. It feels good. Being on those little waves. The zzzzzzz sound of the real. It’s exciting. Makes ya wanna stay longer and longer. It teaches me patience.”
Speaking of patience, Sultan relayed the story of how one day he went fishing. His wife told him not to come home without any fish.
“I stayed 9 hours. Finally, she called me asking where I was. You told me not to come home without any fish and I don’t have any fish!”
Sultan met his wife, Maggie, when he was at EWU. Knowing that Sultan was curious about hunting, his new father-in-law gave him one of his old guns. It had only been shot twice. This gift was a precious honor for Sultan. He told his father-in-law, “I promise I’ll make you proud.” He had never shot a gun before.
With the help of his father-in-law and a friend, he learned gun safety, how to use the gun correctly, and how to clean it. He bought a cleaning kit and watched YouTube videos to learn how to take it apart and put it back together.
“It felt pretty simple.”
Soon, Sultan’s father-in-law, who hadn’t shot a gun in 35 years, took him to throw clay pigeons.
“He cried when he saw how good I was shooting. He told me, ‘I’m really proud of you.’”
Then, Sultan met a hunter who was a foreman on a job site. He told him where to go grouse hunting, and that was the first bird he shot.
“I’ll never forget that. My first bird with my first gun. I still have the tail feathers. They look gorgeous.”
Like everyone these days, Sultan spent a lot of time pursuing his passion by watching YouTube videos about hunting. One thing he noticed, “they always had a dog. Always had a lab.” He looked on Craigslist and found a lab puppy for sale. He put $300 down without even consulting his wife.
When he told his wife, she responded with disbelief.
“Did you really buy him?”
“No you didn’t.”
“Yes, I did. I needed a buddy.” That’s exactly how Sultan had described the falcon.
And again, despite having no experience, he set to training his black lab, Forest, to be a hunting dog. He seemed to have innate instincts for such work.
When Forest was about four months old, Sultan took Forest out with his foreman and his hunting dog. Lucy.
“I was afraid for Forest,” Sultan admitted. “But I learned he wasn’t gun shy. I was so happy.”
Three weeks later the foursome went hunting grouse. When a grouse came down, they let the dogs go. Five-month-old Forest found it. The 11-year-old experienced hunting dog, Lucy, didn’t.
“He was a natural. By the time duck season started, he was ready. He was good to go.”
In addition to grouse, Sultan had hunted pheasants, quail, and turkey. After watching all those YouTube videos, he knew he wanted to hunt ducks. The problem was that there aren’t specific spots in Spokane County without a boat. Luckily, a game warden directed him to the Tri-Cities.
Opening day, October 8, 2021, he went to the Tri-Cities to pursue his dream of hunting ducks. His father was visiting from Saudi Arabia and came along. His father had bought him a new gun.
Despite common training practices, Sultan trained Forest to first fetch the decoy from the water. Later he would train him to fetch the real duck.
“I was happy he fetched the decoys. And I shot my first mallard that day. My father really liked what he saw. He told me, ‘I’m proud of you.’”
Sultan was hooked. It was time to train Forest to fetch the real ducks.
Sultan admits that when he shot a duck and told Forest to fetch the felled bird, Forest was confused.
“He would go for the decoy instead of the bird. I had to direct him to the bird.”
Sultan had no problem with that. He trusted Forest would learn with training and…patience. He knew that could be fixed.
“You have to be in the water with him to show him the real duck. Push him away from the decoy. Show him what to do. Then praise him when he gets the real one.”
Sultan didn’t seem to mind getting in the freezing cold water with Forest, sometimes chest-deep, to teach him. Of course, Forest learned. He had a great teacher.
Sultan’s made countless trips to the Tri-Cities to pursue his passion with his well-trained buddy. His willingness to drive two and a half hours from Spokane and back after a full day of huntings attests to his immense gratification.
I asked why he didn’t just stay in the Spokane region and hunt fowl closer to home. Why duck?
“Duck? Hell yeah! It’s not just for fun, but for the meat. Duck tastes good!”
He also loves seeing Forest on the water. The pride in his voice as he describes what Forest will now do is heartwarming. One example is when he shot a duck that came down alive about 150 feet away in the water. The duck would dive under water, swim, and take off again.
“Forest was going! He swam 100 feet both ways. I never trained him to do that! He never lets me down.”
Then with love in his voice, “Having Forest in my life has been life-changing. A game changer. He’s the best. Except for destroying the house everytime we leave.”
Hmmm….maybe not so well-trained after all?
All that’s missing now is a hunting spot closer to home.
“I’ve heard of Rock Lake, but where? It’s a really huge lake! I need to know specific spots. The game warden’s don’t answer the phone and I can’t find what I need on the internet. I’m thinking of just going and sitting on the lake and waiting for a warden. Just go and wait. They’ll find you. You can’t see them but they see you. I’m gonna do that because I have a lot of questions for them. I don’t want to make a mistake that I’ll regret later. I don’t want to accidentally be on a lake that’s not open for duck hunting. Where are the game wardens when you need them?”
Sultan wanted me to be sure to include a big thanks to his fishing guide, Kevin. With Kevin’s guidance Sultan caught his first salmon on the Columbia River.
“Delicious! No seasoning necessary!”
He also wants help from fellow outdoorsmen/women. Where can he get information? Who can he call?
If you have any guidance or information for Sultan, please contact me at email@example.com.