Dusan and I have been leading a nice quiet discussion between the two of us in the group 'hunting Irish'. The above question cropped up and I thought it would be nice to have views and input from other members...
I know what it is to have no spare time. I just took two days off from work and family. No one was allowed to call or come over.(except my mother). It was nice not having to do anything for two days. The time went really fast though. I spent it with my dogs and cats.
Is the passion to hunt inborn or is it a learning process? In my experience it's largely inborn. When comparing my field bred pups to non-field bred pups, it seems to me that the field bred pups have "more run, more desire to get out and explore" which is the early stages of hunting. I'm not saying non-field bred dogs don't any hunting passion, just that this passion is stronger in field bred dogs.
Does a dog have to learn to use his nose? YES. Plus they have to learn all the tricks that wild birds will use in an attempt to elude the dog, and learn to hunt different species of birds under different environmental conditions. Certainly with experience a dog's hunting becomes more clever and more productive. So with experience, a good dog learns and becomes better at their job (find birds), but the strength of the desire to get out and do that job in the first place, is largely inborn (genetic) IMO.
I definitely think that hunting is in a Setter's blood (genetics). My dogs have chased many a squirrel, rabbit, etc. naturally. I have even had neighbors comment that you can't fight hundreds of years of genetics.
Dogs of may different breeds will sight chase squirrels and rabbits. Hunting setters are using their nose's to find game. Sight chasing and scent hunting are very different.
I disagree with your neighbor, IMO hunting ability can be lost in just a few generations of not selecting for it. Sure after a few generations these pups may still have some hunting instinct, but frequently much hunting instinct will also have been lost. The pups hunting instincts are something of a "diluted" version of their forebears.