"Alvah joined his father trapping and hunting at age six, and boasted the killing of his first moose when he was eleven. By the time he was twelve, he was already guiding men into the Raquette Lake area."
Writing in 1921, Alfred L. Donaldson, in A History of the Adirondacks, described Dunning in terms that modern readers might find harsh and bigoted as "... tall and straight and slim, thin-flanked, and long-armed. He had an Indian's stealth and economy of motion; his strength and endurance; his slyness of resource; and even his curve of feature. Most prominent was his vulturesquely beaked nose, arching beneath rather small but clear, keen eyes, to whose deadly vigilance the red men paid tribute by calling him 'Snake Eye.' The forehead was broad and sloping, and all that was needed was the crown of feathers to give the last Indian touch to the head. The mouth was small, and the lips where thin and tightly pressed together when closed, but could part in a pleasant smile when humor moved them. The chin was covered by a scraggly beard that trellised up over his ears. Both hair and beard turned a pure white in his later life, and his skin became creased and crackled as the bark on an old cedar."
Alvah was hard to like. He was moody and cantankerous, often losing his temper. But "...he was probably the most wily and resourceful hunter, fisher, and trapper the Adirondacks ever housed. He lived in the woods all of the time, and for the most part alone. The human voice was less familiar to him than the noises of birds and animals, and he often seemed able to understand and speak their language. He could lure the timid mink from its hole by imitative chippering, and trick a frightened deer back to the water's edge by deceptive bleating with his throat and splashing with his hands."
According to Ted Aber and Stella King, "Alvah had a particular hatred for wolves because of their vicious killing of deer. He may be given credit for helping eradicate them from the Adirondacks. The hermit also claimed to have killed the last moose in the Adirondacks in 1862."
Alvah had no respect for game laws. Although he didn't approve of needless killing for sport, he felt he should be able to take what he needed for survival when he needed it, and not when he was told he could.
Donaldson quoted the hermit, "In the old days I could kill a little meat when I needed it, but now they're a-savin' it for the city dudes with velvet suits and pop-guns, that can't hit a deer if they see it, and don't want it if they do hit it. But they'd put me in jail if I killed a deer 'cause I was hungry. I dunno what we're a-comin' to in this 'ere free country!"
The famous guide had even less respect for the people who hired him. "They pay me well enough," he would say, "but rather they'd stay out o' my woods. They come, and I might as well guide 'em as anybody, but I'd ruther they'd stay ter hum and keep their money. I don't need it. I kin git along without 'em. They're mostly durned fools, anyhow!"
As an example of how foolish they were, Alvah spoke of one of those city folks who tried to tell him, Alvah, as they walked through the woods, that the earth was round and turning over and over. It was ridiculous, of course, but when he laughed about this fellow to other visitors to the mountains, they never quite seemed to see the humor in the story. Alvah knew better than to believe that the earth was round, and he had effective proof. He would simply fill a cup with water and turn it upside down.
"Ain't that what wud happen to yer lakes and rivers if yer turned 'em upside down? I ain't believin' no such tommyrot as that!"
As time went on, Dunning wandered from one secluded spot to another, seeking solitude in the mountains, a feat that was becoming increasingly difficult with the arrival of ever greater numbers of vacationers and would-be hunters.
"Alvah Dunning's life was a long retreat from civilization," recounted Aber and King. "He heartily disliked women, calling them 'pizen'(poison). He rebelled against city people.... He rebelled against property laws that would not recognize his squatter's rights. He rebelled against newfangled inventions. His home was among the trees and he knew every tree, every flower, and every forest animal.
"In view of his distaste for modern inventions, the manner of his death proved a crowning irony. In March, 1902, he attended a Sportsmen's Show in New York City. On his return, he spent the night of March 14th at the Dudley House in Utica. The next morning, he was found asphyxiated in his bed. The gas jet had been leaking all night. Alvah had blown out the light.