As grandpa used to say, “They don’t make ’em like that anymore.” So, too, is it the case with fine writing about hunting. In today’s fast-paced world of instant communication, who takes the time to read some of the finest — and most poignant — outdoor literature of all-time? Simply stated, you should. This list was tough to compile, as there are so many fine hunting books out there from authors like Archibald Rutledge, Gordon McQuarrie, George Bird Evans, Michael McIntosh and others, as well as all the great writers of Africa and Alaska along with deep, meaningful books like those from Jim Posewicz and Frank Miniter. Yet these are my favorites.
10.) African Game Trails: An Account of the African Wanderings of an American Hunter-Naturalist by Theodore Roosevelt
Our 26th president was also a world-renowned hunter, conservationist, soldier and scholar. His account of the 1908 safari he took in East Africa with his son Kermit remains as exciting today as when they occurred. Roosevelt describes the excitement of the chase, the people he met and flora and fauna he collected in the name of science. Long out of print, this classic belongs on every collector’s shelf.
9.) Drummer In The Woods by Burton L. Spiller
Any sportsman who has pushed their way through alders, birches and hemlocks in search of ruffed grouse will revel in this book. Anyone who has shot over competent bird dogs will appreciate the author’s love and understanding of them. If you’ve never grouse hunted, this book will make you want to. “With the acquisition of the 16, I began to kill grouse regularly on the wing. I use the word ‘regularly’ advisedly, for the regularity was truly astounding. I shot at a bird and killed it. Then I shot at 49 more and missed ingloriously. Then I killed another. And so it went ad infinitum. World without end. Amen!”
8.) De Shootinest Gent’man & Other Tales by Nash Buckingham
Perhaps the most famous author of sporting tales in the first half of the 20th century, this collection of eight stories first published in Field and Stream, Recreation and Outdoor Life was originally published in 1934. Buckingham’s ability to evoke the golden age of wildfowling along the Mississippi flyway from the 1890s to the 1940s is unparalleled. It’s outdoor writing at its very best. “So the Judge and I, in rare good humor (I forgot to add there had been a dusty bottle of the Judge’s famous port), as becomes sportsmen blessed with a perfect day’s imperfect duck shooting, had discussed each individual bird brought to bag, with reasons, pro and con, why an undeniably large quota had escaped uninjured.”
7.) Meditations on Hunting by Jose Ortega y Gassett
Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gassett wrote this book in the early 1900s, and it still an important and entertaining work on hunting. In its pages, Gassett clues us in on what hunting does for our soul and gives us a little insight on what we should get out of it. “Tis the reason men hunt. When you are fed up with the troublesome present, with being ‘very twentieth century,’ you take your gun, whistle for your dog, go out to the mountain and, without further ado, give yourself the pleasure during a few hours or a few days of being ‘Paleolithic.’” That’s a philosophy I can relate to.
6.) A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold
Published in 1949, this book is as much a tome on wildlife management as hunting. Leopold will make you question your own motives on why you hunt. Is it for big antlers? The thrill of the chase? A feeling of self-reliance? Other times, he’ll make you feel just plain guilty about all that money you spend on fancy gear. “Man always kills the things he loves, and so we pioneers have killed our wilderness. Some say we had to. Be that as it may, I am glad I shall never be young without wild country to be young in. Of what avail are 40 freedoms without a blank spot on the map?”
5.) Green Hills of Africa by Ernest Hemingway
It’s no secret Hemingway enjoyed hunting, and this book chronicles his 1933 African safari. While he recounts his hunting conquests, he also includes a mini-treatise on the writers of his day and of day’s past. Want to be a writer? Hemingway says: “First, there must be talent, much talent. Talent such as Kipling had. Then there must be discipline. The discipline of Flaubert. Then there must be the conception of what it can be and absolute conscience as unchanging as the standard meter in Paris, to prevent faking. Then the writer must be intelligent and disinterested and above all he must survive.”
4.) Use Enough Gun by Robert Ruark
Robert Ruark was destined to write. He entered the University of North Carolina at 15 and received a journalism degree around the time of the Depression. He bounced around reporting here and there and served in the Navy during WWII. Eventually, he went on safari to Africa, wrote about it and landed a gig at Field & Stream. He wrote many other superb books on hunting, including Horn of the Hunter and Something of Value. This is more than the record of a lifetime’s bag; it is the story of a man’s education as a hunter. “I never knew a man who hunted quail who didn’t come out of it a little politer.”
3.) A Hunter’s Fireside Book: Tales of Dogs, Ducks, Birds, & Guns by Gene Hill
Best known as an essayist for publications such as Guns & Ammo, Sports Afield and Field & Stream, he was an avid collector of guns and wrote compassionately about the bond between a hunter and his hunting dogs. The short chapters found in his first published collection are rarely more than two pages long and serve as brief meditations on the subtleties familiar to true sportsmen. “If in single day we smell coffee, dawn, gun oil, powder, a wet dog, woodsmoke, bourbon and the promise of a west wind for a fair tomorrow — and its possible for us to reek happy — that’s just what we’ll do.”
2.) Death in the Long Grass by Peter Hathaway Capstick
Actually, just about anything from Capstick (Death in the Dark Continent, Death in the Silent Places, The Last Ivory Hunte, and more) are superb, but this book is pure adrenaline rush, from wounded cape buffalo, to lions, to black mambas and wild dogs and much more. Few could write adventure and excitement like Peter. “Any bloody fool can, without encountering the smallest modicum of risk, murder a bull elephant at 200 yards with a lung shot … but then, to track down a big tusker in heavy cover for a confrontation at less than 15 yards — well, that is elephant hunting. That is man against himself, the last and purest challenges that made us men, not animals.”
1.) The Old Man and the Boy & The Old Man’s Boy Grows Older by Robert Ruark
These essays are based loosely on the author’s life growing up and his relationship with his grandfather, the Old Man, and then his life after the Old Man is gone. Both are packed with simple stories of deep meaning and written with some of the finest prose ever composed. If you read no other old hunting books, read these. “If you properly respect what you’re after, and shoot it cleanly and on the animal’s terrain, if you imprison in your mind all the wonder of the day from sky to smell to breeze to flowers — then you have not merely killed an animal. You have lent immortality to a beast you have killed because you loved him and wanted to him forever so that you could always recapture the day.”