Books. Remember those things? You could take them with you to the woods and not worry about forgetting the charger. Good news. They’re still around, and these are the 10 best books for hunters.
Nearly every book on this list is free to check out and read online at openlibray.org. It only costs you an email to register. The only connection that I have with that site is that I think it’s pretty damn cool that you can read these books for free.
Few real philosophers have ever given hunting much ink. Sure, they love to run circles around the meaning of life, but I doubt many have been elbows deep in an elk’s chest cavity. Yet one Spanish philosopher, Jose Ortega y Gassett, is the exception. In the early 1900s, he wrote Meditations on Hunting, which for being 100 years old, is still an applicable and entertaining read on hunting. And most importantly, it’s accessible, meaning you don’t need a Ph. D. to “get it.” Gassett clues us in on what hunting does for our soul and gives us a little insight into what we should get out of it. For example, take this great excerpt: “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 philosophy I can relate to. A first edition in good condition will run you $130.
If you’ve ever attempted to grow a beard during hunting season, then chances are Richard Proenneke is the man you tried to become. He was a trained diesel mechanic and came to Alaska in 1950. When a retired Navy captain hosted Dick at his remote, fly-in cabin in the Twin Lakes country of backwoods Alaska, Dick hung up his monkey wrench and retired at age 50. Well, he kind of retired. With his ax and some serious elbow grease, Dick built himself a cabin, and all the while chronicled his adventures in a journal, which are condensed in this book, and he also filmed it, producing “Alone in the Wilderness.” In both the book and movie, Dick’s life revolves around Alaska’s seasons. When his meat cache gets low, he takes to the high country for some goat meat. He gets back to camp and smokes it in its own hide. Why did he spend 30 years of his life alone in the wilderness? Maybe this quote from him will clue you in: “It was good to be back in the wilderness again where everything seems at peace. I was alone; just me and the animals. It was a great feeling—free once more to plan and do as I please. Beyond was all around me. A dream was a dream no longer. I suppose I was here because this was something I had to do.” Intrigued? Check out the website to learn more: www.dickproenneke.com.
It’s no secret that Ernest Hemingway enjoyed hunting. And this second work of non-fiction from him 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 days past. He also let readers in on what he thinks makes a good writer. He even offers up some advice. He writes: “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.” If that doesn’t work for you, there is still plenty of history on Africa and plenty of hunting. A signed first edition will cost you a new F-150.
Published in 1949, A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold is as much a treatise on wildlife management as it is on hunting. While the title may not be flashy or sound that intriguing, this book should be on the bookshelf of every person who cherishes the outdoors and the bounty of wildlife it has to offer. It doesn’t hurt to read it, either. At times, Leopold will make you question your own motives on why you hunt. Are you after the antlers? The chase? The feeling of self-reliance? Other times, he’ll make you feel just plain guilty about all that money you spent on fancy gear. But he makes up for it with passages like this: “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 forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map.” A first edition will run you between $200 and $500, and that includes the dust jacket.
In much the same vein as Leopold and Gasset, Jim Posewitz’s book Beyond Fair Chase makes us stop and really think about hunting. He writes of ethics and our quest for the big one. He writes, “Trophy scoring and big game contests come perilously close to, and sometimes cross, the line of proper ethical practice.” You may not agree, but at least he got you thinking. Small enough to stuff in a chest pocket, this book should accompany you to the tree stand, blind, or hillside. It weighs next to nothing, but the message it sends is heavy enough to keep you warm in the early morning. I got my book in a Montana Hunter Safety class, and it hasn’t left my hunting pack since. My first edition was free.
Why do you hunt? Why do you pass up younger, smaller-antlered bucks when you know they taste better? Ted Kerasote might have the answer. Then again, he may just leave you more confused than ever, but that’s not really a bad thing because he makes you think. His book Bloodties is an entertaining safari across the globe. Broken into three parts, he devotes the first portion of his book to subsistence hunting with the Inuit on the coast of Greenland. Then he explores a vastly different side of hunting as he travels the Siberian wilderness with Western sportsmen as they bag trophy after trophy—most times legally. As you can imagine, the contrasts of the two ways are black and white, yet Kerasote writes it as he sees it through an objective lens and lets you make up your own opinion.
If you’ve ever thought of bowhunting elk…wait. If you’ve ever hunted anything, then you should read a little David Peterson. A man not afraid to speak his mind, Peterson takes you up close and personal with every animal he writes about. His hunts involve a dance with prey that many of us don’t experience, as he hunts with a longbow and a quiver of patience. He takes you with him for his hits and plenty of misses and does so in a way that makes you want to become a better hunter. Twenty bucks is money well spent on anything by David Peterson.
There are a lot of things in Africa that want to kill you. And Peter Capstick has firsthand knowledge and experience with just about every one of them. While many of the books on this list are thinkers, Death in the Long Grass is pure excitement. From wounded cape buffalo to lions, to black mambas and wild dogs, Capstick leaves no round chambered. While his prey has character, Capstick himself had plenty of it as well. At 30, he left behind Wall Street to hunt in Central and South America, finally ending up in Africa, where he worked as a hunter and ranger. Heavy drinking and smoking caught up with him at age 56, and he died from complications of heart surgery.
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, serving in the Navy during WW II. Eventually, he went on a safari to Africa, wrote about it, and landed a gig at Field & Stream to write a series called “The Old Man and the Boy,” which ran for nearly a decade. Many of the stories, both fishing and hunting, are based loosely on his life growing up. It’s packed with simple stories of deep meaning. If there is a non-hunter among your family who just doesn’t understand why you freeze your tail off in that duck blind, then this is a gift for both of you. A nice first edition is only $26 online.
Most of us have all heard of Jack O’Connor. For some of us, his adventures told through the pages of Outdoor Life were the reason we made it through winter, spring, and summer, waiting desperately for fall to arrive. O’Connor’s seventeenth book, The Art of Hunting Big Game in North America, is arguably O’Connor’s best and most complete. And he would agree, writing, “If I had to leave one book to each of my numerous grandsons to remember his grandfather by it would be The Art of Hunting, as I have always called it.” He wrote it when he was 65, packing it tight with his accumulated knowledge of flora, fauna, habits, habitat, loads, and rifles for all of North America’s big game. He takes you hunting with him and ensures you learn something along the way. I found a first edition online for only $60!