Smartphones get all the glory these days, but when it comes to passing time in a deer stand, I’m old school. Give me a book over Candy Crush any day! These days, I read mostly on a Kindle, because I can keep it in a gallon zip-top bag and still read in the rain—but there’s also something to be said for a musty old library book. My tastes are pretty diverse but skew toward older books and classics. I’ve read everything from The Hunger Games to a Salman Rushdie novel in a treestand, but maybe my most peculiar choice to date has been Bambi. It’s actually not as weird as it sounds—Felix Salten, an avid hunter, wrote it for an adult audience in the 1920s, and it’s considered an allegory about Nazi Germany (the Nazis even banned and burned it in 1936). It’s not really an anti-hunting book once you know the background.
I don’t always read outdoor literature on stand, but if you’re looking for an interesting read with a hunting theme, I can personally recommend these six books that I’ve read and enjoyed.
1. Death in the Long Grass, by Peter Capstick
American sportsman Peter Capstick became a professional hunter in Latin America and then in Africa in the 1960s and ‘70s. Decades of guiding hunters to the world’s most dangerous game left him with plenty of experience to share and stories to tell, and this book is a fascinating peek behind the curtain. It’s organized by animal, and each chapter details all the specific ways a given species can kill you, injure you or otherwise ruin your day.
Capstick’s writing style is dynamic and easy to read, and this book is a real page-turner, with real-life stories of hair-raising encounters as well as stats and figures on how deadly each animal is. The Lion chapter, the longest in the book, is legendary, and the entire book is a fascinating look into what African hunting was like back in its heyday.
2. American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon, by Steven Rinella
MeatEater founder Steven Rinella is perhaps today’s best-known modern hunting author, and this was his first book. It details his quest to hunt an American bison, which he drew an incredibly rare tag for in 2005. There are dangerous weather conditions, a rafting adventure, grizzlies on his trail and hypothermia, so that story alone keeps the reader’s interest. But more than that, the book tells the story of this most iconic of North American animals.
How did the bison get here? What sort of relationship did native peoples really have with the animal? How did it shape our national identity to the point that it even appeared on one of our coins? Rinella explores all of these questions and more, weaving history and archeology into the tale of his own hunt. American Buffalo is a story about our nation and heritage as much as it is about the animal and the hunt.
3. The Old Man and the Boy, by Robert Ruark
In my view, this is one of the best pieces of outdoor literature ever penned. It’s not a novel, but a collection of short stories that were originally written as a long-standing column in Field & Stream in the first half of the 20th century. They form a mostly biographical account of Ruark’s own childhood growing up in the woods, fields and marshes of North Carolina with his grandfather.
The writing is simple and evocative, while still nostalgic without being sappy. If you’re raising a child in the outdoor tradition or you had a special “Old Man” in your life growing up, you’ll probably get teary-eyed a couple of times, but the book is not overly sentimental. It’s mostly just a fine telling of an adventurous childhood in a time long past.
There’s a sequel called The Old Man’s Boy Grows Older, which is well worth checking out if you can find a copy, as is the rest of Ruark’s work, including Horn of the Hunter and several novels.
4. It’s Only Slow Food Until You Try to Eat It, by Bill Heavey
The subtitle of this book is Misadventures of a Suburban Hunter-Gatherer, and that’s an apt description of the contents. Bill Heavey is a humor writer who came to hunting as an adult and is wide-open honest about how much he still has to learn. His self-deprecating humor is downright refreshing, as it allows us all to breathe easy without trying to live up to some expert’s advice.
In this book, Bill chronicles his attempts to “eat wild,” and he stumbles and fumbles his way through gardening, foraging, fishing and hunting, with sometimes surprising and always entertaining results. It’s part hunting book, part food book, part comedy book, and it’s a light, easy read. It even contains some of the recipes he used along the journey, and they’re equally entertaining, containing tidbits like “When you find a [Cherokee purple] tomato that gives off a vegetal funk unlike anything you have ever smelled in a grocery sore, that’s the tomato you want,” and “Let the [cherry] pie cool. Eat at one sitting with a half-gallon of vanilla ice cream.” Now that’s my kind of foodie advice.
5. Green Hills of Africa, by Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway transcended the outdoor genre, of course, but it’s well-known that he was an avid hunter and angler. Green Hills of Africa is a bit different than most of his other work in that it’s a nonfiction memoir of a month-long safari he and Wife #2 (Pauline Pfeiffer) took in the 1930s. In addition to the pure enjoyment of Hemingway’s writing, it’s also a great in-depth, first-person look at what hunting was like in (mostly) Tanzania back in the glory days of safari.
I’m not sure if non-hunters would enjoy this book or not, but if you’re a hunter, particularly if you’ve been to Africa or dream of going to Africa, it’s just a really good story that’s really well told. When you’re done with Green Hills of Africa, Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea is a must-read for anyone who appreciates the life-and-death struggle between man and nature.
6. The Mindful Carnivore, by Tovar Cerulli
Tovar Cerulli was a vegan for a decade when his health began to decline. That led him back to eating meat, but he wrestled with his personal ethics and began a journey into hunting to attempt to reconcile the life-and-death cycle of feeding ourselves.
The book details his journey from vegan to hunter and the issues he ponders along the way about the American food system and how disconnected we’ve become from the sources of our food. You’ll expect a book like this to be preachy, one way or the other, but it’s not at all—just considerate and … well, mindful. It might give you a new perspective or a new appreciation for the animal you’re hunting.