As a young man growing up, I had no one to teach mehow to hunt. My father loved farming, horses and firearms, but had nothing to offer when I yearned to sally forth in search of wild meat and wilder places. Eventually, I found a mentor of sorts in a buddy’s father, but for the most part my teachers were books. Books, and the wildlife itself.
I remember my first pack trip onto our local mountain. The mountain was big, reaching over 11,000 feet into the sky. I tied my horses to quaking aspen trees and slept at a meadow’s edge, a rushing mountain stream flowing below. All night I listened to the trees creak and imagined the sound of bears breathing around my tent. To my surprise I survived to greet the dawn. The second night I was a bit more relaxed. Then it happened; a huge crashing sound, horses screaming, and hooves thundering away into the darkness. I boiled out of my tent, rifle in hand. A towering dead aspen that I’d tied one of my horses to had been pulled over, narrowly missing my tent when it fell.
I was fourteen years old. No one had taught me not to tie a horse to a dead quaking aspen.
At that time the internet, mobile phones and Google were science fiction of the future. The plethora of knowledge, information (and misinformation) common today was not yet available. Instead, I subscribed to good hunting magazines and read every hunting book I could get my hands on. Some simply offered great stories. I enjoyed those. Some provided knowledge. I treasured these ones, reading and re-reading them. Some covered Backcountry how-to. Others taught courage and the value of a strong mind. Still others showed me how to sharpen a broadhead, drift iron sights or follow a blood trail.
Here, without further ado, are five books that helped shape the way I hunt. Read, learn and enjoy: They are good teachers.
1. The Wilderness Hunter by Theodore Roosevelt Theodore Roosevelt was a man of integrity and possessed quite a way with words. This book—offering a glimpse into hunting the Americas before they were tamed—is one of my favorites. Read between the lines of the quote below and you can tell, Mr. Roosevelt quenched his thirst at cold mountain springs, ate fresh-killed grouse roasted over an open fire and thrilled to the bugle of rutting bull elk. It’s one of my favorite paragraphs ever written, and tingles my spine with goose bumps every time I read it.
“No one, but he who has partaken thereof, can understand the keen delight of hunting in lonely lands. For him is the joy of the horse well ridden and the rifle well held; for him the long days of toil and hardship, resolutely endured, and crowned at the end with triumph. In after years there shall come forever to his mind the memory of endless prairies shimmering in the bright sun, of vast snow-clad wastes lying desolate under gray skies; of the melancholy marshes; of the rush of mighty rivers; of the breath of evergreen forest in summer; of the crooning of ice-armored pines at the touch of the winds of winter; of cataracts roaring between hoary mountain masses; of all the innumerable sights and sounds of the wilderness; of its immensity and mystery; and of the silences that brood in its still depths.”
2. Backcountry Bowhunting by Cameron R. Hanes Many of my favorite authors are serious bowhunters. That’s partly because I love to venture forth with stick and string in my own hands, and partly because archery hunters often have an intimate knowledge of the wildlife and wild lands they interact with. Suffice it to say that I learned more of the basics of backcountry hunting from this book than from any other. It’s packed with info, tactics and techniques. Regardless of whether you are a neophyte or a veteran, this book can make you a better hunter. It was written before the current backcountry hunting movement occurred; indeed, the book likely is responsible for helping usher in that movement.
I had already successfully hunted the backcountry when I found and read Backcountry Bowhunting. The information contained therein changed the way I thought about food, nutrition, fitness, mental toughness, aggressiveness while hunting and many other elements. Cameron Haines cut his hunting teeth on public land, over-the-counter (OTC) units and he knows how to get the job done.
3. Death in the Long Grass by Peter Hathaway Capstick I would be remiss if I didn’t include one of Capstick’s books. Capstick hunted around the world during his remarkable lifetime, always in search, it seems, of deadly fang, tusk and claw. The first time I read one of his books (Death in the Long Grass, as a matter of fact), I began again at the beginning as soon as I finished the last chapter. It was that good.
Capstick was, by some accounts, a plagiarist extraordinaire. In other words, he commandeered many of the stories in his books from other professional hunters and told them as his own. Regardless of that alleged habit (which failed to endear him to many of the folks who’s stories he allegedly stole), he single-handedly captured the essence of wild Africa and distilled it into prose that captivated the hearts of hunters across the globe. A magician with pen and paper, Capstick will have you smelling the sun-dried long grass and the hippo’s breath.
4. One with the Wilderness by Mike Mitten Here’s a book that inspired and taught me. Written by one of today’s most serious solo bowhunters, this book will motivate anyone with a craving for true skill and adventure. Mike disappears into the wilds of, well, somewhere, and emerges days or weeks later with a big bull elk or Alaskan moose strapped to his pack frame. He’s not as skilled with a pen as he is with wilderness hunting, but his simple words embody authenticity, integrity, and heart. Great hunting stories, moose maulings and true adventure fill the pages of One With The Wilderness. It’s a book every serious hunter should read.
5. Come November by Gene Wensel Hardcore whitetail hunters, this one is for you. You might albbbb ready know the names Gene and Barry Wensel. If not, you’re in for a treat. Gene and Barry are identical twins who possess a passion for hunting big whitetails that borders on fanaticism. They also share a love of humor and zest for life that is contagious. They hunt exclusively with stick and string, guided for years along the famous Milk River in Montana, and now live in the “Land of the Giants” in Iowa. During many years of close affiliation, they’ve learned much of the ways of truly big whitetail bucks.
The Wensel brothers are acquaintances of mine—we used to rub shoulders during hunting conventions where they sold their books and taught seminars, and I booked mule deer and elk hunters with my outfitting business. I’ve always hoped to someday share a camp and hunt with them. Probably won’t happen now; they are growing a bit long in the tooth to be taking on new hunting buddies. Come November is full of stories, information and wisdom. If you enjoy good stories and hunting monster whitetails, read this book.