column By: Glen Blackwood | October, 21
This quote comes from “Hang Your Stockings in August” in Robert Ruark’s The Old Man’s Boy Grows Older. I found this passage while searching for another, but this one resonated with me as I have a 12-week-old puppy currently tugging on my shoestrings.
As the Old Man stated, the preparation has been fun, and our preparation for Whisk has left him with a new collar and a personal cache of leads, bumpers and toys.
Finding the previous quote (and its timely relevance) got me pondering the power that passages can have on readers of sporting literature. We all know lines from certain works or writers, like Shakespeare’s, “Now is the winter of our discontent,” or Twain’s, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” Lines like these live on, even when we usually forget how and where we first read them. Writing about wing shooting has its share as well, and these lines are the small gems within a book’s boards.
Datus Proper says in the introduction to his treatise on pheasant hunting, “Hunting is not fiction. It is the oldest and youngest thing in the world. It feels like dawn. Sometimes my teeth chatter while I am writing about it. It is irrational. The cock pheasant has a primitive cerebral cortex but enough wits to elude me.”
Proper’s opening phrase, “Hunting is not fiction,” is one that has resonated with me since its publication in 1990. Hunting is reality; it takes place in real time, with the decisions of the bird, dog and hunter determining the outcome.
While Gene Hill’s writing can be light and humorous, he also shows a serious side. A quote I have carried in my mind for many years comes from the essay “Why” in A Hunter’s Fireside Book.
“So, let’s say that hunting is neither a game nor sport. Trap and skeet are games and delightful, but hunting is a thing apart. It requires some sort of involvement.”
From my boyhood until now, this line continues to instill the human distinction between pinching the trigger on an inanimate clay target versus a flushing game bird.
While these examples demonstrate the philosophical impact of hunting, others show our pastime’s nostalgic side. George Bird Evans opens The Upland Shooting Life with, “Tonight life is how I would have it. There is a Hunter’s Moon, and a grouse and a brace of woodcock hang on the hewn log wall of the porch in the sherry smell of leaves.”
This phrase paints the author’s autumn surroundings while allowing the reader to imagine the scene. Passages like this may remind one of past camps and hunts, stirring emotions in a few memorable words.
These impactful passages are not just limited to wing shooting titles. They can be found in a broad variety of literature and writers, such as Annie Proulx, Thomas McGuane and Jim Harrison, as they and others have included game birds and bird dogs in their novels, poetry and short stories. While reading tastes are just as individual as the dogs we follow and the birds we seek, so are the passages embedded within the text. Similar to finding new coverts, discovering passages that become personally poignant takes time and exploration. The discovery becomes meaningful, and unlike a hidden berry patch or a forgotten farm, these can be shared with your sporting fraternity without trepidation.
My Christmas present came early this year; he is white and liver and a true bundle of joy – between the bouts of biting and basic puppy mischief. Watching him sleep, I was reminded of another Gene Hill passage: “Meanwhile the harsh dark hours of night are softened and made light by well-remembered memories of puppies and quail.”