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Curl up with a good hunting book this spring

I have yet to see an April when my turkey hunting was not called on account of snow. Why should this 2013 season be an exception?

Since opening day at my usual turkey-hunting grounds, I have tried yelping and cackling, loitering until dark in hopes of discovering where birds might be roosting, and coyote howls and owl hoots to see if a tom could be shocked into gobbling. But wherever I am hunting has not been where turkeys are. While where I have sighted them is on lawns, driveways, sidewalks, and waiting at the curb to cross the street, locations where I believe the discharge of a firearm is generally discouraged.

Even though I knew better, I counted on warm, sunny weather to fire the birds up, to get the gobblers puffed out and metaled looking with white-tipped tail feathers fanned in rigid displays while they tuck their heads red as strobing police lights into their breasts.

But what I got was only the inevitable blanket of snow. So I am indoors, now, wondering how much shoveling will eventually need to be done and doing the next best thing to hunting — reading books about it.
Turkey hunters “should enter the woods on opening day with a strategy in mind.” That is merely one of literally thousands of hunting insights and tips to be found in “The Ultimate Guide to Hunting Skills, Tactics, and Techniques, edited by Jay Cassell.”

I would note that I have worked together with Cassell for over 30 years as editor and writer, hunted with him and count him as a friend.

With that full disclosure and noting that he was gracious enough to include a story of mine in the book, I can say that he has compiled not only an enormous volume — 799 pages worth — but a most excellent menagerie of hunting stories and essays, ranging from how-to to recipes to tales of adventure.

Some of the writers, past and present, assembled by Cassell are Wayne van Zwoll, Bob Brister, Gene Hill, and Sigurd Olson. And among my favorite sections in the book are two selections of short tips and quotes gathered by Lamar Underwood, one on small game and a second and a long one on birdhunting and wingshooting. It’s a book to dip into at random and enjoy in leisurely bites.

A second book, again by an old friend Stephen J. Bodo and including a book of mine among the titles discussed, is “A Sportsman’s Library: The 100 Books that Every Hunter and Fisherman Should Own.”
To describe Bodio is always daunting: a polymath with a passion for learning about and engaging in hunting and fishing, along with falconry, coursing with hounds, cooking and eating (gourmet and otherwise), Catholicism, natural history, classic firearms, travel, politics, headlong conversation and the voracious, omnivorous consumption of the written word, which led to a decade of book reviewing for Gray’s Sporting Journal.

His own books span topics as varied as guns, raptors, pigeons, and Mongolia, and include a moving memoir of a place, love, and tragic loss, Querencia. With A Sportsman’s Library he’s undertaken a task similar to Anthony Burgess’s effort to choose the best 99 Novels (his book’s title) in English since 1939.
While Burgess had easy access to the canon of popular modern fiction, though, Bodio deals with books on hunting and fishing, matters which are not considered serious in our rather stupid time, to paraphrase the Spanish philosopher (and one of Bodio’s authors) José Ortega y Gasset.

And to find his 100 he ranges well beyond Burgess’s half century — calling up some books 500 to almost 1,000 years old–and brings to our attention works obscure and neglected but also delightful.
The game with this kind of book is to see if you can find what was left out.

Yet for the one or two I might suggest, there are dozens that are revelations.

And far more than catalog items, Bodio’s crafted compact essays are critical synopses exhibiting ardent bibliophilia and audacious opinion (see his defense of George Leonard Herter’s “barking mad” Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices, which includes such unmatched lines as, “The Virgin Mary was very fond of spinach”), all welcome qualities in these days of such dreary outdoor writing.
Meanwhile, the snow falls and the shovel beckons. And all things considered, I’d rather be hunting turkeys.

Tom McIntyre is a contributing editor to Sports Afield and Field & Stream magazine.


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