Armchair adventures great for beating weather

Jim CasadaFebruary 16, 2008 

My grandfather used to argue, with considerable validity, that the basic explanation for February being the shortest month of the year was because mean, miserable weather invariably characterized it. Most hunting has come and gone, he would say from the comfort of a rocking chair pulled up close to a wood-burning stove, "and decent fishing won't start for several weeks." Warming to his subject, he would continue, "February is just plain ornery and early March ain't much better."

At this time of year, in his studied opinion, "a body had best do some schemin' and dreamin'" about glorious adventures from bygone days or trips yet to come. "You can endure these miserable weeks of later winter passing well," Grandpa Joe would opine, "if you just remember that it's a time for figurin'."

Grandpa reckoned that there was plenty of adventure to be found amidst the comforts of hearth and home. He was a storyteller of considerable ability, and as a star-struck youngster, I whiled away many a happy hour listening to him weave tales of bygone days, when chestnuts adorned mountain slopes in incredible profusion and when squirrels, bears, and speckled trout were so abundant as to be common fare on the family table.

Those times are no more, with the American chestnut the victim of a virulent blight and the pressures of population and development taking their toll, as well. Still, there remain pleasures aplenty for today's sportsman at this season, and some of the finest of them come through literature. With that thought in mind, and with seemingly interminable weeks of rain behind us, what follows are some thoughts on a few of my favorite authors.

In my view, and it is one shared by many others, the greatest of all American sporting scribes is Robert Ruark. I try to re-read two of his books, "The Old Man and the Boy" and "The Old Man's Boy Grows Older," every year. His "Horn of the Hunter" is a marvelous evocation of African safari, and even his blockbuster novels with an African focus, especially "Something of Value" and "Uhuru," are of enduring interest. I readily confess to a lifelong love affair with Ruark's writings, and therein lies one explanation of why I have edited two books connected with him -- "The Lost Classics of Robert Ruark" (a collection of 27 stories never previously published in a book) and "Ruark Remembered" (a just-published biography of him written by his longtime secretary, Alan Ritchie, which I reduced to manageable size).

If Ruark is our nation's greatest outdoor writer, then Theodore Roosevelt must be recognized as America's greatest sportsman. An advocate of what he called the "strenuous life," Roosevelt wrote a dozen books on the outdoors including classics such as "Hunting Trips of a Ranchman" and "African Game Trails." Every serious reader owes it to himself to visit some of his outdoor books.

Two South Carolinians, Havilah Babcock and Archibald Rutledge, rank among my personal favorites. The former was a master on subjects such as bird hunting and dogs, and his collections of stories ("I Don't Want to Shoot an Elephant," "Jaybirds Go to Hell on Friday," "My Health Is Better in November," "Tales of Quails 'n' Such," "The Best of Babcock," and "The Education of Pretty Boy") are irresistible. For his part, Rutledge was incredibly prolific. Originals of most of his books are now treasured (and pricey) classics, but three anthologies I edited and compiled ("Tales of Whitetails," "America's Greatest Game Bird," and "Hunting and Home in the Southern Heartland") remain in print.

For writing on hunting dogs, you can't beat the likes of Vereen Bell, Corey Ford and John Taintor Foote, while the waterfowling and quail hunting tales of Tennessean Nash Buckingham match the good humor, knowledge and mastery of dialect found in Rutledge's writings. For general outdoors lore, you can't beat that old sage of the Smokies, Horace Kephart ("Camping and Woodcraft" and "Our Southern Highlanders"). Kep was also a knowledgeable gun writer, but for works in that field you will also want to turn to Elmer Keith or the dean of American shooting and hunting writing, Jack O'Connor.

Although the fact is often overlooked, the renowned author of Westerns, Zane Grey, also wrote a number of books on hunting and fishing. The first outdoor book I ever owned, "Spirit of the Border," falls into this category, as do "Roping Lions in the Grand Canyon" and "The Last of the Plainsmen." On the fishing side of things, Grey wrote several books on angling, all of which have titles beginning with "Tales of Fishing... ." Indeed, he was a man who literally lived and worked in order to be able to fish in exotic locations.

The above-mentioned authors are, at best, little more than a start. On turkey hunting, it's hard to beat Tom Kelly, and when it comes to fly fishing, I love the works of Nick Lyons and a Canadian writer, Roderick Haig-Brown. Then there are classic African and Asian hunting tales, sporting humor, books on waterfowling, grouse hunting, big game and so much more. In short, even when February is at its most miserable, there's no reason the sportsman shouldn't enjoy an ample measure of armchair pleasure.

Sept. 15-March 15 -- Raccoon and opossum season

Oct. 1-March 1 -- Squirrel hunting season

Nov. 1-March 1 -- Crow season, no limit

Nov. 14-Feb. 28 -- Snipe season

Nov. 19-March 1 -- Quail season

Dec. 14-Feb. 1, Feb. 4-15 -- Canada goose season

Nov. 22-March 1 -- Furbearer (bobcat, otter, mink, skunk, muskrat, weasel) season, no limit

Nov. 22-March 1 -- Rabbit season

Feb. 15-17 -- Southeastern Wildlife Exposition in Charleston, details at sewe.com

Feb. 22-24 -- National Wild Turkey Federation's annual convention in Atlanta, details at nwtf.org.

March 1 -- Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church (Buffalo) annual Wild Game Dinner. Tickets go on sale on Jan. 27. For more information, contact Doyle Lawson at dlawson@ssprod.com or (864) 699-3220.

March 6 -- Spartanburg Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation's 20th annual banquet at Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds. Doors open at 6 p.m. For more information, call (864) 582-3770.

March 18 -- Rock Hill Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation annual banquet at Baxter Hood Center. Doors open at 6 p.m. For more information, visit nwtf.org.

Sept. 27 -- National Hunting and Fishing Day. For more information, visit nhfday.org.

ther used to argue, with considerable validity, that the basic explanation for February being the shortest month of the year was because mean, miserable weather invariably characterized it. Most hunting has come and gone, he would say from the comfort of a rocking chair pulled up close to a wood-burning stove, "and decent fishing won't start for several weeks." Warming to his subject, he would continue, "February is just plain ornery and early March ain't much better."

At this time of year, in his studied opinion, "a body had best do some schemin' and dreamin'" about glorious adventures from bygone days or trips yet to come. "You can endure these miserable weeks of later winter passing well," Grandpa Joe would opine, "if you just remember that it's a time for figurin'."

Grandpa reckoned that there was plenty of adventure to be found amidst the comforts of hearth and home. He was a storyteller of considerable ability, and as a star-struck youngster, I whiled away many a happy hour listening to him weave tales of bygone days, when chestnuts adorned mountain slopes in incredible profusion and when squirrels, bears, and speckled trout were so abundant as to be common fare on the family table.

Those times are no more, with the American chestnut the victim of a virulent blight and the pressures of population and development taking their toll, as well. Still, there remain pleasures aplenty for today's sportsman at this season, and some of the finest of them come through literature. With that thought in mind, and with seemingly interminable weeks of rain behind us, what follows are some thoughts on a few of my favorite authors.

In my view, and it is one shared by many others, the greatest of all American sporting scribes is Robert Ruark. I try to re-read two of his books, "The Old Man and the Boy" and "The Old Man's Boy Grows Older," every year. His "Horn of the Hunter" is a marvelous evocation of African safari, and even his blockbuster novels with an African focus, especially "Something of Value" and "Uhuru," are of enduring interest. I readily confess to a lifelong love affair with Ruark's writings, and therein lies one explanation of why I have edited two books connected with him -- "The Lost Classics of Robert Ruark" (a collection of 27 stories never previously published in a book) and "Ruark Remembered" (a just-published biography of him written by his longtime secretary, Alan Ritchie, which I reduced to manageable size).

If Ruark is our nation's greatest outdoor writer, then Theodore Roosevelt must be recognized as America's greatest sportsman. An advocate of what he called the "strenuous life," Roosevelt wrote a dozen books on the outdoors including classics such as "Hunting Trips of a Ranchman" and "African Game Trails." Every serious reader owes it to himself to visit some of his outdoor books.

Two South Carolinians, Havilah Babcock and Archibald Rutledge, rank among my personal favorites. The former was a master on subjects such as bird hunting and dogs, and his collections of stories ("I Don't Want to Shoot an Elephant," "Jaybirds Go to Hell on Friday," "My Health Is Better in November," "Tales of Quails 'n' Such," "The Best of Babcock," and "The Education of Pretty Boy") are irresistible. For his part, Rutledge was incredibly prolific. Originals of most of his books are now treasured (and pricey) classics, but three anthologies I edited and compiled ("Tales of Whitetails," "America's Greatest Game Bird," and "Hunting and Home in the Southern Heartland") remain in print.

For writing on hunting dogs, you can't beat the likes of Vereen Bell, Corey Ford and John Taintor Foote, while the waterfowling and quail hunting tales of Tennessean Nash Buckingham match the good humor, knowledge and mastery of dialect found in Rutledge's writings. For general outdoors lore, you can't beat that old sage of the Smokies, Horace Kephart ("Camping and Woodcraft" and "Our Southern Highlanders"). Kep was also a knowledgeable gun writer, but for works in that field you will also want to turn to Elmer Keith or the dean of American shooting and hunting writing, Jack O'Connor.

Although the fact is often overlooked, the renowned author of Westerns, Zane Grey, also wrote a number of books on hunting and fishing. The first outdoor book I ever owned, "Spirit of the Border," falls into this category, as do "Roping Lions in the Grand Canyon" and "The Last of the Plainsmen." On the fishing side of things, Grey wrote several books on angling, all of which have titles beginning with "Tales of Fishing... ." Indeed, he was a man who literally lived and worked in order to be able to fish in exotic locations.

The above-mentioned authors are, at best, little more than a start. On turkey hunting, it's hard to beat Tom Kelly, and when it comes to fly fishing, I love the works of Nick Lyons and a Canadian writer, Roderick Haig-Brown. Then there are classic African and Asian hunting tales, sporting humor, books on waterfowling, grouse hunting, big game and so much more. In short, even when February is at its most miserable, there's no reason the sportsman shouldn't enjoy an ample measure of armchair pleasure.

Sept. 15-March 15 -- Raccoon and opossum season

Oct. 1-March 1 -- Squirrel hunting season

Nov. 1-March 1 -- Crow season, no limit

Nov. 14-Feb. 28 -- Snipe season

Nov. 19-March 1 -- Quail season

Dec. 14-Feb. 1, Feb. 4-15 -- Canada goose season

Nov. 22-March 1 -- Furbearer (bobcat, otter, mink, skunk, muskrat, weasel) season, no limit

Nov. 22-March 1 -- Rabbit season

Feb. 15-17 -- Southeastern Wildlife Exposition in Charleston, details at sewe.com

Feb. 22-24 -- National Wild Turkey Federation's annual convention in Atlanta, details at nwtf.org.

March 1 -- Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church (Buffalo) annual Wild Game Dinner. Tickets go on sale on Jan. 27. For more information, contact Doyle Lawson at dlawson@ssprod.com or (864) 699-3220.

March 6 -- Spartanburg Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation's 20th annual banquet at Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds. Doors open at 6 p.m. For more information, call (864) 582-3770.

March 18 -- Rock Hill Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation annual banquet at Baxter Hood Center. Doors open at 6 p.m. For more information, visit nwtf.org.

Sept. 27 -- National Hunting and Fishing Day. For more information, visit nhfday.org.

Jim Casada would welcome information on upcoming events of interest to area sportsmen. He can be reached through his Web site at jimcasadaoutdoors.com or at (803) 329-4354.

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